So I have decided not to comment on who caused the fire at Atomic Junction. It is not because I don’t know who caused it, but because I don’t want the EPA to know I am thinking that they are the ones who caused the fire. And honestly, I don’t believe the problem is, necessarily, the sighting of the gas stations, for we cannot ask all the gas stations to be sitting in the bush, no.
What didn’t happen in the aftermath of June 3, 2015? Or you think I have forgotten that we have had many of such aftermath declarations of war on gas stations, after the explosions in Takoradi, and Nungua? How many gas stations weren’t shut down, and re-opened? How many workshops, and conferences, didn’t we organize to celebrate ourselves, for the many people who died? And who told you that all the previous explosions that you celebrated were caused by gas filling stations?
Hear this: In 2013 I advertised a vacancy, looking for an Account Officer, to add to my team. The advert specifically required applicants who have had practical hands-on knowledge in QuickBooks and Excel. We had a successful interview, and a gentleman was chosen. This gentleman, call him Nhyira, had an impeccable CV, for what we were looking for; HND in Accounting, with several courses in QuickBooks, and Excel, exactly the qualifications we looked for. He had had three practical attachments in the accounting departments of a number of government institutions, in addition to his national service experience.
Nhyira’s performance in the interview was great; he narrated, in some creative terms, how Excel and QuickBooks work in practical terms, rather taking a drill at the interview panel, on the various charts of accounts, and how they help with management decision-making processes.
Nhyira carried himself well too, with a well-knitted red tie on a checked white shirt, matching a navy blue trousers, a well polished pair of black shoes complementing the usual black belt, in the midst of a faultless flow of English that came with occasional pleasant sense of humor, he was definitely the young man we looked for.
Eventually Nhyira won the role, and went through the usual orientation. He was given a new laptop, with the latest versions of QuickBooks and Excel software fully installed, sharing an office with the incumbent supervising Finance Manager.
One week, two weeks, three weeks, nothing seem to work for our Nhyira. Nhyira, what is happening? We need to produce weekly reports for discussion at the team meetings, could you please get us ready for your first management meeting?
Two months into the role, Nhyira and his boss ushered themselves into my office, to explain a problem. What is the problem? Nhyira says he learnt the QuickBooks in theory, but was not exposed to the practice of it, so he was pleading with management to send him on a course, to train on how to use the software in practice.
I sat behind my desk, with my hands drawn under the table, with my neck stretched forward, with a few eye blinks, as though I did not hear well, with the Finance Officer appearing to be waiting for my next reaction, I kept rounding my eyes, probably in search of my thoughts. Nhyira, the spotless HND Accounting gentleman who had populated his CV with his expertise in Excel, and in QuickBooks, is now faced with another interview, this time, a dismissal interview.
We are all running after certificates, to shore up our CVs, to gain employment, to gain promotions, and to be accepted in society. This we do as though the certificates by themselves are sufficient to make the changes that education expects us to make in the lives of mankind. We have all lost the essence of education, something that should have been based on a solemn thought-through decision to acquire knowledge and critical thinking skills, has now become a routine, a societal fashion, that we have all whipped ourselves into the race of flying our certificates, rather than the solution that the exercising of our minds must bring to our daily societal challenges.
Our state institutions have become the worst victims of the craze for the acquisition of such flaunting certificates; go to the ministries, go to the District Assemblies, go to any public school in Ghana, everyone is in school, furthering their education, everyone is looking for additional certificates, to show cause why they must be promoted, to show cause why they must have salary increase, and to show cause why they deserve better allowances.
There are some student workers who are hiring contractors to write their assignments for them, there are now Thesis contractors who are writing Thesis for working students, both at the Bachelors and Masters Degree levels. These students eventually pass, collect their certificates, and they carry these rented certificates to secure the best of jobs in town. The result is that they gain the expected promotions, so they become senior public officers, they sit in the offices, to sign permits without going to the field, because they are unlikely to feel competent to know what to check when they are on the field.
The only time they will go to the field will be to inspect any person who refused to pay the required bribe, and they go to the field to look for the reasons why you cannot get your permit, and heap these reasons on your neck until you have earned yourself enough frustrations to get you to pay your way out.
So we have rented environmental engineers who sit in their offices to inspect gas filling stations and approve certifications. We have rented town planning officers who approve building permits of buildings that are being built on waterways, but would reject a building permit application for a well designed building plan which is cited in a well demarcated area; the two applications are not the same, one came with an envelope, the other did not come with any envelop.
We have District Engineers who would sign off a bridge construction certificate for a bridge that collapsed three months after the construction was declared done. It is not his fault; he does not know how a shovel look like, he does not know the difference between a fermented cement and the one which was produced while he was still dreaming; for both were acquired in the same way as his educational certificates came.
So I get you. You are right in asking these gas stations to be taken away from human settlements, and to be relocated as the human settlement draws closer. Let’s keep blaming the operators of the gas stations for the recent explosions, and leave the rented engineers out.
Of course since Winneba, for example, is now merging with Accra, with human settlements seamlessly apart, there is no way we could keep these stations within our reach, if we should go by your logic. Therefore let us eject all the gas stations in town - Accra, Kasoa, Winneba - wipe them all out, and let us send all of these gas stations to the sea, let’s keep them there till they abandon themselves, and since all-gas-be-gas, let us enter into the hotels, homes, restaurants, and all those places using sizeable gas cylinders, let’s send all those cylinders too to the sea, and thereafter let us fill our cylinders by the sea, and for the sake of safety, and since the closeness of the gas stations are the cause of all fires in town, let us all buy long ropes of gas tubes, everyone, connect your tubes to your cylinders, and wire them all into your stoves in your homes, with the cylinders still sitting at the sea, and let us all have our peace of mind; the cylinders are gone, peace has come.
In the meantime those whose duty is it to inspect these gas stations, to ensure that they have conformed to safety standards, that both the receptacles and the discharge tubes, and the storage tanks are regularly serviced to standards, all those who failed in their duties of ensuring that these gas station facilities are serviced, replaced, sanctioned, but whose bribe-happy fingers made them sign the compliance papers in their offices, all those who think they are engineers but are only able to prove their profession with large certificates, all of them would be happy, that, at least, they have been able to mislead all of us, in believing that the devil is now in the sea; thereafter they shall continue to draw their salaries.
I will not say anything, I will not blame anyone, for all the deception, for all those who do not deserve their positions, and yet they are the ones who draw the largest part of the consolidated fund, I will blame none of them, I will blame myself, for the taxes that I pay that helps them to continue occupying their seats.
James Kofi Annan