His Excellency John Mahama delivered his second State of the Nation Address on February 25, 2014 after being postponed from its original date of February 20, 2014.
Before reviewing the 2014 State of the Nation Address, we must perhaps comment on what a state of the nation address should ideally achieve. The state of the nation address is a constitutional duty (Article 67 of the 1992 constitution), performed by the President every year, and one of the few avenues through which the President is obliged to communicate with the people of Ghana. Being such a rare opportunity to communicate with Ghanaians, each year’s state of the nation address must ideally a) Update us on the progress of projects promised in the previous year’s Address of address, b) Inform us of upcoming or recently launched initiatives and c) Articulate a vision of our future
We therefore begin our analysis by examining whether the President provided any updates on some key initiatives which he announced in the 2013 State of the Nation Address
The People • Education First off, the decision to migrate teacher trainees onto a Students Loan Trust, instead of allowances is commendable and this initiative should be taken up in other areas of governance. However on addressing these issues such as the shortage of teachers in certain parts of the country, strategies shared by the President were vague. Statistics such as the present teacher-pupil ratio in urban, peri-urban and rural areas should have been shared, as well as the target to redistribute to these underserved areas; the lack of details conveyed instils low confidence in the solutions proposed.
Still on education, the President criticized private tertiary institutions for being more profit oriented and offering ‘softer course offerings’, which is partly responsible for the ‘increasing graduate unemployment level with which we are currently plagued’. There are regulators, governmental agencies which are paid to regulate all these players in the field. Clearly, they have failed in the execution of their mandate. So, if the President wishes to point fingers, it seems he must be in charge. This is especially true since the President, speaking on lawlessness, noted that lawlessness is thriving in the country due to failures of heads of public institutions whose mandate it is to regulate these practices. With regards to the recent demolitions, he stated that ‘public institutions have the responsibility to act in a timely manner’ and not after the fact. This also can be said of all aspects of the governance of the country.
• Youth The President went through a list of Universities that have had increased enrolments over the past years. Enrolment without job prospects is evidence that increasing enrolment figures is not a solution to a problem. In both 2013 and this year, the President mentioned that surveys would be conducted to analyse the demands of the job market. Yet, enrolment figures continue to increase and unemployment continues to be a problem; his solution? Youth Enterprise Support (YES) initiative. If this puts you on edge thinking of GYEEDA, then you are not alone. Solving unemployment first requires the development of realistic and attainable goals for the country, identifying the human resources required to attain these goals, and subsequently boosting education in those areas. What are the long term goals for the country?
For the president to call the economy of the country ‘sound’ does sound like a slap in the face, to the numerous people who face the loss of the their jobs in the mining sector, and the countless unemployed youth, or the industries investing in 100 tankers of water daily in order to keep their businesses afloat. Furthermore, the President’s speech sounded more like ideas and less like a strategy in the process of transitioning the country from lower middle income to middle income status.
SADA & The Western Corridor Development Authority
In the 2013 State of the Nation Address, the President promised Ghanaians that his government would establish a Sheanut factory at Buipe, a rice processing plant at Nyankpala & a vegetable oil plant at Tamale, plant 5 million trees in the Northern regions through the SADA program and maintain an average 8% growth rate. In his 2014 address the President failed to mention the various agri-processing factories and the SADA program. We can only speculate that his avoidance of SADA was intentional, given the revelations of the massive corruption surrounding the program late last year.
Agriculture The President’s 2013 address listed the provision of 2000 new tractors, the construction of the Sissili-Kulpawn & Pwalugu dam, the establishment of a College of Fisheries in Anomabo, and the payment of at 70% of the world market of cocoa to farmers as initiatives which his government intended to implement in the 2013 calendar year. The President provided no updates on these promises in his 2014 address.
Industry & Manufacturing The President promised to review Ghana’s tax structure to reduce taxes paid by manufacturers, establish an industrial development fund, provide service plots in Takoradi, Tema , Kumasi and Tamale for the development of industrial zones and complete work on the Nyankrom fertilizer plant. Again the President failed to provide updates on these activities; however IMANI’s engagements with Private Sector leaders last year revealed that many manufacturers have to pay a tax rate of 35% on their revenues.
The President made mention of the debt burden of Ghana being approximately 52% of GDP. One of his strategies to mitigate the problem is to refinance the domestic debt portion of total debt and disaggregate our debt profile through the implementation of the Ghana Investment Fund. Debt is debt, no matter how you classify it. Rather the president should have focused on strategies to minimize spending and decreasing debt moving forward. Yet, with the task list doled out by the President, in the next few years, Ghanaians can expect more spending and more borrowing. And would we have much to show for all these spending?
On strengthening the value of the Ghana Cedi, increasing our exports and decreasing our imports has been a major focus for the country. One of the strategies stated by the President was to begin the production of jute bags in the country. Not only are the gains of such as venture marginal in comparison to the export commodity, i.e. cocoa which the jute bags transport, but he also added that the jute fibres would be imported and then the bags strung together in the country. Of what value is this to the national economy? What happened to the one time promise by late President Mills to domestically process 60% of Ghana’s cocoa? The President should focus on the areas with potential to transform Ghana’s economic landscape if we’re on a path to middle income status.
People expect value for money both at national level and personal level. Thus it’s important that with the emphasis on patronizing made in Ghana goods, eating what we produce et al., the underlying factor should be that, what we produce must be able to rival the competition in value and in cost. The struggle of the Ghanaian industry is the lack of an enabling environment to be able to produce and manufacture to compete domestically and internationally. We need not dip our hands in every pot in the name of boosting manufacturing. The key is to scale up and maximize the areas where we can occupy a niche and can have a competitive advantage.
With regards to water, the President failed in assuring us that areas such as Adenta, Haatso and Madina would soon have a regular supply of water. This was because he failed to mention the nature of four projects he believed were in the works. In another area of infrastructure, the President as he did in his 2013 State of the Nation address mentioned several road linkages that were undergoing construction works and others that are yet to be started. Additionally, the President stated that the first 5000 houses out of a target of 9120 would commence soon in Ningo. Who are the target market for these homes?; how will the homes be financed by these individuals in order to make sure there’s value for money?
Under the energy sector, the President promised in the 2013 State of the Nation address to establish an Enterprise Development Centre in the Western region and reorganize the Bulk Oil Storage Company to play its strategic role in the storage and distribution of petroleum products. The President again provided no updates on the progress of his directives, but Ghanaians are perhaps the best judges of the performance of BOST, especially given the repeated incidences of fuel and gas shortages in the country last year. He did comment however that, 534 MW were added to our generation capacity bringing our generation capacity to a total of 2845 MW in 2013. The president then listed some current ongoing projects to boost the sector which are expected to be able to generate 5000MW up from the current generation point. We were also informed that these projects are taking longer to materialize as the goal is to completely overhaul the current inefficient systems; since time is a factor in yielding results we wait patiently for the projected completion timelines to ascertain whether we’ve met our goals of making our current energy crisis a thing of the past or not.
And while there are plans to distribute LPG gas cylinders to targeted communities to reduce the reliance on wood, what additional measures are being considered to ensure sustainability of this project, as the distribution of 50000 gas cylinders, does little to address the root issues. One strategy the government can be credited with is the distribution of free commodities. But how long can the government keep absorbing these expenses before the economy collapses.
And though impressive that Ghana keeps discovering million barrels of oil and gas in commercial quantities how has these been beneficial to the country so far? Would have been great if the president listed a comprehensive plan on how the proceeds from these ventures are being channelled for our developmental projects as a good amount of revenues generated are still inefficiently accounted for.
Transparent and Accountable Governance In his 2013 State of the Nation Address, the President promised to develop mechanisms for citizen based monitoring and evaluation of policies and programs, furnish MP’s with laptops to enable them to connect to their constituents and establish a Democracy Fund to provide sustainable funding to Parliament and Independent Governance institutions. The 2014 State of the Nation address featured no updates on these activities, but listed the introduction of a Code of Ethics as an achievement in the area of transparency. The 2013 calendar year ended with a spate of corruption allegations. From SADA to GYEEDA to SUBAH to the Vicky Hamah scandal, Ghanaians were inundated on an almost daily basis with news of a new corruption allegation. Against this backdrop, it is frankly shocking that the President failed to mention any corrective measures which his government is taking to retrieve the monies lost to these Ponzi schemes.
On the whole, the President alleged that the ‘economic fundamentals’ for the nation remain sound in 2014 and [our] midterm goals are bright’. This statement is a distortion of the present situation in the country, unless the President was referring to a time in the past; considering the numerous references made to Ghana’s history and reflections of its past glories.
Information on transparency and governance is lacking in depth. With regards to corruption, aside from the fact that committees have been established and reports written, there has been not much shown on the ground to tackle corruption or explained in the Address on how measures, already taken, have benefitted the state and the economy.
Secondly, the President kindly asked the Attorney General to “vigorously defend all actions brought against the state”. This statement suggests to the average Ghanaian that the Attorney General is not clear on their job description and purpose. Is it really a requirement that the President should instruct the AG to defend the state? This explains why the state so easily gave money away before—the Attorney General was not clear that their job was to defend the state with vigour.
The President outlined that a Code of Ethics for public office holders has been completed and launched. There is no indication how the good people of Ghana will be empowered to actively hold political appointees to account in relation to the Code of Ethics. It would be more substantial if the Code of Ethics itself were made into law.
Furthermore, the President highlighted the National Anti-Corruption Action Plan and Strategy, which includes the Anti-Money Laundering (Amendment) Bill 2013; the Conduct of Public Officers Bill 2013; the Whistle Blowers (Amendment) Bill and the infamous Right to Information Bill as the legislative measure to tackle corruption in governance. Lacking from the observation and the emphasis on the Narcotics Control Commission’s Bill, was a timeline or impression of urgency on the passing of these Bills.
Solid statistics were missing from the President’s assertion that the police Visibility Patrol Programme have had a positive effect on the crime rate in the country. Whilst we trust that the programme has been worthwhile, evaluation of its efficiency comes only with a clear understanding on what “a steady reduction in crime” actually looks like in comparison to the number of officers on the job. The same analysis also applies the claim that police patrols have had a positive impact on congestion in the cities.
It is ironic, or rather unfortunate that the section of the Address dedicated to decentralization would be titled “Deepening Centralisation”. This is indicative of the fact that the government has no clear plans on expanding the decentralization agenda in the country. The President did not speak about democratizing many of the powers he currently wields that add to the issue of “winner-takes-all” affecting our politics. The President concedes that “by putting more power in the hands of our people at the local government level, we would be empowering our people to take their destinies into their own hands” however, he does not explicitly concede that that would mean taking that power out of his own hands. It would be appreciated if on the topic of transparency and governance there was a more concrete commitment to improving the situation in Ghana rather than grandiose rhetoric and promises of future plans.
In 2014, Ghanaians can expect the initiation of grand projects. While this in itself is not a bad thing, very little is to be said of existing projects, this is because mismanagement has rendered them ineffective. While our healthcare facilities may boast of state of the art amenities, poor maintenance of these renders them useless. Lack of an enabling environment, such as constant water supply, uninterrupted electricity amongst others, does not allow the full potential to be derived from these services. The speech was not unique in its approach to solving the challenges in the country. And though speeches can be delivered by puncturing a bit of humour here and there to lighten the atmosphere, on a whole, the president’s speech not only lacked depth but it was also delivered poorly as was punctuated by several giggles and jokes where not necessarily needed.