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Feature Article of Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Columnist: Casely-Hayford, Sydney

I Debated Presidential Candidate Ayariga

Critical News, 4th November 2012

Sydney Casely-Hayford, sydney@bizghana.com

I spent four hours of my life listening to the Presidential debate. I thought it was very critical to my future, so I gave up the time, devoted my full attention to those who would be President and run the affairs of this country. We either turn things round in the next four years or we lose our edge and lead on the African continent. Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo Addo, John Dramani Mahama and Abu Sakara, were privileged in Tamale last Tuesday when they mounted their platforms together with the People’s National Convention party’s, Hassan Ayariga, to share their thoughts and vision with Ghanaians. I do not know Hassan, I heard his views for the first time last week and I looked up his profile on the net. Not too sure how he got the nod from the PNC to become their candidate, but his performance that night has created a new ring tone for mobile telephony. On Saturday morning, Joy City breakfast show voted him the “tornuu” of the week. Now, other celebrities have won this accolade before so no worries, but clearly Hassan was not in the same league as the other candidates and I think on that performance alone, he can chalk his Presidential bid goodbye. But I liked him. He appeared in a suit and condemned all those who would come to us wearing foreign apparel to convince us of their sterling qualities. He obviously has a great sense of humor too. I found jollity in his Toyota car seat supply idea, amongst many others. So, enough said.
Who won the debate? The NPP say Nana won, the NDC say Mahama won and the CPP say Abu Sakara won. The PNC has not claimed victory yet. Someone has to come out in the lead, and we are following the politically correct approach by talking loudly for our candidates. Does it matter who won? Yes, it does. This is about showing your mettle and it is important to us voters to make a distinction between candidates. There are two more debates to come. The Vice Presidential debate in Takoradi and the final Presidential debate in Accra.
Abu Sakara did very well, and I hope he will accept a position in a forward-looking government if he is offered one, because I don’t believe the CPP can win this election. I am sure both the NDC and the NPP strategists are already thinking about this. The PPP is waiting to crow over the number of votes more they will get than the CPP and that will be Paa Kwesi Ndoum’s crowning moment. He has a point to prove.
The NDC played their cards well with President Mills when they boycotted the IEA forum. Atta Mills would clearly not have survived the marathon 4-hour standing event, and he might also have had a lot of difficulty remembering the facts and figures he would have needed. Then his vocal chords too might have failed him. Strategically, the NDC spinners knew this and steered him away from the debate. So did JDM’s turn around do him any good? The results are mixed to me whether he did well or not.
Abu Sakara stayed away from confrontation, he had no need to brazen out with anyone. Nana Addo and John Dramani did as expected and played out a civil discussion until we hit the two highlights of the debate, Free SHS and Health Care. I have said in previous articles that the free SHS message is too strong for the NDC to counter, and I still stand by this conviction. As much as they try, the debate on this issue is closed to the NDC. Their new campaigns are screaming free education, but you hear voters clearly noting that this is an afterthought from the NPP early blitz. We wait to see how this message plays out on voting day.
But numbers and statistics became key as we moved into a more abrasive section during the debate. Our concern is not the rate or the output it is the deficit gap we need to close between the supply and the demand of goods and services. Government statistics show a decline in growth in the agriculture sector and that is what it is. Of course if you tear the numbers apart, you can find all sorts of reasons why plans go awry, if that is the point you want to make.
So, some numbers were used but another, the cost of training medical students in Cuba, created a furore. Nana Addo started by claiming the cost of training the 250 medical students would be ghc105,000 a year. President Mahama said no, it would only cost $5,000 (approximately ghc10,000 at highest rates). The fact that both candidates got it wrong is an issue, but what is the true cost?
A Scholarship Secretariat memo (SCR33/352/03) supported by a cabinet memo to the GETFund requesting a release of funds for the 250 students states the cost over a six-year period of ghc79,905,180. It works out at ghc53,270 per student a year. So where Nana Addo was two times over the amount, JDM was five times below. Does it matter? Yes it does. JDM was involved in arranging the scholarship and should have known the figure for sure, and the NPP has made health care one of its pillars in the campaign. Both had access to the information and it is a disservice to Ghanaians that our leaders cannot manage accurate numbers in a debate.
But there is an even bigger problem behind all this parrying. In a rebuke to the Ministry of Education, the GETFund points out that a request for payment for the students cannot be met from the fund’s account, one because the fund is not for that purpose and two, it was not allocated in the 2012 budget. The request for payment came from the President’s office in February 2012. Why bring all this up? Because political expediency is the override in our search for pragmatic solutions to resolve budgetary overruns and proper use of funds. We have to get past this crick in our development paradigm and soon.
But for me, the real positive in the debates starts from July 1958 with the Preventive Detention Act (PDA). A leading member of the CPP, Mr J.A. Braimah, debating against the Bill, said “the bill is going to make slaves of all of us in the land of our birth. It is a threat to the liberties of all citizens of this country, including even Ministers and party members of the Convention People’s Party. With these powers in the hands of the Prime Minister, he holds everyone in the country to ransom. The bill denies to every citizen, I repeat, every citizen of Ghana the freedom of expression. It seeks to deny the citizens of Ghana the right to criticize the Government; it will deny the people of this country the freedom to meet even at street corners to discuss the events of the day; it will deny the people the right to complain when they are hurt; we are being denied the right to remonstrate publicly against the abuses of power in the strongest terms. And above all, it seeks to deny to this country the freedom of the press.” (Parliamentary debates, official report – first series, Vol. 2. July 1–September5, 1958.
Nkrumah used this law to oppress all his political opponents including the rest of the Big Six just as J.A. Braimah pointed out. No one was safe, even to the point where Parliament introduced an Exit Permit Bill to determine the bona fides of persons leaving Ghana for whatever reason.
I bring this up to point out how precious our democracy today. As we stand on podiums and debate each other, I hope all candidates realize how hard we fought for freedom and are now looking for Justice. My privilege is to have seen this process in my lifetime and I am looking forward to the next evolution.
The load shedding will end by the middle of November, so said JDM. He showed the inside of his palm to Ghana and said so. It is not too far away and the date is before Election Day. We can wait.
Ghana, Aha a ye de papa. Alius valde week advenio. Another great week to come!

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