By Michael Bokor
President John Mahama
President John Mahama has given his second State of the Nation address to Parliament and assured Ghanaians of “better days ahead in spite of the current socio-economic challenges facing the country.” According to him, pragmatic measures being taken by government will soon yield fruitful results.
Hurray to the President for being so optimistic even when his opponents are on rooftops undercutting him and dismissing his address a re-hashed version of the one he had presented last year. Or that it is full of promises that are likely not to be fulfilled and will add to the lot for which he is being ridiculed. The Ghanaian sphinx, one might be tempted to label it. Better late than never!
1. Infrastructure: President Mahama says government needs about 4 billion cedis to effectively tackle the country’s infrastructural deficit. “Current estimates indicate an annual funding gap of about 4 billion cedis if we are to effectively tackle our infrastructural challenges and expand them as a catalyst for growth.”
In pursuit of the 2014 budget statement presented by the Minister of Finance, the president indicated that government had set up an advisory team to guide the full implementation of the Ghana Infrastructure Fund (GIF), which will aid in an aggressive infrastructural expansion drive for the country.
As a result of government’s resolve to tackle the infrastructural challenges facing the country, “a number of major investments have been made as part of our strategic infrastructural programme in the road, transport, energy, water, energy, housing and communications sectors.”
The commencement of the construction of the Kwame Nkrumah Circle/Interchange Project in addition to the construction of new roads and the rehabilitation of old ones throughout the country to facilitate easy transportation are other areas.
2. Transportation: The government is committed to reviving the railway transport in the country to supplement the road and aviation sectors in the coming years.
3. Job creation: President Mahama has expressed government’s commitment to tackling the issues of unemployment in the country, noting that when the electricity supply is stable, more private enterprises and jobs will be established in the country.
4. Energy: Currently, there have been dramatic improvements in the energy situation in the country as compared to the same time last year. To him, Ghana’s electricity connectivity is among the best in Africa after South Africa and/or Morocco.
5. Education: The abolition of fees in Day Senior High Schools by 2015/1016 academic year, a measure which is in accordance with the government’s plan to progressively introduce free senior high education in the country. The Ministry of Education has “prepared a roadmap for the progressive introduction of free secondary education in Ghana as required by constitution.” It will cost 71 million cedis annually to implement the policy.
6. Building of two hundred day schools (fifty every year starting from 2013): The project is on track even though it has been delayed for a year. He said architectural designs for the schools have been completed and sites for the projects identified. Procurement is ongoing for the construction of the schools and the sod will be cut for the commencement of construction on 3rd March, 2014.
Other areas touched on by the President included the health sector, the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union, campaign on “eating what we grow”, and many others.
In officialdom, there is relief that the address has been given, if only to confirm that President Mahama's compliance with Article 67 of the 1992 Constitution. His address should set all wagging tongues at ease.
Well, it may not be so yet, especially if the issues raised by him are scrutinized beyond their mere palliative and politically-skewed intents and purposes. His insistence that the economy is merely facing a “turbulence” and has not fallen out of gear will not go unchallenged until the evidence on the ground proves otherwise. Denying that the country is facing an economic crisis is a real daredevil stance.
In his own words of optimism, the economy is “robust”, although the debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio is high but is necessary for an emerging economy like Ghana’s. The point is that unless the government’s measures yield immediate positive results to reverse the trend, any chest-thumping by President Mahama and his team will soon result in a sharp disappointment and threatening of his future political fortunes.
The reality is that Ghanaians are complaining about their worsening economic situation and want immediate results to confirm that the government is handling affairs competently. No grand designs on paper as the President’s address might seem will soothe them and retain goodwill for the government and the NDC.
Clearly, there is a lot going on that must force the President to instill more discipline in his team so productivity can be raised. The call for reshuffling needs to be heeded and new blood injected into his administration for us to see what positive change that move can bring about.
Now, let me turn to this constitutional provision on the State of the Nation address to say that it is one of those provisions that should have been better used to improve governance than what it has been used to do so far.
True, the President needs to account for his stewardship, which is what the State of the Nation address is designed to accomplish; but it seems to have become a duplication of the annual budget statement that the Minister of Finance presents.
Indeed, all that the President said isn't far different from what we have already been told. It’s all out there for us to know that the government has a lot of promises up its sleeves and that given any official medium through which to trumpet such promises, it won’t hesitate to do so.
But the truth is that Ghanaians are fed up with all these strings of promises. Thus, when the State of the Nation address is unpacked, one sees what has already been seen. So, what is new?
Not even the announcement of the intention to implement the free SHS policy will serve any useful purpose, especially considering the negative politics that has been done with that issue as over-flogged by the NPP’s Akufo-Addo for Election 2012. As is to be expected, Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey is already crying out loud that an NDC government will only mess up such a policy.
Afraid that any successful implementation of this free SHS policy will flatten the NPP’s political fortunes (since the free SHS is its political mainstay)?
On a larger scale, I must say that I have remained unconvinced that our leaders are really interested in improving governance. Otherwise, they would have used this constitutional provision to expand the scope of this Address such that an opportunity could be created for the main opposition in Ghana to give its response to the President’s Address.
Indeed, creating such an opportunity for the other side of the coin to be seen will give us enough food for thought on how the government and its opponents want to approach governance. This practice is well-grounded in the United States, which makes its brand of democracy admirable and productive.
Again, instead of using the occasion for promoting bi-partisan approaches to tackling challenges, it turned out to be a narrow one-way for the President to promote only his government’s version of reality.
I watched President Obama deliver his State of the Union address in January and didn’t hide my admiration for his insistence on involving Congress in the solving of national problems. He particularly challenged the law makers to initiate bills on pertinent areas that he identified as his objectives so laws could be enacted toward accomplishing them.
In Ghana’s case, no challenge was thrown to anybody. Everything was centred on the Executive alone.
Even, the Right to Information initiative still remains a bill more than four years when it was conceived and action was first taken on it. There has been no coordination of efforts, which is why there is so much incompetence and plain chicanery and treachery in governance. Nobody acts with dispatch to solve problems. How can we develop our country this way?
As we continue to scrutinize the President’s address, we won’t hesitate to keep the accusing fingers pointed at our leaders for being too slow on the uptake as far as implementing useful policies to move the country forward is concerned.
While the government’s dubiousness irritates, the NPP leaders’ rogue politics and ill-intentioned dirty propaganda needlessly rock the boat. Ghanaians expect responsible behaviour, not the kind of waywardness that has become the political trump-card being played here.