The Ghanaian electorate were Tuesday night given another opportunity to make up their minds on who to vote for on December 7, when four presidential candidates of political parties with representation in Parliament engaged in a battle of wits and policies in a national debate in Tamale.
Although it was the first of two presidential debates, the
event offered ordinary voters a fair idea of which of the candidates has the
grasp of both local and international issues, the power to articulate them and
the composure to think through national problems on his feat.
Social network site, facebook, was agog with commentary by viewers and listeners offering their judgement on the performance of the candidates as well as quotes of the evening, bringing more excitiment and offering perspectives to the electorate.
Welcoming the candidates and august audience to the debate, Mrs Jean Mensa, described the event as historic because it was the first time a sitting president was taking part in the debate and expressed the hope that the example would be emulated in future.
According to the rules of engagement, three minutes were allowed for each contender to answer a question during the three rounds while they were given three opportunities for a rebuttal for each candidate.
With Professor Jane Naana Opoku Agyeman, immediate past Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast (UCC) and Mr Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, a broadcaster and entrepreneur, firing the salvos, the candidates had fruitful conversation on the thematic areas including the economy and social sector.
At the end of each round each candidate was given three minutes within which to appeal to Ghanaians.
The members of the audience were not allowed to use their cell phones neither were they supposed to cheer on the contenders until the end of each round of the debate.
Shortly after the candidates introduced themselves to the public and state their visions for Ghana, they were plunged into questions and answer session.
Prof. Opoku-Agyeman had occasion to raise concerns with the timers and requested that they acted fairly.
In response to the first question for candidates to explain their broad vision for the country, President Mahama underscored the need for Ghana to open up economic opportunities to all Ghanaians, irrespective of gender, ethnicity and political association in order for them to realise their full potential.
He said an NDC government would continue to invest in education and in health to ensure that mothers did not die at child birth.
He gave the assurance that he would use his influence to bring the nation together rather than divide it and place Ghana as the model of democracy and good governance in the comity of nations.
For his part, Dr Sakara said the CPP’s vision was for Ghana to be a shining example for Africa. That, he explained, demanded that institutions were made to work again.
He said when the institutions worked effectively “Ghana will begin to work again.”
He said Ghana’s natural resources would be exploited in the national interest, saying that, “I will invest in agriculture and in the private sector to create jobs for the people. Ghana must change the path of focusing on macro economic figures and depend micro issues.”
The PNC’s candidate, Mr Ayariga said his government, if voted into office, would make good use of natural resources, empower the youth and bring back operation feed yourself to feed the 24 million Ghanaians to end food importation.
“We will provide water and improve upon health delivery across the country. There must also be a politics of togetherness and share the national cake equally. We want to restore hope and confidence in the people,” he said.
For his part, Nana Akufo-Addo said the NPP’s vision was to ensure a thriving democracy and a country where the rule of law thrived.
“We need a prosperous nation. We have been a raw material production country. We need to become a country that will transform its economy structurally and add value to the raw materials. The development of human capital will be crucial and that is why education is needed and that is why we are committed to free education. To make Ghana that beacon, a shining city which was the vision of those who won independence for Ghana,” he said.
Mr Ayariga said the PNC government would first complete all projects began by previous governments and also ensure that businessmen and women and students used the long term development plan to inform their choice of careers and decisions.
“The country must separate political power from economic power. Silos built by Nkrumah and Hilla Liman have been abandoned by subsequent governments. That is not good enough.” he lamented.
Responding to the question, Nana Akufo-Addo said he would appoint the Vice President under his presidency to lead the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) to guarantee its political commitment and leadership.
He said the good practices to be established under the NDPC during his tenure and the evidence of good results to be produced would make subsequent leaders to follow along those lines.
He pledged that the NPP would not dabble in corruption.
For his part, Mr Mahama said there was confusion in the mind of the NPP flag bearer as it reflected in his response to the question.
Mr Mahama said if a government politicised the NDPC, “you have lost your way. The NDPC must be independent with an overriding framework which political parties must tap into.”
He said what he had been doing currently was synchronising the government's policy with that of the NDPC.
But Nana Akufo-Addo rebutted that saying that if there was any confusion, that confusion emanated from the 1992 Constitution because it provided that parties after winning power came to Parliament after two years with its development agenda.
He said the major problem in Ghana had been the lack of commitment by political parties to implement its policies and indicated that making the vice president the head of the NDPC would give it the political will and muscle to execute its projects.
On fears that agriculture would lose it position with the introduction of oil into the economy, Nana Akufo-Addo said the country's agriculture was already suffering under the current NDC government.
“In 2008 under the Kufuor administration, agriculture grew by over eight percent but in 2011 the growth of agriculture was less than two per cent. The country will diversify its agriculture produce and invest in maize, shea nut and ensure the Dutch disease will not happen,” he said.
But Mr Mahama said the government was already investing in agriculture and had already provided mechanised machines for rice production.
He said the mechanisation had shown in the results with rice production increasing at a higher rate than it did in 2008.
For his part, Dr Sakara said the oil find should be used to finance mechanised agriculture in the country.
Mr Ayariga said Ghana had a grip on agriculture and must do well to improve upon the sector by engaging in medium and large scale farming.
According to him, there should be silos to store the produce and assist farmers with inputs and subsidies and not rely on foreigners to import what we eat.
At this point, Mr Mahama exercised his first right of rebuttal by saying that the arguments put forward by the CPP flag bearer was already happening and said an agreement for the production of ethanol in two areas in the country had already been signed.
On how to address unemployment, Mr Mahama acknowledged that unemployment was a major global problem.
He said it was as a result of that that the government had turned the National Youth Employment Programme (NYEP) into a skills equipping programme where young people would be trained not as employees but as entrepreneurs to employ people.
The CPP flag bearer, in his response, said Ghana must fit human man power into job market.
He said the economy must not only grow without development as it was happening now but must evolve hence the need to place emphasis on technical and vocational training.
“People with education but without jobs will be retooled with massive investment. We must create jobs in partnership with the private sector. After killing our industries they now tell us they will create jobs through industries. How do they intend to do this?,” he asked
Mr Ayariga, for his part, stressed the need to change educational curriculum by training students with technical expertise and help small scale farmers with massive investments.
The NPP flag bearer observed that the NDC’s promise in the manifesto to solve unemployment remained a mirage, saying that one in three Ghanaians did not have jobs while one in six had given up looking for jobs.
“Under an Akufo-Addo government there will be massive investments in roads and other infrastructure to provide medium term jobs. In the medium to long term, manufacturing will be improved greatly. We will improve industrialisation in the country,” he said
Story: Political Team, Tamale with additional file from News Desk