By Elizabeth Ohene
The Ghana Institute of Engineers was in the news this past week. The President of the institute launched something called 2022/2023 Ghana Infrastructure Report Card.
I am sure the project is very important but I am not getting into that nor into any of the grand observations made at the ceremony about how important engineering is. I do have some questions that I believe the institute can help answer.
It is no secret that engineers are my favourite people. I praise them at every opportunity and I have said it over and over again that they are the ones that rule our lives and control the quality of our lives.
My questions: How come it is always the roofs of classrooms and government buildings and structures that are blown off whenever there is a storm?
These structures would be relatively new ones, they would be classroom blocks that have been built not long ago and the roofing sheets would invariably be blown off and mangled. The ancient, colonial buildings and the sad homes of the poor would be left standing. If it isn’t a school block, it would be a district assembly building or a clinic.
What is it about official buildings whose constructions have been supervised by our engineers that seem to attract the wind and have their roofs blown off? Why is it that the private buildings don’t get their roofs blown off quite as often?
The engineers who supervise the private buildings were trained at the same institutions, surely. Is this something that has ever struck the institute as odd and in which case, have they ever tried to find out what the problem is? The consultants and supervisors at (government-funded) construction sites are engineers, or am I mistaken?
When a contractor builds a road and our well-trained engineer examines and gives the work the thumbs up and signs the certificate and they are both paid, contractor and supervising engineer, and potholes appear within a week, does the institute get worried?
What are we to make of the fact that we can’t seem to make the traffic lights on our streets work? Is it beyond us? Is it beyond our engineers? Are we to understand that our engineers don’t have the expertise to make traffic lights work?
Is there someone or someplace where one can complain about shoddy engineering work? We are able to complain about medical doctors when they don’t measure up, why isn’t there a similar mechanism to complain about engineers?
As I have pointed out on other occasions, engineers are far more powerful than any other professional and dare I say, more powerful than even the dreaded politicians, we must be able to complain about them when they fail.
…Feel free to criticise me
I suspect I will have to apologise because I’m afraid this is personal.
As a rule, I do not like to react to what people have to say about Elizabeth Ohene and her views and what she writes. I tend to operate on the basis that since I have such strong views on everything and anything and I express them so freely, I should not get involved in the ensuing discussions and arguments that follow whatever I say.
I notice though that increasingly, in reacting to anything I write or say, people preface whatever they have to say with a reference to how much I am respected because of something I did, wrote or said decades ago.
It usually goes something like this: “I remember when this woman would take on the government and we would all cheer her up. When the “people” rose up against her for challenging the AFRC, we the students came to her defence” (not true, it was the students who came after me for daring to say the killings must stop, that is where the blood must flow slogan came from, but that is not the issue here).
“She made a name for herself by speaking truth to power (it wasn’t a term I ever used, but never mind) and we were all so proud of her”.
It seems when I write or say something that people disagree with and they want to say so, they feel they must make a reference to some elevated status they used to put me at, before stating the current disagreement.
To some others, it is my advanced age that appears to be the inhibiting factor. At 77, some people feel they cannot or should not say straight away if they think I have said or written something they disagree with.
We get into this ridiculous situation of people referring to “Auntie” Elizabeth and then searching for the appropriate word to describe the extent of their disagreement.
Of course, I am taking judicial notice of the many who simply refer to me as being senile when they disagree with something I have said or written, or a particular professor who appears to simply detest me. To these people, it is easier to ascribe senility rather than go to the trouble of finding rational arguments to counteract my views.
I acknowledge that there are those who seem genuinely inhibited by stating their disagreement in a straightforward manner simply because I am an old woman and maybe they have a difficulty in telling off an old woman.
Then, I recently discovered, much to my amazement, that there are some people who feel inhibited about stating their disagreement because
I am female! There are no females in this group, in other words, women who disagree with me are not inhibited or intimidated by my being female, but it seems some men hesitate to state their disagreement because I am female.
May I please state here that I do not think that someone should be shielded from criticism today because of something she wrote or a position she took sixty, fifty, forty, thirty, twenty or ten years ago. Indeed, even if it was a year ago or a month or week ago that someone wrote or said something which saved us from the outbreak of the third world war, or which saved the national treasury billions of cedis, it should not buy protection forever from criticism for new positions.
So, for the avoidance of doubt, may I state here that I am releasing everyone from any considerations of age, gender, previously stated views and opinions, previously beautifully written and argued pieces when it comes to making any judgement on current articles.
Please go ahead and make your comments without the need for any apologies or reference to whatever honour you might think should be accorded to me because of a previous status.