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Urgent! Stimulus package for STI

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  • Will we be left with only the bones from the $300 million Bretton Woods Stimulus Loan and the multi-million cedi Trust Fund — after settling utility bills?

This article is caught between two schools. As a nation hanging by our fingernails and looking up to World Bank/IMF to prop us up through the COVID-19 nightmare, is it out of turn for a writer to start raising issues beyond bread and butter?

On the other hand, is there a better time than now to place the future before our eyes — lest after our battle with death, we are left without hope?

I write, spurred on by a question posed during the Wednesday, April 8 edition of the Citi Breakfast Show: “What is the way forward for Ghana after this pandemic?” Will we be left with only the bones from the $300 million Bretton Woods Stimulus Loan and the multi-million cedi Trust Fund — after settling utility bills?

The President’s last COVID-19 address revived a hope in me. In blowing kudos to and throwing salutations at Mrs Veronica Bekoe, brains behind the Veronica Bucket, the robotics students of Obuasi Secondary Technical School for their hands-free electronic bucket and Jude Osei’s solar-powered handwashing sink, the President, in that single speech, sent ripples of hope across the nation by his tacit acknowledgement that without science, technology and innovation (STI), we are a nation that is going nowhere.

We need someone, an institution, to coordinate the many, but scattered technological innovations. In addition to the Obuasi Sec-Tech students’ invention and Jude Osei’s solar-powered handwashing sink, there is also the locally manufactured ventilator by Professor Fred McBagonluri, of the Academic City College in Accra.

There are more, especially at KNUST, but they still remain pilots, waiting to be linked to industry. Who is helping them to do the linking?

From the example of South Korea and other Third World nations that have leapfrogged technology, the lesson is that this process is not one to be left to chance. It has to be a deliberate government policy by a President who sees tomorrow.

Mr Paa Kwesi Entsua-Mensah, a former Director at one of CSIR’s institutes, suggests that “this is the time for reverse-engineering.”

The conversation reminded me of the Japanese. It is said that after World War II, Americans took the cinema to Japan. They mounted their equipment and screened the films. The Japanese scientists did not watch the films: they watched the machine. Thereafter, they took the machine apart and re-assembled it. After that Japan did not import film projectors; they made them.

“That’s reverse-engineering for you,” Entsua-Mensah says and points out that Ghanaians are no stranger to this technology phenomenon. “It is at work, albeit on a small scale, at the Suame mechanics’ enclave in Kumasi. It’s been perfected by Apostle Kwadwo Safo of Kristo Asafo.

Today, he is making cars and the Suame mechanics are doing things to vehicles that will humble engineers.”

Prof. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng has always insisted that what we need, for a start, are factories or workshops to produce precision tools. Entsua-Mensah remembers that “long ago, in the early 1960s, Ghanaians were producing precision tools at the foundries of Sekondi Railway Location Workshop (‘Loco’)”.

The situation calls for a stimulus package for STI.

Don’t ask me where the money will come from. If there has been an argument in favour of dipping our hands in the Heritage Fund to prosecute the COVID-19 war and if the Heritage Fund is for the future, what better guaranteed future is there than that which STI provides?

In 2016, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo promised to increase Ghana’s Research Development Fund from 0.25 per cent to one per cent of GDP. That will be manna, if it drops.

If the fear of COVID-19 decimating the Ghanaian population can so move companies, churches and industries to line up daily at Jubilee House waving their GH¢100,000 (minimum) widow’s mite, it should not be impossible, under a Stimulus Package or a State of Emergency for Science, to get corporate Ghana to contribute a miniscule fraction of their annual budget to a fund out of which, among other uses, our STI students from KNUST and technical universities on compulsory vacation jobs will be paid a little allowance, at least, as T&T.

In addition, industries should be encouraged to set up Research and Development (R&D) centres.

PS: I still think that there is pretty little space in our media devoted to STIs. Kudos, though, to CSIR for its fruitful partnership with GTV – great job, Napoleon Ato Kittoe.

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