President Akufo-Addo's SONA 2019

22-02-2019

President Akufo-Addo's SONA 2019

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 62ndIndependence 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 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.

For the remainder of SONA 2019 please link to: https://www.myjoyonline.com/politics/2019/february-21st/full-text-president-akufo-addos-sona-2019.php

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