President John Dramani Mahama says the government's inability to meet all the demands of public sector workers, which has resulted in a series of strikes in recent times, must not be misconstrued to mean he is a bad person.
He said the reality was that because of the economic challenges the nation was going through, coupled with the pressure on the national budget, there was no money sitting down to meet the demands of workers.
"I know workers' demands may be legitimate, but the reality is that the money is not there. Half of the money we get from taxes is going into paying the 600,000 public sector workers and there is a limit to what the government can do,” he said.
Mr Mahama was speaking at a meeting with the Ghanaian community in Qatar in Doha last Monday night at the end of his three-day state visit to that country.
He said any attempt by the government to capitulate to workers’ demands would mean denying other sectors of the economy the needed funds to operate.
Reasons for economic challenges
President Mahama said he would never run away from the fact that Ghana was confronted with economic challenges.
The situation, he explained, was not the creation of his government and stated that every effort was being made to fix the economy in order to bring relief to the people.
In assigning reasons for the economic situation, he mentioned the world economic crisis that saw a 40-per cent drop in world cocoa prices and a 50 per cent slump in gold prices as two major factors.
Apart from that, he said, the wage bill went up hugely as a result of the implementation of the Single Spine Pay Policy (SSPP).
"Happily, cocoa prices have gone up but gold prices are still down," Mr Mahama said.
Oil & Gas
The President also said the belief held by some people that the discovery of oil and gas in commercial quantities meant Ghana's economic challenges should be over was untenable.
"When you say that we have oil and gas and so all our problems will be solved, it is a mistake," he said, explaining that revenues from oil had not been anything better to change the quality of life of the people.
He said, for instance, that in 2013, oil revenue received by the government was just $700 million.
In that context, he said there was the need to manage the expectations of the people because oil money was not very high.
He said for the government, the emphasis was on gas and not crude oil.
"We want to see how the gas can transform our economy as it has done for Qatar,” he said, adding that happily gas development was on course.
Mr Mahama said with strong prospects of having additional new fields coming on stream soon, the future looked bright for the nation, as the current power challenges would become things of the past.
It would also position Ghana as a net exporter of electricity to other West African countries, he said.
He said negotiations for a programme with the International Monetary Fund ( IMF) were on course, pointing out that the fund wanted to see a reduction in waste and inefficiency in the system.
The President expressed optimism that 2015 would mark a significant turning point in Ghana’s economic drive.
"2015 is a pivotal year,” he said, explaining that inflation would go down and the economy would gain ground.
He spoke strongly against corruption, saying it was a canker that must be fought on all fronts.
He said unfortunately people pointed to politicians when corruption was mentioned, noting that in reality it was a matter concerning everyone.
He underscored his commitment to provide the leadership to fight corruption but demanded the input of all the people.
Touching on the Qatar visit, Mr Mahama said he had fruitful discussions with the Emir and the private sector of the country and things looked bright on a win-win situation.
He said two delegations of the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and the Qatari Businessmen Association would visit Ghana early next year to explore investment opportunities.
Ghana Association of Qatar
The Chairman of the Ghana Association of Qatar, Mr Albert Fiawosime, said the association currently had a membership of about 4,000, many of whom were highly skilled and ready to put their skills at the disposal of their nation.
He welcomed the decision by the governments of Ghana and Qatar to open embassies in each other's country.