I have bad news for readers today: the Ministry for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation does not have a Deputy Minister! Worse, its substantive Minister is a visitor at Cabinet meetings: Ghana’s Science Ministry has no Cabinet portfolio!
MESTI, the mother of all ministries? I don’t know about you, but I am in shock.
Something certainly must be wrong. Even as I write, I am hoping that I got my facts wrong. I have read the NPP 2020 manifesto and its promises relating to STI. Between 2017 and 2020, I read every speech delivered by President Akufo Addo on science and his first term MESTI Minister, Frimpong Boateng, including promises, on three occasions, to increase budgetary allocation to the sector to 1% of GDP. So I was sure there had been a genuine omission.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Fisheries has a Deputy Minister! As a sector, Fisheries can easily be handled by a Director at the Ministry of Agriculture. Besides, Fisheries’ fortunes and the whole future rest on Science and Technology, and not vice versa. But, unfortunately, Akufo Addo may have forgotten himself.
We cannot begin to talk about development without starting with science, technology and innovation. It will not only be the cart before the horse; it will be a cart without a horse.
Without science and technology, the country’s fishermen will be paddling out to sea in wooden canoes invented by our great grand ancestors and were in use more than 400 years ago. Today, our fishermen are heaving a sigh all over the place because outboard motors have made fishing less tedious. What they may never know and what our politicians do not appreciate is that Japan, from whom we import outboard motors, emphasises defence and security without sacrificing the position (and the budget) of STI.
The Japanese government’s solutions for challenges facing the Japanese economy include linking science and technology to all innovation processes. Accordingly, there is an STI budgetary allocation for all government programmes and projects.
Here is one use of STI.
Sweden has run out of garbage. This Scandinavian country needs so much waste to keep its recycling plants running that it now imports garbage. Over the past two decades, its recycling system has become so advanced and efficient that only less than 1 per cent of its household waste is sent to landfills.
What does Sweden use the incinerated waste for? Part of it is used in road construction. The heat produced by incineration is piped into a national heating network to heat homes through the icy winter. The same trash provides electricity for 260,000 homes across the country.
Trash is also used to heat roads and pavements during the winter season: the heating pipes under these pavements melt the snow to reduce vehicles and pedestrians slipping.
That’s science and technology for you.
Meanwhile, in Sweden, the amount of imported waste had, by 2016, become so big that it was getting paid to receive more than 2 million tonnes of waste from neighbouring European countries.
Of course, this has not been achieved with a magic wand, nor is it an overnight wonder. They had to get the communication right for a long time to make people aware not to throw things outdoors so that they can be recycled and reused. Today putting waste on the trash heap (Borla) is banned. There are posters appealing to the citizens everywhere in Sweden: “Don’t waste the waste”.
The energy companies get the waste for free and sell the resulting heat and electricity to citizens. So homes of citizens get heated in winter and cooled in the summer. The companies make their money. The government gets taxes from the companies.
This is when science dances with economics.
Just in case you think this is an impossible feat beyond the capabilities of Ghanaian scientists, I am proud and glad to announce that recycling and incineration have advanced at CSIR’s Institute of Industrial Research (IIR) to the point that no waste leaves their compound.
A Ghanaian in Sweden sent me this note: “Maybe the greatest learning Ghana can take from Sweden’s waste-to-energy recovery is how different policies and plans have been carefully crafted together over several decades to turn an environmental problem into a developmental/economic masterpiece, driven by a national value to care for the environment.”
His only wonder is, “who will change the attitude of the Ghanaian to prioritise the environment or just sort waste?”
It starts with policy and legislation. Then, the benefit comes to people who spend much of their time thinking about tomorrow.
Seldom do you hear Swedish and other European parliamentarians shouting themselves hoarse over vehicle allowances and personal security. Instead, Swedish MPs’ priority is the people’s comfort.
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