Over the past three years, the President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has hosted journalists at the Jubilee House, the seat of government, to respond to questions on the state of affairs in the country and the performance of his government.
The event, known as the “Presidential Media Encounter,” has become a major highlight for journalists, who use the opportunity to demand accountability from the president.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) considers the engagement a crucial exercise that deepens the principles of transparency and accountability, which are key tenets in democratic governance.
We, therefore, commend the President and the government for maintaining the culture of open and regular media encounters.
To help guide post-event reflections and to provide useful insights for future engagements, the MFWA presents its perspective on the media encounter held on Friday, December 13, 2019.
The analysis presented here assesses the overall arrangement and format of the event, quality of the questions asked and the performance of the President.
The organization also makes recommendations for future encounters.
Format of the Event
This year’s event is an improvement on previous engagements. The event started on time and was orderly, which is commendable.
There was a significant increase in the number of female journalists who had the opportunity to ask questions.
Overall, journalists were given the opportunity to ask more questions as compared to last year. The event was more relaxed and unrushed.
Quality of Questions Asked
In all, 23 journalists asked 26 questions on various issues compared to 14 journalists asking 15 questions in the December 2018 encounter.
The MFWA has analysed the quality of the questions based on basic principles such as: relevance, clarity, good background and contextualisation, references to data, facts, illustrations; and whether the questions are close-ended or open-ended.
Using these principles, the MFWA found the following questions outstanding:
“Fourteen years ago, 44 Ghanaians were killed in The Gambia. At that time, you were the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
This year it was revealed during The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Committee that the soldiers were acting on the orders of the then-President Yahya Jammeh.
Mr. President, at that time, in 2005 when the incident happened, what did you do and now that you are President of the Republic of Ghana, and now that this new evidence has come to light, what are you going to do about it?” –Atiewin Mbillah-Lawson (Starr FM)
— The question is clear, has good context and background. This question deals with the sensitive issue of impunity over the killing of Ghanaian nationals in The Gambia.
“Mr. President, during the electioneering period in 2016, a major campaign promise you made was to ensure the provision of ambulances for the various constituencies.
We are in the year of our Lord 2019. Though some ambulances have been purchased, they are comfortably at the forecourt of the parliament house and are yet to be distributed to the various constituencies; although the ratio of ambulances to the people, the citizens, in the country is 1 to 520,000, with only 55 ambulances operating in the country.
Mr. President, can you justify the reason for this, and when will the others be also brought to the country for onward distribution?” — Adel Kwesi Majdoub, (Metro TV)
–This question is well contextualised and made reference to relevant statistics about the health emergency situation in the country, which is a crucial issue.
“In July 2017, you were appointed the AU gender champion. Drawing from the wisdom of the proverb, “Charity begins at home,” it’s been two years and five months since that appointment.
Mr. President, what systemic and structural changes have you implemented to improve the lives of women and young girls in Ghana in the face of rape, assault and gender-based violence?
And lest I forget, what has become of the promise to push for the passage of the affirmative action bill into law?” — Francis Abban (Starr FM).
–This question has good background and is very relevant in regards to issues affecting women and girls in the country.
Other strong questions that were asked focused on Quality of road construction; Depreciation of the cedi; Management of oil sector revenue; Management of fiscal deficit and Updates on prosecution of corruption cases.
Overall, the president’s performance was better than in previous years. He was composed and demonstrated a good sense of knowledge on the issues.
He also expressed willingness to answer questions asked by journalists. The president was engaging and articulate.
However, the MFWA has taken note of a few low points in the president’s performance. For instance, his response to the question posed about the distribution of ambulances procured by the state was unsatisfactory.
The president said: “The Minister for Special Development and Initiatives, who has been responsible for bringing them told me about a month, six weeks ago that some of the ambulances were in, so she is distributing, and I said no. She shouldn’t.
She should wait until they all come in, so one day we can distribute them all at the same time to all the 275 constituencies.
I saw myself getting into tremendous amount of issues if we started distributing some and others didn’t get it. Fortunately for us, all of them will be in by the end of this month.
One hundred and sixty of them are already in and the balance are on the high seas and will be here. By the end of the month, the 300 will be there.
On the 6th of January, I will commission them and then the distribution will take place simultaneously across the country and nobody is going to accuse me of favouritism, regionalism, this and that and that.
So that’s the short answer to your question. There’s no justification on they being parked there, but if I were to send a couple here and not here. I think you know the kind of discourse that will come.”
This response is worrying as it does not demonstrate the president’s appreciation of the seriousness of the emergency healthcare challenges confronting the country.
In a country where many people are losing their lives due to lack of adequate ambulances, it is highly unfortunate for the president to say that the 160 ambulances already procured should remain in the parking lot until commissioning.
Additionally, some of the President’s responses were too vague and failed to address the specific concerns raised.
For example, in his response to the double salary allegations against Parliamentarians, he had this to say:
‘The double salary for members of parliament, it is not a straight forward allegation or misappropriation as some people think.
It’s a whole lot of double accounting, to what extent people are taking money vis-a-vis emoluments on the Article 70 and all that.
And I am thinking that a lot of the things are not clear cut to me.
I mean it hasn’t been made clear cut to me to raid a whole lot of parliamentarians and the list is quite long…to raid a whole lot of parliamentarians on a 50-50 case – for myself, I don’t think we do the public interest of our country a service in that way.
So the process of seeing to what extent the setoff could be, it has been ongoing.
It’s not been easy, but there is a group that is doing that work but when they finish, we will be in a position to let the country know what the outcome of the double salary is.”
While we commend the moderator, Information Minister, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah for making deliberate efforts to give female journalists the opportunity to ask questions, we urge the organisers to do more to ensure full gender balance in future events.
The organisers should ensure that journalists working for media organisations outside Accra are given fair opportunities to ask questions.
We urge the President to keep his promise of meeting the media twice a year.
In subsequent encounters, we encourage the president to limit the time of his opening address to allow for more questions from the media.