Speech By His Excellency J. A. Kufuor, President Of The Republic Of Ghana At The May Day Parade At The Independence Square On May 1, 2008
Vice President, Aliu Mahama
Rt. Hon. Speaker of Parliament
Members of the Council of State
Hon. Ministers of State,
Hon. Members of Parliament,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Leaders of Political Parties Present,
Our Esteemed Traditional Rulers,
Acting-Secretary-General of TUC and Organised Labour
Workers of Ghana,
Ladies and Gentlemen;
I am happy to join you at this May Day Parade for the last time as President of the Republic of Ghana.
It is an emotional moment for me. I had a similar experience during the recent Independence Day Parade. It comes from a deep sense of appreciation of the honour and opportunity to serve this great nation; and also, for the phenomenal support and goodwill that this government had received from different sections of the society, including organized labour.
This morning, I could not help but recall some of the many difficult challenges that could have ruined relations between government; organised labour and employers. Happily, by being accessible to the people; by adhering to the rule of law, maintaining open lines of communication and sustained dialogue, government has almost always managed to work through problems with the other members of the Tripartite Committee to mutual advantage. This is what is helping to develop our vision of "Ghana Incorporated".
Of course, there have been red bands, street demonstrations and strikes. Given the many competing demands for attention within the economy, it is to be expected that from time to time, some sections of the labour force would want to call attention to their concerns in dramatic ways. On the whole, however, the labour front has been relatively calm, and cooperative. This had contributed immensely to national stability and the rapidly improving image of the state.
For this, I wish to salute the leadership and all the gallant workers of Ghana, in the public, private and NGO sectors, for their constructive role in helping to steer Ghana to growing success. And here, I wish to pay special tribute to those among the leadership of the labour movement that I have had the privilege of working closely with over the past 7 years, for their show of maturity and sense of appreciation of the public good.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the Acting-Secretary-General of TUC has raised a host of issues in relation to the theme of this year's celebration which is "DEEPENING DEMOCRACY IN GHANA - THE ROLE OF ORGANISED LABOUR". To do justice to this theme, it is proper to begin with developments within the economy.
The economy rests on the quality of the human resource. Thus, a new Educational Reform has been launched since last September to develop high quality human resource with cutting-edge skills and competencies. This is to underpin Ghana's socio-economic development and render her competitive on the global market.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in 2001, Ghana admitted that she was broke and therefore signed onto the HIPIC initiative. Today, largely as a result, the profile of the country's economy has changed dramatically. Through pragmatic policies and measures and prudent management, a strong foundation has been laid. The economy is registering steady growth and enjoying respect both locally and internationally. It is, indeed, moving into rapid acceleration , and the word acknowledges it. It is instructive that last year, when the country issued Euro bond on the London stock market to raise USD750million, the bond was oversubscribed by over USD 3 billion. Truly the economy today is stable, robust and resilient.
But Ladies and Gentlemen, all of a sudden, the nation has come up against a phenomenal global challenge of the high price of crude oil. Last year, when oil was selling around US$70, the budget for this year was hinged on an estimated price of US$85 per barrel. Within the first quarter of this year, the price has ominously jumped to US$120 already, a development no one reasonably foresaw. Indeed, most of the world feels threatened by the turbulence in the market. The ripple effect is high prices of goods, generally and more partially food.
This phenomenon was highlighted by UN-Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the just ended UNCTAD XII here in Accra last week. In his address, he promised to set up a task force to stock-plie food to help mitigate the problems of countries facing famine. The task force has indeed been set up as of this week.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Ghana has not been spared from the effects of these problems. Currently, there are increases in utility tariffs, prices of imported goods and even food items. But Ghana, in a sense, has been saved by improving agriculture in the country which yielded adequate food supplies despite the flooding of the food growing areas of the Northern Regions and parts of the Western Region, last year. So, even as we speak, the Ministry of Agriculture is directed to ensure proper marketing and sales of agricultural produce so as to even out availability of good throughout the country. This way, no region should experience shortage of good. Government is also making arrangements to stock gains to ensure food security in the short term.
Into the long term, modernisation of agriculture through the programmes of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Millennium Challenge Account, of availing farmers with mechanisation, in terms of affordable credit improved planting materials, irrigation, and effective post-harvest management, is being put in place to make Ghana achieve self-reliance and earn more revenue from agriculture.
Ghana should therefore show awareness of what is happening around her, and appreciate that but for her good governance, she might have been suffering the same riotous fate as many other nations around the world, including some in our immediate neighbourhood. Thank God, we are getting by. So, we should hold together and not hype the problems to disrupt the smooth development of our socio-economy.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me say something about the Economic Partnership Agreement which government has signed with the European Union. Government is very much aware of the criticism it has attracted. The EPA is a transitional arrangement for getting our produce and products into the European market. It is the way to save the country's export industry and thereby protect jobs and earn revenue while the Doha negotiations for a fairer global trade system still proceed.
In the West African sub-region, the 2 countries that are caught up in the dilemma are Ghana and La Cote d'Ivoire. Apart from Nigeria, the rest are classified as Least Developed Countries, which are exempt from the payment of tariffs on the EU market. Nigeria on the other hand is so endowed with oil revenue that it could afford not sign the Agreement. Ghana cannot. I therefore urge our labour movement to appreciate the position of government during this period.
For the general prospects, we should be thankful to providence that, just at the moment that the world market is going haywire, Ghana has struck oil in commercial quantities, with pumping to start within the next 2 years. So, even as we face difficulties, we should be confident that with sound management and best practices, Ghana will soon join the league of the oil producing nations, to escape the brunt of the crazed global oil market.
Ladies and Gentlemen, government is saddened by the strike action by our rail workers which has been on-going for some time now. It is an indisputable fact that for more than 20 years, our nation has not benefited from a functional railway system. The system is moribund. At last long last, the country has come to the point where it is ready to construct a modern railway system to replace the old one. Seed money of USD 90 million has been made available to leverage a consortium to find resources of over USD 1 billion for the project, which is planned to cover the Accra-Kumasi line, as well as the Western line with extension to the north. The workers should therefore appreciate what is being done in the sector from now into the long term. Within the next few years, the railway sector should come into its own as a major player within the socio-economy.
I am arranging to meet with the representatives of the workers to review their situation and that of the Company's. In the interest of the nation, and in their own interest, therefore, let me appeal to them to return to work.
This Government has endeavoured to release the productive capacities of the citizenry toward national development. In furtherance of this, it has introduced policies to combat unemployment which as we all know affects families, the youth and organised labour, and assails the dignity of the employed. In 2006 Budget which had as a theme "Investing In People, Investing In Jobs" Government granted various flexible rebates to encourage Companies to hire the youth, particularly those from the tertiary institutions, as partial solution to the unemployment problem. The private sector must take advantage of this Policy which is still valid.
Various public works have also been initiated towards this end. These include the Mass Cocoa spraying Programme, the Government Forest Plantation Programme, Popularly called HIPC Plantation, and the infrastructural projects on roads and housing that have given employment to thousands of youth.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me at this point address the issue of the National Youth Employment which offered over 108, 000 jobs to the youth during its first year in 2006, and a total of 200,000 jobs year. This is a very ambitious country-wide operation involving many Ministries. A lot has been learned during the short period of operation as to how to enhance its effectiveness and expand coverage further. The programme is therefore being reviewed by government together with organised labour and the employers to enable it meet higher targets.
In this connection, I have to single out the private company Zoom Lion for commendation. It is engaging many of the nation's youth in an innovation manner that shows there is dignity in labour. What is especially commendable is the smart uniforms and simple but effective equipment it provides its workers to enhance their self-worth while undertaking the very crucial assignment of environment sanitation in cities and towns around the country. Ghana needs more of such innovative companies.
NATIONAL HEALTH INSURANCE
Ladies and Gentlemen, the National Health Insurance Scheme which is to facilitate accessibility to health-care delivery is on course. Already, there is over 50% coverage of the population. The registration drive could be better still if the media would focus more on propagating its merits.
Ladies and Gentlemen, another issue of great concern is of course salaries and wages. Government created the Ministry of Public Sector to spearhead reform in the Public Administrative System, to deliver quality service to the general public, especially the private sector. The cornerstone of the policy is Public-Private Partnership to provide synergy for the nation's socio-economic development.
Pay Reform is an important and integral aspect of the Public Sector Reform. The Fair Wages and Salaries Commission was established to implement Public Service Pay Policy in fair, transparent and systematic manner, using best practices.
A team of consultants and Technical Experts has been working on single-spine Pay Structure which will become the Public Pay Policy in due course. The Pay Policy requires extensive consultations with identified stakeholders including oganised Labour to ensure comprehensive dissemination of policy objectives, acceptance and ownership of the Policy. It is only in this manner that the integrity and permanency of the Policy can be assured.
Concerns have been raised about delays in submission of its report. But this is a major exercise which much be done well from that outset to avoid more difficult problems in the future. The public must therefore exercise some restraint in this important national exercise.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Ghana is fortunate in having a labour movement that is committed to democratic governance in its truest sense. This is evidenced by the responsible, constructive and tolerant manner it conducts its affairs and relates to the other sectors in the polity.
As I said earlier, my 8-year tenure as President has witnessed very positive engagement with organized labour. This has impacted positively on the socio-economic development of the nation. But between government, labour and employers, there is still more room for improvement in the relationships.
It is in this regard that I want to respond to some of the concerns highlighted by the Acting Secretary-General, mainly about the coming elections and how to position the Electoral Commission and other bodies to play their respective roles.
To respond generally, it is fair to refer to the efforts that led to the adoption of the Constitution of the 4th Republic. The document embodies our collective belief and commitment to the rule of law, good governance, and independence of the judiciary as well as the basic freedoms of speech, association and conscience. I am proud to say this government has looked for every opportunity to give meaning to democracy, as enjoined by the Constitution, and to uphold its values sincerely.
At the earliest opportunity, the criminal libel law was repealed, in consequence of which the media have become more outspoken than ever before. No media practitioner has come to any harm from this government for anything done in the course of practicing his or her profession. Other institutions that are also critical for the practice of democracy continue to fare well.
On Specifics, the National Electoral Commission, as observed by the Acting Secretary-General should be resourced to maintain its independence. I agree to this but I am also able to say that the funding for the coming elections as estimated and submitted by the Commission through the Ministry of Finance was met in full. The Commission is therefore urged to do its work with the professionalism required of it. Government stands to meet subsequent legitimate demands from the Commission.
But fellow citizens, obviously, the responsibility for running credible elections goes beyond the Electoral Commission to embrace all of us. We should therefore be able to desist from pronouncements which give rise to undue skepticism and work together with the Commission to ensure transparency, fairness and peace. Any misunderstanding arising from the elections should be subjected to due process.
In this regard, the Political Parties should see themselves as part of the constitutional organs that indeed they are, for running elections. They should therefore, behave in the letter and spirit of the Constitution to assist the process and be law-abiding. Anything else will be illegal and detrimental to our progress.
CHRAJ, Media Commission and NCCE - All have a stake in the constitutional order. They should therefore play their roles impartially. In this regard, we are well served by living the words of the National Anthem, especially that part that prays the Almighty to
"Help us to resist oppressors' rule with all our will and might forever more."
Any individual vested to serve in any of the constitutional commissions that overtly or covertly compromises and violates the letter and spirit of the Constitution betrays the nation and the people and must suffer the consequences.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Decentralization is very much in evolution. The District Assemblies should be strong to demand transparency and accountability from the Local Administration headed by the District Chief Executive. They should also develop the competencies that enhance delivery of services to the community. Otherwise, decentralization will remain a lip-service. The Ag. Secretary-General's call for the total election of Assembly Members and also DCEs is noted but it is seriously contended that this shall be achieved in due course as a matter of evolution in the national interest.
Judiciary - Government is supporting the leadership of the Judiciary to modernise the courts, provide training for the personnel and endeavour for justice not only to be done, but to be seen to be done. The leadership of the Judiciary should work to make Judicial Independence a reality in this country.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the concerns of organised labour as articulated by the Acting Secretary-General are very much appreciated. There is so much going for this nation. Ghanaians are a great people who have never been discouraged by temporary difficulties. Let us therefore, maintain our resole and our vision of creating just, humane and peaceful nation, aspiring to a middle income economy in the foreseeable future. Let us therefore continue to work hard and be productive and have faith that God will help us to achieve our just aspirations.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I must say how deeply touched I am by the presentation made to me this morning. I always consider myself a worker. Indeed, in terms of the productive contribution to the development of the nation, I have always sought to do my bit for our motherland. I am therefore happy and humbled by the gesture of the presentation, which clearly witnesses that organised labour appreciates my contribution to the request that you continue to coopoerate with me to the end of my stewardship and extend the same cooperation to the next President.
Finally, Mr Acting Secretary-General, permit me to wish you and your comrades in labour a happy May Day, a day to be spent in stock-taking and in completing the dawn of the new Ghana which, from all indications, promises to be a prosperous glorious and a happy nation.
Thank you and May God bless us all.