Hon Members, may I invite the Hon Majority Leader and the Hon Minority Leader to join me to receive His Excellency the President at the Central Lobby.
Order! Order! 10. 10 a. m.
Hon Members, we are honoured to have in the House, His Excellency, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo- Addo -- [Hear! Hear!] President of the Republic of Ghana and Commander-in- Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces, his wife, Rebecca; His Excellency the Vice- President of the Republic, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia--[Hear! Hear!] And his wife. May I acknowledge the presence of His Lordship, the Acting Chief Justice, Justice William Atuguba -- [Hear! Hear!]— [Interruptions.] Order! Order!
Hon Members, order! We also have other Justices of the Superior Courts of Judicature in Ghana. We also welcome former President J. A. Kufuor, -- [Hear! Hear!] Former President J. J. Rawlings -- [Hear! Hear !] and his spouse -- [Interruptions] -- Order! Excellencies of the Diplomatic Corps;former Vice President of the Republic -- [Hear! Hear!] -- His Excellency, Mr Paa Kwesi Amissah Arthur; Hon Ministers, past and present, are all here this morning; distinguished guests of the House; members of the press and media generally, distinguished visitors, ladies and gentlemen, His Excellency, the President of the Republic is in the House this morning in accordance with article 67 of the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana to deliver a message on the state of the nation to this august House. On behalf of Hon Members and the Leadership of this House, it is my singular honour to welcome H. E. the President to this House. Hon Members, I now have, with the greatest pleasure and due regard, to invite our President to deliver his message. Mr President?
STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS
In the run up to the recent elections, I said this so often and loudly. Some six weeks after taking over the reins of Government, it gives me no pleasure to have to say that our worst fears have been confirmed plus a few additional unpleasant surprises as well. Mr Speaker, many get quite lost when economists start rattling figures and statistics. I would not try to bore you with a lot of figures, but I hope you would bear with me as I would have to put certain essential facts before our country.
Mr Speaker, it appears that my Friends on the Minority side have a problem with facts [Interruptions]
Mismanagement of our economy in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections resulted in a quagmire that necessitated the urgent intervention of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2014. The negotiated IMF programme was ostensibly to restore fiscal discipline, debt sustainability and increased economic growth. The previous Government promised Ghanaians that the reckless public expenditure that characterised the 2012 election year would not be repeated in 2016. Mr Speaker, the promises to the people of Ghana were however, not kept. In fact, virtually, all the targets under the IMF Programme as at December 2016, have been missed. Fiscal indiscipline, once again, reared its head in the 2016 election year. Total projected expenditure for 2016 was GH¢43. 9 billion; that is, 26 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But actual expenditure amounted to GH¢50.3 billion which is 30.2 per cent of GDP.
Hon Members, Order!
Mr Speaker, I may have to repeat that last sentence. [Interruptions] Mr Speaker, it appears from what we are finding out, that some GH¢7 billion of arrears and outstanding payments circumvented the very public financial management system that was put in place to prevent such occurrences. These expenditures are currently being audited. Mr Speaker, at the same time, revenue performance for the year was poor. The total revenue target for our country was GH¢37.9 billion, which is 22.7 per cent of GDP. The actual revenue came in at GH¢33.2 billion, which is 19.9 per cent of GDP. Mr Speaker, the combination of higher expenditures and lower revenues than what was projected resulted in a significant increase in the budget deficit for 2016. As compared to a target of 5.3 per cent under the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Programme, the fiscal deficit for
2016 was 9 per cent of GDP on a cash basis and 10.2 per cent of GDP on a commitment basis. That is on the basis of expenditures undertaken but not yet paid for. It should be recalled that at the time Ghana entered into the IMF Programme to restore fiscal discipline, the fiscal deficit was 10.2 per cent of GDP. It is very clear therefore, that the objectives set out in the Programme have not been achieved.
Hon Members, Order!
Mr Speaker, Ghana's debt stock now stands at 74 per cent of GDP, after all the previous denials to the contrary. More debt was accumulated by the previous Government in the last eight (8) years than all other Governments put together since independence. [Interruptions]
Mr Speaker, whatever be the case, I will have my say. [Laughter]
Mr Speaker, more debt was accumulated by the previous Government in the last eight years than all other Governments put together since independence. [Interruption] In fact, 92 per cent of Ghana's total debt stock was incurred in the last eight years under the previous Government. [Interruption.] The interest cost of this debt has also increased and it will amount to an estimated GH¢14.1 billion in 2017.
After eight years of the previous Government, there is practically no fiscal space left. The persistent resort to borrowing for any additional expenditures to meet the aspirations of our people is also not sustainable. We cannot continue this way with our public finances. I will not allow this economy to collapse under my watch --[Hear! Hear!] We will reduce significantly the fiscal deficit this year. Mr Speaker, Ghana's economic growth has also declined dramatically. Notwithstanding the record amount of financial resources at the disposal of the previous Government, Ghana's GDP growth in 2016, including oil, is estimated at 3.7 per cent -- [Uproar.] This is the lowest GDP growth in about 23 years. [Interruptions]
Mr Speaker, Ghana's banking sector has not escaped the economic decline; it has become increasingly fragile. Bad loans in the banking sector have risen significantly. Economic and financial data from the Central Bank show that non-performing loans have risen sharply from 11.2 per cent in May, 2015 to 17.3 per cent in December, 2016. The recent asset quality review of banks shows significant vulnerability of banks to current economic conditions, with many exhibiting significant weaknesses. Mr Speaker, low growth, rising rate of unemployment, high fiscal deficit, high and rising debt, increased depreciation of the cedi, high cost of food, housing and utility, and high non performing loans among others, are symptoms of deep structural problems that will require a range of reforms beginning immediately and spanning the short, medium and long- terms. We will have to implement some tough, prudent and innovative policies to get out of this financial cul de sac and rescue this economy, restore fiscal discipline and debt sustainability as well as increase economic growth. Mr Speaker, it gives me no joy to tell the story of the economy as it is -- as we inherited. Too much time, energy and resources were spent in the past, in my view, without a deliberate -- [Interruption] -- conscious assessment of their impact on jobs and whether or not we were spending wisely to improve the lives of the people, communities and businesses. But I was not elected by the overwhelming majority of Ghanaians to complain -- [Hear! Hear!] -- I was elected to get things done. [Hear! Hear!]-- I was elected to fix what is broken, and my Government and I are determined to do just that. Mr Speaker, at the beginning of March, the Hon Minister for Finance would come to this House to lay out in the national budget, the details of our economic policy, and the clear road map that we have laid out for taking the country out of this current predicament and onto a sustainable path of recovery -- jobs creation and prosperity. Mr Speaker, I am absolute in my confidence, that we have the programme, the competence, the commitment — [Hear! Hear!] — and the goodwill of the people to turn things round. By the grace of God, we will succeed, and I believe this House knows it too — [Hear! Hear!] Mr Speaker, in the immediate term, targeted legislative policy and institutional reforms would have to be undertaken to unleash the supressed potential of the economy and allow Ghanaian entre- preneurship to rise and thrive domestically and internationally. Mr Speaker, for too many young people, unemployment is sadly the reality of their start to their adult life. For years, for generations, it was assumed and guaranteed in this country that the quality of life of every generation would be an improvement on that of their parents.We are now faced with the phenomenon of parents looking on in frustration as their grown-up children remain at home, without the means to strike an independent life by themselves. Mr Speaker, this generation of Ghanaians dares not be the ones to reverse this natural trend. We must create the atmosphere to generate jobs. We must boost the confidence of the private sector
to invest in the economy. We must have the courage to start building our future and take the hard decisions that need to be taken to grow our economy. Mr Speaker, we have no choice, but to reduce the budget deficit and cut waste in all sectors of public life. We must complete the formalisation of the economy. The process for a compre- hensive national identification system, and the property titling system will be completed this year. That would boost confidence in our country, and increase investments from nationals and foreigners, then we would be able to generate jobs. Mr Speaker, we must boost the confidence of the private sector to invest in the economy.
Mr Speaker, farmers are left on their own. It is, therefore, not surprising that food prices are high and we have to import almost everything we eat, including vegetables from our Sahelian neighbours, and yet agriculture provides the best opportunity to use modern methods to change the lives of many within the shortest possible time. We have to irrigate our lands and equip farmers with the skills needed to make farming a well-paying business. We aim to popularise farming, by encouraging many people to take it up as a full or part-time activity. A national campaign; “Planting for food and jobs” Mr Speaker, this campaign would be anchored on the pillars that would transform agriculture; the provision of improved seeds, the supply of fertilisers, the provision of dedicated extension services, a marketing strategy and the use of e-Agriculture. Mr Speaker, to initiate the campaign, the District Assemblies would be tasked to identity and register progressive farmers in each of the 216 districts. Mr Speaker, it is a programme that I expect, would rapidly get the support of the population and should help to transform food insecurity in our country. The three northern regions in particular, would benefit from the availability of water to enable all-year farming, so that the enforced yearly migration can be minimised and food production becomes more predictable. Mr Speaker, I look forward to increasing public investment in agriculture, starting from the first budget of my Government. We must reverse the unfortunate trend of the past eight (8) years,which saw a regular decrease in public investment in the sector that provides a living for the majority of our people. Mr Speaker, food processing has been the first step towards industrialisation, in virtually every country, and it is time for us to take it serious. Not only would this serve the cut down on the wastage of crops during the high season, it would provide more jobs and expand farming business. Mr Speaker, food processing would also save time in the preparation and cooking of our local foods, and there would be better control of the hygiene in the process. I look forward to an exciting time in the agricultural sector. Mr Speaker, if I were to ask each one Hon Member in this Chamber today, to tell me what the number one problem was in their constituencies, I suspect there would be one uniform answer: “Jobs”— Mr Speaker, the most critical challenge inherited by this NPP Government is a very high unprecedented level of unemployment, particularly among the youth. It is a debilitating and confidence sapping problem that affects every home. We can argue on what the official rate of unemployment is. But we can all see the desperation of our young people. They want to work but there are no jobs, and some of them are being driven to unacceptable behaviour. Mr Speaker, we have a veritable time- bomb on our hands. To address this challenge, the Government is embarking on one of the most comprehensive programmes for industrial transformation ever to be introduced in our country. Mr Speaker, the key elements of this programme are restoration and main- tenance of a stable microeconomy, monetary and fiscal measures, which will lead to reduction in interest rates, and a reduction in the tax burden on enterprises, provision of reliable, affordable power to enterprises and homes, setting up of a stimulus package to support existing Ghanaian industries and improve their competitiveness, implementation of the initiative through public private partnerships to establish, at least, one industrial enterprise in each of the 216 districts in the “One-District-One-Factory Policy” — [Hear! Hear!] — development of strategic anchor initiatives as new pillars of growth for the Ghanaian economy, including the establishment of petro-chemical industries, iron and steel industries, integrated aluminium industry, the expansion of domestic production of pharmaceuticals, the establishment of a vehicle assembly and automotive industry, the production of industrial salt, the establishment of garment and textiles enterprises, the manufacture of machinery, equipment and component parts. Mr Speaker, the establishment of a multi-purpose industrial power in each of the ten regions, implementation of a comprehensive programme for Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) development,establishment of an industrial sub-contracting exchange to link large scale companies with SMEs; implementation of an aggressive programme for export development, targeting primarily, regional and continental markets, enhancement of domestic retail market infrastructure and the active promotion of the market and distribution of domestically produced goods, improvement of the business environment through regulatory and other reforms and establishment of a permanent consultative forum for public private sector dialogue.
This is not a budget statement. [Uproar.] Mr Speaker, my Government will enforce the Procurement Law; we will insist on open and competitive bidding for power capacity procurement. This will not only reduce the cost of power projects and ensure value for money but will also address the problem of unplanned procurement. Mr Speaker, Government would encourage increased private sector investment in utility scale, solar and wind energy projects as well as accelerate the development of many grid solutions in off- grid and island communities for lighting, irrigation and other economic activities. We would consequently review the Renewable Energy Act to provide further incentives to attract the private sector to invest. Mr Speaker, the Ghana Power Compact II Programme has officially come into force. Both parties to the Compact, the Governments of Ghana and United States of America are committed to complying with the obligations. However, the implementation of Ghana's commitments has faced some challenges due to disagreements between stakeholders, particularly among Labour, ECG and the Millennium Development Authority (MiDA). We need further dialogue on the key issues that have generated these disagreements. We are aware that these discussions should be concluded urgently in order to arrive at a decision that would allow for its implementation. We expect that all stakeholders would discuss these issues dispassionately and transparently to ensure that all concerns are adequately addressed. Mr Speaker, the success of all our plans and aspirations depend on our ability to educate our young people and provide the opportunity for lifelong education to the adult population. It is not an original statement but it is a true statement -- education is the key; Education holds the key to the rapid development of our country; It holds the key to a better understanding and accommodation with our environment; It equips us with the skills required to deal with the world; education holds the key to the prosperous and happy Ghana, which we all want and deserve. Luckily, there is consensus among us on the need to provide quality education to all of Ghana's children. Mr Speaker, if I am in a hurry, I am in a hurry to ensure that every child born in this country attends school from Kindergarten to senior high school. [Hear! Hear!] In other words, that is the basic education that each child is required to receive. We shall embark upon a vigorous expansion and re-equipping of technical, vocational and agricultural schools and align all Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) under the Ministry of Education to ensure standardisation.
The teaching of mathematics and science will take pride of place in all schools as we aim to make an understanding of the scientific basis of life a central plank in our schools. We will thus make the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) a central feature of our national life. Mr Speaker, my Government shall place teachers at the centre of quality education and encourage professionalism among them. There would have to be some legislative reforms to ease some of the bottlenecks at the district level of supervision. By the way, teacher trainee allowances would be restored [Hear! Hear!] -- when the Hon Minister for Finance comes to read the budget. We keep our promises just as we would ensure that our sports development is hinged on the revival of school sports. Mr Speaker, there has been far too much tension in the education sector. It is in everyone's interest that the school experience is a happy one for children, teachers and parents alike. The happy and skilled population that would drive the path to development starts at school. We aim to provide the key to prosperity in our schools. Mr Speaker, we have to be healthy if we are to make a success of the plans and aspirations we have. The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) remains the best option we have devised to ensure that as many people as possible have access to healthcare in our clinics and hospitals. The Scheme is not in a good state and there are too many providers that are owed money. They are threatening to opt out and stop offering their services to the most vulnerable in our society. We shall restore the NHIS to good health. [Hear! Hear!] And yes, Mr Speaker, the Hon Minister for Finance will restore the allowances to trainee nurses in the Budget Statement. [Hear! Hear!] Mr Speaker, Government will work with Parliament to pass the Affirmative Action Bill to increase women's involvement in decision-making at all levels and enable us achieve our current objective of 30 per cent participation of women in public appointments. Mr Speaker, the time has come to enforce the Disability Act and ensure its compliance, which would begin with access to public buildings for the physically challenged. Mr Speaker, our people can only prosper and flourish in an atmosphere of peace and security. Safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation is critical for our progress. We will improve the state of combat readiness of our Armed Forces by improving the logistical infrastructure and the welfare of service men and women, and also of veterans. Our Armed Forces remain one of the best organised and most professional in Africa.
Ghana should always take her membership of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) serious as its viability advances our national interest. One of the first issues that came to my attention as soon as I assumed office was the request from ECOWAS to send a military contingent from Ghana as part of the ECOWAS Mission in The Gambia (ECOMIG) to help resolve the post electoral impasse in that country. Senegal was to provide 3,150 troops; Nigeria, 509; and Ghana, 210 troops. I assented to the request as it involved large issues of regional stability and the preservation of democracy and rule of law in a member State. Ghana sent 208 troops. The Mission succeeded in creating the necessary environment for the rule of law to be maintained and for the rightful transfer of authority to the newly elected President. I saw with my own eyes how popular that event has been in The Gambia and how popular the ECOWAS Mission is. Consequently, ECOWAS has now put forth a new mandate, which involves reducing the Force to 500 soldiers intended to be a stabilisation Force. As from yesterday, 20 th February, 2017, Senegal would provide 250; Nigeria, 200; and Ghana, 50 troops in the Force. Mr Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to inform the House that the outstanding arrears of US$13 million for all peacekeeping personnel have been cleared by my Government. [Hear! Hear!]-- and the contingents in The Gambia have been paid all their allowances in full. [Hear! Hear!] I have asked the Hon Minister for Defence to come shortly before Parliament and make a Statement on The Gambian deployment. There are serious difficulties facing our Armed Forces that are not unlike those facing other parts of our public sector. Overcrowded and inappropriate accommo- dation for personnel, inability to pay food and utility bills, and threats from providers to cut supplies; these are the everyday stories in all departments and our Armed Forces face the same problem. Mr Speaker, the Ghana Police Service is the first line of security and protection for citizens. We must have an efficient Service that has the confidence and support of the people. I am determined to give whatever support is required from the Government to ensure that we have the service that the people of Ghana deserve. We must get a more professional Police Service where recruitment and training practices are of acceptable international standards. We shall continue recruitments into the Police Service, with the aim of meeting the United Nations ratio of one police officer to 500 civilians. We would ensure gender equity. Mr Speaker, all of us are agreed on the Ghana we want -- a prosperous, united and peaceful country.
Some countries have made progress in the economic field and achieved some of the results we desire. Mr Speaker, the rule of law should remain our guiding and unbending principle. Those of us in public service should acknowledge that corruption is one of the biggest concerns to the people of Ghana. It is the one subject on which a surprising number of people are willing to tolerate a waiver of due process. This is because, unfortunately, public officials are in the danger of losing the confidence of the people in the fight against corruption. There is a perception that all public officials are part of a great scam to defraud the public, and that they protect one another. It is in everybody's interest that the fight against corruption is transparent and has the support of the public. Mr Speaker, the Office of the Special Prosecutor has been shown to work in other places. I shall be bringing legislation before the House for its rapid establishment. [Hear! Hear!] I am satisfied that the Office would be established in a manner consistent with the Constitution. In like manner, I shall propose for legislation amendments to the current asset declaration regime to make it more effective. Mr Speaker, the people of Ghana have voted for change. All the various arms of Government should recognise the strong desire on the part of the people for change. We continue along the path of business as usual at our own risk. Mr Speaker, my personal belief in adherence in the concept of separation of power is well known. I do not intend to interfere in any way in the affairs of Parliament or in the Judiciary. I would however be failing in my duty if I fail to say what needs to be said. Mr Speaker, all three arms of Government -- the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature need to take cognisance of the clear desire of the people of Ghana for change. All three branches must change the way they do things. I ask this Honourable House to take a candid look at itself and consider changing the way it conducts its business if need be. Mr Speaker, there are some areas of our lives in which we can all demonstrate the change for which the people of Ghana have voted -- punctuality, sanitation and the care of the environment. Over the years, it has become an acceptable practice that official functions invariably start and close late. We invite people to functions for 9.00 a.m. and rather start at 10.00 a.m. I have heard some offer the preposterous excuse that there is something cultural about not paying attention to time. Mr Speaker, let us all show that we acknowledge that change has indeed come by being punctual to functions. The other area of our lives which we can, and we should start making a change, is the care of the environment. We are in danger of destroying our blessed country. Ours is a beautiful country. If we claim to love our country, we must take care of the lands, trees, water bodies and the animals, for they are all part of what makes Ghana. The change we have voted for, demands that we adopt better and sustainable sanitation habits and learn to protect and preserve our environment. Mr Speaker, there is one subject on my mind that I would wish to put before the House for consideration. I believe that in this 60th year of our nation, the time is ripe for us to establish consensus on some national issues. It is important for us to have a conversation on how we name things that are of national importance to us all. I speak of the seat of the Presidency and Founders' Day. In my view, it is not right that 60 years after independence, these matters are still at large. It does not inure to the dignity of the Ghanaian Republic, that such matters have become subject to political football. I believe we have to settle these matters once and for all. In due course, I propose we have a national conversation and dialogue to this effect, which would hopefully end in legislation that would reflect the national consensus. Mr Speaker, we all know where we want Ghana to be. We are aware that we are not where we want to be or ought to be. We also know of the big dreams of our forefathers -- to build a self-reliant and self-sustaining nation that would take pride of place among the comity of nations.This anniversary provides us the opportunity to reflect on our past and plan for the future. This is the Ghana we see; a new Ghana. We would put in place policies that would deliver sustainable growth and cut out corruption. We would set upon the path to build a Ghana that is not dependent on charity; a Ghana that is able to look after her people through intelligent management of the resources with which she has been endowed. This is our path and this path offers a new Ghana. This Ghana would be defined by integrity, sovereignty, a common ethos discipline and shared values. It is one where we aim to be masters of our own destiny where we mobilise our resources for the future, breaking the shackles of the Guggisberg colonial economy and a mindset of dependency, bail-outs and extraction. It is an economy where we look past commodities to position ourselves in a global marketplace. It is a country where we focus on trade and not aid, a hand-up and a not a handout. It is a country with a strong private sector. It is a country that recognises the connectedness of her people and economy to those of her neighbours.
This requires a forward-looking vision for our country, enabling us to confront our challenges and embrace our opportunities. It is not one fastened in the rear view mirror. It is a Ghana beyond aid. Mr Speaker, thank you.
Hon Members, in accordance with Standing Order 58, I wish to convey to His Excellency the President, the gratitude of the House. We are also grateful to the Ghana Armed Forces and the Ghana Police Service for the wonderful services they have performed in connection with this programme. Hon Members, again, and in accordance with our practice, a formal communication would be sent to His Excellency the President after the House has debated this Message. Hon Majority Leader, is there an indication of adjournment?
Mr Speaker, as you have indicated to us, His Excellency the President has just delivered his Address to Parliament, before the representatives of the people. The Address by His Excellency is the message on the state of the nation. As we do know, this is a constitutional imperative demanded by article 67 of the Constitution, which requires the President to make this Address at the beginning of every Session of Parliament. Mr Speaker, as you rightly noted, on such occasions as this, and after the Address has been made, you would congratulate His Excellency on behalf of the House. By our practice, we stand the debate down for at least, 48 hours and this is what we intend to do. And when we have done so, we would submit our formal congratulations to His Excellency the President. Mr Speaker, where we are now, and the time read 35 minutes after 11 O'clock in the forenoon, I believe that it becomes necessary on my part to move, that this House takes an adjournment in order to prepare ourselves for the ensuing debate, which by our programme, would commence on Thursday. Mr Speaker, I noticed the Hon Chief Whip beckoning me, that his side is ready to start the debate. [Laughter.] Mr Speaker, may I suggest that if we have to suspend the Standing Orders, then we on this side are more than ready --[Hear! Hear!] Mr Speaker, I beg to move, that this House accordingly adjourns till tomorrow at 10 o'clock in the forenoon.
Hon Minority Leader?
Mr Speaker, as I beg to second the Motion for adjournment, we know that His Excellency the President and Commander- in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces and rather not the “Invisible Forces” has appeared before this august House. In his first State of the Nation Address, he has signalled to Ghanaians tough times to end their suffering the Akufo-Addo way. [Laughter.] --We look forward to that, and we are more than ready. Satisfying this constitutional imperative eloquently pronounces to him the state of the country as he inherited it -- a peaceful, stable and democratic Ghana. Mr Speaker, I beg to second the Motion for adjournment. Question put and Motion agreed to.
The House was accordingly adjourned at 11.36 a.m. till Wednesday, 22nd February, 2017, at 10.00 a.m.