24
Wed, May

President speaks on broad range of issues

President Akufo-Addo answering a question from our Political Editor, Mr Kobby Asmah (middle). With them is Mr Abdul Moomen, an Editor with GTV.

With barely 73 days in office, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo granted the Political Editor of the Daily Graphic, Mr Kobby Asmah, and an Editor of Ghana Television (GTV), Mr Abdul Moomen, an exclusive interview.

The interview centred on how His excellency was managing with the pressure that came with being President.

The broad range of issues touched on also  included how the President was working to  protect the public purse, when to expect the Independent Special Prosecutor to take office, the funding for the free SHS policy and how to achieve sustainability of the programme and whether it had come to his attention that there were state vehicles missing as well as  the legacy he planned to leave behind among other issues.

The interview was in his office at the Flagstaff House in Accra last Thursday. Below are excepts;

Question—Daily Graphic:

Mr President, once again we want to thank you for hosting us in your office. Mr President out there in the public domain is the brouhaha that has greeted your ministerial appointments. The high numbers have received mixed interpretations from the public. What accounts for this, and what will you tell your critics?

President Akufo Addo:

I don’t believe that any government in the 4th Republic has inherited the challenges that my government has inherited. We are talking about a country with 74 per cent GDP to debt ratio, GH₵2.4 billion debt overhang in the energy sector, persistent decline in growth rate, slowest rate of 2.6 per cent growth in the agric sector over the past 20 years, widespread unemployment, the major issue of corruption, and the persistent leakage of revenue in our system.

This is the background to my coming into office. It is the reason also why I am in office because these were the same circumstances facing the people of Ghana that persuaded them to vote for a change.

In order to address these challenges, I put before the people of Ghana a most ambitious programme of social and economic transformation in the history of the 4th Republic, all sorts of new and dedicated initiatives.

Again, the Parliamentary majority that the NPP has, has brought a whole host of great and excellent materials into the public space of our country.

When you put all of these circumstances together, my assessment is that we need to really put all hands on deck. We needed the co-operation of my party and my country that will allow me to deal with these issues and already the signs are there that this government, in spite of these huge challenges, has begun to  put some order in the circumstances of our country.

The budget is making a very determined effort to solve those structural problems in our economy. We are talking about moving from a deficit of some 9 per cent to 6.5 per cent. We are talking about moving the rate of growth of our economy from 3.6 per cent to 6.5 per cent.

We are seeing the initiatives that are going to free and stimulate the private sector to begin to produce once again in Ghana. The era of high taxes and excessive taxation to feed the inflation led insatiable appetites of the Central government is over.

 I am aware that people are concerned about  be the cost of this large government.

But then, one or two things that I can say is that the number of deputy ministers, 42 out of the 50 are all parliamentarians. In effect, converting them from parliamentarians into ministers, the marginal cost of that transformation is minimal in terms of its impact on the public exchequer.

So the overall of the 110 ministers of my government, some 65 to 70 per cent are all from parliament so the burden on the exchequer which is a matter agitating some minds will not necessarily be anywhere as acute as is being said.

At the end of the day, if our strategy for economic growth succeeds, in a year or two or three years down the road, we are seeing the expansion and growth of the Ghanaian economy, more jobs are coming to the market to be taken on by our young people, our agriculture begins to grow, the various initiatives and stimulus package to revive our industrial sector, if these measures succeed, in accelerating the rate of growth of our economy and creating progress and prosperity, then the brouhaha over the size of government will be just what it is a brouhaha.

GTV:

There is the fear that by your appointments you appear to be creating a parallel civil service. Some of the civil servants appear worried. For instance, the creation of the Ministry in Charge of Public Procurement while we already have a Public Procurement Authority (PPA) in place ?

President Akufo-Addo:

The public procurement minister who is going to be working from the presidency not as the one regulating or implementing the process of public procurement. The minister in my office is going to have an eagle eye on that process. All of us know the tremendous challenge that the system of public procurement in our country has had these five six years.

Huge contracts, many of them very questionable and sole sourcing. I wanted a minister here, somebody who is familiar with the process of public procurement whose duty would be to keep me fully engaged all the time on what is going on and be able to alert me when she sees that something has gone awry.

For the purposes of where we are now in Ghana, where we have gone through this traumatic experience over public procurement, it is necessary for us to focus on it as an area of special concern. The minister is not coming to take over the work of the Public Procurement Authority.

I think it is important that I have an instrument that allows me not only oversight over public procurement, but an insight into what is going on, somebody who would be chasing and receiving the reports, finding out what exactly is going on at the ministerial and the central level because I am

determined to ensure that competitive bidding and the details of the public procurement act are upheld and are met.

I do not only intend to ensure that the public procurement process works as it was originally intended to work but that there are ancillary measures I am going to take to make sure that accountability in our political system, once again, becomes the norm and not the exception.

Daily Graphic:

Mr President ,will you assure Ghanaians that you still stand by your promise to protect the public purse and  and, for that matter, the public purse will be made to work for the national interest?

President Akufo-Addo:

Absolutely. We want a situation where political office holders are the first to recognise that they serve the public interest and not their own. I have said time and again that those in my party who think that coming into the public sector is going to be an avenue for making money under President Akufo-Addo are going to be disappointed to the extent that my eyes and ears would see what is going to happen because I am not going to  allow that to happen.

For instance, as we speak today, in record time, all the first appointments that I made have all declared and filed their assets with the Auditor-General. It is part of the process of re-assuring the Ghanaian people about the commitments that we are making to protect the public purse to ensure that we live with a political system that minimises corruption which has really ravaged our country and brought us to this low level of economic decline.

There is going to be a systematic attempt to deal with it and we are also going to implement the measures that we have put in place to create the office of the Independent Special Prosecutor.

going to happen because I am not going to allow that to happen.

For instance, as we speak today, in record time, all the first appointments that I made have all declared and filed their assets with the Auditor-General. It is part of the process of re-assuring the Ghanaian people about the commitments that we are making to protect the public purse to ensure that we live with a political system that minimises corruption which has really ravaged our country and brought us to this low level of economic decline.

There is going to be a systematic attempt to deal with it and we are also going to implement the measures that we have put in place to create the office of the Independent Special Prosecutor.

GTV:

Mr President you inherited a debt of more than 100 billion dollars yet you are appointing  more Ministers and these Ministers, according to calculations,  will be taking home about 20milion dollars collectively in a year. For a broke economy is it a wise thing to do?

President Akufo-Addo:

We have a problem. What is the best way of dealing with the problem? My view is that our country is better served by having on board the executive, men and women who are capable of working to reverse the situation. For me, the most important thing that I can do for the Ghanaian people, apart from the institutional issues to deal with corruption and how to plug the leakages, is to grow our economy.

If we can grow our economy and the investments involved, then assuming that the figure of 20 million dollars which you claim is going to be the annual cost of my government is right, would be a drop in the ocean and it would be seen as having been a necessary investment to make. People who are coming into government in my time are coming to work. It is not going to be a holiday like the situation where people are ministers and they think that it is time for laughing and merry-making. On the contrary, I reach office at 9 o’clock and leave late every day.

Anyone can go round and check on my ministers, it is that same midnight oil burning and working because they are coming to work for the Ghanaian people. If I succeed, the success is not for myself. My success will be for the people of Ghana. If I succeed, then you will find out that the discussion about the size of my government will turn out to be something quite minor.

Daily Graphic:

When do you hope that the Independent Special Prosecutor will take office?

President Akufo-Addo:

The office of the independent prosecutor would be created sooner than later. The policy rationale has already been drafted and before cabinet. Once it is approved, the next session of parliament which should resume on May 15, 2017 would receive the legislation.

The Attorney-General is finalising a memorandum to cabinet and once it is approved, we will send it to Parliament at the least opportunity when Parliament resumes. It is important, not just the symbolism of the setting up of the Special Prosecutor but that we give it teeth and the opportunity to be able to work properly.

Then also, there are other matters to deal with when it comes to corruption and I have talked about the declaration of assets by my ministers but then again, I want to bring to Parliament, as soon as possible, a bill that seeks to amend the public assets declaration that will allow Parliament to re-visit whether or not there should be public disclosure. We have an internal rule that says that once you are appointed as an article 71, within two weeks of your appointment, you have to declare and file your assets.

Then of course, the most critical and the most important, the personal example that myself and those working with me will have to set. That is the best guide to how successful the fight against corruption is going to be.

We need to grow the Ghanaian economy and that is why the first budget of my presidency was dedicated to trying to clear the space for the private sector of our country to grow and to shift the focus of our economic effort, management and policy from tax to rather leaving as much disposable resources as possible in the hands of the economic operators, private enterprises, people who have the sense of enterprise, creativity and are prepared to take risks so they can invest in their own enterprises and if possible, begin also to create new enterprises and businesses to grow the economy. If this analysis of the problems confronting our country are correct that indeed, if we clear the way for the private sector and provide that fiscal and monetary support for the private sector, if we begin to close the deficit from the 9 per cent we inherited to 6.5 per cent, those are the measures that allow you to start dealing with interest rates.

When interest rates start coming down once again, you are feeding the private sector with the opportunity to borrow money which they can pay back because they have the confidence to borrow to expand their businesses to create new businesses to allow new people to come into the economic system.

So the overall strategy is  about growth. We do not, I do not contemplate the situation where we are going to repeat the rate of growth that we have seen in our economy in the last three or four years; there is no joy in that for the people of Ghana and we have come as the ‘Asempa’ budget said, to bring jobs to our people.

Daily Graphic/GTV:

Mr President, where is the funding of  the free SHS coming from since it  has come under some criticism. What guarantees are in place to sustain the programme?

President Akufo-Addo:

We made a commitment and we said that we would begin the free SHS in September 2017/2018 academic year. We will begin from budgetary sources and with efficient spending and prudent management, we have found the money to begin the process. If we have found the money to begin the programme, then you can count on us to find the money to sustain it. I want to say again that the issue of the free SHS is not a political gimmick. It goes to the heart of our effort to develop our country.

Unfortunately at this stage of our history, the number of people who should have access to education but because of money, they cannot, are more than those who are able to enter the system and we want to be able to assemble the Ghanaian human capital in all its diversity and multiplicity so that we can really make a good case about growing our country.

Funding for the free SHS is coming from the Consolidated Fund which grows and not shrink because of the measures that we have taken on taxes, the measures that we have taken to remove nuisance taxes. What you have to get your mind on is that we are staking the fortunes of our government on the simple principle that if we can provide the stimulus and we allow the private sector to grow, that is the way we can create prosperity, jobs and higher incomes.

We are told that at the ports USD$150 million on a monthly basis is the nature of the leakage that occurs at the ports and can you imagine what it means to close that gap that is USD$1.8 billion a year. So we are focusing on the stimulus, we are also focusing on a more rigorous attitude towards the public purse and making sure that the leakages that we have seen in our system are eliminated which would a bring a rush of money into our system to enable us fund many of our initiatives that we want to do.

Daily Graphic:

Mr President, your spokesperson is on record to have said you use an old state vehicle, in-fact a BMW 2007 model.  If this is true why is it so and are there no state vehicles at the Presidency? Are you aware some state vehicles are missing?

President Akufo-Addo:

I use an old vehicle? I do not know about that. I have been told that a number of state vehicles have gone missing. A committee was set up under the chairmanship of the former Attorney-General, Mr Ayikwei Otoo, to examine the issue and I have not yet received the report but I am told that a certain number of cars are missing. I am praying though that those cars were not stolen from the presidency because it would be too bad to steal from the presidency like that. Then it means we are not safe at the presidency itself but I believe that those findings would be in the public domain. But as far as I am concerned, this is the car that I found here. I am not particularly fascinated about cars and so I am ok.

GTV: Mr President, what sort of legacy do you intend to leave behind?

President Akufo-Addo:

First of all that it was under my watch that the Ghanaian economy picked up and that again, we started getting higher growth rates for our economy and made it possible for the living standards of our people to improve for employment to become more and more available for the young people of our country .

It would give me the greatest satisfaction to know that the challenges that I inherited and were on the ground when I came in, and that by virtue of the collaborative work between me and this very, very good team that I have put together, we grew the economy again and that Ghana became not just a model of democratic accountability on our continent but also became a beacon of economic progress and that for me, would be the icing on the cake. We are praying to God for that.