Welcome to the seat of the Presidency of our country, ladies and gentlemen of the media, and I wish you all a happy New Year. The start of a new year is the ideal time to take stock of the year that has just ended, and look forward to the new one. When we gathered here last July for my first interaction with the media, I promised that I would endeavour for us to meet, at least twice a year, to have a conversation about our nation, and how the government is doing.I believe this week meets the requirements of this promise, and has the added advantage of marking the first anniversary of my becoming President of our Republic. I do not intend to engage in self-adulation, or self-flagellation, for that matter. I shall, therefore, not be assigning grades or marks to myself or my government. An examinee does not mark his or her own script. I leave that either to the self-serving pronouncements of vainglorious politicians or to the apparent insights of would-be wise persons of that amorphous community, civil society.
But, ladies and gentlemen, I am confident that we do, however, have a good story to tell about many of the things that we have done, and are doing, since assuming the reins of office a year ago, and I am going to use this medium to highlight some of the most important of them. I would like to start this conversation with the sad scenes that were played out in many parts of the country, some weeks ago, in all the regional capitals of our country.
Young people got up at dawn, and formed long queues in stadiums and parks, in the hope of getting a job with the Ghana Immigration Service. I know it is not a new story. Some eighty four thousand (84,000) people applying for jobs, and over forty seven thousand (47,000) of them meeting the minimum requirements as advertised, and the organisation only looking for five hundred (500) people to hire. Similar scenarios are being played out in all sectors of the public service. The Ghana Revenue Authority also advertised for various categories of staff. Some fifty nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety one (59,991) responded to the advertisement, out of which twenty thousand, one hundred and seventy seven (20,177) met the requirements, and the available vacancies are three hundred and fifty (350).
The recent recruitment exercise in the Ghana Armed Forces went along similar lines. Some twenty six thousand, and thirty two (26,032) young people applied to be enlisted into the Other Ranks; twenty one thousand, and seventy three (21,073) of them qualified, and were shortlisted. The number to be taken to start training later this month is one thousand, eight hundred (1,800). The Police Service recruitment exercise tells a similar story. Some one hundred and fifty eight thousand, seven hundred and thirty four (158,734) young people applied, and seventy nine thousand, nine hundred and nine (79,909) of them met the requirements, and financial clearance has been given for two thousand (2,000) of them to be taken into the service.
Once I started looking, I found similar stories all around. The grim story of youth unemployment has been a tragic part of our lives for far too long. When I became President, therefore, I knew my work was cut out. We had to do things differently, if we were going to banish the spectre of desperation, and restore hope to our youth.
We inherited an economy that was in distress, choked by debt, and with macroeconomic fundamentals in disarray. We had to do things differently, and those were my marching orders to all members of the government. We have rapidly to grow and expand the economy, and that can only happen when the fundamentals are in place. The Economic Management Team has risen to the challenge, and demonstrated that doing things differently achieves positive results.
You would recall that, throughout the election campaign, we said part of the reason for the difficulties with the economy was the sole sourcing of procurement by government. Let me give you a few figures to illustrate this point.
In the year 2016, the Public Procurement Authority had six hundred and twenty two (622) Sole Source Requests. Five hundred and ninety seven (597) of that number, 98%, were approved, and there were 25 Rejections. There were five hundred and ninety two (592) Requests made for Restricted Tenders, and five hundred and eighty seven (587) (99.15%) were approved, and there were five (5) Rejections. A grand total of zero savings was made.
In 2017, our first year in government, three hundred and ninety four (394) Sole Sourcing Requests were made, out of which two hundred and twenty three (223) (56.6%) were approved, and one hundred and seventy one (171) (43.6%) were rejected. There were three hundred and forty six (346) Requests for Restricted Tenders, and one hundred and sixty seven (167) (48%) were approved, and one hundred and seventy nine (179) (52%) were rejected. Now here is the interesting part. The savings made over the year, as a result, amounted to GH¢145.7 million; $146.2 million; €1.85 million and £22,400. As my old mathematics teacher used to say, you cannot argue with figures, and such figures surely provide the incentive to open up government procurement.
Our economists set to work to sort out our macroeconomic fundamentals, and to find imaginative ways to deal with the oppressive debt situation. I am glad to report that the hard work on that front is yielding positive results. The macroeconomic fundamentals have seen improvements through improved fiscal and monetary discipline. Real GDP growth has rebounded, recording a growth of 9.3% in the third quarter of 2017, against the 3.5% figure for the same period of 2016. Latest information indicates that inflation is at 11.8%, down from 15.6% at the end of December 2016. The debt situation has improved, with the annual average rate of debt accumulation of 36% in recent years declining to about 13.6%, as at September 2017. As a result, the public debt stock as a ratio of GDP is 68.3%, against the annual target of 71% for 2017, and end 2016 actual figure of 73.1%. Boring figures, I know, but believe me, they spell good news for the economy.
Thanks to these boring figures, for the first time in a long while, we have been able to give better budgetary support to the constitutionally mandated institutions that hold government accountable, i.e. Auditor General, Parliament, Judiciary, Ministry of Justice, Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO), and the Police. Thanks to the same figures which mean improving macroeconomic fundamentals, we have been able to transfer some GH¢3.1 billion of Tier 2 pension funds into the custodial accounts of the pension schemes of the labour unions, funds that have been outstanding for six years, and about which the labour unions had been loudly complaining.
I am being urged to pay contractors. I am paying them. In 2017, nearly GH¢1 billion (GOG – GH¢300,400,156.75; Road Fund- GH¢664,091,476.88) of the GH¢1.6 billion owed road contractors was cleared. In January this year, we have disbursed GH¢125 million out of the remainder of GH¢600 million to the contractors. Additionally, we have paid GH¢826 million of the GH¢1.2 billion loan contracted by the previous administration, for which the Road Fund was used as collateral. It is important to note that all these debts were accrued under the previous administration. I will also point out that much of the statutory arrears, that we met, have been cleared, that is debts to the NHIS, the District Assembly Common fund, and the GETFund.
I might also point out that the salary arrears that were paid to our teachers last week were accrued from 2013 to 2016. The regimen we have in place now is to pay government bills as they come due, and not accrue arrears. We are resisting the temptation to award contracts, when funds are not available to pay for the certificates as they come up. Those who conduct business with government will find that things are being done differently. We have had to subject 11 billion cedis of arrears, bequeathed to us in 2017, to a process of audit review and validation. The audit service has certified payments to the tune of GH¢5.5 billion, and rejected about GH¢5.7 billion cedis, representing a potential savings of 51% on these outstanding commitments. This shows the validity of our criticism that so much of contracts awarded in the Mahama era were inflated, and apparently, in some cases, non-existent.
I have promised to protect the public purse, and I am doing just that. Those who have done honest work, and at honest rates for the government, will get paid and paid on time so their profits do not get swallowed up in bank interests, and, thereby, threaten the collapse of their businesses.
Ladies and gentlemen, clearing up the mess we met is only a small part of the task we face. We are creating the atmosphere for the private sector to grow quickly, and to encourage our young people to look for opportunities in areas other than the public sector. The solution to the unemployment crisis lies with small and medium size enterprises that employ three, seven, fifteen and fifty people, and with large-scale industrial enterprises that employ people in their hundreds and thousands. We are concentrating our efforts to grow the SME sector.
Under the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan, with a seed fund of $10 million, five modules are being implemented, targeted at helping young people who want to set up businesses. It is no secret that our private sector often lacks the expertise that would enable it to operate competitively. Practical help is being offered to SMEs by way of advisory services, access to finance and access to market. We have set ourselves five main priority areas, which we believe should rapidly transform our country: agriculture, energy, industry, education and health.
Reports indicate that the planting for food and jobs campaign, which registered over two hundred thousand (200,000) farmers in the 2017 crop season, has been a big success. I am particularly excited about the institutional sub–programmes, where twenty (20) Senior Technical High Schools, National Service Scheme and the Prison Services were supported to cultivate their own farms. Under the Youth in Agriculture programme of Planting for Food and Jobs, ten thousand (10,000) youth were supported to cultivate eight hundred (800) hectares and ten thousand, three hundred and twenty (10,320) hectares of rice and maize, respectively.
Under the campaign, average yields of maize and rice have increased, and our warehouses are filling up. Whilst the full picture of this success is yet to emerge, it is noteworthy that many farmers have expressed their satisfaction that, for the first time in a long while, a deliberate government policy has helped to boost their harvest. We are doing things differently, and we are getting results.
Ladies and gentlemen, I do not want anybody to get the idea that doing things differently is easy, or popular, nor always gets immediate results. We inherited a situation where illegal mining or galamsey had become a serious menace to the very existence of our country. Our forests and water bodies had become degraded, and the health of those engaged in the activity and their communities were all at risk.
Let me state here again my gratitude to the media for the support they are giving in the campaign we are undertaking against galamsey. This is not a short term campaign, and we need everybody’s support to make a success of it. As I have said a few times, since the Almighty blessed us with precious minerals, there has always been and always will be mining in our country. We are not against mining, but we cannot accept mining in a manner that risks destroying our country. The reforestation programme that we have started should help to regenerate our forest cover and water bodies, and, hopefully, provide an attractive alternative employment to galamsey. On this subject, all of us, and not just government, have to do things differently.
In the energy sector, we have brought stability in the place of the erratic power situation that we inherited. Adequate power supply is critical to the operation and success of industry, especially small and medium scale enterprises, which provide the bulk of employment. Not only is regular supply important, but competitive rates of power are equally important. Tariff rates for non-residential users of electricity, which embrace many SMEs, have been reduced by an average of 14% to boost their competitiveness. Furthermore, an Industrial Development Tariff has been approved for industry to enhance its competitiveness. A new rate of US$6.50 per Million British Thermal Units (MMBtu), as against the previous rate of US$8.84 per Million British Thermal Units (MMBtu), has been established – a 26.5% reduction. In addition, a review of 24 power purchase agreements, which has led to the termination of 11 power deals and the rescheduling of 8 others, has enabled us to save the government treasury about $7 billion in excess capacity charges over a 13-year contract period. We also issued 7 year and 10 year cedi-denominated bonds, totaling GH¢4.7 billion, which have halved the $2.4 billion energy debt we inherited, and have helped improve the liquidity of the banks, and the balance sheets of the SOEs in the energy sector. This year, we will consolidate these gains, and ensure the flow of regular, affordable power to support the economic development of our country. Efficient management will always yield positive results.
On the first working day of this year, I signed into law the three Development Authority bills and the Zongo Development Fund bill. Once the Zongo Development Fund and these development authorities are put into place, and this is imminent, we shall see an acceleration in the pace of developmental activity and the provision of essential social services to communities around our country in a manner that answers to the real needs of the people. Work on the creation of new regions is progressing, and the constitutionally sanctioned Commission of Enquiry, under the chairmanship of a respected, retired senior Judge, Mr. Justice S.A Brobbey, has started the public hearings. I encourage all to bring their ideas to enrich the process. Some 38 new districts have been created and, with it, the inevitable arguments about where the capitals should be sited. I am hopeful that things will settle down quickly, and attention given to the exciting development opportunities that are coming with the new arrangements. Work is also progressing to make a reality our manifesto promise that we elect District, Municipal and Metropolitan Chief Executives.
Having signed, on January 2, the Act for the establishment of the Special Prosecutor, Act 959, I have appointed Mr Martin Amidu as the first person to hold that position. I am well aware of the general sense of anxiety in the country and the strong feeling that politicians tend to get away with corrupt practices. A significant choice, though, that Mr Amidu is, I do not expect that he will provide all the answers for dealing with the phenomenon of corruption by public officials, but I do believe that, at the least, the Office will help remove the fear of partisan prosecution, and begin to put the fear of God in all public officials who are intending to go down the path of corruption. Just in case it needs reiterating, let me state again that current office holders are as likely to be investigated and prosecuted by the Special Prosecutor, if a case is made out against them, as past office holders. At all times, the rule of law must be adhered to.
This leads me to how we are dealing with allegations of corruption against current appointees. I have made it publicly known that anyone, who has information about acts of corruption against any of my appointees, should bring it forward, and should be prepared to back it up with evidence. So far, every single act of alleged corruption labeled against any member of my administration has been or is in the process of being investigated by independent bodies, and the findings so far made public. From the allegations against the Minister for Energy-designate at his parliamentary confirmation hearings; to that against the CEO of BOST; to those against the two deputy Chiefs of Staff; to the claims of extortion against the Trade Minister; and to those against the Minister for Special Development Initiatives; they have all been investigated and no evidence has been adduced to suggest mildly the perpetration of any act of corruption. However, some people appear determined to stick to their politically-motivated view that there has been corruption.
This surely is not a helpful stance. It is important to note that, in this my first year of office, two separate bi-partisan probes in Parliament have been established to inquire into allegations of corruption, as against zero in the Mahama years, despite the persistent calls by the then Minority. I have a greater interest in my appointees not being corrupt than any critic could possibly have. Try me. Produce the evidence to back the allegation, and see what the reaction will be. But, I think it is also worth pointing out that we should be careful about the new trend that appears to be emerging, whereby any allegation, no matter how spurious, quickly gains the character of a “scandal” or “an act of corruption”, even when it is shot down. Ladies and gentlemen, I should not omit from this accounting the disgraceful behaviour of some members of my party, the NPP, which has been described as vigilantism. I believe there is no longer any argument that criminal behavior wears no political colours, and is solely to be dealt with by the police. I pray that we have seen the last of it. We are continuously working to ensure that it does not recur, that we uphold the rule of law.
Ladies and gentlemen, Free SHS is now a reality. The first batch of students to be enrolled under the scheme has finished one term, and gone back to school after the Christmas break. If it has taken the introduction of Free SHS to encourage media and other commentators to find the many problems that bedevil our schools, I simply take it as one more reason to cheer the Free SHS.
We shall work systematically to solve the problems, not just of the Senior High Schools, but from the Kindergartens to the Junior High Schools as well. We shall put greater emphasis on technical, agricultural and vocational training, and skills training in general. We have no choice but to educate and train our workforce to match the needs of the modern economy. This is only possible if we prioritize and accelerate the development and application of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), and also develop the capacity to design and manufacture machines, parts and tools for ourselves. The two Ministries of Education and Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI) are working together to step up the development and application of appropriate technologies to solve the variety of problems that confront us at this stage of our country’s development. This is to be supported with a national strategy to promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education throughout our educational system, and stimulate the interest of our pupils and students, especially girls, in Science, Technology and Innovation.
I am still working to achieve gender parity, or, at least, reach the percentage promised in the NPP Manifesto. In the meantime, I wish to encourage all to support the HeForShe Campaign to help us achieve SDG Goal 5.
After a year in office, it would be fair to ask what frustrations and regrets if any, that I have. My answer would be I wish we had been able to do certain things much faster and the entire government machinery moved more quickly, because, as I said, I am in a hurry. For those who continue to be obsessed by the size of my government, let me, with due deference to the chairperson of the Economic Management Team, my brilliant Vice President, cite from his speech, two days ago, at Legon, at the opening of the New Year School:
“The question that we should ask is how can you inherit a budget deficit of 9.3% of GDP, proceed to reduce taxes, bring down inflation, bring down interest rates, increase economic growth (from 3.6% to 7.9%), increase your international reserves, maintain relative exchange rate stability, reduce the debt to GDP ratio and the rate of debt accumulation, pay almost half of arrears inherited, stay current on obligations to statutory funds, restore teacher and nursing training allowances, double the capitation grant, implement free senior high school education and yet still be able to reduce the fiscal deficit from 9.3% to an estimated 5.6% of GDP? Quite simple, this is a remarkable achievement and this is what we mean by competent economic management.”
It is that competence, coupled with integrity in the conduct of public transactions, ensuring value-for-money, protecting the public purse, that are going to bring the dream of a happy and prosperous Ghana, a Ghana Beyond Aid, quickly within our grasp. Thank you all for coming, and may God continue to bless us and our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.