State Of The Nation’s Address: The Debate Continues

The President, John Dramani Mahama on Tuesday February 25, delivered his much-awaited State of the Nation Address to Parliament as required by Article 67 of the 1992 Constitution. His address touched on almost all the areas of governance except one important area of governance, the Judiciary, which is a critical arm of government.

The address that saw almost every Ghanaian glued to their television sets has since become a subject of intense debate among the general public. The debate is basically cut across two distinct lines: those who consider the President’s delivery as a complete waste of time because of its ‘hollowness’ and those who are convinced that the President has made perhaps one of the best deliveries of his intentions to take the country to the next level in development.

Politicians, civil society groups, academics, analysts and the general public have continued to dissect the President’s speech along these distinct lines since Tuesday. Ultimately, the People’s representatives, Members of Parliament (MPs), as a usual ritual, have also joined the debate.

MPs will have the unique opportunity to scrutinize and debate issues of national importance arising out of the President’s address.

The 275 MPs in the nation’s Parliament will begin the debate on the State of the Nation Address on Tuesday, March 4.

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Fron right: Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur, Doe Adjaho  Speaker of Parl. Benjamin Kumbour majority leader and Osei-Kyei Mensah-Bonsu

The debate in the Legislative chambers is expected to be very hot as a result of some controversial issues raised by the President in his over two-hour address.

Some of the controversial issues that will attract heated debate are the introduction of the free secondary school education by the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) government with President John Mahama as the leader.

The President announced in his address to the nation’s legislators that his government had earmarked GH¢71million to pay for the fees of all day students in secondary schools and also heavily subsidize fees of boarders beginning from the 2015/2016 academic year.

The announcement has stirred a huge controversy on the political scene because it was the same President who, as the flagbearer of the NDC in the 2012 general elections, strongly kicked against the introduction of the free secondary school education which was being espoused by the then flagbearer of the largest opposition, Nana Akufo-Addo.

Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) had campaigned primarily on the ‘free secondary school education’ but President Mahama, then a presidential candidate, said the policy was not feasible because there would not be enough resources to sustain it.

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President John Mahama

President Mahama and the NDC lampooned the policy, saying Nana Akufo-Addo was desperate for power and that was why he was campaigning on such an ambitious educational policy which he (Akufo-Addo) knew was not possible.

The President’s sharp U-turn on the free secondary school education has attracted a lot of talk and debate again with members of the opposition NPP saying the President has intentionally stolen that policy in order to ‘disarm’ them of any campaign message in the 2016 general elections.

The NDC as a party has also come out to stoutly defend the President. At a press conference on Thursday addressed by the party’s general secretary, Johnson Asiedu Nketia, aka, General Mosquito, he said the progressive introduction of free secondary school education as announced by the President is contained in their party’s manifesto and that it was not true that President Mahama had stolen any policy idea from the opposition party.

The President at the beginning of his State of the Nation Address told Ghanaians that they must be prepared for a change because the nation was founded through change and the nation also greatly influenced change on the African continent.

He also told Ghanaians to be prepared to take some bitter pills to restore the health of the country which is currently going through some financial ‘challenges.’

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Jerry Rawlings

He indicated that some officials of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were in the country and had painted a not-too-good picture about the economy that was why he was pleading with Ghanaians to be prepared to take some bitter medicine to help normalise the situation.

He however assured that the situation was temporary and that the economic fundamentals of the country still remained solid.

In Parliament yesterday, MPs indicated their preparedness to digest the President’s address come Tuesday.

After reading of business statement for next week by the Deputy Majority Leader, Alfred Agbesi, the NPP MP for Atwima Mponua, Isaac Asiamah prompted the Speaker that copies of the President’s State of the Nation Address had not been made available to Members of Parliament for them to study ahead of the debate on Tuesday.

The Atwima MP was worried that copies had not been made available to them and wondered whether it was a deliberate attempt to prevent MPs from critically diagnosing the President’s address which will eventually form the opinion of the House for some policy direction.

The deputy Minority Leader, Dominic Nitiwul agreed with the Atwima Mponua MP and said that there was the urgent need for the business committee to provide copies of the address to Members before Tuesday so that there could be rich and critical debate.

“The President came to this House and was saying ‘Tweeaaa’, ‘All Die Be Die’ and ‘Are you my co-equal.’ So, for me personally I am ready to debate all these and the intentions behind the ‘Tweeaaa’, ‘All Die Be Die’ and ‘Are you my co-equal.’

The Speaker of Parliament, Rt Hon Edward Doe Adjaho who was also very much concerned about the development directed the Minister of Information and Media Relations, Mahama Ayariga and NDC MP for Bawku Central to make sure MPs got copies of the President’s address before the close of sitting yesterday.

The arrangement was quickly made and copies were later given to the MPs who are set to digest and debate the address, starting Tuesday.

Some other issues raised in the address that would engage the attention of the MPs include the macroeconomic indicators of the economy that are currently looking bleak, even though the President tells the nation that the economic fundamentals of the nation are still strong.

Also, the fast-depreciating cedi and rising inflation would come up strongly in the debate of the lawmakers.

The President said imports of consumables such as rice, sugar, cooking oil, fish, poultry and tomatoes amounted to a whopping $1.5 billion and that, it was time government intervened to assist Ghanaian entrepreneurs who have competitive advantage in producing these goods to enable them to produce for the Ghanaian market. The MPs are likely to debate that as well.

The President said the Tema Oil Refinery and the Tema Shipyard will need private sector participation and the MPs are likely to debate that too.

About the oil sector, the President said it will be having some multi-million-dollar contracts and that Ghanaians must position themselves to bid for some of the contracts; this will also attract enough debate from the MPs.

The energy sector, the huge housing deficit, the declining agricultural sector and of course corruption will also definitely engage the attention of the MPs.

It is expected that the interesting nature of the issues raised by the President would force many MPs who have never participated in any debate on the floor of the House to take part in this all important debate.

While the debate in Parliament goes on, the discourse in the public domain would certainly continue too, sceptics have are quite unsure if the President would be able to carry out all the ambitious programmes he promised to undertake. Indeed some of them appeared as an afterthought because according to parliamentarians on the New Patriotic Party (NPP) Minority divide, a lot of the programmes were not captured in the 2014 fiscal programme of the government.

Meanwhile, President Mahama has said his administration would continue to prove his sceptics wrong by delivering on the administration’s promises.

“While we are always trying to deliver on our promises, our opponents are always ready to say we cannot do anything and that is why we are going to deliver on our promise to prove all of them wrong.”

President Mahama, who was addressing market women at the Kotokoruba Market in Cape coast as part of his two-day official visit to the Central Region, said his administration would not renege on its promises in the party’s manifesto.

 By Thomas Fosu Jnr

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