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General News of Wednesday, 8 January 2003


People's Assembly - Remarks by H. E. the President


Mr. Vice President,
Mr. Speaker,
My Lord the Chief Justice,
Members of the Council of State,
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Honourable Ministers of State,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Niimei, Naamei, Nanamom,
Fellow Citizens,

It is two years into the mandate that the good people of Ghana have given me and my government to govern this country.

I assure you not a day goes by without my renewing the pledge I made to work hard for the betterment of our nation.

As if to emphasize that there is not a lot of time at the disposal of government, the nation?s attention is already being directed to the next elections.

I have just this weekend been at the Special Delegates Conference of my Party where I was again chosen to represent the NPP at the 2004 presidential elections.

Three weeks ago, the main Minority party in Parliament also held their Congress and elected their flag bearer for the next elections.

In other words, even before government has settled in to the business of governing, it is already being thrown back into electioneering.

In a sense this is good for nurturing democracy. It serves to remind all that power remains with the people. Thus those of us who are given the privileged of holding office, ignore this fundamental fact at our own peril.

This morning?s event, the People?s Assembly, as it has come to be called, is aimed at giving an opportunity to the citizen at large, to interact and ask members of the Executive, whatever is on their minds.

This exercise broadens the democratisation process. In the constitutional scheme of things, members of Parliament have regular opportunities on the floor of the House and its Committees to quiz Ministers on government activity. As part of their work, members of the Press also have daily and organized access to me and my Ministers.

On this rare occasion therefore, the citizen outside the media and Parliament have this opportunity.

Like last year, after today?s event, Ministers will farm out across the country and hold similar ceremonies in the regional and district capitals and in as many towns as possible so that people will have the opportunity to interact with members of government directly.
Let us open the session with a few remarks on the performance and direction of government so far and then allow time for contributions from the floor.

You would recall that government has chosen five priority areas to target development efforts in the short to medium term.

With infrastructure development, I am happy to report that work on the major arterial roads leading out of Accra have started. Around the country, there is at least one selected strategic road in each region that is being improved. In all the regions, the feeder roads programme is being pursued vigorously.

The expansion programme in telecommunications is on course; and new exchanges are being commissioned; the ICT Center of Excellence is under construction and will be opened in the middle of the year.

On the energy front, there is cautious optimism from the increased exploration activity in our offshore seas. As we await what we hope will be the good news, work is continuing to make sure that the country?s energy needs are provided from the thermal plants to augment the increasingly beleaguered Akosombo Dam.

The next sector is the modernization of agriculture and rural development.

A combination of good rains this past year, the characteristic hard work by the farmers and support from government, has led to a tremendous improvement in the food situation; but we are not yet celebrating.

There have been too many instances of a year of plenty, only to be followed by lean years. Therefore the Ministry of Agriculture will among other things this year, concentrate on mechanization and the storage, processing and better marketing of food produce.

The rehabilitation and expansion of irrigation schemes around the country will also continue steadily.

Next is the provision of enhanced social services with emphasis on education and health.

Because of the anxieties that many people have about the state of education in the country, government appointed a high-powered Committee to review the education system.

The Committee has now finished its work and the recommendations are being studied carefully and what can be quickly implemented will be done.

But before then, the Ministry of Education has embarked on the programme aimed at boosting the morale of teachers and their conditions of service. The training facilities are being expanded to upgrade the skills of teachers to enable them keep up with the new trends around the world.

The provision of desks and basic textbooks to Primary schools should soon be complete. We will then be able to say truly that every school child has a desk to sit on and material to study.

Work has started on the project to upgrade at least one second-cycle school in every region.

On the health front, the NPP gave an undertaking that the Cash and Carry system in the health service will be replaced by insurance schemes. Prototype schemes have started in 42 out of the 110 districts.

As not all the districts are equally endowed, government is resolved to raise the resources to extend the scheme to cover the entire country by next year.

Government has also taken steps to improve upon the working conditions of the doctors and other health workers.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that last year, within the meager means of government and to meet the pressure from the exodus of personnel in the sector, government increased the remuneration of Doctors and health personnel.
This was the main cause of the overshoot of budget expenditure, which is what our opponents are trying to seize on the trumpet as mismanagement of the Budget.

I hope the Doctors and Nurses, and indeed, all other workers will appreciate the desperate situation that the country faces and not hold the nation to ransom. I have said it and it bears repeating, nobody will come from anywhere to develop this country for us. We must all accept it as our duty to sacrifice to rehabilitate the economy and then we can demand and receive our commensurate reward.

When it comes to Good Governance, the security of the state and the protection of individual liberties have remained top of government agenda.

I believe it is fair to commend the security agencies for their work so far. With the injection of a few working tools, they are getting on top of the law and order situation and there has been a marked improvement.

The Police are more visible and thus inducing more confidence among the people.

The military is also reverting to professionalism and their proper constitutional role and they are bringing honour to the nation.

I must also commend the increasing co-operation between the Police and the Military, which can only be to the good of the country.

For the healthy trend to continue, the citizenry should give their support to the agencies in the fight against miscreants within the system.

Now that the Fast-track courts are operating, the justice system should become more efficient and reliable.

I cannot, of course, talk about law and order without mentioning the awful tragedy that befell the nation and Dagbon this past year, when ancient rivalries erupted in bitter fighting and brother turned on brother, leading to loss of lives and the regicide of the Dagbon King, Ya Na Yakubu Andani ll. May his Soul Rest In Peace.

This matter has not yet been resolved. Government has worked hard since the tragedy and is doing all it can to find a long-term solution to the problem.

The Wuaku Commission?s Report has now been published along with the Government White Paper. The Attorney General has been instructed to expedite action on the White Paper.

This tragedy has been very expensive emotionally and financially to the nation. I urge all sides to the dispute and the nation at large to exercise self-restraint and allow the due process to work and restore peace, justice and stability.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the fifth selected area is the development of the Private Sector, which is generally now accepted, must be the engine of growth in the economy. Government initiatives for the promotion of the sector are working. Inflation and bank interest rates are falling and this will allow the Private Sector to gain more access to credit.

The President?s Special Initiatives on Cassava Starch and on Textiles and Garments have taken off. The pilot Cassava project at Bawjwase should start production later in the year and sites have been identified in other districts for farmers and entrepreneurs to set up similar projects.

Large, medium and small-scale investors are also joining in the Garments initiative.
The Export Development Fund had been sourced to help businesses go into salt production.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the economy will flourish at an accelerated pace only when some major hurdles are removed within the system.

As I have said on many occasions, years of pretending that Ghana can operate outside the normal laws of economics have left our economy stagnated. Salaries and wages are the lowest in the sub-region and we charge prices for utilities and petroleum that bear no relationship to the costs.

It is particularly absurd for petroleum. It is time to deal with these distortions.

When we deal with these obvious distortions and are able to plug the holes in government finances, the nation will have a stronger case in arguing for greater help and the economy will be more attractive for Foreign Direct Investors to bring their monies here.

It should be a matter of great concern, and indeed, shame for all of us that more than sixty per cent of our development budget comes from development partners.

In other words, the money comes from the taxpayers in the countries that give us grants. The least we can do is to make sure that we maximize the revenue mobilization within the country before going to ask for grants and other handouts.

The nation must therefore do more for itself in terms of raising more revenue domestically so as to convince its friends, Ghana deserves more assistance.

This resolve, when carried through will help broaden the base of the economy and also generate more funds to enable us pursue a more realistic prices and incomes policy.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me end my introductory comments here and invite your questions, comments, suggestions and criticisms, which my Ministers and I will try to answer.

Thank You and May God Bless Us All.