Prime News Ghana

Elizabeth Ohene: Is this government a mistake?

By Kwasi Adu
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I know what it is like to publish a mistake. Since I count having been an editor as part of how I earned a living, I know what it is like for a mistake of one kind or an other to escape everyone along the production line and you end up looking very foolish when the publication comes out.

Two dramatic examples stick in my mind. The Mirror (maybe it was still called the Sunday Mirror at that time) used to be put to bed as we used to put it quaintly, on Thursday evenings and the printed copies were ready when we came to work on Friday morning, and the paper was then sold on Saturdays.

On this particular Friday morning, I took a copy of the freshly printed Mirror and as I looked through an article written by one of our famous columnists, Gormbyie Adali Mortey, a word leapt up at me. “Our uninformed leaders…” Adali Mortey was a well-known commentator on public affairs and he did not shy from controversies or fights, but I got the uneasy feeling that he was not looking for a fight with the members of the military regime that were then ruling Ghana.

I checked the script that he had brought and discovered a stray “n” had found itself into the phrase that had leapt at me. He had written “our uniformed leaders”, and somehow a stray “n” had found its way and turned the leaders in uniform into leaders who were uninformed, who did not have much knowledge.

It could be argued that this was a real case of “the printer’s devil”, but we had to accept that the word in the published article had changed the meaning of what the writer had intended. We called Mr Adali Mortey and alerted him we had a problem and he came as fast as he could. He read the offending sentence and insisted the article could not go out in that state under his by-line. To cut a very long story short, the entire print run of The Mirror was pulped and a new one  printed with the correction, in time to go on sale on Saturday morning.

I tried to argue that the uniformed men might well be so uninformed the word would pass them by. Nobody wanted to take that chance. It was a very expensive lesson.

Taking responsibility

The second incident came the day D.K. Poison won Ghana’s first world boxing title. The match had taken place late Saturday night and we had a lot of time on the Sunday to plan the dramatic big banner headline of the Daily Graphic: A WORLD TITLE AT LAST. Unfortunately the copies that hit the street eventually on Monday morning had a tame headline.

After the first runs were printed, it was noticed that the word WORLD had been misspelt and a new front page had to be designed.

I tell this tale to make the point that I have had a searing experience of being responsible for mistakes on a printed public document. I have therefore tried so very hard to be charitable about the brochure that was produced for the 59th independence anniversary celebrations last Saturday.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to find any reason to find an excuse for such an embarrassing and shambolic disaster. I was not at the ceremony at the Black Star Square and did not see the brochure. When the screen shots from the pages of the brochure started the rounds on social media, I was quite frankly incredulous and I did not want to believe that standards had fallen so abysmally as to allow the distribution of such a publication at the main celebration of our Independence anniversary.

These were not mistakes that could in any way be described as “printer’s devil”. The brochure came across more like a spoof publication and coming as it did a week or so after the President’s State of the Nation address with its drama, I had to reassure myself that this wasn’t another evidence-based performance.

Disgraceful language

The language in the brochure generally is disgraceful and would normally not be allowed in a secondary school publication. The apology issued under the hand of the Acting Director of the Information Services Department and accepting responsibility for what was termed “misrepresentations” in the brochure makes a bad situation, quite intolerable. That the “apology” was dated 12th January 2016, almost two months before the brochure came out only adds insult to injury.

I can’t make up my mind if it is the Address by H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Ghana that I find the most revolting. Does that qualify as a misrepresentation?

What is one to make of this paragraph under the Ghana Independence title? “Ghana has a checkered but interesting history in the true sense of the word. As if by divine-designed, Ghana is strategically positioned on the equator making her the centre of the globe. And like the sun, she radiates light to all parts of the world”. Every word of this paragraph is goose-pimple inducing and puts us all to shame.

What on earth is meant by “As Africa surges like eagle into the globalised sky of the 21st century, Ghana and Kenya are strategically positioning themselves to maximise themselves for the benefit of their peoples”. And what is the meaning of “The innovated partnership is being concretised in many areas of economic trajectory, particularly trade”.

I have tried without success to find what or where the “misrepresentations” are in the sentence “Ghana is now recognised as having attained low income status in the world”.

Large scale fraud

I am certainly not in the mood to accept an apology of sorts from the Information Services Department for this large scale fraud. I hope President Mahama apologised to President Uhuru Kenyatta for him being addressed in our official brochure as the President of Ghana.

When mistakes (or maybe the correct word is “misrepresentations”) were pointed out in the President’s State of the Nation address, apologists of the President first tried to insist there was nothing wrong and then we were told every government makes mistakes. If the President had simply accepted that his State of the Nation address contained inaccuracies, and had proceeded to call to order the officials who had given him the wrong  information, the humiliation of the Independence anniversary brochure would have been avoided.

The President has an opportunity to try and salvage a modicum of honour from this disaster. The Chairman of the anniversary celebrations has been reported as saying that an official from the office of the President, Mr Stan Dogbe, was responsible for the brochure. The President should tell us if that is a fact.

Then the President might want to tell us how much it cost to print the brochure and who got the contract. Then we might discover who signed off and gave the go-ahead for the printing.

I would want to be told at which stage the presidential staffers discovered that the printed brochure was rubbish. I would like to know why copies of the brochure were distributed and not quietly taken away and pulped?

If these are mistakes and/or misrepresentations we are expected to accept in official documents, I will have to conclude that the entire set-up, the government as a whole, is a sad mistake.