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President John Mahama’s 2014 May Day Address on ‘Ghana’s economy: a concern for all’

Thursday 1 May 2014

Vice President Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur,

Rt. Honourable Speaker of Parliament,

Your Ladyship the Chief Justice,

Honourable Ministers of State,

Honourable Members of Parliament,

Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Secretary-General of TUC,

Leadership of Organized Labour,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

And not least of all, the dedicated and selfless workers of Ghana:

Good morning. It is a pleasure for me to join all of you here today to celebrate May Day, also known worldwide as International Workers’ Day. May 1st has become a day of tremendous significance because for over a century now it has been the day that citizens from nearly every nation in the world come together to honour their workers, and to commend them for their invaluable contributions to nation-building.

Every year Ghana stands proudly in solidarity with other nations in this practice. Every year Ghanaians use the occasion of May Day to express the ever-present solidarity we have with our workers.

From the farmers to the factory workers; from the traders to the seamstresses and tailors; from the artisans, the drivers and domestic labourers; from those in the formal and informal private sector to the civil and public service—anyone and everyone who works to ensure that this country may be able to live up to its full potential—we celebrate you today.

We recognize and applaud your commitment and service to this country. It is precisely because of your commitment and service that 57 years after independence, Ghana continues to be heralded as a shining star of Africa. So it is a privilege for me as President to say to you on behalf of all Ghanaians, “Ayekoo!!!!”

It was in 1904 at an International Socialists Conference that the labour movement insisted that it be made mandatory for all countries to stop work on May 1st in recognition of their labour force. Since then, the May Day celebration has also been used as a forum to discuss and reflect on issues that are critical to workers and in the world of work, as well as matters in the interest of progress and social harmony.

During that historic conference, the following international appeal was made, and I quote: for “all Social Democratic Party organizations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on May First for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat and for universal peace.”

My Brothers and Sisters,

I make mention of this because I believe it is important for us to bear in mind the reasons for the establishment of this holiday. I believe it is equally important for us to also bear in mind the history of the relationship that currently exists in Ghana between this Government and our working people.

As a Social Democratic Party and Government, we view labour as our natural allies. The welfare of workers has always been a priority for Social Democrats. And it is in this tradition, it is in this spirit that I welcome the theme of the discussion for this May Day: “Ghana’s Economy: A Concern For All.”

Earlier, I spoke about the “ever-present solidarity that we have with our workers.” Solidarity is merely another word for unity. We Ghanaians stand in unity. And it is this unity that will move us forward into the prosperous future we all want for our nation.

I recognize that the frustrations of coping with our current challenges have at times created the impression that we are adversaries. We are not! We are, and we will remain, allies working together for a common cause.

I recognize that we need to make greater efforts to improve the channels of communication so that we may strengthen our collaboration.

I recognize, too, that communication involves both talking and listening.

Your views are vital to the success of this collaboration.

And I assure you that they are received not with contempt but with consideration.

It is precisely because of our desire to sustain this sort of collaboration that Government was inspired to schedule a National Economic Forum to take place in mid-May to continue addressing some of these critical issues and working together to find sustainable solutions.

Your views help Government to shape its policies and to determine which points of concern are the most urgent. This has been the case with the concern about corruption.

We were able to determine that corruption is possible in part because of our weak institutions and systems, so Government began placing greater focus on strengthening its institutions and re-examining all systems to find where the flaws are. I commend the media and the various civil society organizations that have made it a point to expose corruption whenever it is encountered or discovered.

It is because of the vigilance of those voices that Government has been aggressively putting in place measures to prevent corruption, and we look forward to working together with the people and organizations of Ghana to put an end to this scourge of theft.

My Brothers and Sisters,

Ghana became a middle-income country rather suddenly, without all of the institutional prerequisites in place. Indeed, we had set a target date of 2020 to become a middle-income, but we attained that status 10 years ahead of the targeted time. Being mindful of the associated institutional challenges, we have embarked on an agenda of economic and social transformation that will bring our institutions of policymaking and development management in line with those of a lower middle-income country and ultimately to place them in line with those of an upper middle-income country.

Many of the current challenges we are facing are precisely because of the apparent disconnect between our newfound middle-income consumption habits and our low-income productive capacity. The National Development Planning Commission is working with all stakeholders to address this disconnect. They have been tasked to produce a transformation agenda that will be out-doored to the nation before the end of this year.

In the recent past, the TUC has spoken of the deterioration in some of our key social indicators. We are aware of these challenges, many of which are the result of years of under-investment in key social institutions. In other words, some of the mistakes of our past have finally caught up with us.

I say this not to apportion blame to any particular government. Every administration reaps the rewards of the successes and, at the same time, shoulders the blame for the failings of every Government that served before it. One of the reasons for this is that social indicators can, unfortunately, take long to change for the better or for the worse.

As the Government of the day, we take full responsibility for finding the appropriate solutions for all of the challenges that Ghana faces. We have put in place a range of policies whose positive effects will be felt by all Ghanaians in the not-too-distant future.

Some of you may recall that I spoke quite specifically of this process in my inaugural address; I said, on that occasion, “Change does not happen overnight and sometimes, despite whatever progress has been placed in motion, it will appear to be darkest before the dawn of the new day makes that progress visible. In such times I will be counting on you to maintain the faith and trust that you have placed in me as President. I will not let you down.”

My Brothers and Sisters,

Sometimes when the journey feels too long and too difficult, when the destination we seek seems too far in distance, our faith can be reaffirmed if we stop and look back to take note of how far we have actually travelled.

Sometimes it is only then that we will notice the signs of progress are indeed all around us.

Ghana’s maternal mortality rate is still unacceptable, but the fact of the matter is that it is steadily decreasing. We have come from 700 maternal deaths to 300 maternal deaths per every 100,000 over the last decade or so.

This is one area in which we are making great progress. There has been a drop in institutional neonatal mortality from 5.8 per 1000 live births in 2012 to 2.3 per 1000 today.

Every Government in this country has faced the challenge of ensuring that all children receive access to education. Education is one of this Government’s top priorities. Though the number of overall out-of-school children is still high, the fact of the matter is that it, too, is steadily decreasing.

Because of the Complementary Basic Education Programme that this Government introduced, the teaching and learning of 25,000 out-of-school children has been facilitated.

These figures and other data for sanitation, housing, safe drinking water, healthcare and poverty reduction show the progress that is being made through our various social intervention programmes were reported in my recent State of the Nation Address.

Change does not happen overnight. It is true that we still have a long way to go, but it is equally as true that we have already travelled a great distance, and that in the last year alone we have made significant strides.

My Brothers and Sisters,

When the Secretary-General spoke he talked of the need for the state to tame the market or implement rules and regulations to address market failures. As Social Democrats, we believe that we cannot completely rule out the role of the market any more than we can rule out the role of the state. Both are complimentary. The two must work together, and the best way to do that is to have laws and policies to ensure that markets work for people, not against them. We are in the process of introducing laws on consumer protection and on competition, as one of several initiatives to ensure a harmonious relationship between the market and the state in the cause of national development.

This brings me to the Economic Partnership Agreement. Government is taking all views and concerns of all stakeholders, including labour, consumers and exporters into consideration. Those views and considerations will absolutely inform any decision that we eventually take, which I assure you will be in the best interest of Ghana.

The Secretary-General of the TUC urged us not to sign the EPA in its current form. That is why government, together with our sister nations, in this month, is undertaking a review of the EPA, meeting in Ghana to renegotiate some aspect of it with our European Union partners.

Government has been implementing a home grown strategy to address the economic challenges that we face. Our strategy focuses on resolving the adversity facing our economy both in the short term and medium term.

While some of the measures have been quite harsh, I assure you my countrymen and women that these measures are achieving the desired effect and the economy is gradually responding. This year is a turn- around year and I am positive that the Ghanaian economy will show strong signs of recovery by the end of this fiscal year.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are committed to plugging the loopholes in our revenue system and will carry out the reforms in our revenue administration to ensure sustainable economic growth. Our area of concern to labour and government has been the issue of our payroll integrity. In the next few weeks, we will initiate a massive payroll audit with the view to eliminating the pervasive ghost names and ensuring that they die a permanent death and resurrect no more.

Mr. Chairman, My Comrades,

Yesterday I was informed, to my deep regret, that we were unable to conclude negotiations on a new minimum wage and reach agreement on the public sector base pay.

In previous years, despite our differences, it has always been possible to conclude these negotiations before May Day and the celebration of our workers. This has, unfortunately, not been the case this year.

The deadlock that we are currently experiencing is a reflection of how critical wage pressures have become in respect of turning around the deficit in our budget. Another wage overrun as we experienced last year will make it difficult for us to meet our deficit target and bring the macro-economy back on track. It will fuel inflation and push interest rates higher.

This would create an adverse environment for the growth of businesses and would lead to the creation of fewer jobs to absorb the growing numbers of our graduating youth. A further wage over-run would place increased pressure on our already over-pressured currency and crowd out precious resources needed for investments in health, education, agriculture, housing and Governments’ other important obligations to the citizens of our country.

As a social democrat, I have the utmost respect for the right of our gallant workers to negotiate a living wage. But as President, I have an obligation, too, to the rest of our population to ensure that the economy of this country is protected. I have an obligation to ensure that there are enough resources left over to enable that the other 24.4 million Ghanaians who are not public sector workers have access to quality healthcare, education, clean drinking water, adequate sanitation, power, and the numerous other commitments the state is obliged to provide, especially if we are to continue making positive changes in the social indicators that reflect our progress and development.

We must, therefore, work together to ensure that the situation where we spend nearly 2/3rds of tax revenue on wages and compensation at the expense of goods and services and capital investments is reversed.

We must work together to ensure that we find a solution that would be in the best interest of Ghana, one that would honour our workers and at the same time safeguard the sustainable development of our nation.

It is my hope that on Friday when negotiations resume, all the tripartite partners —organized labour, employers, and government—would return to the table and negotiate in good faith to determine a new minimum wage and a new public sector base pay adjustment that is based on good faith and at the same time mindful of our common national interest.

While we negotiate for pay adjustments, we must also pay attention to the very low public sector productivity index. A good living wage has an inextricable link to our level of productivity. We hope this year to be able to work with organized labour to put in place the instruments and systems to enhance labour productivity in Ghana.

My Brothers and Sisters,

I am encouraged by the continuing dialogue that our citizens are having about the economy.

I am encouraged by everyone’s desire and determination to make sure our nation is indeed moving in the direction of prosperity.

If we are to succeed, we must all keep our shoulders to the wheel. We must all play our part.

And that is what today’s celebration is all about, congratulating and thanking you, our workers, for the part you play every day in the building of our nation.

So on this auspicious occasion, allow me to once again say, in solidarity and support with our gallant workers, I say “Ayekoo.” You make us all very proud.

Long live workers’ solidarity, Long live Ghana, Long live the people.

Thank you for your kind attention.