‘Greed is filling a cup with a hole at the bottom. It will never fill’ – Anonymous
When we were growing up, Ghana Commercial Bank was everywhere – from La and Nungua back to Osu and then forward again to Tema. As for Teshie, I was told their rural-ness was too much there that the government thought it was a waste of time ‘throwing a bank at fishermen.’ So, it was the same story at Chorkor up till the 90s when JJ and Nana Konadu gave then the Chorkor Smoker as an appropriate technology food processing initiative.
Before the rural bank idea, it was La which had the first informal economy bank as a community programme. Over 60 years ago, it was still the most endowed in Greater Accra, at least, in terms of access to education, unlike Togbui Alban Bagbin’s Nadowli community. From Tenashie through Home School to La Salem Boarding School to the La Cluster of Schools…The presence of school facilities was so overwhelming that you couldn’t afford not to go to school. Then we had two Anglican public schools, two Roman Catholic schools and a Presby mission school that became a public school. But that’s apart from the existence then of a few privately-owned schools and nurseries.
Little wonder, the community produced an eminent Chief Justice and another and topped it with a Speaker. In addition, it produced the first pupil who skipped secondary school to attend a university, turning Professor of Art. He had had a scholarship from Kwame Nkrumah, though his community and clan would always vote UP because Nkrumah decided to remove him over his failure to support the CPP.
The only contradiction about La is that it is only a small segment of the community in small space who give birth by heart, that are creating problems for us, voting ‘by heart’, like their cousins in Teshie, which is culturally and historically part of La.
The La Community Bank became the first ‘rural bank’ [development bank] in Ghana with funding from Canada. An idea by elite indigenous folk, the Bank which was birthed by the La Development Association was a collaboration in management with the Barclays Bank. When most of our rural banks were collapsing, it has consistently posted a profit, extending its scope of operations to Dr Norley Ashitey’s ‘rural’ Teshie. Teshie is the only fishing community where you’ll find men and women competing along a section of the beach, bentua in hand and back to back, emptying their bowels, though only a few metres away, the former female doctor MP – not the ‘Gbee’ (dog) Doctor – had built a public lavatory close to their cemetery. Still intriguingly, it is the only cemetery in Accra, where the AMA allows the people to bury the dead without permits – COVID or AIDS; rabies or still-born babies.
How serious its women are is also hinged on the fact that it has a bevvy of Makola women who used to be queens in the days when you needed to hold a GTP passbook on the Makola Market in Accra to be invited to a harvest at the German-engineered La Bethel [Basel] Church in the main town.
It is therefore not surprising that in the early 60s, we had women groups welfare associations inaugurated in several neighbourhoods supporting each other to grow their businesses. Up till today, that sensation is still alive into Teshie.
But it thrived because these are indigenous people who know each other and where everybody lives – unlike the more urbanised settings where people do not have addresses save in their pockets and on their phones.
But that is a lesson that bankers and stakeholders in the industry should be willing to learn as a basic formalisation ingredient. But that is also the reason why Market Associations including tomato traders formed by indigenous groups tend to access funds from most banks than those who want to be independent. Again, more intriguingly, that is why people credit tomato at farm gates in Burkina Faso for the queens at Makola to go and pay while they hunt for the culprits in CMB and Agbogbloshie.
I recall the ugly noises made by some political animals when the government decided to sanitise the banking space to enable the sector contribute to national development, instead of supporting cliques and croons; mercenaries and goons in the real estate sector. It is an open secret that that unholy tinkering with the sector to support cronies and political allies was a creation of the National Democratic Congress. It was equally true that it festered after the Prof JEA Mills fateful edit when the NDC began floating too many savings and loans banks which were actually conduits for fleecing migrant economic workers bring plantain and yam and pepper and other foodstuffs from the countryside.
I now too many of them including a couple of others which were floated in the Ablekuma and Kaneshie Market communities that folded up when Akufo-Addo administration was inducted into office. As for Kumasi to Brong Ahafo, the story is murky, with government having to incur the wrath of the electorate who allowed greed and ignorance to feed their minds.
Today, the story about graft and greed in the sector has become a fable with so much money belonging to citizens locked up with real estate developers and home buyers lacking resources to buy houses that only our brothers and sisters from outside can melt dollars and buy. Again, so worthless has some of our banks become that, even when you have your salary passing through the bank and you request a loan, they would take you through tortuous processes for a third of your salary – not even when you are captured on their data with an electronic address. We can however cite Prudential as one of the best banks in the country since the PNDC era. Too good and too competent. That’s where I want to invest when I am 90 years old.
Development Bank Ghana
Yesterday, we had reports about Ghana having established the Development Bank Ghana. That’s a mouthful looking back at ADB, NIB, Merchant Bank, GCB and ECOBANK. I don’t want to discuss the politics that we have brought on ourselves and which have resulted in the collapse of the sector. But we can always guess the extent of a mess by looking at the teeming numbers of houses that had been completed without people to buy them as we commute out of town – from Accra to Tema and from Accra to Kasoa and into Aburi.
These are people’s moneys locked up in a wicked and crooked frenzy of speculative investment in which directors and politicians are complicit.
The experts on the informal economy have done quite some research in the informal economy that every stakeholder in the banking sector should read. Actors in the sector are too many. From hawkers and our streets; our markets and the construction industry to the farm gates and lorry parks, the players are too many. And it is sad when we are told by people who speak English in Parliament and have even travelled outside the country that we should not bother them under a digitised programme. It is worse when the argument is that we do not need their taxes to support them to contribute to national development.
Yet, we are too glib to refer to their plight and pretend to stand in the trenches with them, while we enjoy our honourable perks in silence, with our families and girl-friends.
In all of that, I believe we must avoid duplicity in our search for banking and financing solutions as we seek to develop the country. And we must ask how different the Development Bank will be from ECOBANK or NIB or the ADB, Ghana Commercial Bank and Merchant Bank. But I believe these are questions that have already been asked and the answer is about transformation with AfCFTA initiatives, ICT, Lake Transport, Tourism, value chain agribusiness [processing] being core in terms of support by the DBGh.
Whatever programmes the DBGh intends to support, it is the prayer of decent Ghanaians that we take away the politics from it and truly focus on the Ghana-ness and African-ness of the businesses that the Bank would be supporting and capacity to truly generate jobs in a sustained manner. This is because, when we set up the Venture Capital, these were the things we were looking at – and yet, we saw ‘a create loot and share…’