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Opinions of Friday, 10 January 2014

Columnist: Jackson, Margaret

President Mahama’s First Year In Office

By Margaret Jackson

January 9, 2014

President John Dramani Mahama will go down in history as the only known Ghanaian leader who never caught his breath after he had assumed office before he was besieged with mountains of insurmountable problems.

Even before President Mahama was sworn into office on January 7, 2013, Nana Akufo-Addo, the candidate he defeated in the 2012 Presidential Elections, had filed a petition at the Supreme Court (SC) challenging the validity of his victory.

Therefore, until the petition case was determined on August 29, 2013, with the validation of his victory by the SC Justices, President Mahama had to govern the affairs of the country whilst contending with the eight-month long court proceedings.

Governing the affairs of the nation and contending with the SC petition became the biggest challenge that President Mahama had to cope with. Never in the history of Ghana have we had a leader going to court for eight gruelling months to justify his election by the Electoral Commission while also running the affairs of the nation.

But through all these changing scenes, President Mahama made some positive strides within his first year in office which are worth noting. Below are some of the successes he chalked during that period.

REMOVAL OF FUEL SUBSIDIES & LPG Maintaining subsidies on fuel and utilities have been the bane of every government in Ghana’s political and economic history. These subsidies always contribute to putting a deep hole in the country’s fiscal discipline. Due to political expediency, no government has had the courage to remove those subsidies.

But on July 1, 2013, President Mahama did what many considered unthinkable by removing subsidies on fuel and LPG as consumers of petroleum products especially petrol and diesel were made to bear the full cost of buying these products for the first time in the history of the country.

As a result of the removal of fuel subsidies, Ghana is going to save 760 Million cedis annually. The country has also been able to clear an outstanding $80 million debt that it incurred as a result of subsidizing petroleum products.

It is worth mentioning that these subsidies used to have a consequential delay in letters of credit payments that resulted in the delay for scheduled delivery of petroleum products onto the Ghanaian market.

Therefore, its removal is bound to help restore fiscal stability after Ghana overshot its budget deficit target by nearly 100 percent in 2012.

BUI HYDRO POWER PROJECT In May 2013, President Mahama commissioned one of the four units of the Bui Hydro Power Project which started in April 2008. This unit provided about 133 megawatts of power to augment the energy supply in the country.

In December 2013, President Mahama again inaugurated the final phase of the $800 million project in the Brong Ahafo Region to complete the total 404 megawatts of power project which has helped in curtailing the power outages which swept the country from August 2012.

Ghana resorted to a long drawn load shedding when the West Africa Gas Pipeline which supplies power to the 200 Megawatt Sunon-Asogli Power Plant was ruptured by a ship.

The power situation in the country worsened when the Achimota sub-station in Accra and the Aboadze Thermal Plant in Takoradi exploded in 2013.

The hue and cry which engulfed the country following the daily power load shedding was unprecedented. Therefore, the timely repair works at the Achimota sub-station, the Aboadze Thermal Plant and the completion of the Bui Hydro Power Project under the leadership of President Mahama is very commendable.

KWAME NKRUMAH CIRCLE INTERCHANGE PROJECT President Mahama cut the sod for the commencement of work on the $100 million three-tier Kwame Nkrumah Circle interchange in Accra.

The project expected to be completed in two years and is being funded by a credit facility from the Brazilian government and the government of Ghana, will provide an ultra-modern interchange in the city and also help to reduce the perennial traffic flow in the city tremendously.

A fire station, a police station, an ambulance centre would be built under the interchange to cater for emergencies and criminal activities within the vicinity.

TEMA MOTORWAY President Mahama announced in 2013 that his government will expand the Tema Motorway into a six-lane with an interchange at the Tema roundabout.

The interchange at the Tema roundabout alone will clear the huge traffic block which confront motorists every day.

The expansion of the Tema Motorway has become necessary and its completion will help in easing traffic congestion and also avoid the numerous accidents along the road.

COMPLETION OF THE GANG OF 4 AND OTHER PROJECTS After Ghana was able to raise $740 million from the Eurobond, President Mahama announced that $200 million which is 27% of the total proceeds will be devoted towards the payment and completion of the on-going capital intensive projects in various sectors of the economy.

The Sofoline Overpass in Kumasi, the Okponglo/Madina road in Accra, the Anyinam-Konongo-Nkawkaw bypass, the Ho-Fumey road and the Asankragua-Enchi road will all be completed under the $200 million release.

The Sakumono Sea Defence, some agricultural and fisheries projects, electrification projects under the Self-Help Electrification Project (SHEP 4), as well as some transportation and other social infrastructure projects will also see light under the $200 million.

EARNINGS FROM CRUDE OIL Under the watch of President Mahama, Ghana was able to save $279 million from revenue earned from crude oil export during the first half of 2013.

As a result, $202 million has been put to the Stabilization Fund to cushion the country in times of crude oil price volatility while $77 million was also set aside for future generations in the Heritage Fund.

GHANA’S EXTERNAL RESERVES Improvement in the energy sector and the Eurobond contributed in the climb of Ghana’s external reserves to $5.7 billion in August 2013.

The bump means Ghana’s external reserves can cover three months of imports. The reserves which stood at 4.9 billion in July 2013 rose to that huge level due to various gains chalked up in the economy and some sound economic interventions by the government.

SETTLING OF ALAVANYO/NKONYA 90-YEAR OLD CONFLICT President Mahama, through three-days of mediation talks in Accra between government officials and chiefs and elders of Alavanyo and Nkonya and other stakeholders signed a peace deal under which the two towns will never again to use conflict to settle their differences.

The 90-year old conflict which has lingered since 1923 over a disputed boundary land which has often led to intermittent clashes and deaths between the people of Alavanyo and Nkonya was buried when both sides pledged to respect the declaration and also ensure that their subjects do same.

Following the settling of the conflict which the National Peace Council of Ghana played a prominent role, a football club, called Alankos United, has been established to start the process.

PAY CUT BY THE PRESIDENT,VICE & MINISTERS In the spirit of partnership, President Mahama, his Vice, Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur and all ministers in government will take a voluntary 10 per cent pay cut in 2014.

The amount to be deducted by the Controller and Accountant General would be deposited in a special fund to be dedicated to maternal and neonatal health.

GHANA’S GDP GROWTH FOR 2013 In spite of Ghana having to use over 70 percent of its income to pay salaries and allowances of public sector workers, following the implementation of the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS), its real GDP growth for 2013 stood at 7.4% compared to 7.9% in 2012.

Even though the GDP was down by .5%, it shows that the various interventions aimed at sealing the deep hole in the economy are working.

EUROBOND Ghana was able to get $750 from the $1 billion Eurobond lodged into her kitty by the international capital market in 2013 for infrastructural development.

Prominent among the projects to benefit from the Eurobond is the Ghana Gas Infrastructure Project at Atuabo in the Western Region.

CLEARING OF GHOST NAMES FROM GHANA EDUCATION SERVICE As a result of audit conducted by the Ministry of Education, over 2,913 ghost names had been detected and removed from the Ghana Education Service’s payroll in seven regions.

The number of ghost names will even climb up when the exercise which is still on-going covers the three northern regions. Image if the 2,913 ghost names that had been deleted were each receiving 200 Ghana cedis every month, how much it will translate in a year? We are talking about government paying 6,991,200 Ghana cedis to non-existent employees annually.

If this is not something worth talking about, then I will go hiking instead of wasting everybody’s ears.

WAGE INCREASE FOR PUBLIC SECTOR WORKERS The government increased the base pay for teachers and other government workers by 10 per cent in 2013.

As a result, the base pay which was previously pegged at 4.84 Ghana cedis went up to 5.32 Ghana cedis to help improve the financial status of public sector workers.

WAGE FREEZE FOR 2014 But due to the high wage bill of public sector workers, President Mahama again did what many will consider as suicidal by freezing salary increases for public sector workers for 2014.

Even though the announcement has received criticisms from various quarters including the Trades Union Congress, the government is bent on implementing the wage freeze decision since it paid between 3.5 to 4 billion cedis more than what it should have paid under the SSSS.

PARKING OF VEHICLES AFTER CLOSE OF WORK In an effort to cut down on the huge government expenditure on fuel and vehicle maintenance cost, President Mahama enforced a directive which disallows state officials from using government vehicles after working hours.

The office of the Chief of Staff started the rigorous implementation of the directive, by taking an inventory of all government vehicles last year. With the directive, state officials including ministers are required to report and leave their respective workplaces in their private vehicles. The order is also to ensure that state vehicles are not misused while the general public monitors their use.

RE-REGISTRATION OF ALL STATE VEHICLES The Ministry of Transport has started the re-registration of all state vehicles throughout the country.

With that all state vehicles will be given new registration numbers to ensure that ministries and other governmental agencies do no abuse the usage of those vehicles during and off office hours.

USAGE OF PRE-PAID METERS BY MINISTRIES AND MINISTERS For the first time in Ghana’s history, President Mahama directed that pre-paid meters be installed in the official residences of all ministers and presidential staffers. In addition members of the executive were also expected to pay their utility bills.

The move was aimed at helping to improve the financial health of the utility companies and also reduce the huge debts owed them by government.

The policy has been extended to cover other categories of senior public servants when the 2014 Budget was presented to Parliament.

GYEEDA PROBE AND RESTRUCTURING Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Authority (GYEEDA) program which has received heavy doses of mismanagement came under sharper focus when government placed a ban on the award of new contracts.

A new CEO, Mr. Kobby Acheampong has been appointed by government to help restructure the whole program. Government is also taking a legal action against officials of GYEEDA who were found to have misconducted themselves.

Some officials have been asked by government to refund monies they misappropriated under the GYEEDA program while the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General has been asked to expedite action on the GYEEDA bill in order to decentralize its projects and programs.

ABROGATION OF SUBAH INFO-SOLUTION CONTRACT In order to forestall financial discipline, President Mahama abrogated the Subah Info-Solutions contract and ordered investigations concerning how payments were made for little or no work done by the company.

Subah Info-Solutions was contracted by the Ghana Revenue Authority to effectively track the call volumes by the Telcos. But due to some issues with the Telcos involving privacy, Subah was unable to do exactly what they were contracted to do, yet the company managed to scoop 144 million Ghana cedis from government coffers.

NO PURCHASE OF BUNGALOWS & STATE VEHICLES BY GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS In order to stop the practice of ministers buying state vehicles and the bungalows they live in, President Mahama has banned the practice by announcing that no government official would be allowed to buy a state bungalow or state vehicle.

The measure is to enable the government to stop the practice where ministers and other public officials were given the option to buy official vehicles and bungalows they were using during their tenure of office.

The government is however working to come out with a measure that would enable all government officials to acquire their vehicles on hire purchase basis.

ONLINE COMPLAINT FORUM To ensure maximum transparency in the country, President Mahama announced in 2013 that he will soon launch an online complaints forum for people to send their concerns and complaints for attention.

The online complaint forum is also aimed at helping to strengthen the fight against all forms of corruption in the country.

CANCELLATION OF CHRISTMAS HAMPERS To further cut down on wastage of public funds, President Mahama in the first week of December 2013 banned all Ministries, Departments, Agencies, Metropolitan, Municipal, and District Assemblies from using public funds for Christmas and New Year gifts such as hampers.

This singular act by the President saved Ghana a whopping 11 Million Ghana cedis which otherwise would have been used to buy gifts.

PAYMENT OF TAXES BY COMPANIES WHO CLEARED GOODS FROM BONDED WAREHOUSES The Special Operations Unit under the office of the Chief of Staff, last year uncovered that 290 importers have conspired with some customs officials to clear their goods worth 735 Million Ghana cedis from government bonded warehouses without paying for them.

Warning letters to the importers who duped the nation have yielded positive results with some of the importers paying back to the state. To date the nation has recovered almost 320 million Ghana cedis from the importers who duped the nation.

OVERALL IMPRESSION There are many more achievements which I did not highlight, but if President Mahama was able to glide through and make inroads in multiple areas in 2013 in spite of the huge distractions, then 2014 holds a lot of hope and promise for Ghana.

What we all need is to rally behind President Mahama for him put his vision into better perspective for the overall development of the country. Daily criticisms that are chunked out and political battering will not cut it for the country.

We must learn to tone down on how we tear people apart but rather help with our ideas in moving the country forward. You do not only have to be president to help Ghana in your small area of operation. Unsung heroes always perform from the sidelines.

magjackson80@yahoo.com http://majjacks80.blogspot.com