“Do you live in the countryside and commute to work or even sometimes work from home?” “Yes”, replied the perplexed World Bank Country Director for Ghana who had been summoned by his team to come down and save their mission (country directors then lived and worked in America and looked after us from there.
“Do you know why you can do that?”, “No”; whispered the by now very bemused Big Man from Washington.
“It is because you have electricity in every corner of every part of America. And this is exactly what I want in Ghana.”
“I will not sign any aide memoire which just wants to electrify Accra, Kumasi and Tema and leave my village in darkness. After all it is the rural people who grow the cocoa which fetches the foreign exchange and educates the elite who you come and sign aide-memories with”, boomed the very powerful punch line from the secretary (“azaa” name for ministers in those days.) as he ”stormed, ala Daily Guide headline, from the meeting
The hapless World Bank Director turned to me and asked wearily, “What does he want from us?”
In an uncharacteristically humble tone, I whispered ‘he wants the whole of Ghana electrified in his and my lifetime and unless you provide money in this aide memoire to finance a study and come up with a plan, he will not sign the document today, tomorrow, indeed, never and your much valued VRA will not get the money for the Power 6 project”
The World Bank signed up. The study was done and the plan agreed to. Within 30 years, every community of 500 or more Ghanaians living everywhere will have access to electricity. The National Electrification Programme (NEP) was born from a starting point of 15 per cent access. Today, 24 years on, electricity access (“reach is probably more correct) in Ghana has reached almost 80 per cent and we are well on course to attaining the goal of the NEP within the 30-year timeline.
Many a politician and every political party in the Fourth Republic has sought to claim credit for the NEP in the now very familiar sentence - “We will extend electricity to XXX communities.” All except the one whose vision has literally taken our country from darkness into the glittering light of the 21st Century.
As I was making plenty noise about reaching 60, my hero was quietly getting to his allotted mark (at least as decreed by the Good Book). I rang to wish him well and thank him for bringing me back to Ghana for my 25 years of national service. Out of curiosity but not really expecting the answer I got, I asked "So, boss, have you been given any national award?” “Kwabena Wereko paa dee; me ne whan?” ( “Who am I? ) I have always called him ‘boss’ and he has always called me by my native name.
I was speechless on the phone line. For a country that showers national awards as if it is confetti pouring down from on high at one of those posh “Buronya” weddings in Ghana, not to have given even a pewter or lead coin to my boss was past scandalous. It was and is still a national disgrace. There is no excuse for it whatsoever. He was and has remained a monumental figure in the political heritage that dropped the P from the 18 years “provisional” tenure into the NDC.
For the singular visionary act of lighting up Ghana, my boss would have been feted, serenaded and “karaokied” by many nations and festooned with all kinds of medals of genuine and fake precious metals. But astonishing and incredibly, this gargantuan achievement is but a small act in what, for me, is the greatest contribution to Ghana’s development in the past 30 years.
When I first encountered him in 1988, he held the three most important portfolios in this country and had done so since 1986 and was to carry them till the start of the Fourth Republic in 1993.
As Secretary for National Revenue, he collected all the money that Kwesi Botchway spent in the budgets. The National Revenue Secretariat was the originator of the current GRA.
Among the innovations was to professionalise the business of collecting revenue for the nation, introduce daily income tax to spread taxation to the artisanal classes, introduce CCTV cameras into customs long rooms (except that they are prone to too many human errors), and relate performance to remuneration. These innovations, aided by the injection of super capable people (more anon) were to lift national revenue from six per cent to14 per cent of GDP in under four years.
As Secretary for the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), his responsibilities included improving the quality of the public service through engagement of specialist professionals and provision of modern tools and ICT equipment and the ubiquitous four-wheel project vehicles. Of course, we cannot leave out PAMSCAD which was the first attempt to prune a bloated and ghost-infested public service. The now touted programme-based budgets were born during the SAP as the three-year rolling Public Investment Programme
From where I served, Energy, the National LPG Programme, the establishment of BOST to ensure the equitable distribution of petroleum products to hold a three-month strategic stock, the introduction of the petroleum pricing formula, the creation and expansion of the capacity of TOR, and last but not least, the national cook stoves programme were all initiatives that germinated as visions from my boss who was very, very generous in tasking me with their implementation.
An eye for getting the best to serve is perhaps his greatest contribution to our country for the past 30 years. He pulled out Professor John Atta-Mills from the ivory tower to lay down the foundation of our current income tax management system. He then guided him to the top of the tree as Citizen Numero Uno for Ghana.
Current Finance Minister, Seth Terkper, was a fresh face in the revenue team and his then boss, Dr Larbi Siaw, is now serving as his adviser. Kow Arkaah Nkensen was brought out of retirement from the GNPC to head GOIL. He became the vice-president of Ghana. On the GOIL Board, I met and struck a lifelong friendship with a young, dynamic affable contractor from Tamale who would also become the second citizen of Ghana under the Gentle Giant.
In the search for the still elusive industrial policy for Ghana, I encountered a loquacious deputy minister who has now become the Chair of the ruling party. Acting in concert with my boss, we coaxed a brilliant, young engineer in Canada to come and spearhead the implementation of the NEP. He did it so well, he became the Minister of Energy, and now of Environment.
Last but not least, my search for money from the Japanese to electrify Ada Foah brought me into contact with an affable young man whose assistance was invaluable and who remains a pal to me even though he has risen to the lofty height of the current Citizen Numero Uno of Ghana.
In case you have not guessed by now, my boss is called Ato Ahwoi. The only honour I know he has had so far is that we named our efficient cookstove, “Ahebenso”, to honour the village which spawned him to the heights of great service to Ghana. He deserves more.
He deserves the highest national accolade. He must be recognised in his lifetime instead of having a “glowing” tribute written in the programme at his State funeral. ( Never speak ill of the dead, is our hypocritical mantra)
President John F. Kennedy whose immortal words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”, and whose shocking assassination 50 years ago we commemorated recently, also said: “A Nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honours, the men it remembers”.
If Ghana will not do it, then I am more than pleased and most privileged to bestow the first Tarzan living heroes award to Opanyin Oseadeeyo Ato Ahwoi
Over to you Blaa John. Set the date to bestow ‘The Order of Volta’ triple honours on citizen John Ato Ahwoi.
The writer is Chief Policy Analyst, Ghana Institute for Public Policy Options, GIPPO