Akufo-Addo's 2019 State of the Nation Address (FULL STATEMENT)

BY: Graphic Online

Parliament Thursday morning hosted the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who was in the Chamber to discharge an important constitutional assignment to update Ghanaians on the state of affairs in the country.

Dubbed the State of the Nation Address (SONA), the event normally gives the President the platform to recount salient happenings in different segments of society, stretching from security, industry, services, the social sector, such as education, healthcare delivery and sanitation, to agriculture and the economy.

The SONA is a constitutional obligation that provides a platform for the President to appear before Parliament to state the condition in the country, indicating the progress made and the challenges over the past year, and indicate succinctly what it is that the government intends to do to better the lot of the citizens.

Attached below is a full copy of the full address

MESSAGE ON THE STATE OF THE NATION BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC, NANA ADDO DANKWA AKUFO-ADDO, ON THE OCCASION OF THE STATE OPENING OF PARLIAMENT, ON THURSDAY, 21ST FEBRUARY, 2019, ACCRA.

Mr Speaker, I am glad to be here with you again in this august House, the Parliament of our Republic, to perform, for the third time, the pleasant duty of fulfilling my constitutional obligation, by giving Honourable Members and the Ghanaian people a message on the state of the nation.

In accordance with protocol and convention, it is good to see that First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo, Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, Second Lady Samira Bawumia, Spouse of Mr. Speaker, Mrs. Alberta Ocquaye, Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo, and Justices of the Supreme Court, Chairperson Nana Otuo Siriboe II, and Members of the Council of State, Chief of Defence Staff Lt. Gen O.B. Akwa, Inspector General of Police David Asante Apeatu, and Service Chiefs, are all present. Mr. Speaker, the House is duly honoured by the welcome attendance of the former Presidents of the Republic, their Excellencies Jerry John Rawlings and John Dramani Mahama, former First Lady, Her Excellency Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings, and the Dean and Members of the Diplomatic Corps.

The House should also take note of the passing last year of some distinguished citizens of our country – Vice President, Kwesi Bekoe Amissah Arthur; UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan; Senior Minister, J.H Mensah; Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice V.C.R.A.C Crabbe; PNDC Secretary, K.B Asante, and the Poet Laureate, Prof. Atukwei Okai. May their souls rest and abide in the bosom of the Almighty until the last day of the Resurrection when we shall all meet again. Amen!

Mr. Speaker, I hope the House will bear with me, as I have a lot to say, and I may take quite some time.    

A month ago, almost to the day, I was in Yendi, fittingly attired as a self-proclaimed Prince of Dagbon, Prince Abudani, the first of that lineage, to witness the installation of Yaa-Na Mahama Abukari II as the overlord of Dagbon.

Thousands of our compatriots were there to share in the joy of the occasion. It was a ceremony that many had despaired we would ever see, but a new Yaa-Na, accepted by the two gates of Abudu and Andani, was installed on that day.

It brought to an end decades of feuding that laid low the proud and ancient kingdom of Dagbon. It was a happy day, and it marked the climax of a long, tortuous journey, and a hard grind on the part of many people through the years.

Two years ago, when I had the honour to become President of our country, I decided to summon all the resources of the state and my own energies, and make a concerted effort through the dedicated, patriotic Committee of Eminent Chiefs that had been working on the problem for the past 17 years, to find an acceptable solution. With the blessings of the Almighty, we have had a breakthrough, and this led to the month-long series of events that climaxed in the installation on 25th January, 2019.

Mr Speaker, I was not looking to be accorded any special title or accolade, and I was certainly not looking for praise. I did want to do whatever I could to make sure that this long running sore, that was such a blight on Dagbon and Ghana, and which dragged down the development process in our country, could be resolved, and we could move on.

We had spent enough emotional stress, enough time, enough energy and enough money on the Dagbon dispute; I wanted that amount of emotion, that time, that energy and that money to be spent on making Dagbon and Ghana prosperous.

I am grateful for the hard work and wisdom of the eminent chiefs, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, Asantehene, the Nayiri, Naa Bohugu Abdulai Mahami Sheriga, Overlord of Mamprugu, and the Yagbonwura, Tuntumba Boresa Sulemana Jakpa, Overlord of the Gonja State, all of whom I salute, and for the support of many people in this House on both sides, and I pray that we all continue to build on this achievement and midwife the process until peace becomes part of the fabric of Dagbon.

The Minister for Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs intends to use the momentum of the Dagbon settlement to tackle the other protracted chieftaincy disputes in the country, hopefully, for resolution.

Mr. Speaker, in order to reinforce and support the process of reconciliation and the restoration of peace in Dagbon, I have decided that, this year, the official 62nd Independence Day celebration will be held in Tamale, on 6th March. This will be the first time in our nation’s history that the celebration is being held outside of our national capital of Accra. I am, very much, looking forward to it.   

Mr Speaker, this past week, the grounds of Jubilee House, the seat of our nation’s presidency, have resounded to a lot of celebrations, as we marked the handing over ceremonies of the constitutional instruments to the six new regions in our country. It has taken 18 months of very hard work and some complicated manoeuvring to get to where we are today.

Again, the requests and agitations for creation of new regions have been long-standing, and we have somehow never got around to dealing with them. The first petition for the creation of Oti region, for example, dates back to 1954.  Mr Speaker, it was time to deal with these outstanding issues so that we could get ahead with the business of developing our country. The creation of the six new regions opens up the country and ensures that no one feels cut off from the centre.

Mr Speaker, no corner of this country is being left behind. It is for this reason that we have created the three development authorities. It is for this reason that we have re-aligned the national budget to ensure that every constituency gets the cedi equivalent of $1 million a year for priority projects.

I am able to state, and every member of this House should be able to testify, that work is going on in each of the 275 constituencies around the country. The water and toilet provision segment of the Special Development Initiatives is taking place in every constituency. We came into office with a plan, Mr Speaker, and I am happy to say that we are working and delivering in accordance with that plan.

Mr Speaker, now that the regions are in place, we have the singular opportunity to avoid the old mistakes of urban planning that have made some of our towns and cities such unattractive places. The lessons would seem to show that the political capital does not necessarily have to be the site of all the institutions, and this would guide us in the setting up of the new regions. Indeed, when designating the capitals of the new regions, at the ceremonies at Jubilee House last week, I made it clear that Government is committed to the equitable distribution of government structures and institutions across the regions. We will keep to the commitment.  

Mr. Speaker, we have also embarked on another aspect of our ambitious decentralisation programme, that is the exercise to expand full democracy to local government. In addition to the creation of thirty-eight (38) Municipal and District Assemblies, and the elevation of twenty-nine (29) Districts to the status of Municipalities, the Bill for the amendment of article 55(3) of the Constitution has been gazetted, to pave way for the direct, popular election, on partisan basis, of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs). It is expected that a Referendum will be held on the Bill, alongside the Unit Assembly and District level elections in 2019. I am calling, respectfully, for a repetition of the bi-partisan support, that made possible the hugely successful outcomes in the referenda for the new regions, to ensure the success of the impending referendum. Furthermore, a multidisciplinary panel of experts is being assembled to plan, cost, schedule and help implement a roadmap for the election of MMDCEs. We are committed to devolving more and more power to the Ghanaian people.

Mr Speaker, the economy is at the heart of all we seek to do, it is the success of the economy that will guarantee an improvement in the quality of the life of our people. I believe we are all now agreed that the fundamentals have to be sound if the economy is to flourish. We have just concluded a programme with the IMF, and, with continuing discipline, we shall sign off from the deal in April. This is the seventeenth time Ghana has had to go to the IMF in the sixty-two years of her independence.

Mr Speaker, we cannot make the progress we all desire unless we are consistent and disciplined in the management of our economy. The yo-yo nature of the boom and bust has not helped us achieve our goal of sustained prosperity, and lift us out of poverty. We have gone through another round of painful impositions to get to where we are today with healthy fundamentals.

Mr. Speaker, production in the economy, as measured by real GDP growth, has picked up very strongly in the last two years. From 3.4% in 2016, real GDP growth increased to 8.1% in 2017. In 2018, provisional data for the first three quarters indicate a strong real GDP growth of 6.0%, higher than the annual target of 5.6%. Real GDP growth for 2019 is forecast at 7.6%. Ghana’s recent GDP growth has placed it amongst the highest in the world.  The fiscal deficit is being brought down from the 7.3% of rebased GDP in 2016 to a provisional 3.9% of GDP at the end of 2018. The debt-to-GDP ratio has declined from the 56.6% of GDP in 2016 to 54.8% at the end of 2018.

Inflation has dropped from 15.4%, at the end of 2016, to 9% in January this year, the lowest in six years, as announced by the Ghana Statistical Service last week. Interest rates are declining, and so is the Bank of Ghana Monetary Policy Rate. Our trade balance account, for the first time in more than a decade, recorded a surplus in 2017, and is expected to remain in surplus. In May 2018, a US$2 billion Eurobond was issued for 30 and 10 years of US$1 billion each with coupon rates of 8.627% and 7.625% respectively, and these were the lowest rate and the longest maturity in our history, signifying confidence in the economy. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that, today, Ghana is the leading recipient of Foreign Direct Investment in West Africa.

Mr Speaker, these are good figures, and as we prepare to exit from the IMF programme in April, we expect the impressive figures and good performance to continue. We are very much aware that this is not the first time we have had such a good set of figures, but we are determined to do things differently this time around; we have imposed on ourselves fiscal discipline, we are paying off legacy debts and deepening good governance practices and business confidence is growing. We will maintain the discipline, and bring progress to our country.

We have decided to institute a legal framework to help with the discipline. We have passed the Fiscal Responsibility Law, Act 982, capping the deficit at 5% by law, and some two weeks ago, I inaugurated the Presidential Fiscal Responsibility Advisory Council, chaired by the eminent, respected economist, Dr. Paul Acquah, former Governor of the Bank of Ghana and former Deputy Director of the Africa Department of the IMF, with some of the finest and most reputable economists of our country as members. Its purpose is to advise the President on relevant, additional measures needed to maintain fiscal discipline.  

We have done this because we know the temptation to go on a spending binge will always be there, we know election years will come around and there will be pressure on government to splurge, and persuasive arguments will be made that you have to stay in government to be able to implement your programmes. However, I am bent on running a responsible administration, mindful of the next generation, and not, merely, the next election.  

In the meantime, our efforts are bearing some fruits, and the world has taken notice of the improvement in our economic fundamentals. In September last year, after almost a decade, we received our first Sovereign Credit rating upgrade from Standard and Poor’s (S&P). This upgrade saw us move from B minus to B with a stable outlook. In December 2018, we also hosted the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, a visit that was historical in every sense, as this was the first time that an IMF Managing Director had ever stepped foot on Ghanaian soil.

Mr Speaker, revenue mobilization poses the biggest challenge in the management of our economy, with the tax exemption policy in particular proving to be an achilles heel, and a growing menace to fiscal stability and revenue generation. In the last eight years, tax exemptions in respect of import duty, import VAT, import NHIL and domestic VAT have grown from three hundred and ninety-two million Ghana cedis (GH¢392 million), that is 0.6% of GDP in 2010, to GH¢4.66 billion, that is 1.6% of GDP in 2018.

These figures do not include exemptions from the payment of corporate and individual income taxes, concessions on tax rates, petroleum tax reliefs, customs tax exemptions enjoyed by diplomatic missions, and waiver of processing charges at the ports.

If we continue at this rate, in less than sixteen years, half of Ghana’s revenue base will be given away as tax exemptions.

Mr. Speaker, this is not sustainable, and we intend to do something about it to reverse the trend, by introducing suitable measures that may disrupt the easy and comfortable arrangements that many have become accustomed to, but which we have to take to ensure that we have the firmest of foundations for the economic take-off that has escaped us for so long.

Mr. Speaker, workers in the public sector begun the year on a good note, after receiving a 10% increase in their salaries, on top of the 11% increment of 2018. Forty-one thousand (41,000) workers in the informal sector were also enrolled onto Tier-3 pensions schemes, with pensioners seeing an average increment of 11% in their monthly pension incomes, with the lowest income bracket receiving a 14.7% increment. Last year, the Youth Employment Agency (YEA) engaged some one hundred and seven thousand (107,000) youth in various employment modules, with an additional one hundred and twenty-five thousand (125,000) set to be engaged this year.

 

Mr. Speaker, to consolidate further the relations between the social partners, in the post IMF era, Government will shortly sign a landmark social partnership agreement with Organised Labour/the Trades Union Congress, the Ghana Employers’ Association and Government, represented by the Ministries of Finance and Employment and Labour Relations, to provide a medium for building a sense of cohesion, trust, self-management, frank and open discussions to champion the course of development.

 

Mr. Speaker, the fight against child labour has chalked some modest success. Through the implementation of the second phase of the National Plan of Action (2017-2021), Ghana has been moved up from the Tier-2 Watch List position of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report to Tier-2 in 2018.

 

Mr. Speaker, our ports remain important national assets. And we must manage them to improve trade and to the benefit of all Ghanaians. Government has introduced reforms at the port to improve efficiency. Among others, we introduced the paperless operations at the ports and goods can be cleared within 1 to 3 days. Going forward, we have set ourselves the goal of making our ports the most competitive in West Africa. In this regard, some further reforms would soon be announced by Government to enhance the competitive position of Ghana’s ports.

 

Ghana may be the toast of the world because of its economy. We have all accepted that these economic fundamentals are the foundation upon which our people will become prosperous, but if they are uneducated or poorly educated, then prosperity will continue to elude them. Mr Speaker, a sudden injection of oil revenue or a rise or fall in the price of gold or cocoa can make a dramatic difference to your financial situation, but there are no shortcuts to having an educated and skilled workforce. We have no choice but to provide our young people with quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for every Ghanaian. It is the only way to ensure prosperity, and to protect our democracy. We are not sparing any efforts to make education in Ghana of the best quality, and fit for the needs of the 21st century.

In September 2019, a new standards-based curriculum will be rolled out from kindergarten to Class 6 in primary schools. This curriculum has drawn upon the best practices from all over the world, and will focus on making Ghanaian children confident, innovative, creative-thinking, digitally-literate, well-rounded, patriotic citizens. Mathematics, Science, Reading, Writing and Creativity are, therefore, at the heart of this new curriculum.

Mr Speaker, poverty should not be an excuse for any Ghanaian child not to reach their full potential. It, therefore, warms my heart that we are now able to say that education in the public sector is free from Kindergarten to Senior High School, and, that this year, legislation would be passed to redefine basic education to include Senior High School.

Young people have to have options on which career path they choose, and I am glad to announce that all is set for the construction of 10 state-of-the-art Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) Centres this year. For far too long, we have preached about the importance of TVET without doing very much to demonstrate this importance. We send or urge young people to go to poorly equipped TVET centres, and we are surprised that they are not keen. The new TVET centres would be world class, and attractive to assure young people that they are not being sent to second best options.  

We are also bent on demystifying science, mathematics and technology. Ten Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) centres are being built around the country to provide support for the introduction of STEM into basic education after the completion of a successful pilot phase. We can be sure, therefore, that Ghana’s young people will be able to acquire skills that would put them at par with their peers anywhere in the world. The importance of science, technology and innovation has led me to appoint a Presidential Advisory Council on Science, Technology and Innovation (PACSTI) to advise the President on how to infuse the application of science and technology in the development of our nation, headed by a distinguished scientist, Prof. Edward Ayensu.

Mr Speaker, we shall bring before Parliament this year, a tertiary education policy Bill that will bring all the public universities under a common law, and make the administration of the public universities less cumbersome.

Mr. Speaker, a well-motivated and remunerated teacher is at the centre of our quality education and comprehensive teacher policy. This has started with the upgrading of the initial teacher education certificate to degree status, and the move to put the teaching profession up there with other professions in terms of respect and exclusivity. Currently, many of our teachers, who complete the three-year Diploma in Basic Education (DBE) at our Colleges of Education, go on, later, to do a two-year top-up first degree, by distance learning, at the University of Cape Coast. This means that, in addition to the extra amount of money spent on getting a degree, it will take them not less than five years to get one. With the introduction of the 4-year Bachelor of Education degree, teacher trainees would now obtain their first degree at the end of their schooling. This ensures that they enter the teaching service as university graduates.

Mr. Speaker, when our children master the connection between science and their everyday lives, we would reach the stage in Ghana where we would be rid of the many diseases, borne of filth and poor hygiene, that are still part of our lives. In pursuing these goals, we need to remind ourselves repeatedly that health is wealth, and it is only a healthy population that can make Ghana prosperous.

In May 2018, Ghana won accolades at the World Health Assembly for having eradicated Trachoma, an eye disease that has plagued us for a long time. Today, our NHIS is buoyant. Government has paid up the GH¢1.2 billion arrears we inherited, and brought the operations of the NHIS back to life. On 19th December, 2018, the introduction of mobile renewal of membership was launched. Since then, there have been, on average, seventy thousand (70,000) members renewing their membership every week, by dialling *929# on any mobile phone network. Soon, in collaboration with the National Identification Authority, Ghanaians would be able to register, renew and access health care services using the Ghana Card. We have to thank Dr. Samuel Annor’s brief, but productive stewardship as CEO of the National Health Insurance Authority for that. I wish him well in his retirement.

To deliver healthcare to Ghanaians more efficiently, in 2018, Government granted financial clearance for the recruitment of eleven thousand, one hundred and eighteen (11,018) health personnel to increase existing clinical staff. To augment the efforts of clinical staff, in September, 2018, the Ministry of Health received further financial clearance to employ fourteen thousand, five hundred and twenty-four (14,254) Nurse Assistants (Clinical and Preventive). These nurse assistants belong to the tranche that passed their exams in 2016 from Government Health Training Institutions, and have commenced work by 1st February, 2019. The Ministry of Health is working to obtain financial clearance for the recruitment of the 2017 and 2018 graduates.    

The health delivery system will be significantly strengthened by the expected arrival in June of 275 ambulances, i.e. one per constituency, to make treatment of emergency cases more effective. Drone technology has also been introduced into that system to help deliver essential medicine, blood and blood products to remote communities.  

 

We still face problems of inadequate infrastructure in our health establishments. We have problems of numerous structures at various stages of completion that cannot be finished and brought into use, because newer structures are being started, and there is no money to finish the ones started earlier. Mr Speaker, again, this is a long-standing problem that is a mark of our underdevelopment. We will not ignore or sweep the problem under the carpet. We are dealing with it, and will complete them.

 

Ghana’s hardworking nurses and doctors would do their best, as they have always done, to make sure we get the best health care, but it behoves on each one of us to look after ourselves better. Apart from exercising and taking our regular health check-ups seriously, it is imperative that we eat healthy diets to prevent diseases that are caused by poor choices of nutrition.

Mr Speaker, when we are dealing with matters of good health, we must necessarily move on to shelter and housing. There is an acute shortage of user-friendly, decent housing for people in middle and low-income brackets in our country. This is a long-standing problem that gets worse with each passing day. It is time to tackle the issue and find a resolution. We are starting with the completion of the many abandoned projects dotted around the country. A consortium of local banks has raised 51 million dollars to fund the completion of the social housing units started by the Kufuor administration in 2006 at Koforidua, Tamale and Ho.

The Saglemi Housing Project, started under the last NDC government, is also high on our list of priorities this year. The five thousand (5,000) units it offers would boost our housing numbers. We are, therefore, establishing the value for money issues surrounding the project in order to reconcile the number of houses built with the schedule of payments made, and accelerate delivery.

The 2019 budget made provision for the construction of two hundred thousand (200,000) housing units, and a database of local and foreign developers has been created to help make this policy a reality. Land banks have also been secured in several towns across Ghana where factories, producing pre-fabricated building materials, can be sited for this huge construction effort. There are many well-intentioned projects that ended up pricing out the low-income earners, who were supposed to be their beneficiaries. We are determined to learn the lessons from past projects. The Ministry of Finance is working to launch a one billion Ghana cedi housing fund that would target low-income earners.

Government will continue with the other housing projects for the police, armed forces and government workers across the country, through agencies like the State Housing Corporation.

The most exciting news on the housing landscape, though, is the drafting of plans to regenerate Nima, which holds the dubious title of