Science, technology, environment and innovation

BY: Joe Frazier
Professor Dr Kwabena Frimpong Boateng
Professor Dr Kwabena Frimpong Boateng

Last week, My blog attempted to highlight some sore issues that the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources would need to tackle as a matter of urgency.  Admittedly, it was only a small attempt as an article of 800 words can only convey what the space would allow.

Today, similar limited focus will be on the Ministry that is taxed with harnessing our natural resources for improvement of sustainable living standards of our society - The Ministry of Science, Technology, Environment and Innovation (MESTI). By extension, the focus is on Professor Dr Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, the man whose appointment by the President as the minister has attracted favourable comments.

The name of this Ministry speaks for itself and, therefore, defines the responsibilities of the minister. His ministry will formulate and drive policies on science education, research initiatives and application of outcomes in our everyday life. The objectives of MESTI are aimed at 21st century best practices, with the local environment in mind. Prof. Frimpong Boateng needs no introduction. But for readers, he is a cardio-surgeon. He founded the famous Cardiothoracic Unit at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital and was at one time the Chief Executive Officer of that hospital. He is a man of many parts. He is a farmer (very big in ostrich farming) and a great experimenter (manufacturer of jatropha oil for diesel engines).

Prof. Frimpong Boateng is a man of strong convictions, an aspect of the man that naturally led him into party politics some two decades ago. Pitching in the New Patriotic Party (NPP) camp, he contested the flag-bearer position in 2006 in a crowded field of 17 candidates that included President Nana Akufo-Addo, the eventual winner. Incidentally, Prof. Frimpong Boateng was the only candidate who said he would fight poverty with scientific research and technological innovations.

Prof. Frimpong Boateng’s portfolio could best be described as a platform onto which is packed all of society’s 21st century needs. His plate is, therefore, as full as that of Mr Amewu and in a situation of competing constituencies of needs in a field of limited resources, Prof. Boateng must prioritise his tasks.

1.Science and technical education: School syllabi must reflect science as a way of life for all who go to school, not only for the brainy and those who are mathematically inclined. There is the need to formulate and drive policy to achieve 30:70 gearing of Humanities to Science. In this regard, re-strategising the technical university concept so that they are not mere glorified technical schools and setting up more AIMS type of universities are necessary. All research must be needs-driven and backed by concrete proposals which must be subjected to critical reviews. The current policy of topping up the salaries of lecturers for research purposes is not rigorous and challenging. There should be a properly managed dedicated research grant scheme. 

2.Policy and practice of selecting technologies: Some four decades ago, the term “APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY” (APPROTECH) was very much in vogue. While it is being still touted to mean an overwhelming local content in innovations, it no longer connotes primitive contraptions such as a wooden wheel for a tractor. There are simple but modern technologies that have been tested. They are turn-key. We do not have to invent the wheel every time. A task force must be formed to assess, evaluate and recommend appropriate technologies of the Green Revolution achieved elsewhere for high yield planting material, cheap fertiliser, soil-improvement mechanisms and irrigation systems. Having selected an innovation, no education should be spared to make the intended beneficiaries adopt it. One might ask why bread with composite cassava flour is not on our market and why some consumers are still hesitant in drinking cassava beer.

3. We need cheap and affordable housing for the masses. “Smart cities” is now a buzz word. But the question is whose city is it if the average citizen cannot access all the goodies that such a city provides

4. Infrastructure for abundant energy, utilities and efficient transportation are also areas of priority. Luckily, for all his much-publicised failures, former President Mahama has done a lot in this area. So, Prof. Boateng is not going to start from ground-zero.

 Prof. Frimpong Boateng is in a role which casts him as a brainy conductor of an orchestra comprising the ministers and institutions of Education, Agriculture, Land and Natural Resources; Trade and Industries and Business Development. The vexed questions of the neglect and continuing degradation of our environment need to be addressed. The laws must be applied.

 It is a wasted effort when we continue finding mitigating circumstances for not applying them. The “human face” approach is dishonest. It is a way for courting votes. It encourages squatters, galamsey operators, noise-makers, river polluters and illegal timber loggers. One sees Prof. Frimpong Boateng more of a passionate technocrat rather than a politician. Votes should not be his overriding concern in applying the laws. It is hoped that the “System” would not spoil him.