The Former President of the Swiss Confederation and current Swiss Minister for Environment, Traffic, Energy and Communications, Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga (SS), was in Ghana for a three-day working visit.
Last year, Ghana and Switzerland signed a bilateral Agreement as a framework for the implementation of Article Six (6) of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change after two years of negotiations between the two countries and the signing of the framework Agreement marked the first of its kind in Africa, and second in the World.
The Foreign Editor of the Daily Graphic, Ms Mary Mensah (MM), caught up with her on the last day of her visit and she granted this interview. Below are excerpts.
M: Welcome to Ghana. You are a former president and currently a Minister with four portfolios. How has it being like managing four portfolios?
SS: Thank you for the warm welcome. You know in Switzerland we have only seven ministers in the government and each minister is elected by Parliament to be the President for one year so every minister is likely to be elected as President of Switzerland.
But when the year is over, you go back to being a minister and as we are only seven ministers, of course we have huge ministries, I probably have the biggest one with the four portfolios but I can tell you that maybe it was also an advantage because sometimes you have a conflict of interest between environment and energy and transport but I always strike a balance by bringing everyone together in my ministry and I asked them to bring me a good solution for example for the protection and the production, and I think this is also an opportunity to have a huge ministry and it is very big.
MM: It is interesting to know that there are only seven ministers in the Swiss government. It means that all the ministers may have several portfolios. Does this not put stress on the ministers?
SS: Yes all the ministers have several portfolios. Before I was Minister of Justice, Migration and Police and currently Environment, Traffic, Energy and Communications.
MM: Ghana and Switzerland have had a long-standing relationship. What do you think accounts for this long years of bilateral relationship between the two countries?
SS: Oh yes, we have a long common history because the Basel Mission first landed here in Ghana and since then we have had a very intense good friendship. We have been cooperating in several areas and our signing of the climate protection agreements with Ghana last year was because we want to do the projects together.
We have climate protection projects in Ghana, financed by Switzerland and I think this is very important because the private sector could make investments as we have done the framework together.
President Akufo Addo visited Switzerland last year when I was the President , “so you see we have very good relations, good cooperation and we want to go on with that in the future”.
MM: That is wonderful, the agreement with Ghana on climate change was the first by an African country and the second in the world, why the choice of Ghana. What informed that decision to select Ghana?.
SS: Well, I think the special relationship with Ghana mostly accounts for this choice and this helped because we have known each other for years and we know that we are reliable partners and that we can work together on the basis of trust. At the same time Ghana is very interested in doing more on climate protection. I think this is a good basis for also signing a road map agreement during my visit as Switzerland and Ghana want to have the projects running.
The climate conference is scheduled for Glasgow this year and we want to show the world that our two countries have good projects for climate protection. This is very important because with global warming our two countries show responsibility.
MM: How will this agreement impact the lives of the people of the two countries?
SS: It will be very beneficial to our people, as one of the projects under the agreement was to encourage the use of solar power for individuals and households, as a small company or a household with its own solar power will be independent of electricity and will not need to use, for example, fossil fuels which is bad for the climate.
I think with this project, people can really have the advantage of that and we want to have more projects which are very good for the population here in Ghana and Switzerland.
MM: Switzerland is a global leader on climate change and you are very passionate about the climate. Can you explain to us why Switzerland decided to chart this climate cause?
SS: Effective climate change because we are a country with many mountains so the climate change is very heavy in our country, our temperatures rise more in the worldwide average so we know that it is a threat for our country and we want to do something and on the other hand, I think we have very many innovative companies, so we have innovative technologies and we want to share that knowledge with other countries.
MM: What are the major opportunities in clean technology and how will it benefit Ghana?
SS: Clean technology is always good because fossil fuel was not only bad to the climate as it caused temperatures to rise, thus, affecting global warming and it is also bad for its air pollution which affects the health of the people. So if we have clean technology it is always better for the whole population.
MM: What are the highlights of your three-day visit to Ghana?
SS: Oh mine, I have many highlights but one is that I visited a company called “Solar Taxis”, where I met many young women engineers who have learnt to make solar taxis, that means motor with electricity or cars and they know how to do that, how to drive them and I think electricity in mobility is something for the future which will be very important.
I like these young women because they have so much energy and they want to do something with their lives; they want to earn money to be independent and they do something also for the climate protection so I think this was just a wonderful moment.
MM: I am glad that you enjoyed your visit to Ghana. We were told that aside from your busy schedule, you also find time to play piano and then probably sing. Can you tell us about that interesting aspect of your life too?
SS: The piano was my first profession and I was a pianist but I was always also a political person. I also used to work in a house where women could find shelter as victims of domestic violence, so I am also interested in this political issue.
We have to fight against that so I had to choose and then one moment I chose the way to go into politics. I worked also for the consumer protection and now I am a politician. I still play the piano but at home just for me and myself.
MM: As you leave the shores of Ghana, what special message do you have for Ghanaians, particularly young women?
SS: Ghana has so many young people and I want to give them a perspective.
They should learn a profession so they can be independent and especially for women also it is very important for them to learn a profession and have a job to make money and not to be dependent on a husband or a man so they can have their own lives and decide also their own lives. So I think this is very important so our cooperation with Ghana with the project on climate protection, we are sure we can create jobs as well .
Yesterday I was in a recycling enterprise which does recycling of e-waste and old computers. These are opportunities for young people to create more jobs and unit jobs to the young people who can have these jobs. So in our cooperation we can also help to create jobs in Ghana. I think this is a positive message for the young people.