INCREDIBLE? Year of Return Generates $1.9 billion?

By Arnold Asamoah-Baidoo

ON Monday, December 16, Shirley Asiedu-Addo reported for the Daily Graphic from Anomabu in the Central Region that the Minister for Tourism, Arts & Culture, Mrs. Barbara Oteng Gyasi, had revealed that the ‘Year of Return’ project has generated a staggering amount of $1.9 billion.

The Minister made this announcement when she inaugurated a tourist centre, the renovated Heroes Garden, as part of the Legacy Project initiated by the Ministry to commemorate the Year of Return.

She said the Year of Return had cemented Ghana’s pan-African legacy and had put a global spotlight on the country, helping to position it as a historic, cultural, and vibrant hub.

She further stated that the Year of Return had also changed the narrative of what was reported about Ghana and the rest of Africa in general.

The narrative above is not as contentious as the revenue said to have been generated via the Year of Return project. That is highly questionable!

Minister – Barbara Oteng Gyasi

Good initiative

Formally launched by President Nana Akufo-Addo in September 2018 in Washington, D.C. as a programme for Africans in the diaspora, the Year of Return initiative is intended to mark 400 years of the beginning of the slave trade help these diasporans trace their roots.

It was also meant to bring attention to Ghana and the African continent as a whole and promote investments.

Indisputably, the project has been quite positive, bringing in lots of foreigners and putting the country in such a positive light.

The initiative has indeed, boosted domestic tourism and elevated the confidence of the hospitality sector. It has made Ghana arguably the most mentioned African country in the international space for the entire year – while creating an important avenue for many to touch base with the ‘Motherland’.

Interestingly, more visitors are expected into the country as we hit the home-stretch of this laudable initiative.

Where did $1.9 billion come from?

One point nine billion dollars? Not Cedis but 1.9 billion American dollars? That’s a whopping amount.

Firstly, that is impressive revenue that has been generated but candidly, the announcement could have come with some little detail on exactly where and how the money was generated.

According to the Tourism Minister, the total arrivals in the country stood at about 750,000 and the ‘Year of Return’ brought an increase of over 200,000 visitors into the country. She also stated that the $1.9billion was accrued from activities related to the Year of Return.

That is where the skepticism comes from! The chunk of the events, arguably the most exciting ones relating to the Year of Return are in the month of December, specifically the second week of the festive season till early 2020; so clearly, the $1.9 billion does not include that.

Chale Wote Art Festival

Now, from February 9, 2019 when the official programme for the initiative started with the fifth edition of the African Culture and Wellness Festival (ACAWF), there’ve been just over 25 events relating to the project such as the Natural Hair Expo, the Healing Concert, the Investment Forum, Marcus Garvey Awards Ball & Banquet, Chale Wote Arts Festival, JaGha Festival, Heritage Paragliding pan-Hellenic Council Week among others.

Is Madam Oteng Gyasi telling us that the $1.9 billion was generated from such events?

Inconsistency with figures

This government is doing quite well but they have such an awkward way of communicating facts and figures.

In December 2017, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akudo-Addo cut the sod for the Marine Drive Tourism & Investment Project and stated that, from its construction to its operational stage, the project will create 150,000 jobs, boost tourism and economic growth.

In November 2019, when the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori- Atta, presented the 2020 Budget to Parliament, he stated that the Marine Drive Project will create 600,000 jobs.

150,000 to 600,000 jobs? Where did the additional 450,000 jobs come from? What analysis went into the President announcing the 150,000 and what exploration went into the additional figure announced by the Finance Minister?

In January 2018, the then Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture, Madam Catherine Afeku, in her first and only ‘Meet the Press’, stated that the Under the Ghana Tourism, Arts and Culture Sector Improvement Project, the World Bank had approved a US$50million grant to support the ministry and its agencies to strengthen its institutions and stakeholders.

Months later, the Minister, on Peace FM’s Entertainment Review show stated that, the money approved by the World Bank was $40million.

In November 2019, Senior Minister, Yaw Osafo-Maafo stated at the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFAC) that, the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture has in the last three years created over 30,000 jobs as a result of the firm, stable policy environment created by the ministry for effective mainstreaming of Ghanaian culture into all aspects of national life.

The Minister failed to tell the gathering where and how such jobs were created in the sector!

There are many more examples of incongruity in how officials present facts and figures, especially with the Tourism, Arts & Culture domain.

Get facts & figures right

We want the Arts sector to flourish and the economy to grow and such good news about how much money we are generating is acceptable, however, we are not gullible to the extent of always believing every outrageous figure that is thrown at us.

The inconsistencies in the presentation of figures by government officials over the years have made us suspicious. Such presentations have lacked clarity and transparency.

We must call for probity and proper accountability, backed by concrete and indisputable facts.

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