Last week, on 29th June, 2018, our nation suffered an unexpected, grievous loss – the sudden departure of the immediate past Vice President of the Republic, His Excellency Kwesi Bekoe Amissah Arthur, Vice President for four and a half years, under His Excellency President John Dramani Mahama. Our nation has been observing five days of national mourning. Official books of condolence have been opened at the Accra International Conference Centre, and in our Missions across the world, and flags have been flying at half-mast. He will, on 27th July, receive a full State Burial and Funeral, as befits a former Vice President, especially one who has served his nation with dignity and integrity. I have already extended, on your behalf and my own, our sincere condolences to his widow, his children, his family, the National Democratic Congress, and President Mahama. We have earlier had a minute’s silence in his memory. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest and abide in the bosom of the Lord until the Last Day of the Resurrection when we shall all meet again.
The last time we met in 2014 in Tamale to select our National Officers, we were in opposition, having lost the elections of 2008 and 2012. It was, thus, imperative that we elect officers who would unify the party, and mobilise all its talents and energies to lead us to the all-important victory of 2016. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Our party became embroiled in a series of unnecessary disputes that undermined the coherence of the Party. Fortunately for us, we benefitted from the Akan adage that the family that does not have elders is a family to be pitied. The Council of Elders, under the intrepid leadership of the veteran nationalist and statesman, C.K. Tedam, stepped into the breech, and initiated the process that led to the suspension of three senior elected national officers and a handful of others for anti-party activities. That decision saved our party, and kept alive our possibilities of victory. We owe the Council of Elders, especially its leader, C.K. Tedam, a great debt of gratitude for their action, an action whose validity, when challenged, was affirmed by the Accra High Court.
We are equally deeply indebted to the National Officers who took on the responsibility of leading our Party in those difficult circumstances. Despite the constant taunts of our opponents – “how can they manage Ghana when they cannot manage their own affairs? “how can a divided party govern Ghana?” – these were the constant themes of John Mahama and the NDC’s campaign – they rose to the task, kept their focus, fostered unity amongst us, and helped lead us to a famous, historic victory, a victory that has brought us back to office to give us the opportunity to implement our age-old programme of transformation and development. We thank them profusely for their service to the Party and to the Nation. To all our outgoing national executives, Ellembele Blay Freddie Blay, Frederick Fredua Antoh, John Boadu, Sammi Awuku, Otiko Afisa Djaba, Kwabena Abankwah Yeboah and Kamal Deen Abdulai, I say a big ayekoo. Well done. Your names are written in letters of gold in the annals of our Party, and I will never cease to praise you for your stalwart defence of the interests of the NPP in its moment of peril.
The events that happened in Tamale underlie the critical importance of selecting the right persons to manage our affairs for the future, i.e. for the next four years. The persons we elect today will have the daunting task of organizing our Party for the 2020 election in two years time. It is a huge challenge, and we need the right people to meet it. Let me repeat some of the words of my message to Conference: We must elect officers whose principal goals will be to unify the party, strengthen its base and machinery, work hand-in-hand with government, and ensure that we give this country good governance to bring progress and prosperity to all of our people. We must make sure that the post-Tamale events never occur again. We must maintain and safeguard the gains of 2016 by electing the right persons to do so.
What, then, have we done in these last 18 months with this power that we sought so passionately, and which the Almighty was so gracious to bestow on us, with the support of the Ghanaian people? Broadly, four things.
First, we had to get the economy working again. It was not, when we came into office. 3.6% GDP growth rate for 2016 – the lowest in two decades – that was the achievement of the last year of Mahama’s government, including an IMF bailout programme. Because of the measures we took, we posted an 8.5% GDP growth rate in the first year of our mandate, and there is every indication that we will repeat that this year. Indeed, the IMF is saying that we could have the fastest growing economy in the world this year, and that our prospects for positive growth are good. We have brought the unsustainable fiscal deficit down from 9.3% in Mahama’s last year to 6% in 2017. We will get it further down this year. The rate of inflation has improved from 15.4% - we are now in single-digit figures. The cedi is a more stable currency, despite its recent challenges. We have begun to restructure our debt to give us greater fiscal space. I know there are some who think these figures are meaningless. They are wrong. The figures point to a growing, stronger macro-economy. Without that, we cannot deliver prosperity. Digging us out of the deep hole the Mahama government plunged our country into was never going to be easy, but we have to do it. We have to be disciplined in the management of our public finances, otherwise our aspirations for a better tomorrow will remain just that – aspiration, not reality.
Our economy is on a good course, and it will mean that, when we finish with the IMF Programme this year, our economy will be stronger than the one we inherited. We have to thank members of our excellent Economic Management Team for that. Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, its Chair, Senior Minister Yaw Osafo Maafo, Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta, Trade and Industry Minister Alan Kyerematen, Energy Minister Boakye Agayrko, Agriculture Minister Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto – these and others are those who are working hard to turn our economy around. I know that things are still not easy, but if we stay true to the path we are charting, we will see very soon the light at the end of the tunnel. Let us remain resolute. We will deliver prosperity.
Secondly, whilst we have been working to turn our economy around, we have also been keeping some of our key promises to the people of Ghana. The sceptics and the naysayers have been put to shame – Free SHS is now a reality. Last academic year, ninety thousand more young boys and girls got into Senior High School than they did the year before because of the policy. This year, the figure will double to one hundred and eighty thousand, and to take care of this additional population, we are going to recruit over eight thousand more teachers. We are going to ensure that every young Ghanaian child, no matter where he or she is born, no matter the financial circumstances of his or her parents, will have access to a minimum of quality secondary school education. We have doubled the Capitation Grant. We have expanded the School Feeding Programme. We need an educated workforce to build 21st century Ghanaian prosperity. We have restored teacher and nurses trainee allowances. We have revived the National Health Insurance Scheme. Much of the debt that was strangling it has been paid by judicious management, and the card has become meaningful again, because service providers are now being regularly paid. We have stabilized power supply, and have now made dumsor a thing of the past, and, in the process, we have significantly reduced electricity tariffs. We have abolished many nuisance taxes so small businesses can breathe again. We have instituted the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan (NEIP), to support young entrepreneurs and their start-ups. We have expanded the LEAP programme. We have increased the share of the District Assemblies Common Fund that goes to Persons With Disability. We have begun to revive our agriculture with the Programme for Planting for Food and Jobs. Last year, two hundred thousand small holder farmers were in the programme, which provided them with subsidized, improved seeds and fertilizers, and extension officers, who had, previously, been non-existent. The result was an increase in the production of maize, from 1.9 metric tons per hectare in 2016, to 3 metric tons per hectare in 2017; an increase in the production of rice, from 2.7 metric tons per hectare in 2016, to 4 metric tons per hectare in 2017; an increase in the production of soya, from 1.2 metric tons per hectare in 2016, to 2.5 metric tons per hectare in 2017; and an increase in the production of sorghum, from 0.8 metric tons per hectare in 2016 to 1.8 metric tons per hectare in 2017. This year, the programme will be extended to embrace five hundred thousand farmers. Our target is one million farmers by the end of the four-year term. We are going to change the face of Ghanaian agriculture. We have finally established the Development Authorities and the Zongo Development Fund to address questions of infrastructure at the grassroots. We are ready to roll out the 1-District-1-Factory initiative, and construction has begun in parts of the Northern Regions of the 1-Village-1-Dam project. The revitalization of our railway system is going full-steam ahead, and we are about to witness significant road developments. The hundred thousand strong Nation Builders’ Corps has been launched to ltackle graduate unemployment. So that our security personnel are not left out of this broad programme of social and economic reform, we have increased the peacekeeping allowance from $30 to $35. Digitization and formalization of the economy has begun in earnest. And all this has been done in 18 months. Four and a half years of Mahama’s government was bereft of any such achievement.
We are focusing these interventions on the ordinary Ghanaian, because we believe strongly that economic growth has to be broad-based, if it is to be meaningful. And what do all these interventions mean in real terms – they mean that government has provided relief of some GH?4.6 billion for the betterment of the ordinary Ghanaian. This is money in their pockets. The NPP will never be a party for special or vested interests. We stand, and will always stand, for the entire Ghanaian people.
The third aspect of our concentration, these last 18 months, has been to improve the structure of our governance. We have begun to take the steps towards the radical reform of local government – the pledge to bring full democracy to local government is on course. We have scheduled the Referendum to remove the entrenched clause of Article 55 of the Constitution to permit direct popular election of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives to coincide, for reasons of cost, with next year’s District Assembly elections. We are in the midst of the process of regional reorganization to accommodate popular demand for the creation of new regions to bring governance closer to the doorsteps of the people. The Brobbey Commission has completed and submitted its work, together with their recommendations. The recommendations are under study by that outstanding Minister, Hon. Dan Kwaku Botwe, MP for Okere, prior to their reference to the Electoral Commission to conduct the relevant referenda to solicit the popular verdicts of the affected peoples. Reforms of the public procurement process to shift it from an emphasis on sole sourcing to more competitive tendering enabled savings of nearly GH?1 billion to the public exchequer last year. We have seen greater accountability of public officials. The allegations of corruption and or misconduct against the two Deputy Chiefs of Staff at the Presidency, against the Minister-designate for Energy, against the Minister for Trade and Industry in the so-called cash-for-seat scandal, against the suspended Upper West Regional Minister, were investigated by independent agencies, i.e. the Police or Parliament, and found to be baseless and without foundation. That was the basis for my lifting the suspension against the Upper West Regional Minister, and returning him to his office. Yesterday, on my return in the evening from the State Visit to South Africa, I received the Police report on the Australia visa scandal, which has exonerated the suspended Deputy Minister for Youth and Sports from any complicity in the visa fraud. I will lift his suspension on Monday, and return him to office. I will maintain this approach during my entire tenure. The same principle of accountability motivated Government’s decision to call for a Police inquiry into the conduct of the then President of the Ghana Football Association, as revealed in the now famous Anas Aremeyaw Anan Number 12 documentary, and to begin the steps for the dissolution of the GAF in order to create the grounds for sanitizing the administration of football in our country. One of the most important developments in strengthening the architecture of our anti-corruption system has been the establishment by Act of Parliament of the Office of Special Prosecutor, a body independent of the Executive, with a remit to hold all public officials, past and present, accountable for their stewardship of public funds. The first occupant of this Office is a noted anti-corruption crusader, whose independence of spirit and sense of integrity have been well acknowledged. I am confident that he will do his duty without fear or favour, ill-will or malice.
Respect for due process and constitutional propriety led me to discharge the heavy duty of giving effect to the recommendations of the constitutional body that investigated the petitions against the former Chairperson of the Electoral Commission and her two Deputies. I acted, as directed by the Constitution, without any malice or premeditation. And all those who are familiar with the genesis of this sad affaire will recognize the truth of my statement. But, I am aware that the professional critics and those who still cannot adjust to the expression of the popular will of 7th December, 2016, will continue to strain every sinew to find a case, where there is none. I will continue to do my duty, and will leave their effusions to the verdict of history.
There is one major decision that I have taken, which, I know, has generated a lot of anxiety amongst many of you. And that is the decision against galamsey. I stated at my inauguration that safeguarding the environment would be one of my most solemn undertakings. I meant it. I have said and will continue to say – mining is an essential feature of our economic life. We have always mined here in Ghana. Akufo-Addo cannot stop mining activity. What he can do, and is trying to do, is to put in place measures that will ensure, like our forefathers and ancestors did, that mining does not destroy our landscape or pollute our water bodies. Already, some of our rivers are regaining some of their purity. The roadmap for lifting the ban will be published in due course, and, hopefully, the rules and regulations it will contain will ensure that we do not go back to the bad old days. We are working not just for ourselves, but also for our posterity.
Finally, during this period, on the international front, I have visited every ECOWAS country, except Guinea Bissau, to deepen and strengthen our bilateral relations and ties of co-operation with them. We have been active in ECOWAS, and are playing our role constructively, in the quartet of nations, in the processes leading to the adoption of a single currency for the ECOWAS Community by 2020. When the call to duty to The Gambia came, we were part of the ECOWAS peacekeeping mission that guaranteed peace in that country, following the ouster, at the ballot box, of former President Yahaya Jammeh. I have been designated by ECOWAS, Co-Mediator, together with the Guinean President, His Excellency Prof. Alpha Conde, in the efforts to resolve the Togolese political crisis. Your President is co-Chair of the Group of Advocates of Eminent Persons for the implementation of the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and has also been designated AU Gender Champion. We have been very active in the affairs of the Commonwealth, and, indeed, at the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, your President was given the honour of proposing the toast, at the official banquet at Buckingham Palace, to Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, the head of the Commonwealth. Yesterday, I returned from a State Visit to South Africa, the first such by a foreign leader to that important country, during the presidency of Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, the new President of South Africa since February of this year. We have struck strategic partnerships with our neighbour Cote d’Ivoire, and with South Africa. Last year, we received several world leaders, a testimony to the growing reputation of our country.
As you can see, we have been very busy these last 18 months. And, even though, we have not addressed all the sticky problems of the country, we are working hard to bring about the rebirth of our nation. It is obvious that the destiny of Ghana is safe in our hands. Let us work to ensure that we stay in office long enough to effect the social and economic transformation of our nation that our people require. We can and will do it. I dare say we are the only ones who can do it, so long as we remain united and focused on the big picture and see ourselves, above all, as instruments of service to the Ghanaian people. So, “Building a Stronger Party, Delivering Prosperity to Ghanaians” is a very apt theme. We will develop our nation in freedom.
Let me end on a word of caution. The harmonious relationship between Members of Parliament, MMDCEs, and Constituency Executives is very important for the success of our project. I have said it, and I will repeat it here. I am the captain of the boat, and I will not allow anybody to rock or capsize it. The boat is going to sail into safe harbour, no curve, no bend.
Thank you for giving me the time to speak. Let us have a successful Conference and elect the right people to steer our affairs.
May God bless all of us and the New Patriotic Party, and may God bless our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.