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Feature Article of Saturday, 20 October 2012

Columnist: Ohemeng, Yaw

Was President Mahama treated with Kid Gloves at the IEA Encounter?

Given the happenings of the last four years, under the current NDC administration, I was quite eager to listen to the IEA encounter with President Mahama. However, after the event, I was not sure whether the evening could have been better spent. I got the impression that none of those who questioned the President wanted to seek explanations for the occurrences of the last 4 years. I can think of a number of issues that I would have liked the President to shed light on: from the government lying about the health of the late President Mills to the Woyome scandal.
The President pledged to fight corruption in all its forms and no one questioned him about real and actual events that have taken place in these four years? I can think of the following:
• Appointment of individuals convicted of corruption by the courts of this country as Ambassadors and Chairmen of boards of State owned enterprises and commissions;
• A minister accused of corruption being allowed to resign with no further action and with the justification that he was not the first minister to travel outside the country with a girlfriend in the nation’s history. Rather it was the whistleblowers who ended up in trouble;
• The use of technicalities to prevent CHRAJ from investigating government officials implicated in the Mabey and Johnson bribery scandal with one of them even appointed to head a new national company; and of course
• The infamous settlement and judgement debt scandal, which is currently raging.
The evening’s counter was also disappointing in that the President was allowed to preach about the merits of buying Ghanaian goods and services and got away with it. He made a statement that buying foreign implies exporting Ghanaian jobs abroad. When did he realise this? Is it not rich of him to say this after the botched STX deal that would have seen GREDA bypassed for the Koreans to build 10,000 housing units? Is he not the same President who paraded some Chinese in Cape Coast recently as the ones to rebuild the Kotokuraba market? The most glaring action recently is the printing of NDC campaign paraphernalia in China, with the excuse that it would have been expensive to print them in Ghana. Is this not the same reason that the President thought was untenable during Thursday’s encounter? And yet the moderators and the questioners allowed him to get away with it with no follow up questions.
On education, the President thought no one should be allowed to claim fee free SHS as his vision because it is mandated by the Constitution. It is true that the provision is mandated by the Constitution: the vision rather lies in realising the importance of quality human resource to national development. If such a realisation is made, the politician with a vision would re-organise national spending priorities to achieve the constitutional goal rather than resign himself to the excuse that it is impossible. The politician with a vision will realise that the revenue we currently get from commodities is set to fall with time and that the only guarantee of a continuously growing economy is a skilled and educated workforce. At this time that commodity prices are high, if we do not seize the chance to re-structure our economy, we may never see the revenue growth we are seeing now in the future as the advanced economies recover from the global financial crisis. That re-structuring is never possible without a radical approach to increasing secondary school enrolment. There is a direct correlation between number of people with secondary education in a country and prosperity.
If the President is not clutching at straws in this education debate and really meant what he said, he would have appeared at the encounter with a credible timetable, with clear and costed implementation steps and with milestones that would back up his conviction that the constitutional mandate should be implemented progressively. The moderators and the questioners lost the opportunity to ask about what the government is doing about the real and imminent pressure that would be brought to bear on the nation’s tertiary institutions next year as two batches of SHS students graduate due to the ‘political’ decision to reverse the 4-year SHS to 3 years. The fact that the reason given for this reversal was that it was expensive for both parents and government shows where the current government’s priorities lie.
On health the President was silent on the one-time NHIS premium and no one asked him about what happened to this promise. The NDC administration has, hitherto, givien various dates by which they would roll out the policy till now when it has entirely disappeared from their manifesto. Has he now realised that it was not feasible? Is this the reason why he is accusing Nana Akufo Addo of dishonesty with regards to the promise of fee free SHS education because they did the same with one-time NHIS premium to get elected?
Lastly I would have liked to hear the President answer a lot of questions on governance. He should have been asked about the current silence of the arrogant young ministers and party messengers who have, in the past four years, been hurling insults at anybody and everybody who dared expressed an opinion, on national matters, which was at odds with the government. He should have been asked about the Deputy Minister who caused the arrest of Policemen on traffic patrol duties who dared to stop him for speeding. Armoured cars were dispatched from Accra to Cape Coast to arrest serving police officers who were just carrying out their duties. I certainly would have asked the President whether he subscribed to the subterfuge that the NDC’s National Organiser was alleged to be planning to infiltrate National Security with party members with the aim of causing mayhem. Finally it would have been enlightening to have heard the President answer questions about the violence that has characterised every bye election held under their watch and the violence that characterised the biometric registration for which late President Mills thought he could not handle because he was not a policeman. How interesting indeed it would have been to have heard him justify why no one has been arrested for the Agbogbloshie murders even though the survivors mentioned names of suspects.
Taken in its totality, the President was treated with kid gloves in my opinion. Most of the questioners treated him as if he was a challenger and not part of the current administration. He has served as the Vice-President from January 2009 to July 2012 since when he has become President. He has his hands firmly on the levers of power and the questions should have been about the past four years projected onto the next four. From my perspective, the evening was a lost opportunity.
Dr Yaw Ohemeng
Manchester, UK

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