Sunday, September 7, 2014

The deadwood called Ghana’s Missions Abroad

Saturday, September 6, 2014
Folks, a country that doesn’t have good expertise in doing productive foreign relations work can’t impress or attract other countries to do business with it. And without any productive relationship with other countries, how can such a country sell itself? No amount of re-branding ventures will serve its purposes. That is why countries establish foreign missions and spend huge sums of money maintaining them. By their fruit will they be known. Ghana’s missions abroad are nothing but deadwood.
Ghana is known for its penetration into other parts of the world, establishing links with any country at all that it sees as a likely productive partner. The missions so established are expected to do much for the country’s benefit. Some missions are regarded as more important than others. Take the missions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, for instance, and you will know why those appointed as Ambassadors and High Commissioners there regard themselves as more “powerful” or “luckier” than their colleagues assigned to Burkina Faso, South Sudan, Nicaragua, Panama, or Lesotho.
For reasons best known to the appointing authority, choosing Ambassadors and High Commissioners to do Ghana’s foreign relations work is demanding. How about the intensive lobbying going on and the need to put in place those who can do the bidding?

In contemporary times, the trend has been particularly disturbing because most of those appointed to the foreign missions are not career diplomats but political operatives either being placated or recycled after losing traction in the system at home. And we know how some of those “diplomats-by-accident” have already flopped in their political careers to indicate that “diplomacy” is not their niche. So, why recycle them for such positions in countries that would already have known them as such? I am particularly unhappy that the appointment of political appointees to the disadvantage of career diplomats is now the order of the day. It didn’t happen that much under Nkrumah. No wonder he had a strong foreign mission corps to make Ghana’s presence felt far and near.
Not in our contemporary times when the corps of political appointees being sent to those missions either end up not performing well or simply regarding their position as an investment to over-extend their partisan political jingoism. They cannot separate partisan politics from the foreign relations work that their new-found status entails and demands.
Truth be said, Ghana is not really getting value for money from its foreign missions, apparently because nothing is being aggressively done by these missions to promote the country’s interests and serve the citizens residing in countries that they are posted to. I have written opinion pieces questioning the incompetence of these foreign missions at several levels: not serving Ghanaians in their areas of jurisdiction because they lack data on the population or are undiplomatic in their work ethics; not promoting Ghana’s trade prospects; seeking personal interests at the expense of the public one; and their staff’s indulging in immoral acts (bribery and corruption, visa racketeering, especially) as well as sabotage (especially when negative political interests come between them and their official designation). In truth, I and many others are not proud of our foreign missions’ performance.
Against this background, isn’t it intriguing to hear that the High Commissioner in the UK, Victor Smith, has cautioned staff of the Commission to comport themselves (plainly put, to eschew corruption or sabotage) or be fired (Reference: http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=324616)
This warning is appropriate and timely to suggest that Ambassador Smith wants to do serious work at the Mission. I hope he will be given a free hand as such; but he needs to draw a line between partisan political activism and the kind of diplomatic work that must be devoid of tension and animosity. Sometimes, overzealous politicians wearing their power on their sleeves can muddy the waters.
Beyond this issue is the major problem regarding the assets of Ghana’s missions abroad and how they are disposed of. In an apparent response to Ambassador Smith’s warning, a contributor to a discussion forum that I belong to made some serious allegations that are worth publicity so the government can look into them to expose and punish the perpetrators. Here are the allegations:
·         In the early 1980’s, property and buildings belonging to the Ghana High Commission were sold for hundreds of thousands and even millions of pounds by some unscrupulous individuals. Ghana government officials took the money and ran away with it. No one has been held to account.
·         A case in point is the massive edifice called “Collingham Gardens” in Earls’ Court, West of London. This massive building was acquired for Ghanaian students in London during Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s era to provide accommodation for Ghanaian students studying in London and Ireland in the 1960’s. The building was sold for millions of pounds and the Ghana officials in charge, mostly from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the London High Commission, shared the monies and just declared a little amount to the Ghana Government in Accra.
·         There was another building in a very prime location near Hydes Park Corner; it used to be the Trade Mission. That building was also sold for millions of pounds and most of the money disappeared.
·         Expensive cars and other property are never properly accounted for.
·         There were Ghana High Commission guest houses for visiting Ghanaian officials in very plush London Neighbourhoods in the 1970s’ and 1980s. All these buildings have been sold off and no one knows where the monies went.
·         Another High Commission building in a prime location at Queensgate, London, was sold for millions of pounds, but no one knows what happened to the monies.
·         As recent as three years ago, Ghana High Commission officials were known for issuing Ghanaian passports to Nigerian and Ghanaian 419 operatives.
·         Ghana High Commission officials at the visa section in Highgate are still brazenly extorting monies from customers to speed up their visa application process and provide audience (with the High Commissioner?) and facilitate access. How unethical?
Folks, that’s the tall list of allegations, which I have culled from that forum to extend my claim that for as long as Ghana’s missions abroad indulge in unethical conduct and fail to promote the country’s interests—not to talk about their failure to serve the best interests of Ghanaians residing in their areas of jurisdiction—their public image remains indelicate and questionable beyond measure. The problem with the Ghanaian Establishment is that official response to allegations of this sort are painfully slow and ineffectual. The truth is that the rot in the system is pervasive, creating the impression that those to take action against culprits are themselves likely culprits. So, who cares?
It is clear that the alleged malpractices occurred in the 1980’s when Rawlings was in power. What did his government know about them? What did it do to name and shame the perpetrators? How about succeeding governments? In the final analysis, who has investigated anything for us to know the truth? Will the Mahama-led administration be bold enough to dig into it, now that it has cropped up in public discourse?
I am more than unhappy that Ghana’s foreign policy initiatives are not aggressively being pursued for the country to reap the benefits. Can we say that we have a Minister of Foreign Affairs who is well versed in foreign relations work and not just settling down as a “glorified messenger”? For the country to have a vigorous foreign relations sector, appointments there should be based on real factors other than political altruism or adulation. Not until those qualified to do foreign relations work are put in charge of affairs, nothing concrete will emerge with which to move the country where it needs to be in this 21st century. Why are we in Ghana so bent on shackling ourselves? I wonder; I really wonder!!
I shall return…
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