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General News of Tuesday, 6 June 2006

Source: The Chronicle

National strike looms

... NDC to blame?
BY all intelligence soundings, public sector workers will join striking doctors to unleash the most crippling strike action in years, sparking real fears of endangering accessing of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA).

Mr. Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, Minister of Finance & Economic Planning, spent the whole of yesterday in meetings, trying to resolve the issue that has been building up over the last five months, with stakeholders and representatives of the Ghana Medical Association over pay and allowances.

Mr. Baah-Wiredu left with no hint that he was going to have his way and get the doctors who are already on strike to go back.

The Chronicle gathered yesterday that over one trillion cedis had been released for the health sector workers, including the doctors, but the management of the disbursement has been bedeviled with problems. The warrant was said to have gone to the Health Minister, Major Courage Quashigah (Rtd.), who could not be reached by press time last night.

The man widely known to be directly responsible for the budget at the Ministry, Dr. Osei Akoto, was not in his office when The Chronicle reporters trawled the Ministry yesterday, and the Director of Communications at the Ministry was said to have been out of town when The Chronicle visited.

But one person who spoke to the media specifically about the definite strike action that is going to involve the teachers was the acting Director-General of the Ghana Education Service, Mr. Michael Nsowah, and he did not hesitate to direct the issues of the teachers? demands for enhanced pay to the door step of The Ministry of Finance.

Teachers and Educational Workers Union (TEWU) of Ghana representatives yesterday addressed the press about their concerns in the boardroom of the hall of the Trades Union Congress.

Mr. Dan Ayim Antwi, General Secretary of the teachers? group announced their members? commencement of a strike action to be joined at a later date, June 16, by their colleagues in the universities if their employers, who have consistently failed to renew their collective bargaining agreement, once again failed to do that.

The leadership of organised Labour itself appears powerless to stand off the strike action and The Chronicle gathered that the TUC Secretary-General himself is leaving to head the Africa-wide labour movement, then headed by Alhaji Hassan Sumonu of Nigeria, and his second-in-command who is expected to take over from him is unlikely to have the power and the constituency to ward off the strike action gauging the mood of the workers.

Dr. Frank Siriboe, representing striking doctors, was quoted yesterday in a radio interview on Joy FM that they had heard their allowances would be sorted out with funds from the Millennium Challenge Account.

?Give us our money and we will go back to work,? is their condition. He described the proposition as ridiculous, saying that the MCA is not for salaries.

The National Democratic Congress (NDC) apparently exultant over the political opportunity this looming crisis represents, last night criticized the President for leaving the country when there is crisis at home.

But The Chronicle can report that the President is joining a delegation led by the Minister for Public Sector Reforms, Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom, and Mr. Armah, who is also working on the MCA schedule at the Ministry, to go over the final documentation which had been approved by the American group who had earlier worked through the programme with their counterparts before flying home less than two weeks ago.

The Member of Parliament (MP) for Tamale South, the vocal Haruna Iddrisu, revealed that the minority in parliament plans to scupper the MCA. He told Takoradi audience (Melody FM) last weekend that that will teach the NPP government not to disregard the entreaties of the NDC who have been making representations over the inputs into the MCA, but have been ignored.

He said they would soon write officially to the US government through the Congress to stop Ghana from accessing the MCA until the government had agreed to hold broader consultation on the issue.

Haruna, who is also the minority spokesman on communications, told his host, Ekow Shalders, that even though various surveys conducted by institutions in the country revealed that Upper East, Upper West and Western regions are poverty endemic regions in the country, for some strange reason these regions had been excluded from the beneficiaries of the millennium challenge account that is meant to fight against poverty.

The Chronicle?s independent research at the MCA secretariat shows however that the Northern region is heavily represented in the agricultural intervention districts earmarked, with Tamale, where the rabble-rousing Haruna Iddrisu himself represents in Parliament, heavily locked onto the MCA grid.

Other areas in the North alone include South Savelugu Nanton, Tolon Kumbungu, Karaga and West Mamprussi.

In the Volta region, where the NDC has a total electoral dominance, more then six locations have been included in the social and agriculture interventions.

They include Keta, the NDC stronghold of Ketu, South Tongu and Akatsi. North Dayi, the constituency of NDC?s 31st December rep in Parliament, Ms. Akua Dansua, is one of the other areas targeted for significant investments.

The strike action, which has the potential to force the hand of government to yield to the option of printing money to pay salaries, would be suicidal and would go counter to the conditionalities for accessing the over $500-million grant that should begin to flow into Ghana by end of August this year.