STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY JOHN EVANS ATTA MILLS PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF GHANA
Madam Speaker, Vice President, Honourable Members of the House,
Just over a year ago, the citizens of Ghana elected this Government to take over the administration of our beloved country.
They elected us because we promised an Agenda of Change for a better Ghana â€“ Change that would advance the cause of democracy and renew our faith in the future of this country even as we take on a new set of development challenges.
As part of that challenge, I made a commitment to do away with the style of politics that mistook democratic transfer of power as an opportunity to wreak vengeance.
I made a commitment to take a different political path to strengthen belief in ourselves and in our nation – the kind of belief exemplified by those gallant players of the Black Stars who did us proud in the Africa cup of Nations finals in Angola.
I am confident they will reach for the stars at the World Cup tournament in South Africa in June 2010.
I also wish to salute the Black Satellites who took on the mighty Brazil in the finals of the World Under-20 Football Tournament and beat them with 10 men against 11 to bring home the cup.
And how can we forget the exploits of our gallant local players who fought all the way to the finals of the maiden CHAN tournament in Cote dâ€™Ivoire and returned home with the silver?
Ghana football is on the ascendancy and like our footballers, we, as Ghanaians, should also believe in Ghana and in ourselves, and I donâ€™t mind if I am plagiarising somebodyâ€™s campaign slogan.
In my â€˜State of the Nationâ€™ Address last year, I promised to create an atmosphere of inclusiveness, respect and courtesy in our national discussion and debate.
I and the new administration promised to cool the overheated economy and revive the declining currency â€“ and to bring about stability, transparency, a strong Cedi – and a new diversified industry-based economy.
I promised that Ghana will become an even better example to the world in respect of our contribution to global peace and strengthening bonds of humanity as we did when we offered our widows mite to help our brothers and sisters in Haiti after the devastating earthquake.
One year after our election, I am proud to stand before you and say with confidence â€“ “The State of the Nation is good!”
If I am to be tempted to indulge in a bit of sloganeering and compare the situation of Ghana today to when we took over a year ago, I can confidently say “So Far â€“ Much Better”
I must also say that there is still a huge amount of work to be done â€“ and you can be sure that your President and his Team are fully committed to our election promises.
I would like, if I may, to touch more specifically on some of the significant changes that we have introduced in the last twelve months â€“ and to set before you the policies that we shall follow in the years ahead.
This Government has a four-year mandate â€“ and at the end of that term our people will judge us â€“ and what we have achieved â€“ so that they can once again freely elect the next President and the next Administration.
A NEW ATMOSPHERE
Our nation has become an example of African Democracy of which all Ghanaians can be proud.
But even so, a year ago most Ghanaians had such fixed party political allegiances that they often served to blot out the best interests of our nation.
That attitude is now changing! This Administration is consciously developing an atmosphere where criticisms are not seen as “enemy action” but rather as serious alternative views to be respected and considered. I am even more pleased that our NDC members feel just as free to criticise their own Government as opposition members do!
It is my fervent hope that this atmosphere of unfettered free speech will be enjoyed responsibly â€“ and received openly and with respect â€“ among Ghanaians of all political loyalties.
It is also my prayer that all members of this House â€“ whatever their party â€“ will have a sense of fairness and balance in our discussions, debates â€“ and arguments.
Nobody has a monopoly of either vision or wisdom and we will take honest criticism in good faith.
We will work together to fashion out the appropriate policies that will help our nation face and overcome her many challenges in these times of great uncertainty.
When we see constructive criticism â€“ from whatever source â€“ we will take it on board. We shall learn – and add to â€“ what is working â€“ and we will change course when it is in the national interest to do so.
And in all our undertakings, I will be guided by a principle I have long cherished – to always strive to make a right decision rather than a quick decision.
The Minister of Finance addressed sectoral performances in his 2010 Budget Statement last November.
I will therefore not repeat what he said, but I do want to make brief observations on some critical sectors â€“ the Economy, Agriculture, Employment, Youth Development, Education, Health, Housing Security and Governance.
I will turn first to the Economy. No country has been immune from the world economic meltdown, but I must commend our Economic Management Team for the fine work that they have done and are doing.
In November last year, the Minister of Finance outlined the challenges we were facing in tackling the unsustainable budget deficit, the arrears and unpaid bills, and the crippling judgment debts.
We had to take bold and difficult measures to achieve fiscal consolidation and macroeconomic stability.
We meticulously assessed all the arrears and commitments in the pipeline.
This enabled us to devise a credible “Arrears Clearance Strategy” and avoid excessive pressures on current and future budgets.
By doing so, the Government has earned commendation from the private sector, both national and international, and has sent a clear message of its determination to come to terms with the economic challenges.
GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT AGENDA
We will invest in human resource development, in key infrastructure, in the development of the oil and gas sectors, and above all, in the modernisation of agriculture and related processing activities.
Ghana is poised to be a major producer of oil and gas and I have instructed the Energy Ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of Transport, to fast-track investments in the necessary infrastructure, including a Deep Sea Port with a dedicated oil services facility and the rehabilitation of the Western railway corridor.
These flagship investments will not only create significant employment themselves, but will also support the growth of other industries. What is more, the development of the Gas sector will allow the development of higher efficiency gas turbines â€“ which in turn will ensure a dependable electricity supply at internationally competitive tariffs.
As we announced in November, we will facilitate the development of a reliable, cost-effective and world-class communications infrastructure.
We will also fast-track the development of a road transport network that will meet the economic, social and environmental needs of Ghana in the years ahead.
FOOD AND FOOD SECURITY
But, Madam Speaker, for most Ghanaians, simply getting enough good quality food is both the highest priority and the highest cost item.
We are determined to make this easier for everyone to achieve.
We have to recognise that we import most of our food at present, and so we have already put into action a progressive Agricultural Policy which will lead to both lower Food Prices and to more Food Security.
This goal of “Food Security” will be a national priority. We will marshal all the resources at Ghana’s disposal to meet this end, for we cannot be a well-respected member of the community of nations â€“ when we are importing food items produced in countries with a less beneficial climate than our own.
Tomatoes, onions, plantain and other items are native to our climate â€“ and we have the land and the resources to deliver these â€“ and more â€“ to our people.
We can have no excuses â€“ and when we next seek the people’s mandate, they will judge our success in this task.
MONEY IN OUR POCKETS
I so often hear the cry from our people that money is hard to come by.
“Where is the money in our pockets that you promised?” is a question we hear almost daily. Well, Madam Speaker â€“ I understand just how our people feel!
But here too, real change is happening!
We took over a run-down economy characterised by unbridled spending and far too much sole-sourcing that did not offer value for money. But in the face of mountainous challenges, we can now offer Good News and Hope!
I am glad to say that we quickly halted the rapid depreciation of the Cedi and by the middle of 2009, it had begun to appreciate against almost all the major currencies of the world. Today, we have a stable currency as well as other indicators pointing to healthy economic conditions for real take-off into sustained growth.
OIL AND GAS FOR INDUSTRIAL TAKEOFF
As Ghana becomes an oil-producing nation, we will maximise â€“ for all Ghanaians â€“ any benefit that we can accrue from this bounty of nature.
Although oil revenues will start around the fourth quarter of this year â€“ I have already instructed the Ministry of Finance to prepare an Oil and Gas Revenue Management Bill to be submitted to Parliament for approval. It will ensure transparency in management, and will commit the bulk of the oil revenues to a shared growth fund to finance investment in human resources development and other productive infrastructure.
This will include the national power grid, an extensive road network, major extension of the water supply systems, expansion of power generation and improvement of the internal distribution system, and the development of an urban sewerage system â€“ all part of our investment framework.
With the anticipated commercial exploitation of crude oil and gas, we are positioning Ghana for a major industrial take-off. We are laying the foundation for: â€¢ an integrated aluminium industry based on bauxite; â€¢ a petrol-chemical industry based on salt and natural gas; â€¢ a fertilizer industry to give impetus to agro development; â€¢ a salt-based industrial chemical industry for caustic soda; and â€¢ allied consumer products and exports based on oil and gas.
The oil and gas discovery also now makes the late Dr R. P. Baffour’s long cherished dream of an integrated iron and steel industry based on the iron ore deposits at Opon Manso in the Western Region a real possibility.
Beginning from this year, we are putting together the building blocks of an oil and gas-based industrial architecture to ensure that by 2016, we would have exploited these resources and changed the country’s economic paradigm – so that our dependence on traditional raw material exports of cocoa, gold and timber, will be a thing of the past.
Madam Speaker, â€¢ Kwame Nkrumah laid the foundation for oil and gas exploitation in Ghana.
â€¢ Jerry John Rawlings created the institutional framework for its exploitation. â€¢ The oil and gas was struck in commercial quantities in the period of John Agyekum Kufuor. â€¢ Actual commercial exploitation is beginning in the period of John Evans Atta Mills. In between, others have played their part.
My vision is to use the oil and gas discovery to transform the Ghanaian economy from its over-dependence on primary raw materials to a diversified, prosperous 21st century industrial nation.
During that transformation â€“ between now and 2016 â€“ â€¢ We will have established a solid foundation for accelerated job creation. â€¢ Ghanaians will have better incomes and a much higher standard of living â€¢ We will be well on our way to the “middle-income” status envisaged under our original “Vision 2020” programme.
That, Madam Speaker, will be the Atta Mills legacy for Ghana!
PUBLIC SECTOR MANAGEMENT
Managing a dynamic and rapidly growing economy under public-private partnership requires a new breed of Public Sector Manager, able to negotiate with his Private Sector counterparts on an equal footing, monitor developments in the sector, and propose appropriate policies to maximize the gains to the economy. The Private Sector spares no effort to train its own managers and technicians.
The Public Sector cannot afford to lag behind. We will therefore provide the needed incentives to attract talent to the public sector and to keep the best and brightest that we already have in the sector.
Madam Speaker, In the course of 2009, we began to implement some of our Manifesto promises in the agriculture sector.
We established the Buffer Stock Management Agency to hold food security buffer stocks and intervene in the market when we have a glut.
The Agency will in the course of the year take over and rehabilitate the 12 warehouses of the erstwhile Ghana Food Distribution Corporation for its operations.
The National Pre-Mix Committee was reconstituted and Beach Landing Committees were formed to ensure efficient and transparent distribution of pre-mix fuel to fishermen.
For now, the uncertainties surrounding pre-mix distribution have virtually all been resolved.
Pair trawling has been prohibited and the Navy has been instructed to apprehend all those who engage in that criminal activity which is destroying the livelihood of our hardworking fishermen and their dependants. This year, the fertilizer subsidy programme will be extended to all crop farmers. We will also accelerate the Youth-In-Modern-Agriculture development programme.
An Agricultural Development and Investment Fund (ADIF) idea is being worked on as a response to our Manifesto promise to promote rural financial intermediation and to establish an Agricultural Development Fund.
As we move towards achieving industrial growth, we will strive in the short and medium term to deal with the problem of the large numbers of unemployed people on the streets, young people leaving Senior High school with no practical qualifications and jobless university graduates.
The National Youth Employment Programme and the Youth In Agriculture Programme are only temporary expedients out of what is a major problem of unemployment that we inherited in January last year.
Ultimately of course, the solution lies in skills training and an expansion in the economy to increase the jobs available. We are tackling this in a three-pronged approach of an expansion in the service industry, an expansion and improvement in the manufacturing sector and an expansion of the agro-industrial sector.
As the measures we took to halt the decline in the economy last year such as lower interest rates and increased credit to the private sector begin to translate into a much more conducive employment generation environment, we expect a turnaround in the jobs market.
Meanwhile I have directed all sectors to mainstream job-creation into their programmes and Ministers are required by the middle of the year to produce sector blueprints for the creation of jobs.
Inculcating in our youth the spirit of nationalism, self-belief and belonging, will be paramount in the Better Ghana agenda.
We will give more meaning to arts and culture as a potent educational tool to drive the programme of nation building. The Education and Culture Ministries are being mandated to collaborate in this regard.
Madam Speaker, Some of the Programmes in the education sector announced by the Minister of Finance in his 2010 budget have already begun to be implemented.
The distribution of free school uniforms in the public sector Basic Schools began last year in the Central Region and we expect to cover the whole country by the end of this year.
A number of other programmes will begin this year. These include the provision of free education for disabled children; the refurbishing of science resource centres; the provision of infrastructural facilities in Senior High Schools, the removal of Schools under Trees and the elimination of the school shift system.
Let me also mention that in view of reports I have received, I have ordered an investigation into the utilization practices of the GETFund in the past.
I have also directed a review of the GETFund Act so that we can achieve our Manifesto promise of decentralising the operations of the Board and broadening the involvement of local institutions.
I have said enough about the conditions of service of Teachers in the past! At the end of this year, I expect the GNAT, NAGRAT and the UTAG to make separate pronouncements on whether the lot of teachers has improved under our administration or not.
So for the moment, I will say no more on the subject!
In the Health Sector, the National Health Insurance Authority has already submitted a revised National Health Insurance Bill to Cabinet for consideration.
When enacted by Parliament, it will allow for greater accountability in the operations of the NHIS and redefine among other things payment mechanisms that address the issues of claims management and portability.
Let me put it very bluntly! The spectacle of homeless people and street children in our urban areas is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated!
In most countries of the world, housing for the lower and lower-middle income groups is the responsibility of the Local Authorities, and Ghana should not be an exception!
Beginning this year, in addition to whatever the Central Government is doing in the Housing sector, we shall expect our Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies to invest a sizeable proportion of their District Assemblies Common Fund in rental housing for lower and lower-middle income groups.
To make sure this happens, the Assemblies will be directed to commit a substantial portion of their Common Fund allocations to rental housing.
A National District Assemblies Rental Housing Project Task Force will be established to oversee the project and make sure that this problem is given the highest priority.
Our predecessors started a number of â€œaffordableâ€ rental housing projects in some parts of the country but none of them was completed.
I have directed the Ministry of Water Resources, Works and Housing to complete all those housing projects to help alleviate the acute housing problem facing the country.
The Engineer Corps of the Ghana Army will once again play an integral role in Governmentâ€™s rural infrastructure expansion programme.
To this end, we will be re-equipping and resourcing the Engineer Corps to enable the establishment of an additional Regiment in the Northern sector.
Madam Speaker, In the specific Sector of Governance, we have moved strongly ahead to keep our Manifesto promises. â€¢ We have organised the National Stakeholderâ€™s Conference on decentralisation and are preparing to introduce far-reaching changes in the decentralization agenda of the country. â€¢ We have established the Constitutional Review Commission to look at the aspects of our Constitution about which concerns have been raised.
â€¢ We have put in place the Presidential Committee on Emoluments to advise on the Salaries, Allowances, Facilities and Privileges of Officials â€“ as the Constitution requires.
We have done these things early in Government, so that we are seen to be fair, objective and transparent.
REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE (AMENDMENT) ACT (ROPAA)
An outstanding governance issue is the matter of the registration and voting of our Ghanaian brothers and sisters overseas.
Our objection to the Registration of the People (Amendment) Act or ROPAA when we were in opposition was based on the flawed processes for its introduction and not on the principle of Diaspora voting.
Our commitment to providing the opportunity for our brothers and sisters abroad to exercise their franchise was never in doubt.
This year I shall constitute a multi-partisan group, under the guidance of the Electoral Commission, to revisit the whole issue of the registration and voting of Ghanaians abroad.
This will involve a review of the Representation of the People Law of 1992 in its entirety and not a piecemeal amendment of the legislation.
This matter affects the basic power-conferring law of our country, and it must not be the prerogative of the ruling Government to use its majority to have its way. All political parties must be involved to enable us reach consensus on a Bill to replace the existing Representation of the People Act and its amendments.
When I am convinced that there is a real consensus on its provisions, the Draft Bill will be presented to Parliament.
RECONCILIATION AND INTER-PARTY COLLABORATION
This kind of inter-party collaboration should be a regular feature of our national reconciliation agenda.
We cannot impose reconciliation by legislation! Genuine reconciliation must come from the heart â€“ and can only come from humility and contriteness â€“ and perhaps, also from a spirit of forgiveness.
The “Ghana Political Parties Programme” of the Institute of Economic Affairs has been forged out of the voluntary will of the four political parties with representation in Parliament, not by any legislation.
It demonstrates what genuine reconciliation and collaboration, based on a spirit of Wanting-To-Work Together, can achieve.
As a result of their collaborative effort, a multi-partisan “Presidential Transition Bill” to regulate the process of transition from one Government to another and which will, I hope, put an end to the acrimony and bitterness that has characterised past transitions, has been agreed upon. It is to be presented to Cabinet for consideration and to Parliament for enactment.
Because of its multi-partisan nature, I am sure that Parliament will have no difficulty in passing it.
I want to encourage our Political Parties to continue with what they have started, so that through their efforts, we can forge a genuine spirit of reconciliation and inter-party collaboration to develop a framework for working together despite our ideological and other differences.
In the same spirit of reconciliation and inter-party collaboration, I intend this year to address two subjects that will advance the collective interest of our nation and our Honourable Members of Parliament.
It is a matter of fact that the exclusive National Honours Class of the “Order of the Star and Eagles of Ghana” awardable only to Presidents of Ghana is discriminatory and inappropriate. I have therefore decided that the National Honours Instrument of 2008 which created that Class should be repealed.
A repealing Executive Instrument will be laid before the House in the course of this year – which will restore the original non-discriminatory Honours Warrant of 1st July 1960 executed by the First President of the Republic, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
I believe however that any persons who received those Honours under the 2008 Instrument acquired vested or accrued rights to them. They will therefore be allowed to keep those Honours.
On the issue of National Honours, permit me to thank one and all for supporting the centenary birthday celebration of the Founder of our Nation, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
The 25th of May this year climaxes the year-long activities for the centenary celebrations and it is my hope that we will do so in a befitting and memorable manner.
MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT
Secondly, for Members of Parliament, we will implement two new programmes that we promised in our Manifesto. The first is to establish a “Member of Parliament Constituency Development Fund” separate and apart from the District Assemblies Common Fund.
I am conscious that I made this promise in my State of the Nation address last year, but we could not implement it in 2009. You have my assurance that this time round, it will be implemented.
Secondly, we will begin the programme to construct and furnish a standard “Member of Parliament Constituency Office” in each of the 230 constituencies and to pay one Administrator identified by an incumbent Member of Parliament a fixed monthly stipend.
This programme will begin in the constituencies that are farthest away from the national capital – and will proceed progressively until all the 230 constituencies are covered.
And may I say to Honourable Members that you can help this exercise work smoothly by beginning to look for suitable land for the project in your constituencies.
There is one other Governance issue that is close to my heart â€“ Corruption. Even if we cannot totally eradicate corruption and we must try – we must at all cost reduce it to the barest minimum and make the penalty for corruption so high that it will become something to avoid at all cost. We are adopting two approaches.
First, we will strengthen the anti-corruption Agencies of State to make them more effective, rigorously enforce the provisions of the Whistleblowerâ€™s Act and vigorously prosecute all past and present officials of State who fall foul of the anti-corruption laws.
Secondly, we will wage a massive education campaign against corruption.
We will involve not only the public anti-corruption institutions but also civil society anti-corruption agencies and organisations such as the Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition and the Ghana Integrity Initiative and others.
THE DRUG MENACE
Closely related to corruption is the issue of the drug menace.
When I appeared before this House last year, I pledged that Ghana will not continue to be a subsidiary for the illicit drug trade and a sanctuary for the drug barons.
We do not also want to wake up daily to find the front pages of our newspapers and the airwaves inundated with news about drugs and drug barons.
The records speak for themselves; Ghana is no longer an attractive destination for the illicit drug trade and I make no apologies for that.
It is true that we are still having a hangover effect from the drug boom of the immediate past, but that is only a matter of time.
I assure you that we shall chase the drug barons and their mules and other couriers out of the town.
We owe this to our youth who have become unwitting targets of the activities of these evil creatures. It is a case of â€œno retreat; no surrenderâ€. SECURITY
We cannot fail to recognise the drop in the rate of armed robbery and organised crime and I commend the Police and other security agencies for the effort they are putting into fighting crime. Be it; robbery, murder, rape, or narcotic offences, the statistics speak to a reduction in crime.
Government will continue to strengthen the human and logistics base of the security agencies for them to continue to protect life and property which will go a long way to increase the appetite for Ghana as preferred investment destination.
This Administration is deeply concerned about the spate of fire outbreaks and we will comprehensively re-equip the Fire Service as well as strengthen and enforce the regulatory framework for enforcing safety standards.
Finally, Madam Speaker, a personal concern.
The “Better Ghana” that we long to achieve cannot be reached without self-discipline in every aspect of our lives: at work, in the office, on the road, in the market place, at the lorry station and above all in our attitude to time!
Discipline must also manifest itself in our human settlement development plans.
My addiction to time consciousness is very well known.
And this year, I will expect this same “addiction” from Ministers and Officials of State.
I expect all Ministers and other Officials to be punctual to functions to which they are invited.
I want organisers of such functions to draw the attention of the Presidency to Ministers and Officials who become notorious late comers.
Of course those who invite public officials also have a responsibility to stick to time while at the same time shortening their programmes in the interest of time management.
And discipline on the road is also desperately needed. The carnage on the roads, largely avoidable, the loss of dear ones, not only takes a human toll, but also has serious economic consequences.
I am charging the Police Service to submit within the shortest possible time a blueprint for a drastic reduction in road accidents.
But discipline, Madam Speaker, can only come from the inner person.
It is each of us therefore in this House today, who bear the responsibility for setting a clear and visible example to our fellow citizens. When Parliament reconvened on the 26th of January this year, Madam Speaker, you yourself spoke to the issue of time consciousness and asked Honourable members to ensure that the business of the House is conducted in a time conscious manner. It is my hope therefore that our lawmakers will be committed apostles of time consciousness as we progress on the path to building a Better Ghana.
Madam Speaker, Colleagues and Friends, ten years ago when I first accepted the Nomination as the NDC Candidate for President, I made a public pledge â€“ and that I give again to all of you now.
â€¢ We will serve every Ghanaian â€“ without regard to ethnic origin, gender, religion or political allegiance.
â€¢ We will strive to bring Reconciliation and Harmony throughout our country.
â€¢ We will be Transparent in everything we do.
â€¢ We will continue to root out Corruption of any kind, anywhere, any time.
â€¢ We will only offer to the people â€“ what we firmly believe we can achieve.
â€¢ And our priorities will be to offer every Ghanaian and especially our young people Education and Opportunities for self advancement.
May I now, Madam Speaker, also invite all Members of this House and all Citizens of Ghana, whatever your political inclination, to join me in creating hope, opportunity and peace of mind for our future together.
No government and certainly no political party can carry our nation forward on its own.
Political Parties, Businesses, and yes the media should at least be “Partners in Vision” in an open Democracy in which our people choose the way ahead and then work together to achieve it.
Not everything is political! The challenges that we face are challenges to every Ghanaian not just to one political group and definitely not exclusively to the Government of the day.
When love of country supersedes personal ideology and only then Ghana can grow and mature as a full participant in the 21st Century Global Village and be a stable, prosperous, democratic leader in Africa but we can only achieve that if we agree to do it together.
May God bless us as we work together for our beloved nation and as we work towards building a Better Ghana.
Madam Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity and your attention and may God continue to Bless our homeland Ghana and make us greater and stronger!
STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY JOHN EVANS ATTA MILLS PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF GHANA