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[ACCRA] Ghana hopes to finalise its draft science, technology and innovation (STI) policy, which has been undergoing consultation for two years, at its first national science congress later this year (2–5 August).

The country appointed a science minister in 2009 after three years without one, and re-established its Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology, as part of President John Evans Atta Mills' drive to restore the science sector.

But progress since then has been slow, critics say, particularly regarding the funding of research.

"We are about 200 years behind," Florence Boakye-Badoe, head of public affairs at the ministry, admitted. "But we must get it right now."

Boakye-Badoe told SciDev.Net that the congress would enable Ghana to chart a course for the science sector. "We will conclude work on the policy [at the congress] and send it to cabinet for consideration, from where it will go to parliament for legislative consideration."

The congress, entitled 'Water, Sanitation and Environment: Securing our Future through Science', presents an opportunity for the country to better appreciate science as the bedrock of the economy, she said.

"We also want to take advantage of the congress to encourage those who have contributed to our science sector over the years," Boakye-Badoe added.

Wisdom Sebuava, scientific coordinator of the Ghana Science Association, which helped draft the policy, said he expects the finalised policy to address the issue of funding, particularly for equipping university and school science laboratories and providing training for researchers and teachers.

"What is key in all the recommendations is the commitment to providing an enabling environment to do science in the country," Sebuava said.

Critics say there has been little improvement in the past two years, with most funding for research activities still coming from donor agencies.

"Two years on, I have not received any money [from the government] for research," said Godfred Frempong, deputy director of the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. "The government is, technically, paying me money to do nothing. Things are no better than before," he said.

"I have become disillusioned. I thought that staying abroad was of no use [to Ghana], which is why I returned home after my Master's [degree]. I am being proven wrong." Frempong said he believes many people in his position would have left if they were not passionate about developing the sector.

"The bulk of the oil money [from Ghana's newfound oil] should be used to develop human capacity in the science and technology sector … we don't want to face Nigeria's experience."

Boakye-Badoe said: "The government's commitment to increased funding for the science sector is not in doubt.

"The challenge is that because of other exigencies that require equal attention, it has not been easy meeting that commitment. But the government is working around a permanent funding structure."