Mr Speaker, I beg to move that this Honourable House extends its sincerest thanks to His Excellency, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo- Addo, the President of the Republic of Ghana and Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces, for his maiden Message on the State of the Nation delivered to the House and indeed, to the people of Ghana on Tuesday, February 21, 2017, as required by article 67 of the 1992 Constitution.
Mr Speaker, in moving the Motion, I would like to make some general comments, references to the speech, some observations and leave my Hon Colleagues to talk about it in detail.
Mr Speaker, the President's message was one of the shortest messages in recent memory. It was only 16 pages in length and delivered over just a little above one hour. As it is said in my language, asempa ye tia; asempa nso etre, to wit, there is wisdom in short speeches and short speeches trend faster with wider circulation.
Mr Speaker, the areas in which the President's message should cover are alluded to in article 34 (2) of the Constitution which requires the President to report about steps taken to ensure the realisation of the policies as enshrined in the Directive Principles of State Policy; and with your permission, I beg to quote:
“ . . . and, in particular, the realisation of basic human rights, a healthy economy, the right to work, the right to good healthcare and the right to education.”
Mr Speaker, the content of the President's address was in line with article 34 (2) of the Constitution. It focused on four main areas: the economy and jobs, healthcare and education, the state of our governance system and our work ethics and attitudes to time.
Mr Speaker, in each case, the President laid bare to the nation the current conditions as they exist and how he intends to solve the problems at hand. The message was candid, precise, concise and focused on relevance. This is what the Message on the State of the Nation should be and this is what exactly the President delivered.
Mr Speaker, on the state of the economy, the President divided his speech into three parts within the economy; public finances, the growth of the economy and job creation and the situation of the banks.
Mr Speaker, in all these three important sectors, it is clear that the economy that this Government inherited from the past Government is not only faltering but it is in a very ugly state.
Mr Speaker, our public finances are in bad state. The former Government left a huge amount of arrears which is to the tune of about GH¢7 billion because of
unplanned expenditure. Revenue for 2016 was poor yet expenditures were higher than planned. As a result, our deficit which was high in the previous year continued to remain high.
On cash basis, our deficit is about 9 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That is to say, those that we saw unpaid for -- But Mr Speaker, when one includes those we have committed to but have not paid, the deficit is about 10.2 per cent. These two deficit figures are far in excess of what we had agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which was 5.3 per cent.
Mr Speaker, this high fiscal deficit was financed through borrowing just as the previous deficits since 2009. The result is that, the debt overhung is unbearable and the President told us, and most Members in the House know that in 2009, our debt stock was about GH¢9.5 million, but as he said and as we all acknowledged, it is GH¢122 billion at the end of 2016.
Mr Speaker, it is not only the magnitude of the debt that is troubling but the annual interest payment on the debt is the most disturbing aspect of our finances. This year, it is estimated that we would pay about GH¢14 billion, an amount which is almost as high as all the salaries and wages that we pay to all government workers in this country -- very huge.
Mr Speaker, once the Government pays its fixed and quasi State obligations such as wages and salaries and the statutory payments such as National Health Insurance, the Ghana Airport Company Limited (GACL) and the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund), what is left in our coffers is virtually zero - 0.4 per cent. As rightly pointed out by the President in 2007, these three expenditure lines will
take 99.6 per cent of all that we have in our coffers.
Mr Speaker, the situation has persisted over the years and that is the reason the previous Government had to borrow all the time; continued to borrow and got addicted to borrowing. But as you continue to borrow, the fiscal space continues to shrink because of the increases in the interest payments and then you would have to borrow again -- that is the source of the debt addiction of the previous Government. The country has been caught in a vicious cycle of debt addiction.
Mr Speaker, he will do that without resorting to excess borrowing. [Interruption.] He will do that by not resorting to the addiction of borrowing. [Hear! Hear!]