13 June 2012

Ghana: When Two Women Overstay Their Welcome...Men Shoring up are Voting with Their Feet


Ghana Commercial Bank has a chequered history. When it was set up as the first indigenous financial institution in 1953, it had no peer. The founding fathers conceived it as an indigenous financial institution with products including loans, overdrafts, deposits investments, money transmission, and international services.

Next year, Ghana Commercial Bank (GCB) will celebrate its diamond anniversary. Barely a year separates the Queen's enthronement and the setting up of this indigenous financial institution, which is why the eagle would be soaring high immediately after Christmas in December.

With 149 branches in 110 districts in the Republic, the Ghana Commercial Bank has done well for itself. There cannot be any financial institution providing employment for a 2,108 work-force in this land of our birth, which is why the GCB is in a league of its own.

In the early days, newly-graduated students began to have an encounter with Ghana Commercial Bank, barely one month after walking out of the Great Hall with the scroll of academic honours tucked in the armpits. Many of my sons and daughters might not know this. In those days, all graduates had the same salary entering the civil and public service. On the campus of Legon, immediately after the final examination, calculation begun on what to do with the 680 pounds annual wage on offer.

That was not the only incentive available to the graduate. One had the choice of a range of vehicles. With 680 pounds spending money available per annum, sitting pretty at the Ghana Commercial Bank, all ranges of vehicles were at the beck and call of the new graduate.

Those were the days, when, to be a graduate, took a whole ladder to climb in terms of social status. Sad to relate, but that was a different world from events of today, when an association has been inaugurated embracing unemployed graduates. At independence, the entire population of this country was well below 6 million. Ghana hit the six million mark in the 1960 population census.

With a student population of well under 2,000, there was no need for narrowing the room-mate at the time. Every student had a room to him or herself. When the old man with one leg in the grave looks back with nostalgic feel of the young and dashing nurse arriving at the Potters Lodge, and using her ingenuity to get access to the room with the occupant out of sight, it compensates for the sight of the old and nagging woman, virtually adding to the furniture in the retirement home.

If you see an old lady, you might be tempted to think that she has never had it so good before. At this stage, I am tempted to nurse the feeling that patting the shoulders of the Akan elders who coined this mantra, would not be out of order. Their ingenuity is commendable. Obviously, our fore fathers might have had very practical experiences of the feel good factor at the time their assets were in good order.

While the bank has done well for itself, the experience of Ghana Commercial Bank, over the years, has everything to do with the overbearing influence of the political elite of our time. With cash ready in the bank's vaults, officialdom had always fallen on the GCB to perform functions that never informed the founding of the financial institution.

When the remittances failed to flow between the state treasury and the Tema Oil Refinery, for instance, the Ghana Commercial Bank has always come in handy. Apart from bailing out the state, the bank has also served as a lucrative avenue for the party faithful. The old man with one foot in the grave does not need to elaborate.

The story of the propaganda chief, now planning the financial aspect of the economy as understudy, to that owner of the private bank lodging state cash tells it all. At my age and disposition, the memory tends to pay tricks. But, this one still sits pretty in the mind. GH¢23,000 for a few hours sitting might represent a very gainful return, which could be why the two women kept themselves on the board, even when they had been long named to head state commissions.

In the ordinary sense of the word, the woman confirmed at where Anna had her feet firmly on the ground, in spite of her acting capacity, should have known what she was doing when she continued to receive that fat sitting allowance from GCB, when she was appointed to lead that constitutional creation with a probing schedule.

It is one irony of our time that at a time the bank was refusing to pay the pension scheme of retired workers' money was flowing freely into accounts of persons who sat at the Board room.

As a member of the 'I put it to you profession,' Lauretta needed no prompting that leading enquiries into corruption and conflict of interest did not go with sitting at the board room and receiving Fiffi kind of allowances.

But, when money calls who would fail to answer? It is the power of money that was intoxicating enough to make Lauretta brush aside all the signals on conflict of interest. When the party scribe could turn a block factory into a money spinning machine still sitting on the board, why should anybody worry his or her head about conflict and its interest?

When the noose was nearing, Laurretta jumped, which was the cue for Charlotte to follow suit. Not many though, appeared to have followed the exploit of the long jumper now directing the institution Larry Bimmy built. But, when Pryce could not name his price after red bands began popping up in arms against his leadership, the Board Chairman hung on for far too long.

At one point in time, the Ghana Commercial Bank had a Board Chairman sneaking in and out with workers' armbands baying for his blood. At long last, the person named after the man whose name still identifies that long stretch of road leading from Tudu to Adabraka first light, has sneaked out of the intersection of the High Street and Thorpe Road, never to return.

The new Board Chairman, a lecturer at the University of Ghana's Economics Department, would need more than the ability to reconcile the books with the political pressure on the bank to deal with another bout of agitation rearing its ugly head.

When the new Managing Director replaced the retired Lawrence Adu Mantey in March 2010, he shuffled things at the top, bringing in fresh blood in a bid to raise the profile of the bank. It appears that the personalities hired from other banks to propel the new agenda are retracing their steps out of the leading local financial institution. Unlike diamonds, which are forever, the new top notch are discovering that the pretty hand-out to Fiffi in sitting allowance, might not be commensurate with good working conditions.

Life is getting hard at the nation's premier institution for banking.

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