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Opinions of Monday, 17 April 2017

Columnist: Nathan Gadugah

100 days of change under Akufo-Addo: vigilante terror in economic freedom

Many were his juicy promises in the heat of the 2016 election campaign. Any village in the north he went, he promised a dam; every constituency he visited, he promised, one million dollars for development; and at every district capital he landed, he promised, one factory to provide jobs for millions of unemployed youth who had given up hope and had grown weary of the darkness the country had been plunged into, thanks to an endless load shedding regime. He waved with all boldness a badge of honour and sang with a tinge of sincerity a commitment to fighting corruption when voted into power.

His campaign was not only about promises. It was also a campaign of vigilance. Thousands of youth across the country were mobilized, trained to police the ballot because they had little trust in the police and the EC. The trained youth were fearless indeed. With their eyes wide opened they made sure, their candidate, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo was elected president.

It was a well-oiled campaign strategy, one that dislodged a younger incumbent candidate who, though richer with the spoils of state, rode on a lame party horse to defeat.

The NPP won. Nana Akufo-Addo became president-elect on December 9, 2016 and sworn in on January 7, 2017. His honesty was never in doubt and so were his good intentions but those values were not the solutions to the fragile economy he inherited; those values were not the power badges, crude oil and gas needed to end the epileptic power paralysis the country had endured for four years.

His command over the Queen's language and power of oratory were not the magic wand to provide jobs for the jobless and retrieve the judgement debts paid to Woyome, Waterville and others. He may be incorruptible as we were told during the campaign but it was under the same title of an incorruptible John Mills that Woyome hit his jackpot. So after all the promises of sweet wine in an all new Ghana jar during the campaign, then candidate Nana Akufo-Addo and his Ngolo Kante of a running mate, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia have now tasted power for days, weeks and months.

On April 17, 2017, the President Nana Akufo-Addo is 100 days old in office. Despite his avalanche of promises, he gave no promise of what he intended to achieve in 100 days but he didn't need to. Given the juicy promises, specificity of his campaign message and his Ghana beyond aid mantra, every minute in each day as president must count for something.

Accountability is the only legal tender journalists can demand of politicians and what better time is there to begin a thorough scrutiny of a government in office than after its first 100 days.

Rule by vigilante

Nothing dominated Akufo-Addo's first 100 days more than the rule by the vigilante groups. A wise man once said, there is a beast in every man and it stirs when you put a sword in his hand. The young men recruited for vigilance during the election, now have the sword of power in their hands and they have unleashed a reign of terror in the 100 days. They have done almost everything inconceivable; inherited, broke and set new records of vigilante madness in our rather short history of vigilante activities by the two biggest political parties in Ghana.

It started with the Invincible Forces, who seized everything they could lay hands on- cars, cash, toll booths, public toilets, public offices, name them and they will seize them. Even school feeding lunch for little kids was seized. They beat political opponents, sacked public officials from office and took over as if it was a rule by junta with General Akufo-Addo in charge. Just when the Invincible Forces appeared to be retiring into a state of oblivion, Delta Force, an even more virulent vigilante group affiliated to the governing party, announced its credentials with an attack on no less an institution but a state security outfit and on no less a person than the security coordinator of the Ashanti Region, George Agyei. They barged into his office, bundled him out like what the Roman soldiers did to the thief who was led to Golgotta to be crucified with Christ. He never stole or killed. His only crime was to accept an appointment to serve but Delta Forces wanted another candidate for that position. They wanted their own man in there as a reward for their selfless service. Their action tormented every right thinking, progress-minded Ghanaian in the country except for the few who never quite gave a damn about anything.

The public uproar led to the arrest of 21 of those who attacked the Security Coordinator but the Delta Force had a new record to set. They raided the court and set their colleagues free.

Dealing with vigilante groups was never a campaign promise by Akufo-Addo but in 100 days no promise is worth fulfilling than having the rule of law work in a country of laws and if the president will not get in the way, hide behind party apparatchiks, ministers and use the council of state as a cloak of deception, the country will be better for it, if these forces are left to cool off at a penitentiary at least for a year or two.

Economic Freedom

On March 2, 2017, something unusually significant happened in Ghana's chequered economic history. For the first time a budget read by a Finance Minister drew a thunderous applause and jubilation from various sectors of the economy. Even some of the most partisan minds in the Minority had a good report about the budget.

Taxes had been slashed or withdrawn, each of the campaign promises chronicled by Nana Akufo-Addo in the heat of the campaign had been given pride of place in the budget with funding arrangement on how to fulfil them. Ken Ofori Atta's reading of the budget was an exciting spectacle of a government itching to walk the talk, one with candour and a commitment to turn the country's economic fortunes around in the shortest possible time. It was a budget stripped of all its technical jargons that make sense only to few scholars from London School of Economics or the UG business school. It was friendly. It promised the basic bolts and nuts needed to keep the trucks of the lowly market woman moving, and the engines of the big investors and businessmen cranking. The budget promised a turnaround for the IMF-burdened economy and in less than a month after the budget had been read, certain economic indicators which had been unfriendly for years, and which gave managers of the economy serious headaches, are beginning to show positive signs.

Cedi stability

Key amongst the high performing economic indicators is the relative stability of the cedi. The cedi which experienced its worst performance in 2014 and remained unstable has experienced some appreciation weeks after the budget was read. In 2014, one needed close to seven cedis to buy a British pound. It lost significant value to the US dollar, too. But in 2017, after the budget, the Pound is now selling at five cedis and the dollar is about 4.2 from 4.7 early March, showing an impressive boost in the cedi’s performance. Inflation is now 12.8% inching lower and lower with the confidence of business men soaring higher and higher, the Finance Ministry said. The government is considering ending the romance the erstwhile Mahama government entered into with the IMF.

It is hoping to bank on its own credibility as a sovereign country rather than clinging to the IMF for policy credibility with strings attached. The economic steps taken by the Akufo-Addo government notwithstanding, one cannot, but feel perplexed that, at a time when taxes have been reduced and the price of fuel reduced, even if marginal, transport fares will rather be increased by 15%. It is befuddling and the Akufo-Addo government must work to ensure that the policies implemented have direct benefit on the populace, not an inverse one. The economy is on a good path to redemption and if only that path will not be muddied with thorns of corruption and misappropriation of funds, just maybe, Ghana’s true economic freedom will be attained.

110 ‘soldiers’ ?

In 100 days, President Akufo-Addo appointed 110 ministers and deputy ministers, the biggest ever government any president has put together. The word efficiency was completely lost on the president, his opponents point out. Achieving much with little was not a strategy he was ready to accept, they insist. A packed bus of government appointees with seemingly duplicated roles and responsibilities was always going to be a difficult cross to bear. Any wonder why a smart, eloquent Information Minister Mustapha Hamid was left choking on his words and groaning “Kojo, Kojo, Kojo don’t do this” while discussing the topical 110 appointees by the president in an interview on Joy FM’s Supermorning Show with Kojo Yankson? The few who supported the elephant sized government were largely incoherent in mounting a defence for the decision but the end will justify the means. There hasn’t been any controversy yet in respect of the appointees and that is good omen for them in 100 days.

Fighting galamsey in darkness?

Galamsey, the illegal small scale mining activity has never come under attack than it has been in the 100 days of the Nana Akufo-Addo government. Previous governments have been hypocritical in the fight against the canker but in 100 days the NPP appears to have taken, a more sincere approach aided by the collective effort of the media and other civil society groups to fight the canker. The Chinese are deeply worried about the style adopted by the media and the government but the president, Nana Akufo-Addo in a rebuttal says the Chinese will remain friends but the laws of Ghana will work. One will only pray it works in deeds not in words.

Load shedding, popularly called ‘dumsor’ was a big part of the 2016 campaign and part of the reasons why the NDC lost power. For four years the country was left in darkness with both domestic and commercial users in anger of losing their jobs in the day and their sleep at night. Even though the load shedding eased considerably in the latter part of 2016, it was and still is an ominous threat to Ghana’s economic and social drive. Parts of the country still experience outages, even if there is no load shedding timetable. In 100 days the Akufo-Addo led government has been quiet on what its doing to completely resolve dumsor, and the earlier it gets a handle on it the better for the president’s own vision.

The 100 days have been hugely eventful for the Akufo-Addo-led government. For plagiarizing phrases of past US presidents in his inaugural address, President Akufo-Addo only minutes after being sworn-in as president received his baptism of fire and a troll of humongous proportion on social media. But since then he has been in a hurry to deal with the problems Ghanaians face, he has said.

How would you rate his performance in government in 100 days? What are his positives and negatives? What would you rather he did or did not have to do in his first 100 days? If you want answers to all that then join as we meet, Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia in a town hall meeting to discuss the first 100 days of the Nana Akufo-Addo government.