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Opinions of Thursday, 26 February 2009

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

Mills’ ‘new way’

“I want to make a difference.” That’s one of the key phrases I picked from President Mills’ state of the nation address last week. It’s a noble desire and it’s not hard to achieve. If the president fulfils half the pledges he made in that address, he would make more than a difference. The question is: can he live up to the high standards he has set for himself? It’s hard to tell.

But in that sessional address, President Mills promised “a new way of doing things”. That could be an indication that he knows exactly what it takes to “make a difference.” You see, it’s hard to “make a difference” if you are stuck with the old ways of doing things. If President Mills doesn’t forget this principle, he just might end up making most (if not all) the “difference” he wants and, in so doing, become one of the best leaders this country ever had.

The major difference I will want the president to make is for him to do everything humanely possible to make sure that by the end of his tenure he would have invested more in the well-being of the citizens than any president has ever done in our nation’s short history. This simply means that I’d like to see the president plough a lot of money into providing Ghanaians with the basics – an efficient water supply system, hospitals that are not graveyards, schools where minds are developed and a nation that is at peace with itself.

In an era of global economic recession, is that too much to ask of our president? I don’t think so. And if the sessional address to parliament last week – and the circumstances within which it was delivered – is anything to by, I am prepared to entertain a flicker of hope that President Mills might just deliver.

I have read that address a few times and listened to it at least twice. I think it was quite a good speech, which spelt out the agenda for his presidency in very broad strokes – with a few fresh ideas and a good number of recycled ones as well as the usual pledges to build this and that. (And, by the way, what he read in parliament is slightly different from the widely-distributed text).

The manner of his presentation was relaxed, conciliatory and quite humorous. I loved it because it was a far cry from the uninspiring one he delivered at his inauguration. He also exuded a lot of confidence – no more rumbling, fumbling and tumbling. In these days of a severe economic downturn, with the accompanying gloom and doom, the President did well to demonstrate that he’s willing to provide the needed leadership – mainly by ensuring that the government machinery runs efficiently.

Listening to the speech, I got the impression that President Mills is more than aware of the urgent need to make very good use of our nation’s scarce resources to improve the lot of the people – not to surround himself with luxuries. It’s gratifying that the president promises to make “sure that expenditure at the presidency does not become a burden on the people of this country.”

Critics says the savings from cutting back on presidential travels and state protocol expenses will not be so significant as to make any different. Maybe not. But what if these add up to, say, 12 million dollars a year? That’s a lot of money that can be used to build school blocks for some of the hundreds of thousands of Ghanaian school kids who study under trees every day. It can be used to build health posts to provide basic primary healthcare for millions of our citizens. And it can also provide potable water for the millions who are afflicted by water-borne diseases because they are left with no choice than to bath, swim, fish and ease themselves (‘free-range’) in the same water bodies they drink from.

Every pesewa saved is useful and it can go a long way to help the president make the “difference” he wants. I welcome his austerity measures and if it means the president will drive around town in a single-car convoy, at a sensible speed – saving money on fuel etc – so be it. If it means cancelling the order for one (or both) of the presidential jets his predecessor wanted, so be it. If it means selling off the new presidential palace – or converting it into a hospital or a poultry farm – he gets my blessing.

Last Thursday, the president showed that he is not just going to talk but he will back his words with deeds. I hope to God he wasn’t just flattering to deceive. He came to Parliament House in a single car convoy, surrounded by a cavalry (soldiers on horseback). That’s pushing it a bit but if this is what the president deems as one of the “new” ways of doing things, he has my full blessings (which, he doesn’t really need). I just pray that he doesn’t drive into a ditch with no one around to help him out.

I think, though, that the bigger message the president wanted to send across was what he had told his ministers a few days earlier: “be modest” – live within your means, don’t expect (or extract) and demand more than the nation can afford. I hope every government official got the message and realises that as part of the “new way” we are not going to lavish luxuries on a cabal of politicians whiles most of our people live in abject poverty.

Staying on the narrow path of the “new way” demands a sharp focus and a determination to stay away from what the president describes as the “factors that detract from our efforts at nation building... the politics of vilification, back-biting and vindictiveness.” President Mills is in the driving seat, taking us on what he says is “the beginning of a new journey.”

For most of us, the best we can do is sit back, watch and pray that he doesn’t take us on any of the destructive paths we’ve seen before – political arrogance, corruption, profligate wastefulness and insensitivity. All patriotic Ghanaians have no option than to wish the president well. If he fails, he won’t go down alone.

Click here to visit Ato Kwamena Dadzie’s blogsite
E-mail: ato@atokd.com