Albert Sore’s Memoir: Has Mahama’s Ministerial Musical chairs let down UE?

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Today, Bolgatanga Estates is a beautiful residential area. Plush homes surrounded by beautiful ornamental plants, well-kept landscapes and more importantly, beautifully – tarred access roads. The same homes in this elite settlement used to be covered in red dust from the movement of vehicles because the access roads were untarred and deplorable for almost two decades. But the roads did not suddenly become good ones from the wave of a magical wand. They came to be there because a certain Regional Minister made it his vision to have good town roads for the Bolgatanga Municipality. His name was Alhaji Limuna Mohammed-Muniru. Alhaji Mohammed – Muniru was appointed Northern Regional Minister in 2013, soon after the NDC won power in the 2012 general elections. In a strategic move by President John Mahama to make Regional Ministers more effective, he decided to swap them to regions where they were not indigenes. This move saw Alhaji Limuna Mohammed – Muniru move to the Upper East Region whiles Dr. Ephraim Avea Nsoh who had been appointed Upper East Regional Minister, moved to the Upper West to serve as Regional Minister there. I was one of the journalists who covered Alhaji Mohammed – Muniru’s familiarization tours of the region when he first arrived. Like many people, I considered everything he did and said in the first few weeks as “the usual political thing” but I came to accept that he was a tactful man; a man with an iron constitution who knew his own mind and would stand by his word any time, any day. For example, Alhaji Mohammed – Muniru forced many people in the Upper East Region to learn to stick to time. Whenever he was invited for a function, he made it a point to be there a few minutes before the time that was given. And if that time passed and the function did not start, he would leave the venue and never return. Because of this, those who were used to the culture of “African Time” never got him at functions they invited him for. People grumbled about it but he did not budge. Soon, everyone who needed him at their function learned to stick to their time. Apart from his discipline, Alhaji Limuna Mohammed – Muniru had a vision for the Upper East even though it was not his place of origin. He wanted the Bolgatanga Meat Factory and the Pwalugu Tomato Factory functioning again. I remember him telling journalists that he was discussing with some Indian investors to see if this could be done. But key among his visions was to have good town roads. The roads within the Bolgatanga Municipality were so terrible that anyone who meant well for the Municipality was embarrassed by the nature of the roads. It was Alhaji Mohammed – Muniru’s vision to change this situation. True to his word, work on some of these roads started. Skeptics and critics thought it was mere propaganda. Today, he is no longer in this region but some of our town roads like those within the Bolga Estates, have been worked on. Just as we were getting used to Alhaji Limuna – Mohammed Muniru and his principles and vision, President Mahama decided it was time for him to return to the Northern Region where he had been originally appointed as Regional Minister. This was in March 2014. Dr. Ephraim Avea Nsoh then returned from the Upper West to serve as Upper East Regional Minister. Dr. Avea had endeared himself to the people of the Upper West Region due to his hard work. He had succeeded in drawing and adopting a regional development plan for the Upper West and though I know very little about what the plan entailed, the good testimonies from people in that region made it obvious that Dr. Avea was doing a good job. They also loved Dr. Avea because of his simple living which was in contrast to what we know of people who occupy that position. For instance, in order to cut cost, Dr. Avea used a far less expensive car instead of his official vehicle, so that less money could be spent on fuel. Testimonies from journalists in the Upper West indicate that there were times when Dr. Avea joined them in the press vehicle to official assignments. It is not in doubt that Dr. Avea was not the ordinary Ghanaian politician. He was determined to change the status quo at any cost. When Dr. Avea returned to serve as Upper East Regional Minister, I covered his first familiarization visits. That day, he decided to visit the offices of government institutions, unannounced. He caught many of the workers unawares. The premises of many of these offices were unclean. At all of these places, Dr. Avea ordered the workers to clean up and waited to supervise them do so. In fact, at some of the places, he helped pick up pieces of polythene and other rubbish with his hands. During that visit, many government workers in Bolga got to see and talk to their Regional Minister, face to face. Many of them informed him about the problems they faced in their various offices. Dr. Avea listened to each and every problem and offered advice where he needed to. The rest, he jotted them by himself in a small booklet he was holding. Dr. Avea immediately drew a similar development plan for the Upper East Region as he had done for the Upper West and involved policy makers, Civil Society Organizations and even chiefs in his plans. The people of this region loved Dr. Avea because he had time to hear out everyone who came to his office and demonstrated in more than enough ways that he was the kind of leader they wanted. But in less than four months, President John Mahama announced another ministerial reshuffle in which he removed Dr. Ephraim Avea Nsoh from office, replacing him with James ZuugahTiigah who at the time, was serving on Ghana’s permanent ambassador to the United Nations. This decision was met with stiff resistance. At least two mammoth demonstrations were staged in Bolgatanga and Dr. Avea’s hometown of Bongo to protest the President’s decision to remove Dr. Avea from office. The protests yielded no result. Two months later, there were media reports that the Upper East Region had been without a Regional Minister for two months. James Zuugah Tiigah had taken over office from Dr. Avea Nsoh and had reportedly gone back to handover his previous office as Ghana’s permanent ambassador to the UN. For two months, he had not returned and people had begun to worry. The Public Relations Officer for the Regional Coordinating Council told the media that the Deputy Regional Minister was taking care of things well enough and that there was no cause for alarm. Mr. Zuugah returned to office after two months but he did not seem to make the same impact on the region as Alhaji Mohammed-Muniru and Dr. Avea did. Here, I am not trying to take away anything from Mr. Zuugah but it has been difficult for journalists to get him to speak on critical regional issues since he assumed office. At most public functions, Mr. Zuugah preceded his speeches with the sentence; “today is not a day for long speeches”. He would then proceed to give brief speeches that lacked detail of critical regional issues that journalists wanted to keep track of. He would not readily grant exclusive interviews either. So for most journalists in the region, it has been difficult to keep track of the progress of work left behind by James Zuugah’s predecessors. It is clear however that work on the town roads that had been a passion for Alhaji Mohammed – Muniru has stopped. In fact, with the exception of the roads that had been completed, the town roads became so bad that youth in the region had to embark on a demonstration on October 10, 2015 to demand that the roads be fixed. Soon after the demonstration, men were seen patching up potholes on some of the roads. As we speak, the roads are back to the same deplorable state. The Pwalugu Tomato Factory remains shut and so are the Meat Factory and Rice Mill in Zuarungu. The inherent problems of lack of market for Tomato and Rice farmers remain. This is all despite the fact that three different Regional Ministers have headed the Upper East Region in three years. Yet, another reshuffle has been made and the region is getting a new minister – the fourth since 2013. The Member of Parliament for Bongo, Albert Abongo who decided not to seek re-election in last year’s NDC primaries has been nominated to take over from James Zuugah Tiigah as Upper East Regional Minister and Daniel Syme who has served as Deputy to all the three previous ministers is also being replaced with the new parliamentary candidate for Binduri, Dr. Robert Kuganab-Lem. I have seen the CVs of the incoming Upper East Regional Minister and his deputy and it is clear they are well-educated and experienced. But the truth is that the previous Regional Ministers were also well-educated and experienced. So the big questions are; exactly what is President John Mahama’s developmental vision for the Upper East Region? How has the ministerial musical chairs helped this vision? If the main reason for replacing Ministers is to enable government to achieve developmental goals, then why is our region’s development so slow? And with less than a year to the 2016 general elections, how will the appointment of a new Regional Minister and a deputy help the development of the Upper East Region?

By. Albert Sore | Facebook: Albert Sore | twitter: @albert.sore |

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