South Dayi District Chief Executive, Honourable Ernest Patrick Kodzo Mallet, tells MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING in Peki, Volta Region of Ghana, that the breach of Nigeria’s diplomatic property in Accra should never have happened. Mallet, who is also Ghana’s ruling New Patriotic Party’s parliamentary candidate for the South Dayi Constituency in the December 2020 general election, also spoke on the build-up to the elections.
Kindly give a snapshot of the condition in which you found this district in 2017 when you took charge and what the situation is now.
In 2017 when I came into office, end of the year, this government had been running for between ten and eleven months before I joined. I didn’t join from the beginning. The government started in January 2017, and I came in November. There was somebody acting (as the district chief executive). There were certain programmes that were running. The government had introduced new programmes like the Planting for Food and Jobs, the Free Senior High School programme, and the Planting for Export and Rural Development, which was one of the agricultural programmes that was put up. But because there wasn’t any firm leadership arrangement then in the district, things didn’t kick-start the way they should have been.
The previous administration before I came in had left a large, or huge, commitment to the budget, so leaving a big deficit on our books. Certain programmes were not running as we expected; the council or the district assembly could not follow-up on all the services that we really wanted to provide for the people. As a government agency, we wanted to provide governance and good services at the local level. We had problems with security, generally; we had problems with child trafficking and child labour. We had difficulties, in fact big problems with the cultivation of marijuana. The condition of our roads was very bad, in fact they are still bad. You travelled to Kpeve (the district headquarters), and I am sure you saw a little bit of it.
Sanitation was another big difficulty that I saw, and everything was in a mess. The assemblies in the country are given some performance contracts, and we are graded according to how we perform. When I came in this assembly, out of 25 districts at the time (in the Volta Region), it was trailing in the last bottom class of 24th to 25th type of thing. Now, what is the present situation? I will say that when they rank the performance of the districts (with the creation of the Oti Region out of the Volta Region, Volta Region now has 18 districts instead of 25), now we rank among the best five districts in the region. People have seen a lot of difference. It comes around because we are able to better manage budget, and we are able to better manage our resources. The government came up with a policy directive which says that we should ensure that we complete existing or on-going projects before we can embark on new ones. That was a very difficult way of going about things because the people in the community, or the political game-players see, or try to assess, you based on what you have started and completed. So, when you complete somebody else’s projects, they don’t want to give you the credit.
But we realised that we have committed public funds to starting these community projects, whether schools, health facilities, places of convenience, markets, roads, etc. And, then they are abandoned because of the political orientation of successor administrations. And that’s locking up a lot of money. For me, therefore, it was good that the government said we should make sure we complete those for the good of the people. And, I’ll like to take credit for all the projects that have been completed so far. Indeed, we could have started new ones and we will not complete them; and, it will be the same narrative. But the narrative is changing. The number of uncompleted projects that I met, I can’t give you numbers. But they have reduced drastically. Maybe up to 80 per cent of the (uncompleted) projects that I met are now almost completed, or have been completed. There was a large unpaid bill from the previous administration, and we’ve almost settled them. There are two or so cases that the people are dragging the assembly to court, but we are trying to see how to take such cases out of the court and settle these cases. So, we have brought some sanity into the running of the assembly. Also, I found the relationship between our communities to be difficult when I came in. In South Dayi, there are four traditional areas, namely, the Peki traditional area, where I come from, where we are now; the Kpeve traditional area, where the assembly is; the Kpali traditional area; and, then, the Tongu traditional area. Anybody coming from outside will not see any difference because we are just one people. We’ve been since Adam. But there were chieftaincy constraints and difficulties among these areas when I came in. They will not talk to each other. It’s been my approach and desire that I bring them together. We’ve done a lot of work, and I think that there’s more peace, there’s more order, there’s more acceptance of our differences than it was before.
You are the ruling New Patriotic Party’s parliamentary candidate for the South Dayi constituency in next December’s general election. Why do you think you will be the best man for South Dayi in parliament? How do you think your going to parliament will impact on South Dayi’s progress and development and on Ghana generally?
I want to say that I come into this business with a lot of experience and a lot of understanding of what our problems are. I grew up here. I want to believe that I have seen a lot of things. I’ve been around the world; I’ve seen what goes on in other places. I believe we can do better than we are doing. We deserve better than we are getting. And, leadership is one. It is very important to have a good leader. That is why I want to be in parliament.
I understand my people; I know what makes them tick. I want to say that the people in this area are in the forefront of the national discourse. They have a lot to contribute, but the distractions, the diversions are too much. So, people are not focused; they are looking elsewhere; they are doing other things. I want to help focus our actions, our thoughts, and to contribute to national development.
This Peki, or this area, is where Christianity (in this region) was born. This is where education started. People from all over came to school here; I’m talking about 150, 180 years ago. This community was very vibrant. But things have not been the same with time. Chieftaincy difficulties, poverty, misunderstanding of our roles and, even, a lot migration, as a lot of people have left here to other parts of Ghana and outside Ghana. Gradually, I believe we should find a way to bring them back. If not physically, at least they should be participating in what is going on here. That will bring back a lot of things. I think we should be able to support ourselves, support the country, etc.
What are the needs of our people? In fact I want to say that poverty appears very prevalent because people don’t have the jobs they want to do, they don’t have adequate income; and, we have always trained people to be employed, to be clerks, teachers, and pastors. My great grandfather, my grandfather and my father were pastors, for instance. But I decided that I’m not going to be a pastor. We have that type of clerical or scholarly approach to life. I grew to realise that we had developed the head. But now we need to develop the hand. Let’s use our hands. The difference between a human being and a dog is the hand. I look at my dogs; they are not able to speak. But they can express themselves. What they can’t do is to be walking and be holding something, to use their hands. They can’t use tools; they can’t do anything. But God gave us hands. We should learn how to use them.
We should develop our skills and our businesses, and life will not be the same again. So I believe that we should start doing the artisanal work now; let’s get people to do things with their hands. Enough of the book knowledge now; we have it. Let’s use our hands; and, let’s create employment for ourselves and our children. And then life will not be the same.
You have been involved in national politics as a presidential advisor during the regime of former President John Kufuor, serving in the critical area of policy planning and monitoring. What are your take-away from that experience, and how do you think it will impact on your quality of service in parliament?
When I had that good fortune to serve with the former President John Agyekum Kufuor, which regime I served for three years, my schedule was to monitor the policies that the government had put in place and to make sure they are properly implemented. We did not want a post-mortem type of monitoring. We wanted to pre-empt disaster. So we were on top of it. That experience sharpened my approach to public policy. It really brought a different perspective to what I think we should be doing as a community. So we don’t want to wait till a road is badly done before we say ‘Look, the way you are going, you’ll not get to where we want you to go’. So, it kept the government’s programmes updated.
There were a lot of other issues about people involved in misappropriation of funds or misdirection of things that came up. And we were able to pre-empt it. We did it in a very nice way that we didn’t really have to come to the attention of the public. Still we were able to tell those involved that ‘Look, the way you are going we don’t think you’re doing the right thing’. That way, the person has an opportunity to correct themselves. There was even an office whose mandate was to prosecute or track people who had broken regulations in the government. But they really had nothing to do because we got there before anybody. Immediately we hear, for instance, that you are bringing some equipment to come and do salt mining, and that people are talking, we will ask ‘So, what’s the situation?’ By the time you finish explaining what the situation is, I’m sure you yourself will realise that it’s better you check yourself. So you are given the opportunity to make sure you don’t do the wrong thing. Of course if you do the wrong thing, there is a different process. We were not there to cover anybody. I will say that that experience took me to a lot of other employments.
After I left, I went back to the Ministry of Agriculture where that experience was very useful. Thereafter, I went to work for GIZ, the German development agency that runs projects all over the world. I worked with them for five years on an African project on skills development in agriculture. I’m sure I did a good job. Those exposures will come in handy when I get to parliament. As you are aware, parliamentarians have various roles, one of which is an oversight role over the executive. The other is that you want to ensure that your constituency is heard. You bring back feedback from Parliament to your constituency, and take a feedback from your constituency to Parliament. That is not being done well now by the incumbent. I want to be able to do that better than we’ve seen these past years.
You are internationally exposed, having worked with the African Union as the Ghana national coordinator of the Agricultural Technical and Vocational Education and Training Project (ATVET) and the GIZ, the German development agency. How do you react to the recent breach of a Nigerian diplomatic property in Accra? And, how can both countries avoid a recurrence?
Let me start with the incident at the Nigeria High Commission in Accra. It was very unfortunate, and it shouldn’t have happened at all. And, I think that His Excellency the President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has come out quickly to apologise, and to indicate that the perpetrators will be brought to book. That is the way it should be.
But let me quickly add that that incident did not happen because it is the Nigerian High Commission. Let’s take away that aspect of it. It happened because that had been the trend of development of events in the capital city, Accra, where, suddenly, the primordial owners of the land think that ‘visitors’ have taken over their land over the years: Hundred years. Fifty years. And, that now is the time for them to take their land back. I don’t totally agree with that type of argument. If I buy a piece of land from you, you don’t come back for it after 20 years, after 50 years. But it depends on what the arrangement is; whether it is a freehold, or it is leasehold. If it is a leasehold for 100 years, for 50 years, when the time comes there are clauses that indicates what happens. You re-negotiate as you have the first opportunity to buy. You don’t throw me out and sell to somebody else.
So, we need some order. And, the land issues in Ghana, as development comes up, is becoming critical. During President (John) Kufour’s time, we had difficulties like that. And, I remember that we were running around trying to instill some order into the (Ghana) Lands Commission, where we had the World Bank’s support for us to be able to indicate titles to people’s lands so that the duplication of sales and trespassing could be separated. It started from Accra; they went to Kumasi, then went to Cape Coast. Kumasi didn’t appear to have too many difficulties because they have an arrangement which says that every land belong to the Asantehene. But you go to Accra, it’s a different story. You hear things like, ‘This land belongs to my grandfather. So, what do I do? I can split it into four, and sell part of it’. But, the order that has been put in now is that before you can sell even your own land, you need a permit from the assembly; that is, the local government system to say what you want to do with the land. And we come in to see whether it defies any of the regulations: Will you be building on the water-way? Will you be building it on the road? We have put in place a lot of things over the past years, but one of the issues, I think, that came up was to merge land titles, land valuation, surveying and others into a one-stop unit instead of having different units. There have been lots of interventions, but the problem will not go away immediately; but it’s a problem that, consistently, we must solve. What happened to the Nigerian High Commission is unacceptable, totally unacceptable. If they did that to me, I’ll not be happy.