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Opinions Sat, 5 Jul 2008

Akufo Addo Encounter & Student Leadership

I suspect that some of Nana Akufo-Addo’s supporters took a little too seriously, my nostalgia over the vibrancy of the face-to-face encounters organized for student leaders to present their manifestoes as opposed to the diplomacy of the IEA encounters.

Had they not, they would certainly not have engaged in the kind of coarse and rowdy behavior that saw some of them physically heckling the hardworking staff of the IEA in their quest to force their way into the Alisa auditorium. It must be pointed out that as in all previous encounters, the Presidential aspirants had each been allotted a specific number of slots for their supporters with reserved seats and this had been diligently adhered to in the past by Dr Paa Kwesi Nduom and Prof Atta Mills.

It is the reason why it is unacceptable that even after Kweku Sakyi-Addo had commenced the programme, the rude angry outbursts of “I am a Founding member of the NPP. You cannot keep me out!” while shoving the ladies out of the doorway more than twice would prove an unwelcome intrusion. Under the circumstances therefore, the least Nana Akufo-Addo and the NPP can do is to offer an unqualified full-throated apology to the classy Jean Mensah and her diligent staff.

My second undesirable for the night had to do with Nana’s tardiness, very atypical of previous IEA Encounters. As if being over half an hour late was not bad enough, he would then muster the courage in his speech to preach to the converted to “recognize that our rights as citizens of a democracy come with responsibilities” and that “we need to get to places on time because time is money” while concluding that “our potential as a nation is seriously diminished by the pervasive habits of tardiness and lack of professionalism!”

With those two expunged from my chest, I can now dwell on Nana’s written speech which I felt was both well done and delivered. With the main theme of modernizing the Ghanaian society, he would set off by laying a foundation of the record of the NPP’s records of achievements where he touched on the introduction of the NHIS, infrastructural development, repeal of the Criminal libel law and the oil find which according to him did not come by accident.

He then proceeded to outline his vision for a new Ghana. Now what I found most interesting about Nana Akufo Addo’s speech was the effort he made to fill some important information gaps. This tended to give a picture of a candidate who came well prepared for the night. Typically, he would for example be able to state “an estimated housing deficit of some half-a-million housing units with an annual increment of one hundred thousand.” Also he would be in a position to promise doubling the size of the Police force from the current 25 000 over a five year period in addition to rolling out 20 000 sanitation inspectors over five years and creating a 1Billion dollar Northern Development Fund.

On his style of answering questions however, I was left wondering where effectiveness ended and strategy took over. His answers tended to be rather long and never straight to the point. In the end, I had the sneaking suspicion that perhaps, Nana Akufo-Addo had answered fewer questions. Also he showed an interesting twist of having the ability to challenge the premise upon which your question was based and then proceeding to answer it. Mrs. Rose Mensa-Kutin’s question on widening poverty levels, Nana’s impressive quotations on a high flying economy notwithstanding, readily comes to mind.

Another such question was that posed by the TUC representative questioning the candidate’s pledge to strengthen the decentralization process when his party’s refusal and/or inability to make us vote for DCEs as promised 7 years ago had left some of these local governance officials less accountable to the citizenry and more beholden to the appointing authority.

The final question in this category will go to Radio Gold’s Roland Acquah-Stephens who while acknowledging Nana’s record on human rights for which he was being given a national award, question his views on the possible abuse of Mr. Tsatsu Tsikata’s human rights seeing that he had been forced to proceed with his case in the absence of his lawyer and on a day he didn’t know was judgment and prison day. Nana will hesitate to comment on the judgment claiming unfamiliarity with the facts and the circumstances since he was away from the country. He would however challenge the assertion of possible abuse of Tsatsu’s rights pointing out that there had been many instances when cases had proceeded in the absence of their lawyers.

When confronted with solutions to the high maternal mortality rate of 214/100 000 live births by Nana Oye Lithur, he would provide the kind of answer that would later lead Gifty Anti to remark on Ghana Television that “Nana knows very little about women.”

While pledging to expand coverage under the NHIS in addition to providing free antenatal services and maternal births as announced by government, he came short on solutions to the current challenges being faced by the NHIS at 48% coverage; soaring Out-patient attendance not commensurate with human resource needs, increased waiting times and slow repayment/locked up funds with scheme managers for services rendered by facilities (14 Billion old Ghana cedis owed Korle Bu according to the Chief Executive Officer). Rather he would prefer to delve into disputed salaries of Ghanaian doctors compared to other doctors in Africa and also stoutly declare that since his government came into power, the number of nurses being churned out by our Nursing schools had increased from 700 to 7000. Meanwhile, a quick check from sources at the Human Resource Division of the Ministry of Health puts the number of nurses trained each year at about 2000 and certainly not 7000.

To the extent that this information put out is inaccurate, it would be my suggestion that all other figures put out by the candidate henceforth be subjected to rigorous vetting by the electorate.

Nana Akufo-Addo used humor to good effect. At the beginning of his speech, he would make reference to “good opponents too in the audience.” He would also advise on family planning while joking that perhaps, with five children, he was least placed to so counsel. He also displayed good familiarity with many in the audience at one point poking fun at his legal colleague with “Madam Lithur, are you going to be heard on the matter?” Finally, faced with the question of a female running mate, he would say all the right things about competence, ethnic and religious balance, party processes etc but then end by eye-balling the questioner and with a twinkle in his eye, gush out the confession that personally, “I would love to run with a woman”.

Drama had its place. The candidate would not sit preferring not only to deviate from the norm by answering his questions on his feet, but threatening at a point to walk through the aisle to as it were, bond with the people for which reason the aisle had to be cleared of the paparazzi.

In keeping with my style on these IEA encounters, I wish to recount the true story of a political contest between two male medical students in Korle Bu many years ago as a demonstration of the level of discernment of the student voter. The first candidate was simply cool, suave, wore designer clothes and as the ladies man, was simply miles ahead in the opinion polls. His opponent was, how shall I say, well, not that well-endowed in looks with a bigger minus being his pen chance for the bottle.

Now during the Face-to-Face (debate), Mr. Suave appears in a casual shirt and pair of trousers with a disorganized speech written on a ruffled sheet hastily grabbed from the hospital ward. Midway through the speech, he fumbled seriously at the word AMALGAMATION to loud sustained public acclaim and applause. Not much was heard thereafter. At the turn of his less-favoured opponent, he stepped out in a smart jacket with a neatly typed speech. He then launched into his speech with gusto and proceeded to list one policy initiative after another also to loud applause and acclaim.

At the end of the day, the unfavoured candidate with an undisguised love for the bottle won by an unbelievably huge majority! The electorate had once again taught the lesson that they would not be taken for granted by anyone who took them for granted.

Today especially, I wish to pay glowing tribute to the good people of the Institute for Economic Affairs for their steadfast commitment to introducing tools that will go to strengthen our democracy and accountability. Mrs. Jean Mensah has especially been consistent and persistent in questioning the candidates on what it would take to depart from what she has labeled a “colonial economy” with an agricultural base that has largely remained within the domain of subsistence, to wit, hoe and cutlass farming. She has asked the powerful question of what it would take to shift from being providers of raw materials to a more sophisticated manufacturing economy while remaining steadfast in her assertion that those who aspire to high office must be prepared to submit to the probing questions of the electorate and indeed must evolve strategies to address the concerns so expressed in a true spirit of accountability.

Phase two of course of the IEA project would be two Presidential debates in Accra and Tamale which will see the candidates going head to head and this we will greatly relish.

Sodzi Sodzi-Tettey sodzitettey@gmail.com

3rd July, 2008

Columnist: Sodzi-Tettey, Sodzi