I recall as though it happened yesterday, in my sophomore year as a student broadcast journalist. I sat through a landmark event which was to totally transform the University of Ghana into a World Class research intensive University.
The signing ceremony at the University of Ghana’s Great Hall was to officially begin work on a $64 million project set to be the first of its kind in any public university in Africa but has since stalled without any meaningful explanation from the powers that be.
4 years down the line after a rather memorable event, a change in the topmost position at the University of Ghana has meant that there is no glimmer of hope for a project which is now estimated to be 65% complete.
The Africa Integras deal was to see to the construction of an expanded facility for the College of Humanities, a new ultra-modern College of Education, a new facility for the Basic and Applied Sciences and the Institute of Technology and Applied Science as well as a new facility for the College of Health Sciences to be located near the newly built University of Ghana Medical Center.
Included in the deal was the construction of a 1,000-capacity student hostel to be shared between undergraduate and graduate students in the College of Health Sciences.
If completed, the Africa Integras project would have been the largest single expansion of infrastructure projects in the University’s 70-year history.
The Africa Integras deal was structured as a 25-year Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) arrangement.
“This project will finally allow us to realize our long-term vision to create capacity to welcome more graduate and PhD students within Ghana and from across the continent by providing modern, world class teaching and research facilities to support them.”
“The project will also allow the university to alleviate internal congestion in the use of its existing facilities such that it can expand its undergraduate population as well as welcome more distance learning students,” Professor Ernest Aryeetey said at the signing ceremony.
The deal was initially agreed in 2014, but signed a year later after going through what the university termed at the time as ‘funding approvals’.
Today just like many other Government projects when the president leaves office, the Africa Integras projects which are at various stages of completion have become white elephants.
Why has the Project been neglected?
“I don’t understand, you don’t understand, the council doesn’t understand so we are where we are because we don’t understand. There are clauses in the agreement that completely enslave the University as an institution. Where we are, nobody can hide any facts from us or the public.” – Professor Ebenezer Oduro Owusu [Vice-Chancellor, University of Ghana]
Professor Ebenezer Oduro Owusu as fate would have it would later succeed the then Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ernest Aryeetey as Vice-Chancellor in a colorful ceremony which also turned out to be the beginning of the Africa Integras deal’s woes.
Professor Ebenezer Oduro Owusu is quoted in some media publications that he did not have enough knowledge about the project as he did not receive handing-over notes from his predecessor.
He has also been quoted in some media publications to have said certain clauses in the deal enslaves the University completely.
Interestingly, a managing partner of Africa Integras, Andrea Pizziconi who was in Ghana not long ago in an interview with Citi TV’s Godfred Akoto Boafo refuted all such claims that the project might have been signed without recourse to the proper procurement processes and or signed on the blind side of some senior faculty members at the University.
In a nutshell, she rubbished claims that the then Vice-Chancellor was running a one-man show, a subtle accusation which seems to be the major foothold of Professor Ernest Aryeetey’s ‘accusers’.
In summary, the argument of the current University of Ghana management is that the Africa Integras deal was to short-change the University and was in the interest of only the Former Vice-Chancellor and Africa Integras.
My concern remains how and why the Chief Executive Officer of the University and his team, don’t want to open up on this issue and address once and for all instead of passing innuendos about the culpability of Professor Ernest Aryeetey.
After all, the latter has said he is publicly open for a stakeholder engagement or even a possible criminal investigation.
Why are we not hearing anything from the University’s management?
Granted, Professor Aryeetey erred in the process of signing the Africa Integras deal, could it be the case that for a University founded on the principles of truth and Integrity kept mute and watched the then Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ernest Aryeetey ‘run the University into a ditch’?
The deal was signed on the 26th of June 2016, in the full glare of top-ranking members of the University community, could it have been that the then Vice Dean of the Faculty of Science, Dean/Ag. Dean of the School of Biological Sciences who will later become Vice-Chancellor, the registrar of the University and every other person present overlooked the wrongdoing?
In a separate interview with Citi TV’s Godfred Akoto Boafo, Professor Ernest Aryeetey opened up on what really transpired.
“Anybody who knows how Universities work in Ghana and around the world, knows that is it not possible to do a one man show; the University has rules in the Act that established it. I came [as Vice-Chancellor] to appreciate the Acts and the statutes very well and I was always guided by it.”
“There is no way as a Vice-Chancellor, you can borrow money without the approval of the University council, it is not possible, I was expecting that if I was entering into an agreement of this financial nature for which I had no authority for the three years that this was negotiated, somebody would have raised it”
“When we signed the agreement in full public view at the Great Hall with all the former Vice-Chancellors present, Ministers of state present, all of the University Councils members present, students, faculty, why didn’t anybody say we didn’t approve this?”
Sadly, I tend to agree with the Former Vice-Chancellor. Why didn’t anybody say anything at the time, if indeed Professor Ernest Aryeetey sidestepped procurement processes of the University?
For a University training students to speak the truth, and to have integrity, why didn’t anyone say anything?
Ms. Andrea Piziconni in her interview on Citi TV, also stated clearly, that her company [Africa Integras] engaged other members of the University community, including the Finance Director, the University’s lawyers, architects, and other faculty members and not as if, it dealt with only the then Vice-Chancellor although she admitted, he was the driving force.
“The Vice-Chancellor was clearly a driving force, but we dealt a lot with the Finance Director, we dealt a lot with the legal counsel, we dealt with the legal team because a lot of our work centered on looking at the audited financials of the University, the University was working with PWC to get internationally independent audited financials, a lot of the due diligence was focused on that. We did not engage with the University Council but it was our requirement to see the meeting minutes where our project was presented. The Council showed up to the various signing ceremonies,” she said.
She also disclosed that the current Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ebenezer Oduro Owusu attended several of the meetings that she held with the University management, and she did not recall him raising any objections to the project.
She also mentioned that the project was being financed by the US Government agency, Overseas Private Investment Corporation [OPIC] and therefore the standards in preparing the agreement had to conform to OPIC requirements.
The CEO of Africa Integras, Andrea Pizziconi also described as false reports that her company had planned to privatize the University of Ghana if the university failed to meet its side of the bargain in a $64 million infrastructure expansion agreement.
Education Minister, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, once suggested that the University of Ghana risked being privatized if it failed to meet its obligations in the agreement.
But on Citi TV’s Face to Face, Andrea Pizziconi insisted that Africa Integras had other means to enforce that contract that did not involve privatizing the school.
“There is nothing in the contract that gives us any right to operate the university whatsoever. That is not what we do. There is no mechanism in the contract that allows us to enforce the contract.”
I am of the view, that the Vice-Chancellor must as a matter of urgency as the Chief Executive Officer of the University of Ghana begin to take steps to address students and the larger University community and explain the state of the University with regards to how the school stands to lose and the efforts in place to mitigate this.
Professor Ebenezer Owusu Oduro is quoted to have said on the Africa Integras deal that; “where we are, nobody can hide the facts from us or the public.”
I respectfully would really appreciate that the Vice-Chancellor of the University addresses the University community with the facts on the deal if Professor Ernest Aryeetey said otherwise.
With Andrea Pizziconi refuting almost all allegations on the deal, it would be prudent to see that the University management addresses students on the happenings, at least as a sign of respect for students, who are the largest stakeholders in the University.
To our SRC reps, I personally feel this is an opportunity to become relevant again – let students feel that you are guarding their interests.
Instead of doing the bidding of the politicians, rather channel the energy into asking questions and challenging the status quo. Make management feel your essence; it is possible to start with the Africa Integras project. Lend a voice to it.
Why the loud silence is problematic
The silence over the Africa Integras deal is problematic because the circumstances surrounding the deal, the back and forth, the war of words, the accusations are inconsistent with everything the University of Ghana stands for; Truth, Respect, and Integrity.
The more we leave the projects which are at different stages of completion to waste, the more people we deny access to tertiary education and this could have serious implications for the human resource base of the country in some years to come.
I want to end this piece with words from the second verse of the University of Ghana’s anthem;
We ask for strength and wisdom
As we climb the hill of learning
May we excel in whatever we do
As we prepare to face the world with a mind ready at all times
And a conscience quick to feel
May we proceed in unity to uphold the public cause.