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Opinions of Monday, 3 March 2014

Columnist: Akomfrah, Nii Armah

The state of our nation is one of un-ending impoverishment

Across the length and breadth of our nation, from village to town , suburban to city communities, our citizens pause in contemplation each year at this time , looking for signs of hope, a glimmer of possibilities that will transform their lives, they look for words of understanding of their plight, but alas another “State of the Nation” (SON) address by the President of the Republic has been delivered and the majority are consumed with their usual disappointment in what is becoming an annual ritual of “promise and fail”. A customary cloud of despair and melancholy hangs over the nation as people settle back into the suffering reality of their impoverished lives.

Against a back drop of one of the most vicious phases of suffering in Ghana’s history, much was expected from the 2014 SON.
Our citizens are proud of their nation but not proud of its failings and are ever aware of Presidential promises from year to year.
Last year the President told the nation his administration will pursue rapid economic development with a sense of urgency to create new jobs for the youth. That his administration would expand electricity generation to energize our economy; increase access to good drinking water and quality healthcare for our growing population; and improve sanitation and human security for all, transform our schools, colleges and universities.
A year down the line and a scrutiny of what he had to say points to huge gaps between promise and delivery. Not many will agree that any progress has been made on the numerous promises. Currently the country is back to dumsor! dumsor! and the water supply situation has worsened.
We still have an in-efficient public service provision and an economy that does not reward the hard work of Ghanaians or nurturing Ghanaian entrepreneurs but rather a liberalized market that has created a free for all for foreign businesses, with the prospects for many a Ghanaian business still very much tied to political patronage.
The Governments Social Democratic credentials have been shattered with the most vicious impoverishing measures being forced on the populace. Their “Putting People First” agenda has seemingly become a lip serving mantra, as fuel prices continue a monthly rise.
The Convention People’s Party (CPP) agrees with the government that our people need decent and sustainable jobs to lead meaningful lives. Unfortunately Job creation and gainful employment is not a priority the Government has been able to deliver on.
The President had promised since his last State of the Nation Address that the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations will work with the Ghana Statistical Service to produce quarterly labour surveys to inform policy and planning. The question that many Ghanaians are asking is “If they cannot deliver on a monitoring mechanism, how can they deliver on Jobs?”

Our education is still falling behind the required level and the promises on the following are still to materialize:

• Prioritize and expand access at all levels.
• Reward teachers adequately.
• Improve gender parity in education.
• Make fees more affordable.
• Improve and bridge the gap between JHS and SHS so that a larger number of qualified Junior High School pupils can access secondary education.
Improving access and service quality on education remains on paper.
On Health, personnel shortages remain and if the “meat is off the bone” where lies the promises which have been repeated again on establishing 1,600 CHIPS compounds across the country by the end of 2016, establishing new hospitals and expanding existing ones.
With regard to the Youth, many are still concerned about the failures and corruption at GYEEDA with no prosecutions to date, so proposals for a GH¢10million Youth Jobs and Enterprise Development Fund, or Youth Enterprise Support (YES) can only be viewed with suspicion.
Where are the promised Job and Enterprise Centers (JEC) in all regions to help unemployed youth and Develop Youth Centers in Districts to facilitate youth meetings and interactions etc?
On the Economy the suffering failure is being felt by all on a daily basis and the government’s economic strategy would seem to be in tatters. No surprise then that elements of the President’s speech seemed to be borrowed from the CPP manifesto. We note however that the challenge is not in the articulation of the CPP and Nkrumah's vision but the courage to implement them.
Whilst touching on the effects of our import dependent economy, the need to manufacture more at home or the need for self-reliance the President did not announce an abandonment of government economic strategy which is still seemingly hinged on targeting single digit inflation, with a liberalized market chasing FDI’s.

The President highlighted the huge gap between our shrinking export earnings and growing import bill - $1.5 billion in foreign currency on the import of rice, sugar, wheat, tomato products, frozen fish, poultry and vegetable cooking oils, whilst losing $1.3 billion in export revenues on account of the decline in cocoa and gold prices. These are matters that the government should take responsibility on as direct effects of government policy and the NDC cannot run away from the results of their actions.

On Agriculture the government has repeatedly talked about modernisation and the President last year emphasized giving special advantage to accelerate agricultural and aquaculture development through modernization.
The reality however is that the agricultural sector has indeed lost its prime spot as the largest contributor to GDP so the President’s emphasis now that “Government’s vision to ensure food security in Ghana has been largely achieved “or Ghana achieving the MDG of reducing hunger and malnutrition in advance of the 2015 target date misses the point on its own objective.
Where is the state of the process of modernization, and what is the feedback on the
the additional 2,000 tractors, promised by Government last year?
The President’s speech on Agriculture was heavily cassava dominated and no comment on much else. Commentary on surpluses was largely a repeat of last years.
The CPP would also question whether mentions of improved seeds are a reference to GMO seeds. Our hope is that the government would consult widely the people, Kings, Queens and Chiefs of this country before introducing any such seeds into our food chain.
On manufacturing the President last year talked about the “collective effort of all stakeholders to facilitate the emergence and growth of a strong manufacturing sector”
He emphasized:
• Reviewing the tax structure to reduce taxes paid by Ghanaian manufacturers to increase their competitiveness in the national and world market.
• Facilitate the establishment of an industrial development fund to provide a ready resource envelope for ailing and struggling manufacturing industries in Ghana.
• Provide service plots within dedicated industrial zones to be developed in Sekondi Takoradi, Tema, Kumasi and Tamale to support the local manufacturing companies to add value to local products for a strong and viable domestic manufacturing sector.
There was no feedback on any of these from last year although the President expressed intensions on what amounts to more local content and local production on a number of fronts including Ghana Cocoa Board use of Jute sacks to be produced at home.
On Infrastructure every Ghanaian will agree with the President’s words from last year that we deserve to live in a country with improved infrastructure to enhance our quality of life. Functional infrastructure of roads, rail, sufficient and efficient energy, stable water supply and a seamless communications and ICT infrastructure.
His acknowledgement however that our basic infrastructure remained virtually unchanged since independence is an indictment on governance in this country over the last 30 years
Thus mere mention of ongoing road works does not go far enough in addressing the problems of the sector with no clear timeline on when the Infrastructure Fund will be in place.
Whilst there was great emphasis on the revamping and modernizing of the railway sector last year, there was very little mention of rail this year so what is the state of the rehabilitation of the Accra-Tema, Kumasi-Ejisu, the Accra- Nsawam and Takoradi-Kojokrom rail networks?.
On Housing, Urban Renewal and Sanitation, an area that the President noted last year as one of the areas that he is passionate about, a National Housing Policy is still not in place and whilst we welcome announcements of new social housing, bridging the huge housing deficit amounted to a repeat of an ever growing deficit rather than meaningful strategies to tackle it.
Shortage on water is currently being felt by many, a continuing symptom of government failure to plan. It remains to be seen whether lessons have been learned and the announced water projects will come on stream on time and will keep pace with demand.
There was no mention on the progress being made on sanitation. So what is the state of the multi-agency sanitation task force clean-up exercises, Sanitation management and waste disposal problems?
Again the Government should accept responsibility for the infrastructure and housing deficits in our country.
On Energy millions of Ghanaians and businesses are still experiencing very erratic and frustrating electricity supply. A situation that the Government’s stated concern has not addressed.
The promise last year was that fixing the damage done to the West African Gas Pipeline Company (WAPCO), delivery of 132 MW from the Takoradi 3 Thermal Plant and 400 MW from the Bui Hydroelectric Power Project will provide the necessary additional mega-wattage to end dumsor! dumsor! A total of 534 megawatts of power generation was added in 2013, so many Ghanaians are puzzled about the continuation of dumsor! dumsor! and the erratic and frustrating supply. A situation that the President was silent on.
On governance generally the President noted last year that “Government will continue to support the Electoral Commission by providing it with the needed resources to carry out its programmes and reforms”. This has proved to be another “promise and fail” objective with the huge constitutional issue of cancelled local elections by the EC.
There is still no end in sight on the long awaited ‘Job 600' project, and the President could not even be specific on when it is that MP’s can finally operate from decent offices.
On combating corruption, it seems to be a case of one step forward two steps backwards with incidents of corruption still on a rampage. If some are undeterred by Government action this could be because the action remains hollow with no prosecutions yet on the wanton corruption at GYEEDA and the Judgment Debt Commissioner seemingly has no timeline to conclude his task.
Thus the State of our Nation is that in the same period hat Dubai has transformed its economy, its infrastructure, housing, industry and manufacturing and breaking world records on many fronts, our state remains to be modernized in virtually every sector. Over a period that Malaysia, China, Indonesia, Korea have taken many out of poverty, the reality of our state remains that of great suffering and un-ending impoverishment.
Nii Armah Akomfrah
CPP Director of Communication