I'm in politics to serve - Isaac Osei

BY: Jojo Sam

Isaac Osei with his familyIn these times when politicians have come up for bashing, and some of them have themselves made news headlines for the wrong reasons, one politician however who is looked on favourably by political pundits for his poise, charm and ability to stay coolheaded, even in rough and hard times is Mr Isaac Osei, the Member of Parliament for Subin Constituency in Kumasi.

For him, as he narrated to The Mirror, politics should not be about false pride and aggression merely to score political points but rather more about serving the people, respect for the rule of law and rights of individuals and  promotion of the private sector as the driving force of the country’s economic growth in a multi-party state.

“These are liberal democratic principles that I believe in and will work hard to have them firmly rooted in our body politic,” he said.
His belief in the private sector as the engine of economic growth and the main source of job creation is borne from experience.
He worked for many years in the sector and achieved successes and  believes therefore that when given the necessary support and attention the country was bound to achieve its dream.

Early business experience
The 62-year-old parliamentarian and businessman said his knack for business was nurtured while at the University of Ghana where he studied economics for his first degree.

“The Head of the Economics Department at the time was a gentleman from the London School of Economics (LSE) called Mark Stuyer. He was a liberal thinker who got his students into serious thinking and discussions on economic theories. In the end we became all-rounded even in other subjects that were not our area of interest,” he said.

Consequently, as a young man excited by the knowledge he was gaining, he and a friend, Paa Kwesi Yankey while still students, went to see the business magnate, Mr J.K. Siaw of Tata Brewery fame to get him to let them print labels for his beer brand, Tata Beer.
He said, Mr Siaw initially thought it to be a joke, but saw the unrelenting spirit in the young men and so gave them the job.

The two friends quickly went to Akan Printing Press at Asylum Down, a suburb of Accra, and got the labels printed and delivered them, following which they were paid a tidy sum of ¢65. “That was our first breakthrough to big money,” Mr Osei said.

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That initial success set in motion a number of other business ventures involving Mr Osei and other students. In another instance not quite long after the Tata Brewery experience, Mr Osei and another friend, S. R. Dapado, organised a charter flight for students to the UK.

“We arranged with the UK government, got visas for the applicants and even got No.3 Collingham Gardens, an upscale hostel to house the students for six weeks,” he said.

Mr Isaac Osei said his year group that graduated from the University of Ghana in 1973 were the first set of students to do National Service.
“That was during the era of military rule under General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong. The scheme was instituted to enlist students to help cart cocoa beans that had got locked up in the hinterland. In addition some students also helped out at the Dawhenya Irrigation project site. Students served under the scheme for one year  before going back to school to complete their course,” he said.

Mr Osei served his time at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MFEP), headed then by the renowned economist, Mr Kwame Donkor Fordwuor, who had freshly arrived in the country after serving with the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Working life
After graduation, Mr Osei went back to the MFEP. A few years later, he and other staff were invited for an interview in connection with a foreign scholarship that had become available. In the end, he passed the interview and was selected to attend a course in Mathematics and Statistics at the Economic Institute of the University of Colorado in 1976.

In that same year he said he got admitted to the Williams College, University of Massachusetts, to study for a Master’s Degree in Development Economics.
The following year, 1977, he came back  to the MFEP. At that time, the late Dr Robert    Gardiner had been made the Minister of Finance and Economic  Planning. 

According to Mr Osei, following discussions with Dr Gardiner, he was posted to the Micro-Economic Division under the directorship of Dr J.S.L. Abbey.
The mandate of the division involved producing 5-year development plans for the country’s economic development. At the end of the first year however he got fed up with work at the division and resigned from his work.

Not long after he received information from one Mr Abel Edusei to attend an interview at the Ghana Tourist Development Corporation (GTDC) and later got appointed as a commercial manager on a salary of ¢7341 even though he had applied initially for the position of a projects manager. That was in 1978.

According to Mr Osei, his employment and appointment did not go down well with his former employers because he had left them not quite long after returning from a training programme abroad.

After some years service with the GTDC, Mr Osei was appointed to the position of Chief of Commercial Operations . This was at a time  when it was illegal  to hold foreign exchange account.

With that at the back of his mind, Mr Osei spearheaded the establishment of Diplomatic Shops, reserved solely for diplomats who required certain items to make their stay in the country comfortable.

In his new role, the GTDC began to expand into new territories. The Corporation became owners of the Palm Court Restaurant, Akuaba Travel and Tours Limited, among other investments.

“Also at this time, the GTDC was in negotiations with the Accor Group, owners and managers of Novotel Hotel worldwide. That was how Novotel Ghana came to be established by the GTDC under the able leadership of Mr Abel Edusei,” he said.

As a versatile entrepreneur, Mr Osei has also worked as a contractor on all kinds of projects. He was the managing Director of Intravenous Infusions Limited.

“The President, I believe, saw in me a personality who could straddle both aspects of privileged class and the commons. He felt I could be comfortable say, having tea with the Queen of England and at the same time feel at home eating kenkey with my Ghanaian counterparts,” he said.

He said during his tenure as High Commissioner, the UK budgetary support to the country was increased  and was reflected in the UK government’s support for Ghana’s School Feeding Programme and free maternal health care.

“My last act was to arrange for the state visit of President Kufuor to the Buckingham Palace. But because such an arrangement took about two years planning ahead of time, I left the UK to take up my new appointment as Chief Executive Officer of COCOBOB before the visit took place in 2006.

At COCOBOD, Mr Osei is reputed to have worked hard to improve further the record 700,000 metric tonnes of cocoa production per year set by his predecessor, Mr Kwame Sarpong, to 1,000,000 metric tonnes within a period of about three years.

After serving with COCOBOD, Mr Osei ventured to become the Member of Parliament for the Subin Constituency in Kumasi.

“I have always wanted to go to Parliament to contribute from that end as well. And so in 2000 I made a first attempt but was advised to give up the idea. But in subsequent attempts and after difficult primaries, I was successful and currently in my second term as MP for Subin,” he said.

Commenting on the case pending before the Supreme Court in what is widely believed to be a case between the NPP and NDC over election results, Mr Osei said he believed that the petitioners had a good case, however, he said in cases of such nature the pendulum could swing either way.

Mr Isaac Osei was born in Kumasi in 1951. His father, the late Mr E.K. Osei was a well known businessman who was installed Nkosuohene of Asanteman by the late Asantehene, Otumfuo Opoku Ware, during the Golden Jubilee of the restoration of the Asante Kingdom. His Mother, Mrs Eunice Osei (nee Nkumsah), 82, hails from Dixcove in the Western Region.

Mr Osei began his education quite early at the age of four at the Asawasi Day Nursery. At six he was enrolled at the State Primary School at Bantama. Some of his mates he remembers well include Mr Maxwell Kofi Jumah, former MP for Asokwa, Mr Adu Arthur, Managing Director of PEE WOOD  and Otumfuor Osei Tutu, the Asantehene.

In 1960, his father brought him from Kumasi to Accra to attend the Achimota Primary School and then to the Achimota Secondary School where he had his Ordinary and Advanced Level General Certificates of Examination.

Mr Osei is married to Mrs Mariam Osei and they have five children; two boys and three girls.

For relaxation, Mr Osei enjoys to stay at home with his wife. He also loves to eat out occasionally.

The family worships at the Holy Spirit Cathedral but also spends considerable time at the Christ the King Parish because of its closeness to their residence.

Story: Joojo Sam/The Mirror