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General News of Tuesday, 28 April 2020


Oppong Nkrumah takes on critics, gives tacit breakdown of why govt can afford 88 hospitals in 1 year

Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, Information Minister

Its been a collage of reactions to President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s Sunday evening address.

To introduce a new policy directive, the President said, “Government has decided to undertake a major investment in our healthcare infrastructure, the largest in our history. We will, this year, begin constructing 88 hospitals in the districts without hospitals,” a move that forms part of govt’s enhanced efforts to fight COVID-19.

Many, including health experts, former Finance Minister, Seth Terkper, and of course social media users have emerged with versions of questions about the feasibility of this pledge.

88 hospitals within a year? With government’s current financial status and with the current economic status? That was mostly the focus of the question.

Why not! Minister of Information, Oppong Nkrumah’s simple response. In defense, he took his time during a Tuesday briefing held by the ministry, to explain the intricacies of the issue and why it shouldn’t be an impossible task, while acknowledging the concerns raised.

In a breakdown of what went into government’s decision and how possible this is, he had this to say:

It takes a resilient economy to fight and win a successful war.

Ghana’s ability to introduce the various interventions so far, which are helpful, are as a result of our resilient economy today.

Our current economic position is a major reason we are able to marshal the resources to execute a good number of resources like we are seeing today.

Moving on, the state of the Ghanaian economy will be key in our ability to introduce the necessary interventions which will help us win the necessary battles ahead of us in this war.

As a former Vice World Bank President for Africa recently mentioned, Health is the economy and the economy is health. The major strategy which we have taken in our 5-path strategy are based on our ability to afford the recommendations by the President’s advisory and coordinating team.

While we are grateful to them for the advise, we are also grateful for the ability to be able to afford these interventions.

We believe it makes sense why some may question if Ghana will be able to afford all these interventions including these 88 district hospitals.

The question is justified because, looking at our recent economic condition, and the gains made recently as a nation, there is the genuine fear by some that we may not be able to afford some of these interventions.

The concerns and questions are borne out of our collective recollection. Ghana’s internal economy faced significant challenges, mostly due to unbridled consumption expenditure. It makes sense that some begin to question whether our economy is resilient enough today to afford the whole plethora of things we are doing today including these 88 hospitals that the President has instructed be put up.

*Between January 2017 and now however, Ghana has made major strides in correcting precarious economic conditions that we found ourselves in.
*Our fiscal position has improved, our macro position, has even more significantly improved.

*The combined efforts of the improved macro and fiscal positions is what gives us the chance to afford the interventions that are being introduced as part of the COVID-19 response program.

*We have significantly improved national revenues, we’ve trimmed down our deficits and it has yielded a resilient macro-fiscal position against which we are able to finance the interventions that we talked about in the last 8 weeks or so.

*100 million dollars preparatory programs for border screening and mandatory quarantine, local production of PPE, rammed testing ability, 1.2bn coronavirus package which provided room to support the poor and vulnerable during the lockdowns which also included some 6 million worth soft loans for SMEs that had been badly hit, that is to start in the coming week, about 200 million cedis free water to citizens, all financed on the back of this improved economy.

*6bn Ghana cedis advanced injected into this year’s budget 2020,,1bn of which is paying for the free electricity for Ghanaians for three months. 5bn of which will shore up revenues, owing to the suspended economic activity in the country at a point in time, as well as a stimulus to the sectors that are being hardly hit.

*You will note that the advance from the IMF is without conditionalities, enjoys a moratorium and we will pay back in proceeds of economic activity, once this crisis is over.

*So indeed it is due to the resilience of the economy that we are able to afford to take on even double what we had initially estimated to take, about 500m dollars from the fund.

*Additionally, govt is able to afford tax cuts for health workers, allowances for contact tracers as well as a 50% basic salary top up for front line health workers.

The economy has rammed up to the extent that a lot of private organisations are also now in a position to make significant contributions to the COVID-19 relief fund.

So while there is genuine worry about the economy which was until recently unable to afford allowances to even health students or keep lights on, or which needed bail outs to pay salaries, while there are genuine questions about whether or not it can afford these bold measures, it bares repeating, that the progress that we have collectively made as a people in bringing back our economy from the doldrums, it is a major reason for which we can afford these interventions today.

We have come far as a nation, recovering from our recent challenges to a point where we can take these bold measures and now even begin to have a conversation about 88 district hospitals at a go.

The President has asked his ministers to outline the details and they will flesh out those details to us in due course.