[ACCRA] Ghana has appointed its first science minister in nearly three years, pending parliamentary approval, as part of the new government's promise to restore the status of science and technology (S&T) in the country.
Shirley Ayitey is a biochemist, and a high-ranking member of the incoming National Democratic Congress Party.
An overhaul of science was among the campaign promises of Ghana's new president, John Evans Atta-Mills, whose party took power on 7 January after winning the December elections.
He declared this month (January 22) that he would bring back the science ministry scrapped in 2006 by John Kufuor, leader of the previous government, the New Patriotic Party.
The 2006 move was part of a cabinet reshuffle which saw Kufuor fire the then science minister Christine Churcher, and give responsibility for science and technology to the education and sports ministry, despite protests from researchers and the broader public.
The reconstituted Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology has been urged by scientists to come out with realistic policies and ''substantial'' funding increases for the country's research institutions, rather than rely on the goodwill of donors.
The appeal was made by research scientists at the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute (STEPRI), based at Accra's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
STEPRI was created in 1988 to provide research support for S&T policy formulation within the science ministry but much of its work is done for international development agencies and the UN, due to lack of local funds and the dissolution of the ministry.
Emmanuel Tetteh, a research scientist at STEPRI's industry and service division, described the former government's allocation of 0.03 per cent of Ghana's gross domestic product to research as "woefully inadequate".
Tetteh told SciDev.Net that the lack of state funding for research had left many vital research proposals lying idle. Experienced scientists have taken up corporate and industry jobs in frustration, he said.
"Most research projects are donor funded as a result. This does not augur well for our development process," Tetteh says.
But the parliamentary approval process — expected to begin next week — could be clouded by Ayitey's role as a trustee in the 31st December Women's Movement. Allegations of a loan scandal there were expected to go to court this year — but Kufuor blocked the proposed prosecution on his last day in office.