Afotey-Agbo made hot before Appointments Committee

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

A statement made by the minister designate for the Greater Accra Region, Nii Laryea Afotey-Agbo, on July 12, 2012 which suggested that he supported the use of motorbikes for commercial purposes, a practice popularly called Okada, came back to haunt him when he appeared before the Appointment’s Committee of Parliament Monday.

Mr Agbo, in an interview with the Daily Graphic on the said date, noted that the operation of Okada had created job opportunities for the youth and brought down criminal activities and suggested that the business should be regularised and operators given the needed education, in view of the services they were rendering to the public.

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That statement was in sharp contrast to the position of the government which was against the operation of Okada and which had passed a law against the practice.

During his appearance before the committee Monday, Afotey-Agbo, who appeared subdued after being bombarded with questions on the statement he made, came out with an alibi: “I did it to reduce tension among the agitated youth.”

For more than 34 minutes, members of the committee sought to know why, as a minister of state and part of the ruling government, he made statements that contradicted the position of the same government in which he served.

He replied that some agitated youth had accosted him during a duty tour in the region about the government’s stance on Okada and in order to calm them down, he made those statements and subsequently repeated them in interviews with the media.

“It was not because I was against the law,” he said in an obvious “U-turn” and added that he was not even aware that a law was in place.

He said soon after making those statements,  word came to him that the operators of Okada appeared emboldened and were carrying out their business without crash helmets, a situation which led him to liaise with the law enforcement agencies to “let the law take its course.”

“I am prepared to assist the police to enforce any law in Ghana,” he added

Although Mr Afotey-Agbo appeared before a committee whose members were all part of the majority in Parliament to which he belonged, the members took him on for that statement, a situation which made him visibly uncomfortable.

Delving into other issues, the committee sought to know from the nominee how he would address the menace of lang guards in the region, solve the chieftaincy disputes and assist the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to deal with the tons of garbage generated in the capital daily.

He said he would seek the assistance of the police to arrest land guards, and if the police were incapable, he would invite the military for help.

According to him, he had lived in a palace most of his life and, therefore, had an insight into chieftaincy which he would bring to bear on negotiations between feuding parties.

He said the rare insight into chieftaincy and skill he possessed was partly responsible for the relative peace and quiet that the region witnessed when he was appointed regional minister in the last administration.

On the garbage situation, Mr Afotey-Agbo, said discussions were ongoing between some chiefs in the region and himself for the release of lands for garbage disposal.

Minister-designate for Fisheries and Aquaculture Development - Mr Nayon Bilijo

The minister designate for Fisheries and Aquaculture Development, Mr Nayon Bilijo, when he took his turn, said the main challenges confronting the fisheries industry were lack of good management practices and over-exploitation of fisheries resources.

He said the Fisheries Commission which had been mandated to introduce good management practices into the sector had failed while the over-exploitation he had referred to had led to lo catch by fishermen.

He said he would initiate moves to resource the Fisheries Commission and ensure that a Chief Executive is appointed to position it to effectively deal with the problems in the industry.

Also, he said, he would help to seek alternative livelihoods for fishermen who are being affected by low catch.

Mr Bilijo described Ghana as “a big fish consuming country” which consumed 24 kilogrammes of fish per person per annum, far above the global average of 13 kilogrammes per person per annum and needed to pay much attention to the industry.

He said the sector contributed 4.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) last year and had 2.4 million people working in the industry. On the Volta Lake alone, about 84,000 people were involved in fishing.

The situation, he said, made it imperative to decouple it from the Ministry of Agriculture and make it stand alone.

He said plans were advanced to develop landing sites, adding that contractors were waiting for funds to be released to them to begin work.

Mr Bilijo said to deal with the stealing of fish from cages in the Volta Lake, he would initiate moves to institute a “management and compliance system” and the use of patrol vessels to put an end to the practice.

He said he would assist local scientific research organisations to develop new varieties of fish and help to implement an insurance scheme for fishermen.

On Pre-mix fuel, Mr Bilijo said the supply had stabilized and expressed his opposition to the participation of private business men in the distribution adding that private business people were likely to divert the fuel, adulterate it with petrol and sell to the public to make huge profits as happened before the National Democratic Congress assumed power in 2009.

On the use of illegal methods to harvest fish, he indicated that the use of dynamite, light, DDT and other chemicals to fish remained illegal and added that the ban would be enforced.

Western Regional Minister-designate, Mr Paul Evans Aidoo

The minister designate for the Western Region, Mr Paul Evans Aidoo, said the three major problems in the region were the bad nature of the roads, the pollution of water bodies by galamsey operators and the numerous chieftaincy disputes.

He said some of the bad roads were being constructed while the galamsey operators were being educated on the need to stop their destructive activities. The chieftaincy disputes were also being addressed and had minimised.

According to him, there had been some agitation in the region regarding the poor nature of the roads and the lack of job opportunities for the youth in the past few years but he had managed to calm tensions and address some of the problems.

What was needed urgently, he said, was the training of the youth to enable them participate in the emerging oil and gas industry.

Mr Aidoo denied ordering the police to arrest gays and lesbians in the region last year as was published by some newspapers, saying rather he advised that anyone who suspected another of engaging in such activities should report to the police.

“But I must say that if we were to hold a referendum today in the region about legalising homosexuality, 99.99 per cent of the people would vote against it,” he added.

Tourism, Culture & Creative Arts Minister-designate, Mrs Elizabeth Ofosu-Adjare

When it got to her turn, the Minister-designate for Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, Mrs Elizabeth Ofosu-Adjare, said she was clear in her mind that tourism, culture and creative arts are bedfellows which must not be separated.

She said it was for that reason that President John Dramani Mahama thought it wise to bring the three areas together to be managed under one umbrella for the benefit of the country.

Mrs Ofosu-Adjare made the observation when she appeared before the Appointments Committee of Parliament for vetting.

The nominee told the committee that the outlook of tourism in Ghana was bright, since the country had a conducive political environment to attract tourists.

She stated that the growing middle-class in the country meant that many people had a lot of money to spend in the tourism sector, adding that what Ghana had to do was solve the problems associated with the sector in order to accrue the desired profit.

Mrs Ofosu-Adjare acknowledged the fact that poor sanitation at the country's beaches, markets and other important places were impediments to the growth of the tourism sector.

She observed that the continued destruction of the country’s forest reserves and the subsequent extinction of endangered animals and tree species also needed to be stopped to encourage ecotourism.

She said she would use both advocacy and existing laws to curb some deviant behaviours that had come to be associated with some tourists who came to the country.

She explained that while she would ensure that tourists were educated on the country's laws, she would insist that those who fell foul of the law by engaging in acts such as homosexuality were dealt with.

Commenting on the Tourism Levy that was passed by the Fifth Parliament, Mrs Ofosu-Adjare said it was the best thing to happen to the sector, explaining that the law would make it possible for the ministry to use the fund for the development of existing tourist facilities.

She stated that there was the need for Ghana to encourage domestic tourism and gave an assurance that she would help in the organisation of groups to visit the various tourist attractions in the country.

The nominee encouraged the district assemblies to identify tourist sites in their areas and collaborate with the ministry for their development to create employment and also generate revenue to finance more development projects.

Touching on the creative arts aspect of the ministry, Mrs Ofosu-Adjare said she was going to enforce the intellectual property rights of people in the creative industry.

She said fortunately, there was in place the Copyright Law which needed to be enforced vigorously to enable people in the creative arts to benefit from the fruits of their labour.

Spotting a rich Kente apparel, the 39-year-old Mrs Ofosu-Adjare, who is currently the Legal Aid Officer at the Legal Aid Scheme in the Ashanti Region, was accompanied by her husband, Mr Ofosu-Adjare, and her father, Mr I.K. Adjei-Mensah, a former Brong Ahafo Regional Minister and MP for Techiman South.

Employment and Labour Relations Minister-designate, Nii Armah Ashietey

When he took his turn at the vetting, the Minister-designate for Employment and Labour Relations, Nii Armah Ashietey, said since the ministry was a policy body, he would fashion out policies geared towards creating employment for graduates from the country's institutions.

He acknowledged the fact that unemployment was a global phenomenon and explained that Ghana had been hit hard by unemployment because  it continued to churn out graduates who did not have the required skills needed on the job market.

Mr Ashietey said it was for that reason that a graduate support scheme had already been established  to provide graduates with employable skills to enable them to set up their own businesses and employ others.

The nominee, who told the committee that he had been a labour activist and employer, said his experience as an employer and labour activist would assist him to foster good relations between employers and employees.

He advocated the setting up of a labour market information centre to enable the country to know  what was happening on the labour front in the country.

"This will enable Ghanaians to know how many people are employed, how many are underemployed and help the government to collect other needed information in the labour sector," he said.

Mr Ashietey said the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP) was a wonderful programme that could help provide jobs for the teeming youth.

On casual labour, the nominee said it was unfortunate that some employers went round the law to employ people on a casual basis and gave an assurance that if given the nod, he would liaise with the Tripartite Committee to find a solution to that practice.

On strikes by workers providing essential services, Mr Ashietey  said it was unfortunate that those workers went on strike, regardless of the provision in the law, stating that there was the need for dialogue.

The nominee said the authorities had been soft to allow such service providers to have their way and promised to work with the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission, the National Labour Commission and the Ministry of Health to halt the rampant threat by doctors to embark on strike.

He said it was time the authorities called a spade a spade and went according to the dictates of the labour laws of the country to serve as a deterrent to others.

On the provision of employment based on political affiliation, Mr Ashietey said he would ensure that people were employed based on merit. 

Story by Emmanuel Adu Gyamerah and Mark-Anthony Vinorkor