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General News of Monday, 25 January 1999

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Government's policy on works and housing lacks focus - Bartels

Accra, (Greater Accra) 22 Jan. '99,

Mr Kwamena Bartels, NPP-Ablekuma North, has told Parliament that since 1997, the government's policy on Works and Housing, has been characterised by ''a total lack of definitive focus, substance and honesty. "Indeed, the government of the NDC, headed by President Rawlings, has fed this honourable House, through the medium of the Sessional Address, nothing more than empty promises". The Minority Spokesman on Works and Housing, was contributing to the debate on this year's Address. He quoted the President as having said in his 1997 Sessional Address that, "real estate projects totalling 15,000 housing units are planned for the Accra area alone within the life of this Parliament..." "Mr Speaker, 1997 has come and gone, 1998 has come and gone. Where are the 15,000 housing units or part of them which were planned for Accra ?", Mr Bartels queried. He said the President, again in his 1998 Address, promised among other things, that the Ghana Real Estate Developers' Association (GREDA) and the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), between them were to deliver 6,000 housing estates at Dunkonah, near Accra in the first phase of a housing programme. "Now, Mr Speaker, I am a member of GREDA and the fact is that GREDA and SSNIT were not on schedule in 1998 to build the 6,000 housing units at Dunkonah", he said. Mr Bartels said the President promised in his 1998 Address that the government would act as a facilitator in housing delivery, adding that "we, therefore, expected the government to facilitate the sourcing for long-term construction finance. "This has so far not been done and the President was silent on this in his 1999 Sessional Address". Mr Bartels said the people expect the government to facilitate housing delivery by protecting private developers, who are at the mercy of "unscrupulous" chiefs and other landowners, who sell land to more than one person and leave them to litigate over it. "I expect a government, which is serious about facilitating housing delivery to initiate legislation and executive actions to solve the problem. "Mr Speaker, I know of at least three developers in Accra, who have had to pay three times and in one case four times, for the same piece of land to three or four different chiefs from the same town", he said. Mr Bartels said the government has not heeded the pleas of private developers for the removal of duties and taxes on building materials and as a result, houses are being sold now for dollars, way beyond the pocket of the ordinary man. At this juncture, Mr Dan Abodakpi, Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, told Mr Bartels that as a governing member of GREDA, he was undermining Ghana's economy by selling houses in dollars. Mr Kosi Kedem, NDC-Hohoe South, said the matter was serious and added that ''it is a clear case of hypocrisy on the part of Mr Bartels''. The Speaker did not rule on this and asked Mr Bartels to continue with his contributions. Continuing, Mr Bartels told the House that the Rural Housing Assistance Fund announced in the 1996 Sessional Address and which was to be operational in 1997, was neither operationalised in that year nor in 1998. Mr Bartels said SSNIT, which until 1996, was the biggest public housing delivery organisation, has so far built only 6,228 housing units, representing one per cent of its contributors, who are more than 700,000. "If SSNIT with all the resources available to it has been able to deliver only 6,228 units over these years, then, the housing problem is quite enormous and it requires very drastic but pragmatic measures to address, not promises which are forgotten". Mr Bartels' delivery on the Keta Sea Defence Project, at certain stages of the debate, drew interruptions from the Majority side, either on a point of order, information or clarification. He said the President promised in the 1999 Sessional Address that at long last, funding has been obtained to start the project. The assurance is at least, an implied admission that the people of Keta and Anlo were misled by the President, who on November 18, 1996, exactly one month before the 1996 general elections, sat on a bulldozer and purportedly cut the sod for work to begin on the project, he said. "Another elections are coming in 2000, and the Keta Sea Defence Project is available as an election propaganda weapon", he said. On a point of clarification, Mr Abodakpi, explained that it is true the President mounted a bulldozer, but a technical defect was detected on the project whose details were captured in the Sessional Address.

However, Mr Bartels was of the view that but for the pressure from the Minority Group, the project would not have reached the level it has got to now. Mr Bartels said the Minority side have ''reservations about the cost of the Keta Sea Defence Project, which has shot up to nearly 83 million dollars from the previous 42 million dollars, when the 200,000 tonnes salt production component has been taken out of the original project. "We wish to call on the Minister of Works and Housing to reinstate the salt production plant to give economic biceps to the people of Keta and Anlo. "Saving them from the ravages of the sea is excellent but not enough. They need work to generate income to rebuild that ancient city", he added.

Mr Bartels, on behalf of the Minority, demanded compensation for those whose houses were demolished in Keta, saying the people have suffered enough, and the least the President can do to mitigate their plight, ''is to pay them compensation to enable them to rebuild their houses''. Mr Abodakpi interrupted to say "we see a lot of political opportunism in the presentation". In response to Mr Abodakpi's remark, Mr Bartels said: "I have a very good reason why I am interested in the Volta Region. My wife comes from there. "Above all, the project is of national importance. What has the people of the Volta Region got to show under the 18 years of NDC rule?" he added. On the dredging of the Korle Lagoon in Accra, Mr Bartels questioned why the project has not taken off, even though, all the financing required has been obtained. Mr David Yaw Mensah, NDC-Atebubu North, who spoke before Mr Bartels made his contribution said he saw in the Address an invitation being extended to all Ghanaians to join hands in the national reconstruction effort. He said the government of the NDC and the NDC as a political party, have a vision which is captured in Vision 2020, which is a national document.

On corruption, Mr Mensah said the government is committed to eradicating the problem from the society and that an antidote is being planned. He commended the Catholic Church for its initiative to help rid the country of corruption. Mr I. K. Ofori, NDC-Sefwi-Wiawso, said the President was sincere enough in his Address to tell the people about the shortfalls of the government's projections. He described Ghanaians' taste for foreign goods as "beyond measure" and urged them to patronise Made-in-Ghana goods and called on industries to improve the quality of their products. Mr Christian K. Asante, NDC-Bia, said everybody should heed the call of the President to avoid sectionalism and politicising every issue since ''these are the things that will push the country backwards''. He called on ministers, MPs, district chief executives, and opinion leaders to explain government projects in a positive way to their people. The government should not be blamed for the high price of chemicals for cocoa farming because when it was being subsidised, people rather smuggled the cocoa to neighbouring countries. He said the introduction of cash payment for cocoa purchases by buying agents has brought about some negative practices like stealing of cocoa from farmers and called for a policy for farmers to be paid with cheques. Mr Charles Omar Nyanor, NPP-Upper Denkyira, said the government should commend him for always hammering on the issue of creating a tax relief package for local industries. This was met with shouts of ''thank you, thank you'', from the Majority bench to which the member replied, ''I need more than that!''. Mr Nyanor said the President cannot blame the slow flow of investors into the country on the energy crisis or on the problems in the Far East, Russia and on the gods.

''Even the gods will not approve of this since he should have had the foresight and plan for eventualities. The government also failed to listen to warnings from the Minority''. Mr Nyanor reiterated the point made by Dr Kofi Apraku, the Minority spokesman for Finance, that if inflation has truly come down from 70 per cent to 16 per cent, this should reflect in other economic indicators and the standard of living of the people. The government had never indicated what type of inflation is ''afflicting us'', whether it is the "demand driven" or ''cost push'' type. He said the inflation figure and the Bank of Ghana's claim to maintain money supply at 18 per cent are doubtful in view of the huge government deficits, adding that what the government is doing is to suppress inflation and not curing it. This is being done through the refusal of the Ministry of Finance to give new contracts and not paying for old ones to maintain a certain level of money supply. The Bank of Ghana, he alleged, might have given instructions to the commercial banks not to give loans in order not to increase money supply but ''this is killing local commerce and industry''. Mr Nyanor noted that every tax is based on a certain level of income. However, with the Value Added Tax (VAT), the government expects to raise about 600 billion cedis this quarter as against 300 billion cedis under the Sales tax without increasing the aggregate income of the people. The member's contribution was interrupted several times by Mr Moses Asaga, a Deputy Minister of Finance particularly on the issue of VAT.

Mr Asaga said the expected revenue increase was due to the fact that VAT was more efficient since it has widened the tax net by including a sales and service tax on consumers. ''It even makes more sense that the revenue should double'', the Deputy Minister added. ''You are deceiving yourself. Tell that to the Veranda Boys and Girls'', Mr Nyanor replied. Mr Nyanor urged the government to blame itself for ''the slow investment flow'' because ''after terrifying and frightening investors during the revolution, it will take some time for them to regain confidence in you''. ''Or if there is a new face on the scene. It is only when we come to power that the investors will come''. Mr Nyanor's statement threw the house into bouts of laughter.

Mr Kweku Boateng-Lovinger, NDC-Birim North, commended the government for introducing the Youth in Agriculture Programme, which he said should not be seen as ''job for the boys''. He said for it to be successful, road networks, particularly feeder roads, should be rehabilitated immediately so that farmers will meet their market deadlines because the scheme is targeted at foreign markets. ''The necessary sectional linkages among ministries, departments and agencies should be established for the smooth take off of the programme''. Mr Reo Addai Basoah's (NPP-Kumawu), contribution threw the house into confusion and brought proceedings to an abrupt end when he alleged that an NDC constituency chairman, in a town in his constituency, has nominated himself, his wife, former wife and girl friend to the unit committee. This brought several members of the Majority to the floor including Dr Kwabena Adjei, the Majority Leader, to demand that the member substantiates the statement immediately since NDC chairmen are not mandated to do such nominations. ''This house cannot be used to injure innocent people who are not here to defend themselves''.

Dr Adjei said there are clear cut rules under the Local Government Act for such nominations and if an NDC member is being accused, it is only fair that the member mentions the name of the persons involved to be disciplined. The issue dragged on for sometime and Mr Freddie Blay, Second Deputy Speaker, ruled that since the member had indicated that he would substantiate next week, Thursday, he should be allowed to do so and adjourned further sitting to next Tuesday, January 26, much to the displeasure of the Majority. Mr Basoah's contribution mainly dwelt on Local Government and unequal growth and development of regions and of individuals in the country. He said the address was ''disappointing'' since the President failed to talk about the question of balance development as stated in the Constitution. ''There were no bold imaginative policies in the address to bring about equality in development''. The member said some people in Ghana were living in ''pre-medieval age'' due to the abject poverty in those communities. He said the kind of poverty in those communities cannot be solved with what is allocated from the common fund for poverty alleviation. ''We need a special fund and good integrated planning for this purpose''. Mr Basoah said the distribution of the common fund is not fair to some districts who receive less because they generate less revenue. Places which are already well off, receive more because they could generate more revenue. He said 15 deprived districts, representing 50 per cent of the landmass of the country received just 12 per cent of the total common fund because of the revenue generating clause in sharing the common fund and suggested that this must be reviewed. GRi