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Opinion: A SONA of campaign promises
A few days ago, the President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in fulfillment of Article 67 of the 1992 Constitution, delivered the State of the Nation Address to Parliament.
This was his second address to Parliament in that regard. As usual, Ghanaians; we the citizens look forward to this all important address to be abreast with the workings of government and to know what policies, social interventions or developmental projects the government has engaged in. The platform offered by Parliament to the President is one of the rare moments he gets to tell Ghanaians what he and his government have been up to. In return, we (citizens) assess his administration and make our judgement.
Premised on the above, it will be awfully ingenious of any President to use the SONA as a quasi campaign platform. H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo looked more of a Politician running for office other than the holder of the highest office of our nation. I have had to cringe and stop myself from screaming whilst listening to him campaign for a second term in office after just a year of being inaugurated. But this is not surprising at all; this is a man whose political party lied their way to power, promising heaven yet unleashing hell, honey yet providing sour grapes. In all my years of listening to the State of the Nation addresses, this by far would qualify for a manifesto reading.
At a time when Ghanaians are bedeviled with high fuel costs coupled with an exorbitant petroleum tax, you would imagine the President will use such an occasion to address the concerns of the masses. Some days ago, we witnessed a demonstration by the Chamber of Petroleum Consumers (COPEC) and the Industrial & Commercial Workers Union (ICU) over fuel hikes. In January, fuel price went up and according to the Institute of Energy Studies (IES), it will rise again by 2% this month.
These are the times we live in; when we cannot be guaranteed of energy security and price stability yet the President finds it convenient to keep promising Ghanaians. It was not long ago that the Vice President; Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia described fuel increase during the time of the NDC as insensitive yet his government is rationalizing rises in fuel costs at the pump today. All these are happening and yet the President uttered no word on the issue. If this is not hypocrisy, then the word has lost its meaning.
The President during the Address, was happy quoting our debt to GDP ratio of 68.3% for 2017 but failed to tell us the reason; which is due to the fact that capital expenditure and government spending in general reduced drastically as compared to 2016. The President failed to add that, his Government virtually halted all contracts awarded by the erstwhile government and the contractors remain unpaid. His government again embarked on a few infrastructural projects so it is very normal for the debt stock to be reduced. No spending; no debt. The President also boldly claimed that, his government has reduced taxes. Another falsehood. Surprisingly, It is only under this government that a claim of tax reduction will be made by government yet these so called tax reductions do not reflect in the general prices of goods and services, which we all know keeps skyrocketing.
What the President did not address but remains fresh on our minds with regards to taxes is the introduction of the 3% flat VAT rate by his government which has become an albatross on the neck of industry players serving as a killer virus for their businesses. It was not surprising that the Ashanti Businesses Association had a recent demonstration, asking government to scrap the introduced tax.
Non oil GDP growth, a proof of the real competency level of the managers of the economy was 4.9 % in 2016 as against 3.9% for 2017 as captured in the 2018 budget. The 7.9% GDP growth [oil plus non-oil sector] in 2017 was quickly captured in the SONA by the President but unsurprisingly he did not give credit to the erstwhile NDC government for the massive investments it made in the oil sector specifically in the TEN oil fields that has given us the growth we are witnessing now.
But of course the President would rather not attribute that benefit to the government he termed ‘incompetent’, no, not at his SONA when the entire nation is listening. We are however aware that, total crude oil lifted by September 2016 was 2.6 million barrels which accrued Ghc 671 million. All these were only from the jubilee fields but with the discovery and investments made by the NDC government in the TEN oil fields, total crude oil lifted by September 2017 increased to 5.8 million barrels which accrued Ghc 1.552 billion. In any case, the Economists Intelligence Unit, World Bank, IMF as well as other financial institutions have already given projections that Ghana’s economy was going to grow in 2017 and 2018.
You would think the President will use the SONA platform to speak on the charges of corruption against some of his appointees and how he intends to mitigate the situation. But that was certainly not in his books. Our President rather affirmed his long held view that none of his ‘men’ are corrupt. His songs of praise were at an all time high, saying his government has been exonerated of all allegations after investigations. But we know this is not entirely true. The Finance Minister; Ken Ofori Atta is caught up in a conflict of interest brouhaha in the infamous kenbond saga. The Flagstaff House is more like a clearing house now where appointees of the Akufo Addo administration are “cleared” of any wrongdoing by the decree of ‘Order from above’.
The President’s silence on the concerns and accusations of Persons with Disabilities (PWD’s) on how they have been sidelined by some members of parliament was also not lost on me. Our brothers and sisters who are disabled were promised by the President that, they will constitute 50% of revenue collectors at toll booths, but that has not been the case after a year in government. In the SONA, the President did mention that the policy has started but what he didn’t know or concealed is that, out of the 428 vacancies that were declared, only 99 PWD’s were employed. A number which is not even close to 40% even though 300 PWDs are qualified and available. The President had the perfect platform to speak to the issue but he didn’t, he had a new bucket list to present. Meanwhile, the Roads & Highways Minister; Kwasi Amoako Atta claims he is unaware of the development. Well, if you have followed this government well enough, you will know that “I am unaware” is a much loved phrase used to explain away matters of national concern by this administration.
It is not surprising to note that after a year of governance, our expectation of the President addressing the nation with some explanation of very important issues was met with his usual style of campaign rhetorics. Riding on the back of Agriculture, he once again reminded us of his promise of the 1 District 1 Factory project, which is now clearly, a paper project after failing to keep his word on that promise. A year on and we are yet to see the factories and the mention of the ‘1D 1F’ appeals to the President more than anything. The ‘1 Village 1 Dam’ promised project was again mentioned, this time with agriculture riding on its back. This is after a year in ‘power’ by the competent team yet our villages are still waiting for their promised dams but do not even have wells to cheer them up.
Agriculture was well mentioned in the Address of Promises, with the President praising his 50% subsidy on Fertilizer that comes with the tag ‘not for sale’ as a contributor to making a great difference in the Agricultural Sector. If that is the case, then permit me to ask what was the contribution of the 100% subsidy policy on fertilizer that his government scrapped? I am sure this was not lost on the President or maybe he’s simply unaware.
The President did not waste time again in sugar coating the real state of the nation on the issue of Education. He did not waste time in rehashing what we already knew; that the free SHS programme has begun. But he failed to mention the challenges and the measures being put in place to resolve them. I agree Free SHS is laudable and it’s here to stay but we cannot overlook the critical issues it comes with and ride on political fantasies. Ghanaians have doubts concerning the measures being put in place to ensure that the quality of education under the Free SHS programme is safeguarded and how the issue of infrastructure to support the programme will be resolved. The President should have used this opportunity to allay our fears but he would rather leave the cake and serve the icing on top of the cake with his list of Promises.
As a Youth Leader, I am concerned about issues that affect young people and this includes the level of unemployment in the country. That is why I find it scandalous that the President still cannot indicate by numbers how many employment opportunities his Government has created. At his recent Media Encounter, he did note that, there is no proper data on employment available to him. One would have thought that based on that revelation, during the SONA, the President will provide us with a more convincing statistics on the issue but he still came empty-handed. I applaud him for the launch of the Digital Marketing Training Initiative to equip 3,000 Ghanaians with skills in digital solutions but we must be careful not to let this good initiative become a conduit for political rewards at the detriment of all Ghanaians. Qualified Ghanaians must be admitted without any special preferences for party folks.
To conclude, the President failed to speak as the Leader of the nation but played along the lines of unproductive politics our nation has been known for. He failed to
– acknowledge the role of the NDC on the current gains made in the economy
– to mention that Dumsor ended because of the intervention of the previous administration in the energy sector and not his government
– tell Ghanaians why over 200 contracts were sole sourced in his government when he was against it while a candidate
– address the challenges of the Free SHS
– tell us the exact figures of unemployment in the country
– mention how his government was going to specifically tackle political party vigilante groups and the great threat they pose to the nation
– tell us how his government is handling the everyday surge in fuel Prices
– tell us how import duties and utility tariffs that keep increasing each day are going to be reduced.
As the Minority Leader, Hon. Haruna Iddrissu noted, we have heard the President on his “State of Promises”, at least now Ghanaians know that his promises are unending. As he admonished us, we will remain citizens and not spectators; holding his government accountable to the same measure he has held previous administrations.
About the Writer
George Opare Addo is a Youth Advocate, philanthropist and the former Municipal Chief Executive of Akuapem North. He’s aspiring to be National Youth Organizer of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC).