Bridge City

Some events are just too important to stand by and do nothing, even when we feel that our actions might not change the outcome. This morning, I posted this letter to my Member of Parliament, Hon. Lynne Yelich.

Hon. Lynne Yelich, P.C., M.P.

House of Commons

Ottawa, Canada

April 18, 2013

Dear Ms. Yelich:

This letter has been simmering in my mind for some time, and each time that I witness another of your government’s actions, my temperature rises. The thought that your government is on the verge of signing FIPA, in spite of mounting opposition to it from many fronts, has my blood boiling.

In 2011, I returned to live in Canada after an absence of ten years. The country to which I returned was not the same country that I left and the changes that had taken place are becoming ever more pronounced. With these changes, Canadians can no longer feel pride from living in a peaceable, honourable, democratic country.

As environmental protections are systematically dismantled by legislation rammed through parliament in omnibus bills, this country can no longer consider itself one that demonstrates care for the environment. When taxpayer funded scientific research that could clearly point out flaws in current energy policy is cut and what remains is muzzled by government direction, it is not difficult to see the forces that are influencing such actions.

Canada is no longer a country which can be known to fulfill its commitments and legal obligations. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto protocol. It has withdrawn from various UN programs. The omnibus bills, C-45 and C-36, contain various components that will renege on the treaty obligations which Canada has with First Nations.  Meanwhile, as we are withdrawing from obligations such as these, your government is preparing to sign FIPA, which will obligate future generations in much more costly ways. Unbelievable!!

Recently I signed an online letter to the PM regarding Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page. You responded and I thank you for that. Today I signed yet another online letter to the government, this time regarding FIPA. I do not know what you feel about such internet generated letters. If you dismiss them as merely an annoying distraction, I hope that you do so at your own peril when the next election rolls around.

Many ordinary Canadians such as myself are becoming more and more displeased with the cavalier attitude taken by your government which puts the interest of large international corporations, especially those involved in the oil and gas industry, ahead of its own citizens. We are not happy that Canada has become a country which is open to be exploited by corporate raiders in order to enable the extremely wealthy to become even wealthier.

Ms. Yelich, you represent a riding in Saskatchewan. May I remind you that ours is a province that in the past was noted for its generousity of spirit – an example of that is the founding of medicare. And while your political beliefs may not allow you to embrace democratic socialism, I would hope that you will not have forgotten the culture of caring for all that our province has demonstrated in the past. The oil and pipeline companies are NOT your constituents – the citizens of the Blackstrap Riding are.

I urge you to withdraw from further discussions regarding FIPA and that you encourage your fellow Conservative MP’s to join you. I call on you to reinstate the provisions for protecting the environment that were dismantled in Bill C-45. I ask you to ensure that your government make a concerted effort to fulfill the legal obligations to First Nations that were clearly set out by Treaty. Finally, I beg you to have the courage to act in accordance with the tradition of our parliamentary democracy, where Members of Parliament act in the interests of their constituents and where those interests come before loyalty to a political party or its leader.

Sincerely,

It is never too late, right? This morning, as I prepare to leave later today for West Africa, let me enter the Idle No More fray. This movement of the people has captured my attention since the beginning. I have not written about it because others have been so much more articulate and knowledgeable on the subject. But, like I say, it is never too late so here goes.

In 2011 I returned after a 10 year period out of the country. As I readjusted to life in Canada, I realized that it was not the country that I had left in 2001. Instead, there seemed to be more emphasis placed on business, in particular, BIG business, business that has little connection to “the people”. On one hand I saw governments privatizing services that had previously been administered by the government itself under the rational that private business is more efficient and capable. On the other I saw these same governments handing “bail-out” money to private corporations that were failing. Something was wrong – if business was a better idea, then why would they need bailing out? And at the same time that banks and corporations were getting hand-outs, government services for the people who were paying taxes were being cut back. Canadians seemed to accept this – in fact they re-elected the party to power that was responsible for these actions.

But then came the summer of Occupy.  Something seemed to be changing and people were expressing their discontent. I was hopeful. Of course, as the summer changed into fall and then into winter, the tents were taken down, not always peacefully or willingly, and the Occupy movement seemed to fizzle out. With the fizzle went my naive memories of an earlier time in my life – a time of long hair, of protest, of sit-ins, of love-ins, of a generation that thought we were going to “give peace a chance”.

Other events took over. Enbridge. The expanding Tarsands. Another pipeline proposal, this one to the west coast, crossing First Nations lands, endangering watersheds and wildlife habitat and coastlines, all in the interest of  the share value of oil companies bent on making profits at the expense of environment and people, particularly First Nations people.

In May, 2012, the Yinka/Dene Freedom train  rolled across the country to create awareness about the proposed pipeline to the coast. I joined the crowd  at the  station that had come as a show of support when the train passed through Saskatoon on its way to Ottawa (https://vimeo.com/41514349).

As I looked around the station, I recalled another First Nation protest, almost 40 years ago, when I sat at the back of a room in Yellowknife to listen to the Berger Inquiry into the proposal of that time – the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline.  And I recalled occasions after that, travelling with Saskatchewan chiefs and elders to Ottawa, meeting the Minister of Indian Affairs, meeting with Members of Parliament, scouring the National Archives for supporting evidence,  taking part in strategy meetings,  reading the history and terms of Treaty 6… all in an effort to urge the Government of Canada fulfill the legal obligations that flow from that treaty.

Last year, we saw an escalation in Conservative tactics to further change the nature of the country and clear the way for further environmental exploitation. The first omnibus bill, Bill C-36, was introduced to the House of Commons.  Some dissent was expressed but not enough and the Bill proceeded and was finally given Royal Accent later in the year. The Prime Minister and his parliamentary cronies ignored criticism of their bully-boy approach with arrogance and disdain and in fact, they followed up with yet another omnibus – Bill C45.

This time, they may have gone too far. Here, in the territory covered by Treaty 6 and signed 136 years ago at Fort Carlton and Fort Pitt, four women invited people to join them to discuss common issues and concerns. From that meeting spawned a movement which has caught the attention of people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, in Canada and around the world. Is this the time that we take our stand? that we ensure that our government do the right thing – for our children and for our unborn children? that we honour past agreements? that we  safeguard our future environment?

Idle No More presents us with an opportunity as Canadians, all Canadians, First Nations and non-First Nations, to redress our history and to ensure a healthy, vibrant, all-inclusive future. January 28 has been designated as a World Day of Action in support of the Idle No More movement. I will not be able to join the people on the streets in Saskatoon but my support will be coming in spirit from the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. Idle? No More!

STORM CLOUDS

 

ominous omnibus clouds

rumbling

over each other

whether watch weather

eye to the sky or to the cellar

while the gods decide

do we dance in the rain

wine in hand in gumboots

with Bacchus

or thunderbolts overhead

do we drum to battle

with Thor

Hoar frost and prairie branches

sketched on a crisp winter sun

sitting low on the noon day horizon

 

Orange harmattan orb

scattering forlorn Sahara dust

over the Gulf of Guinea

The New Bridge to Cape Three Points

Remember my post about the poor condition of the many bridges which lead to Cape Three Points?

https://villagerainbows.com/2011/01/18/bridging-the-gap/

Well, good news for the folks that live in Cape Three Points and the villages leading to it, as well as for visitors to the area!! The bridge which caused so many problems has been repaired and is now open for use by the public. Thanks to Ghana Ports and Harbour Authority.

In January, I posted an item about the bad state of repair of the bridges on the road to Cape Three Points.  Well, I have some bad news and some good news. First the bad news – the wooden bridge collapsed again and the road is closed as a result. And now the GOOD NEWS – the bridge is being repaired!!! Stay posted for updates and don’t be surprised if the people of Chauvine, New Akwadae and Cape Three Points hold their own ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the occasion!!!

Bicycles have long been used as a means of transportation in Africa. Here in Ghana, the use of  bicycles was first introduced into the northern parts of the country with working bicycles made in China but they have also become popular in the southern regions, with an assortment of used bikes imported from Europe and North America.

Biking has taken on a new dimension with the first Mountain Biking Festival held in the Western Region on the weekend of February 19 and 20. Seventeen teams from villages including and near Akwadae and Cape Three Points competed on Saturday over a 5 kilometer course set through the rubber tree plantation near the village of Aluaso. On Sunday a 2o kilometer social ride was organized through the countryside with locals and visitors enjoying the scenery and exercise. For future events, check the website: http://www.ghanawestcoastmountainbiking.com

Not up to the load

Recently the Chief of Cape Three Points was asked by a visitor to outline the needs of his community. His answer was quick and unwavering – electricity for the village, and an accessible all weather road for the area.

For some folks here in Ghana, the name “Cape Three Points” is synonymous with oil and riches, but for people like myself who frequently visit the village that gave the offshore oilfield its name, the name conjures up respect for the resiliency and good humour of its citizens. For far too long, they have been isolated from their share of the improving economics of the country because of the poor condition of the road which leads in and out of their area.

The author with Nana, the author's son, and a visitor

From where one leaves the pavement on the Agona/Dixcove branch, the dirt road is dusty and extremely rough in the dry season, and muddy and often impassable for anything other than the most robust four wheel drive vehicle when it rains. There are countless streams, lagoons and low lying areas to pass over and through on the way to Cape Three Points and just as many bridges of various types and in different states of repair. Any one of them could prevent someone from completing their journey in or out of the village, emergency or not.

One of these bridges is no more than some logs straddling the banks of the stream with planks placed on top. The planks have given out on several occasions (see photos above and below) and loaded trucks have fallen through, blocking the way until such time as the drivers find a way of getting them back on the road. The bridge is “repaired”, awaiting the next time that it is not capable of withstanding a load that crosses it, and the cycle is repeated.

In a change of policy that is ostensibly intended to support and encourage tourism, the Government of Ghana moved routes which lead to important tourism destinations out of the Feeder Roads category into the Highways category. To date, that has done little to permanently improve to road to Cape Three Points even though the area is home to many tourist attractions including a forest that is unique enough to be categorized for its “Significant World Class Biodiversity”. Word reached the village this week that Highways is coming to grade the road and that will be most welcome, but it does not address the issue of bridges.

Fuel tanker stranded after breaking through the bridge planks... again!

The issue of bridges on the road to Cape Three Points is not a new one. A couple years ago the news media carried a story about a bridge being “destroyed” by displeased youth from one of the villages on that road. The media was not accurate in its portrayal of the circumstances – the bridge did not exist and the youth were doing their best to draw the attention of the public to the sorry state of affairs on their road and others in the area. And in December a delegation of Chiefs from the Western Region met unsuccessfully with Parliament to discuss the need for improved infrastructure, including roads and bridges, for their area.

The time is long overdue for the matter to be addressed in a meaningful way and for proper access be provided for the people and villages in the Cape Three Points area.

Another broken plank in a bridge of promises

ILLUSTRIOUS “FIRST OIL”

– by Festus Tumi

December 15th 2010……a great day for Ghana.  It was my younger sister’s -nth birthday (her being of a certain age, it would be wrong of me to state which particular birthday).  Oh, and it was also the day that (and I quote from the Agricultural Development Bank’s advert in 20th December 2010 edition of the Daily Graphic) “Ghana joined the illustrious band of oil exporting nations….” [my emphasis] Full page, colour advert too!

Illustrious? Does this illustrious band include Nigeria, Venezuela, Sudan, Angola, Gabon, Libya? Nations that… well, in my opinion, although having far greater reserves and having been exporters for far longer are not what I would call illustrious nations in terms of national and personal development.

When one applies for a position, recruiters usually use one’s previous performance as a basis to determine whether one will be able to perform in the future.  Based on this premise, I for one will not be celebrating Ghana’s entry into the so-called illustrious band.  Why such pessimism?

Although to claim that the offshore oil is “within” Ghana’s western region stretches the imagination a bit (after all 60km out to sea is long way out) the Western Region certainly produces the following:

100% of Ghana’s rubber;

almost the same percentage of Manganese and Bauxite;

55% of Cocoa;

50-55% of Gold;

45% of Timber;

30% of Oil Palm;

30% of Coconut;

10-15% of fish.

Apart from these resources, I think 7 of the 15 historic forts and castles are in this region.  Some of the world’s finest beaches are also in the Western Region.

Lets now add 97% of Ghana’s petroleum.   What is my point, spouting off all these statistics and numbers?

My point is simple really.  Despite all the gold, cocoa etc, etc, the Western Region remains relative to resources GHANA’S most deprived region.  Despite having all of the above how has this wealth translated to the well being of the people? Tarkwa, Bibiani, Prestea, all gold mining areas, are some of the most deprived townsites.  Agona, centre of the rubber plantations just the same.  Enchi, Asankagra, cocoa producing areas, same.  In fact the only sustained development in this region was during the governorship of Guggisberg, and even that was purely to ensure that the resources were accessible for export.

Oil will be just the same.  President Mills basically said so himself.  He is going to do what is necessary BEFORE he will do what is RIGHT! [my emphasis].  What is necessary is to expand the Takoradi Port (ongoing I assume, same with the airport for “oil related operations” and er, that’s it.  No improvement in local non oil related infrastructure)

In terms of income, oil will bring in $1bn per annum.  As additional income that is welcome, but still some way behind gold, cocoa, international remittances and tourism.  Apart from gold most of the supply chain is locally produced and managed. Oil? Nope.  Local content bill? – we wait and see.

Festus Tumi publishes the magazine, “Destination Ghana” and the “Ghana Hotel Directory”. He is also a professional photographer.

 

 

It is a new year and time for a rant!!! Just before Christmas, I went to Takoradi to buy a few items that were needed to replace faulty components in my hotel.

Call me naive. Call me foolish. But I think that we should all contribute to “Helping Build a Better Ghana”. God knows that I have done my share of collecting and paying taxes for the Government of Ghana since I built the hotel and made the country my permanent home in 2001.

“What happened to bring this on?” you may ask. Well, the week before that trip I asked a friend who has a shop that sells various building supplies if she could supply our hotel a water heater to replace one which is faulty. She offered to have one brought on her next load of supplies from Accra. She called her supplier for the price and I gave her the money in advance. I stopped to pick up the water heater on the appointed date and requested a receipt from my friend, the shop keeper.

My friend and I have had discussions about the VAT before so she knows how I feel about it, but she proceeded to tell me that she could get me a receipt but not a VAT receipt and she would have to  get it directly from her supplier. She explained that the supplier would not provide her with a VAT receipt for that item or any of the other items which she had brought from Accra. She went further to tell me that none of the wholesalers in Accra collect or pay VAT. Bottom line – no VAT receipt for my purchase, and no credit to offset the VAT which my hotel collects from all of our guests and submits to the Government of Ghana.

Not good enough for me – I have been down this road too many times. This is an area that you don’t see many folks here talking about and I am going to offer my guess of the reason why. Folks fit into several categories:

1. they live off the land and do not use cash in their day to day living

OR

2. they don’t give any consideration or care about what happens to the country

OR

3. they know that their family and/or friends are dodging the VAT tax and they don’t want to be seen as traitors

OR

4. They are in business and are themselves actively avoiding the collection and payment of the VAT tax

This is not a complete list. The bottom line is this: the VAT tax is not working and a lot of businesses are falling through the cracks in the system.  The VAT Service and ultimately the citizens of Ghana lose out in this situation, and so will my friend – I will not be buying from her shop until she starts to conform to the laws of the land.

This happens over and over, every day, in this country. The original VAT is a tax which does not work in this country. It is too complicated for many businesses, whose book keeping is not able to deal with a Value Added Tax. Apparently the VAT Service recognize this problem and that is why they have implemented the VAT “Flat Tax” of 3%. Unfortunately they did not have to courage or the insight to scrap the “value added” idea altogether and change the regime to a straight flat sales tax for everyone, with a lower rate. This would be something that would be much easier for retailers to understand, for consumers to accept, and for the Service to administer. It would also be much fairer to all businesses – at the present time, the hospitality industry is required to collect and submit 15% tax with very few VAT inputs to offset the output, while retailers are allowed to collect and submit only 3% tax. Where is the fairness in that?

2011 is a new year and I for one think that it is time for the Government of Ghana to revisit the VAT system and make it fair for all by changing it to a flat tax and by ensuring that it is enforced uniformly.