The Deputy General Secretary of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), Peter Boamah Otokunor, has written an open letter to President Akufo-Addo asking questions about how Government is delivering on the mitigation measures to cushion the vulnerable particularly in lockdown areas.
P.B OTOKUNOR’s OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT AKUFO ADDO - COVID19 IMPACT MITIGATION MEASURES: TRICKS or TREATS?
Tuesday, 7th April, 2020
Good Morning Mr. President, yesterday in your COVID 19 National Address, you outlined a series of interesting impact mitigation measures ostensibly in response to some of the key short term to medium term economic mitigation measures recommended by Former President Mahama in an address on Saturday 4th April. Not only does this response give meaning to the importance of collective involvement in the battle against this dreaded enemy, but also illuminates the supremacy and importance of the Social Democratic ideology of the NDC, a philosophy that drives shared common welfare for the people. It is in the spirit of this same philosophy that through our Leader, the NDC has dedicated itself to join in the frontline of this battle in full non-partisan solidarity with the government.
Mr. President, permit me to commend you for the various impact mitigation intervention announced, but also to quickly add quite frankly, that we wish we could trust you sir. Your promises so far and what you deliver are very far apart.
First of all Mr. President, the need for this intervention at this time cannot be over emphasized, so its announcement cannot represent a favour to the people.
Mr President, just a mere cursory analysis of the situation, brings out three major fundamental areas of economic distress for families, that may present a livelihood challenge under this lockdown situation.
Mr President the first of these needs is the provision of Food. Available evidence shows that about 15 million Ghanaians operate in the informal sector and some 13 million live by what is described as hand-to-mouth. This means if they do not move a single day, they do not eat. Therefore, for this people a lockdown simply means, no food to eat. This brings into importance, the role and purpose for establishing the National Buffer Stock Company, another Mills-Mahama legacy. I take delight in your announcement that feeding arrangement will be made for some 400,000 individuals by some Faith Based Organisations in collaboration with the MMDAs and NADMO.
Mr. President, I think this provision is woefully inadequate, as it constitutes only about 3% of the people who may need food support in this lockdown. This is the time for the government to take full responsibility and design a transparent food distribution plan for the entire country, especially the lockdown areas. As it stands now, your announcement raises more questions than answers. What is the selection criteria for the 400,000 individuals? How many square meals per day? Which areas or settlements are qualified for the feeding arrangements? How many households qualify for the distribution of the dry foodstuffs?
Mr President, I think we should be guided by our food-riots history and our obviously less than robust food security systems, and speedily setup an efficient and a robust food distribution regime. The failure to do this makes 'nonsense' of all the public health measures and renders the lockdown directives ineffective. In fact as it stand now, the lockdown is already experiencing compliance challenges, a typical example is the situation I experienced in Agbogbloshie market last Thursday, where people had thrown caution to the wind and were briskly flouting all social distancing protocols in search of food. The markets remain crowded across the affected cities, because of the need for food. When people start experiencing food shortages both in terms of availability and affordability, no measure of restriction and its enforcement can be effective. Then what becomes of our stay home, stop the spread campaign? The restriction begins to face resistance, rendering all the control protocols needless and drawing the nation closer to an imminent chaos.
Mr. President the second of the critical needs, is the provision of regular and affordable supply of electricity and/or fuel. Available evidence shows that over 85% of Ghanaian households have access to electricity and as you may already be aware, electricity has become an indispensable commodity in our livelihood, especially if you have to stay home. With all the financial challenges associated with this lockdown, one would have expected a truly workable and equitable social mitigation intervention that takes into prior consideration accessibility, availability and affordability of electricity. While it is commendable to introduce a measure to absorb the water bills for all Ghanaians for the next three months, I believe that you would have served the large mass of people, better and more equitably if you had tackled electricity cost. It appears you chose a timid path and made a choice of convenience rather than necessity. Indeed the data shows that only 18% of the entire Ghanaian population have access to potable drinking water out of which 8.5% are rural water supply systems. Rural water supply is ostensibly free sir.
Mr. President don't you agree with me, it would have been more useful and beneficial to a large mass of our people, if for example the electricity bills of households below a certain threshold of consumption is absorbed by the government for the said period, while those in the middle consumption brackets are given a 50% reduction in the tariffs for the same period?
Don't you think a socially responsive government should also consider reducing fuel prices drastically, especially as global prices of fuel plummets to as low as about US$26.41per barrel?
Don't you think this would have been an effective way to alleviate the cost of managing public transport, especially as you have directed to load only half of its passenger capacity in
compliance with the social distance protocol? This certainly would have made it possible for drivers to make ends meet to survive the lockdown. Don't you think such a decision will also help to reduce the cost of running household generators as electricity continuous to be unreliable and unstable even after your directives to the ECG against same? Well, it appears your directive itself may be unreliable and unstable, just as the electricity supply, because, just some few days ago, GRIDCO was in the news decrying the lack of sustained financing to fuel various dual power generation plants, even though crude oil prices are currently as low as $26.41 per barrel. This according to GRIDCO accounts for the intermittent power outages we are experiencing in several parts of the country.
Mr. President need I draw your attention to what your other counterparts are doing in their countries? Some have taken very bold and decisive steps to offer free electricity as can be seen in Togo and DR Congo. Our friends in Nigeria are also on the verge of enrolling same as reported widely on the news web in the link below
As it stands now, the 'water bill' intervention could only benefit the privileged more than the targeted vulnerable and underprivileged in society. This is because 65% out of the 76% urban dwellers who have access to pipe borne water are in the middle to upper class brackets, hence may not necessarily have water bill payment problems. Majority of our urban dwellers who rely on this pipe borne water are those who carry Kufour gallons, buckets and head pans to go fetch water and pay between 20 pesewas to GHC 1 per fetch. Before I leave the water-bill business, may I ask what measures you have put in place to eliminate politicization and rent-seeking in the water tankers distribution plan?
Mr. President the other important need we need to address is money. Your counterparts are providing financial support to their citizens even in advanced countries. What are you doing sir? I took an exciting note of the measure to pay all health professionals 50% allowance on their basic salary, only to be disappointed in less than 24hours by your Information Minister, who claimed the gesture is for only a few frontline health professionals working in COVID 19 isolation centers. Mr. President I want to believe the minister misspoke, if not, kindly provide us the needed clarification on what really you meant, so that we can settle this confusion.
Finally Mr. President I have realized that all the interventions you announced may require some GH¢1billion (US$200 million). This is double the amount of money you mentioned in your maiden address. What happened to the first US$ 100 million announced? Is the initial amount different from this US$ 200 million? Is it true that you are drawing the US$200 million from the National Stabilization Fund? The fund established by President Mahama amidst your fierce opposition?
Mr. President was it tricks or treats when you said "My father Mahama left me very little inheritance so bear with me"? It does appear that, but for President Mahama's legacies in government, we would have been really doomed as a nation in this Coronavirus crisis. Don't you agree with me?
When it came to the isolation Centers, President Mahama's Legacy hospitals were there,
When it came to mass testing of COVID 19 cases, President Mahama's Legacy 'Onuador' Vans were there,
When it came to emergency spending on COVID 19, President Mahama's Stabilization fund was there,
When it came to public health education, President Mahama in opposition is still there.
When it came to dealing with the shortage of PPEs for our health professionals, opposition leader John Mahama was still there.
Well, I heard you donated your 3 months future salary to the COVID 19 fund, good one, but Mr. President don't you think we need the money now to fight the pandemic, so as to prevent the crisis from extending beyond the next two months? Or was it a salary advance you were requesting from the Controller and Accountants General? If that is the case, can all public sector workers be allowed to benefit from such arrangements? As you may be aware things are tighter in this lockdown situation, and all may need salary advance.
Mr. President let me once again commend you for listening to President Mahama's advice on how to deal with this crisis, experience they say is the best teacher, I'm sure you agree with me on this one. Well, since you have shown to listen to President Mahama's advise please kindly consider as a matter of urgency the following proposals, they may be exceedingly useful;
1. Cancel the 50% increment in the Communication Service Tax (CST) and negotiate with Telcos to reduce their prices for airtime and data, in exchange for a free extension of licenses for 6- months and other incentives.
2. Scrap taxes on essential products such as sanitizers, wipes, food, among others to make these items readily available and accessible for our people.
3. Reprogramme the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) program, to target more poor and needy households in this time of crisis.
In conclusion, Mr. President let me bring to your attention that one of your officers have shot an innocent citizen in cold blood at Ashaiman in a Rambo Style enforcement of the restriction of movements. It actually happened several hours before your address to the nation and I didn't hear you talk about it. Did your handlers failed to brief you or you chose not to mention it? Well, I think I remember you mentioning that it was unpatriotic for people to share foreign videos as if it was what is happening in Ghana. What about Ashaiman sir?
Mr. President what about your favorite quote by Daniel W. Snare who said "We can build our economy back to life, but we cannot bring dead people back to life. Don't you think all the officers may have to live by this favorite quote of yours? I have seen you tweet about the health of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, can you do same about the Ashaiman incidence, at least to express your condolence to the family for their unfortunate loss?
Is it tricks or treats, Mr. President? Thank you for your attention.
May God bless us all and make our Nation greater and stronger.
Yours in the struggle for a Better and Prosperous Ghana,
Cde. Peter Boamah Otokunor
(NDC Deputy General Secretary - Operations)