The 2016 Election Presidential Encounter (EPE), organised by the state broadcaster, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), in partnership with the National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE) and Star-Ghana, hosted President John Mahama last Wednesday.
President Mahama who is the presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in the December 7 polls was at GBC to tell Ghanaians his vision and policies for the country in the next four years if he gets the opportunity to remain in the Flagstaff House, come January 7, 2017.
The studio for the live telecast had a fair representation of audience from the various key stakeholder organisations and groups in the country. A team of NDC members, including party supporters and ministers, were also seated behind the president in solidarity.
The host, Selikem, gave a detailed background introduction of the president before welcoming him to the seat for his 20-minute slot, within which he told Ghanaians what he will offer should he be retained in power.
Dressed in a blue suit and white shirt with a yellow pocket square, he opened his statement by showing gratitude to Ghanaians for the opportunity to serve as their president, while admitting that his tenure has been one of challenges.
The situation, he said, led to the making of difficult decisions in order to stabilise the economy, resolve the power crisis and rebuild the social infrastructure of the country.
President Mahama, however, showed optimism for the future of the country, stating that the foundation for a better Ghana has been laid in the past four years.
“We have made sacrifices together as a country and now the heavy lifting have been done and the foundation has been built so there is not much heavy lifting to be done just blocks and that is much easier… the country is on the cast of brighter days,” he said.
The president now turned his attention to the youth unemployment, a topic he described as the most critical challenge every leader faces but was quick to say that his government has the most credible youth development and employment programmes that seek to engage the youth, especially in the private sector.
He debunked the notion that government has the sole power of employing graduates after their university education. According to the president, government’s ability to employ is very restricted, rather he said the private formal and informal sectors were the institutions that employed more people.
The president concluded his presentation a few minutes before his allocated time with words of encouragement to his compatriots to be optimistic about the future.
The question segment had the president fielding questions on very pertinent issues ranging from health, education, employment, corruption, security, among others, from the studio audience and public who were viewing the proceedings from Cape Coast.
The issue of unemployment, especially for university graduates, has been the snag of the NDC government as more and more graduates finish school only to find no jobs.
President Mahama, in answering the first question on how he intends to provide sustainable employment for Ghanaian youth, outlined plans that government has initiated to reduce unemployment.
According to him, there is a need for industry and academia to fashion out a more sustainable solution to unemployment, noting that the most important step is to increase skills training to make more Ghanaian youth employable.
Justifying why he should be given a second term in office, he said, “Practical and vocational training is core to solving Ghana’s unemployment challenge, and this has been the guiding principle of his policies.”
President Mahama stated that government has made investments in the production sector to create sustainable jobs.
“Ongoing economic progress will also open the way for more jobs. Takoradi and Tema harbour expansion projects have provided jobs to more than 2,000 people,” he said.
He said more employment skills had been acquired through the introduction of more modules of the National Youth Employment programme and would continue to chart that path to drastically reduce the incidence of unemployment.
President Mahama has been accused of condoning corruption in his government despite boasting of efforts in fighting the canker.
The NDC flagbearer insisted on the Wednesday show that his government was prosecuting persons accused of corruption despite the consistent New Patriotic Party’s (NPP’s) revelation of corrupt practices by officials of his administration such as the misappropriation of funds that charactersied social intervention programmes such as GYEEDA and SADA.
He claimed that government has been able to retrieve about GH¢40 million from officials who siphoned taxpayers’ money in the National Service Scheme (NSS) scandal.
“These GYEEDA prosecutions started in 2012; and we are in 2016; but I can’t go and catch them and lock them up on the presumption that they are guilty.
“The NSS case how many years is it? Three years now. People inserted ghost names in the national service payroll and got millions of Ghana cedis, we’ve retrieved GH¢40 million from them. Some of them have pleaded guilty and offered a refund so we’ve gotten back GH¢40 millions of taxpayers’ money.
“But those that are under criminal investigations it’s been going on for three years now. But we just must have patience with the process because we cannot go back to unconstitutional system,” he added.
The president said his government’s case with Woyome is a testimony of a government willing to boldly deal with corruption.
He said unlike some of her predecessors who sat down for claimants of judgment debts to obtain default judgments, the AG, Marrieta Appiah-Opong, has been vociferous in dealing with all false claims and contracts.
The president’s statement was on the same day the AG was accused of failing to pursue the GH¢51m judgment debt paid to NDC bankroller and businessman, Alfred Agbesi Woyome, when the AG backtracked on her application to orally cross examine Mr Woyome.
But the president described the claim as falsehoods brewed for the “purposes of political propaganda” as he maintained that the AG had “pursued this case relentlessly.”
He explained that the AG put in an application for oral examination, but at the same time, “discussions had been ongoing in respect of a settlement and before that happened, a term of settlement was granted.”
“So she [the AG] went to the Supreme Court and discontinued the oral examination so that she could look at the terms of settlement and see if it was acceptable, or meet with his lawyers and agree on what the terms were with the option to come back in the event she was not satisfied with the terms,” he stated.
“People want me to arrest everybody who’s been accused of a crime and lock them up because they did it in PNDC time.
Yes, I would have locked them up; but we didn’t have a constitution then and if we didn’t have a constitution and I was a dictator, if you are accused of corruption I will catch you and lock you up and wait until you are proven guilty or innocent then release you. But we cannot eat our cake and have it. People have to go through the process and the process is very slow. Everybody knows,” he added.
The president, responding to a question by a member of the audience on the contradiction regarding the payment of nurses’ allowance, denounced the suggestions that his administration has gone back on its decision not to pay trainee nurses’ allowance in order to win their support ahead of the December elections.
The president explained that government has decided to pay the allowance in anticipation of a law that would migrate the trainee nurses onto the Students’ Loan Trust Fund.
“We decided that we were going to move them onto the Students Loan so we stopped the trainee allowances in order to use the funds, instead, to ensure that it created more opportunities for nurses to be employed. Then our attention was drawn to the fact that [the trainee nurses] don’t qualify because the Students’ Loan Act does not allow them to be on Students’ Loan,” he said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Kwesi Amissah-Arthur recently justified the decision by government not to pay the nurses’ allowance on grounds that the allowance was depleting funds meant for improving nursing education.
The vice president’s pronouncement which was a clear contradiction of the earlier promise by the president that the allowance was going to be restored has raised suspicion that the plan to restore the allowance is to gain votes.
Nonetheless, the president on Wednesday stressed that while the government worked towards amending the law to allow the student nurses to be migrated onto the Students’ Loan Trust Fund, there was a need to keep paying the previous allowance to enable the students to finance their upkeep.
“They are being paid an updated allowance not at a level they used to receive in the past, but a lower allowance so that they are able to make ends meet until we are able to amend the students’ loan trust law,” he said.
After stating on an international platform that he’s unaware about the whereabouts of the Right to Information (RIT) Bill, President Mahama on Wednesday said he could not force parliament to pass the 10-year old bill although he is not scared of its passage.
Answering a question from the President of the Ghana Journalists’ Association (GJA), Affail Monney, on the passage of the Right to Information Bill, President Mahama said, “I can’t force them [Parliament] to pass it.”
“We have separation of powers, parliament is autonomous, I can’t force them to pass it; but I have been advocating for it that they should pass the Bill. It’s been too long, in the state of the nation addresses, I’ve referred to that Bill, and I’ve indicated that I don’t know why it has taken too long in parliament,” he said.
The bill that has been in and out of parliament for over a decade now is yet to be passed, despite its enormous benefits in enhancing access to information in the country.
However, the president explained that the bill after its presentation to parliament, was placed before a committee, adding, “They said they will go round the country, they’ve gone round the country, they said they need more stakeholder consultations, I don’t know where it is now.”
The president’s concluding remarks was about seeking votes: voting for his government he said means sustaining the development momentum in the country adding that a new government would mean starting all over again.
Reiterating his earlier statement of the challenges he has faced as president, President Mahama said God has been his source of strength, adding that his wish is for the will of God to be done in the December elections.
“If it is His will that I continue as president, it surely will happen.”
The flagbearer of the Progressive People’s Party (PPP) will take his turn at the next Presidential Encounter with GBC.