The Creative Arts and the Two Million Cedi ConundrumIn the latest restructuring of government business, the President has created a Ministry of Culture, Creative Arts and Tourism which presumably merges the old Ministry of Culture and Chieftaincy and that of Tourism. Even before the Ministry is properly set up it has to confront the strange case of the two million Ghana cedis which was earmarked for the creative arts industry in the 2012 budget.
The issue is a very simple one. The Ghanaian creative arts sector has been crying for government support for years so it came as welcome relief and a good sign for the future when the 2012 budget allocated two million Ghana cedis to the creative arts. It is important to quote the exact words of the relevant paragraphs in the budget:
“1232. Ghana can benefit immensely if it begins to tap the creative sector of the economy, particularly those of the music and film industry. But this will require an evaluation of the potential of the creative industry to contribute to the growth of the economy. Beginning in 2012, therefore, Government will collaborate with the music industry to identify the potential of the industry through an impact assessment study. The study will be used to support the preparation of a medium term strategic framework that will guide the development of the industry. Government will also support the organisation of the 2012 Ghana Music Fair”.
“1233. An amount of GH¢2.0 million has been allocated to support the creative arts industry in 2012”.
The best that can be said about the wording of these paragraphs is that it is very confusing; paragraph 1232 appears to allocate the money to specific activities, namely the organisation of the “2012 Music Fair” and an “impact assessment study” probably as a response to the need to “evaluate the potential of the creative industry to contribute to the growth of the economy”, as expressed in paragraph 1232, but no agency or organisation is given the responsibility to carry out these tasks. The common interpretation of these bewildering sentences taken together is that the money was meant for the “creative arts industry” as stated above.
This view was reinforced by government officials as well as industry players who explained at different forums that the money was meant for the creative arts sector as a whole. According to a Graphic Showbiz report in September last year, the President mentioned the subject when he made “a policy statement in Accra on the direction of the country for the next four months. He told the nation that his government appreciated the potential of artists and it was in recognition of this that the last budget allocated an amount of GH 2million to the creative industries. He went on to indicate that his office was working towards an acceptable way of disbursing the funds”. Indeed as Vice President, Mr. Mahama had given the same assurance to the Ghana Culture Forum which is a network of all the organisations in the sector at a meeting at the Castle in June last year.
As the various organisations waited for the Ministry of Culture and Chieftaincy to come up with the means by which arts associations could source the funds, it emerged slowly that the Musicians Union of Ghana – MUSIGA – had succeeded in collecting the whole of the two million cedis. We know as a fact that neither the Castle nor the Ministry of Culture and Chieftaincy authorized the payment of the money to the musicians union. The other organisations were understandably angry at this turn of events and sought explanations. The Ghana Culture Forum sent a letter to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in August when rumours started emerging of the fate of the money. As at this writing no official explanation has been provided as to how one organisation got its hands on the money and how it was able to do so without any authorization from the sector ministry or the Castle.
So, what happened? Several explanations have been proffered including the “justification” that the money was solely intended for the Musicians Union, which would mean that the President and all other state officials who said otherwise were mistaken. Another explanation is that the Musicians Union had written a proposal for which the government had responded with the two million cedis in the budget. If the government intended the money for MUSIGA alone the budget statement and subsequent government pronouncements could have made this clear beyond any doubt. Even now, it is not late for the government to make that statement if indeed the money was intended solely for MUSIGA.
One of the development imperatives facing the arts community is unity of purpose and action. It has been suggested by arts practitioners and policy makers that artists should come together in order to strengthen their voice within the national space. The Ghana Culture Policy makes the same point and that document was seen at the time President Kufuor signed it in 2004 to provide a solution to the perennial disunity and mistrust in the artistic community. Now, the two million cedi conundrum is poisoning relations between the artistic groups with the drip-drip of misinformation and suspicions.
That is one reason why the new Ministry has to start its life with a clear statement on the two million cedis. This being Ghana, there are some people who consider any investigation into the matter as some kind of muckraking and prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. The dogs are not sleeping; they are yelping furiously in the undergrowth. There is another reason why the matter cannot be given to God in the usual Ghanaian way. How did MUSIGA get hold of the money? Information in the public domain is that MUSIGA did not go through the Ministry of Culture and Chieftaincy as must be the case when public money is being disbursed and it has to be established how this was done.
The artistic groups are quick to explain that they have nothing against the Musicians Union but the right thing must be done both in the implementation of the government’s intensions in allocating the money and how it was disbursed. This is why the first act of the new Minister must be to investigate this matter thoroughly and do the right thing in order to start with a clean slate.
Last week saw the start of this micro-mini column where books I or Diary readers are reading will be given a mention. I received quite a number of calls about the first featured book, MY GHANAIAN ODYSSEY by Baffour Agyeman Duah, published by Digibooks. A frequent question was whether only books written by Ghanaians will be featured and the answer is no. For example, this week I have revisited one of my favourite authors, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who created Sherlock Holmes, the great fictional detective. Such classics, including books by Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare and all the greats of English Literature classics are available for free from the Project Guttenberg website for download.
A word about Project Guttenberg: according to Wiki, “Project Gutenberg (PG) is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks. It was founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart and is the oldest digital library. Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books. The project tries to make these as free as possible, in long-lasting, open formats that can be used on almost any computer. As of January 2013, Project Gutenberg claimed over 40,000 items in its collection”. What I can add is that it is a book lovers’ paradise even if its collection on Africa has a distinctive colonial flavour.