Good evening, fellow Ghanaians!
On the 31st of December, I get the rare opportunity to spend an evening with you. With radio and television, I am able to reach you in your homes and wish you a happy New Year. This year, however, I am well aware that I am only reaching a section of you because there is no electricity to power the radio and TV sets and mobile phones through which you can listen to this live broadcast. All these challenges notwithstanding, we have to be thankful to God for his mercies and love throughout the year.
My government has worked hard to bring the nation to where it is today, and so, with or without electricity, it will not be out of place to say “Ebenezer; thus far Mahama has brought us!”
The end of one year and the beginning of another call for sober reflection and critical stocktaking. We smile at what we’ve been able to achieve and get determined to do better in the coming year. In so doing, we make resolutions. As President and Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces, I should be telling you what the NDC government will do next year since my communicators and I have not missed any opportunity to boast about the little we have been able to do. However, I will resist the temptation to make any promise tonight.
Two weeks ago, I decided to conduct a simple exercise on my promises to Ghanaians. I typed the words “Mahama” and “promises” in Google search and hit the “enter” tab on my keyboard. What appeared was, “About 337,000 results (0.30seconds).” Key among those promises was my promise to end the power crises. Again, I typed “Mahama” and “deliver” and every headline with my name said “Mahama to deliver” this “Mahama to deliver” that. This shows there’s no room for more promises tonight.
I recently logged on Facebook and saw some people running polls on Fauster Atta Mensah, the self-proclaimed Ghanaian Nobel Prize Laureate and Joyce Dzidzor Mensah, the HIV/AIDS ambassador who recently claimed she has never tested positive for the virus. The pollsters wanted to know which of the two has been more deceitful in what they told the public and what they turned out to be. After reading the comments and the reasons people gave for their choices, I said to myself that if a certain John Mahama was added to the two Mensahs, the winner would be a foregone conclusion even with “dumsor” as the only reason.
I acknowledge titles such as Bohyeba and the Most Promising President because I know I have made many promises I have not kept. I have even promised not to promise again but tonight, permit me to make one more promise. It is a promise I will keep and, by the time I finish this address to the nation, you will agree with me that I have kept it. It is the promise to be truthful, honest and candid in this New Year’s message in a way no president of Ghana has ever been.
Fellow Ghanaians, former President Rawlings recently said that our untold gullibility as a people permits “magicians” such as “Obinim and Kumchacha” to make a mess up of our lives. I also think the reason we have allowed politicians to fool us since independence is because of this same gullibility, and more disturbingly, our hatred for the truth. For once, I want to tell you the truth and as we march into 2015, this should guide us.
I know what I am about to say will have dire consequences for my political future, but it is the bitter tonic this nation needs to drink in order to make progress. I am prepared to rethink the policies I have announced to implement based on the discussion this New Year’s address will generate.
Good people of Ghana, let me start with the most important sector. I must confess that the free education at the senior high school level my government wants to implement will further sink and destroy our already deplorable educational system. This is not the first time you are hearing this from me so you should not be surprised. I said it many times when I was campaigning for the 2012 elections. And I wasn’t saying it because I had alcohol in my head.
I meant every word I said and my position has not changed. The only reason I have made that sharp U-turn is to cripple the NPP’s main message ahead of the 2016 election. In 2012, I said what we needed was quality and accessible education. If there’s anything about quality, then it is on a downward trend and I cannot say I have fixed that. We are yet to see the accessibility. I promised to build 200 senior high schools. I have served half of my tenure as President but not even a single school has been completed.
Sometimes I feel ashamed when my communicators defend this. We are struggling to pay the feeding fees for SHS students in the three regions of the north and the Capitation Grant for basic schools is often delayed, stalling academic work. So promising free SHS education is like a toad promising to give you a chair when you can see it squatting. We will have to rethink this concept together if you will be honest as I am tonight.
As citizens whose taxes are used for these projects and policies we promise, you should be asking the questions that matter about why we do them. Have you ever asked whether Mahama’s children will enjoy this free SHS education? Are his children in Ghana? What about the children of ministers of state and high government officials?
Even those of them who are not able to take their children to schools abroad, like I have done, have them in schools such as Lincoln, Tema International School, Roman Ridge and the rest of the expensive schools where one term’s school fees are equal to a primary school teacher’s three years’ salary. Don’t be deceived that their salaries can afford such schools.
Even as President, if I had one child in TIS, for instance, it will take about five months of my salary to pay his or her fees for one year. I earn more than all the ministers and MPs. Yet you have many civil servants having two or three children in those schools.
The curricula of these schools are British and American. Such curricula, despite how orderly they appear, are designed to solve problems of those countries and not ours. The children Ghana’s elite who are educated there will come to rule this nation in the future.
I throw this to you as a challenge. If you begin to ask the critical questions and force us to keep our children where your children are, we will fix the deplorable educational system. In 2007, the Washington Post reported the mess at the Walter Reed military hospital in America. President George Bush went and fixed the mess after the top officials resigned or were fired. When President Obama fell ill recently, that’s where he was treated. I don’t care much about the mess in Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital because if my wife Lordina, my children or I fall ill, we will fly out or get treatment where you will not get.
Fellow Ghanaians, if there’s one singular problem sinking this nation, then it is corruption. And I must confess my approach to fighting corruption is more scandalous than the corruption scandals themselves. To start with, I feel ashamed that companies belonging to Roland Agambire of the RLG fame and Joseph Siaw Agyapong of Zoomlion are still getting government contracts. The World Bank banned Zoomlion from bidding for the bank’s contracts for two years because of some minor bribery allegation in Liberia. But companies belonging to these two individuals have been named in the major corruption scandals in Ghana in recent times without any ban. If you are wondering what I am talking about, I am referring to SADA, GYEEDA and SUBAH.
Today, 31st December 2014, is exactly one year since the expiration of the deadline I gave to the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO), the Attorney General’s Department and the Finance Ministry to retrieve all monies wrongfully paid to service providers in these contracts. The report submitted to me by the Ministerial Committee on GYEEDA said there was about GHc203million to be retrieved from GYEEDA service providers alone. About GHc141million of this amount is with companies belonging to Joseph Siaw Agyapong’s Jospong Group of Companies. A year after the deadline, we have not retrieved a pesewa from these companies.
Roland Agambire’s AGAMS Group of Companies owed about GHc55.5million in interest-free loans. Last year, the Attorney-General’s Department entered into an agreement with the group to pay GHc14.5million each quarter of the year. The GHc14.5million my Deputy Minister for Justice and Attorney-General, Dr Dominic Ayine, announced three weeks ago is the AGAMS Group’s payment for the first quarter of the year. They haven’t paid any amount for the rest of the quarters. The major players in the GYEEDA scandal are still free from prosecution. February 2015 will be two years since Joy FM broke that scandal.
You may be wondering what has been done with the SADA and SUBAH scandals. I am here to tell you that nothing has been done. No one has been held accountable. No money has been retrieved. And in a serious country with a leader serious with tackling corruption, something would have been done about the recent kickback scandal after evidence traced at least one of the payments from the payment voucher E-Volution International to the intended beneficiary, the GNPC.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you may be wondering why I am telling you this instead of addressing the challenges. Part of the problem has to do with you. Before I entered politics, I was told that the only way to stay longer in African politics is to keep lying. I have come to realize that lying doesn’t do the trick as much as the blind loyalty of the gullible masses that support us. Of course, a few people benefit from the mess; the corruption, the looting and sharing, so they will defend the rot. I am saying this to provoke a debate and prepare your minds so that in 2015 if I begin to take certain drastic and politically incorrect actions, you will understand me.
The urgency of the precarious situation in Ghana dawned on me like day when I decided to join my kinsmen and kinswomen in Bole to celebrate this year’s Christmas. As I sat watching the sea of ill-clad and malnourished children at the Christmas party organised in my honour, I felt the heavy weight of responsibility to make a change. If the son of Bole can rise to be president, then these young ones can also rise to be anything they want to be.
Looking at them, however, I realised that there are no opportunities for them in 2015, like the opportunities I got in the 1960s and 1970s. My father was among the elite group of northerners. I did not go through what the parents of these children, mostly peasant farmers, went through. My children are not experience the poverty these children are going through. And my children’s children have a brighter future than the children of these young ones, all other things being equal.
But this inequality problem goes beyond a family from Bole that owns a private jet, while many families from the same Bole cannot afford a decent meal a day. It is a national problem. Individually, people are working hard to address this. But there has not been leadership in this country, since the overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, to harness these individual efforts into a collective national agenda to bridge this cruel gap between the poor and the rich. This was what kept me thinking as I returned to Accra.
Fellow Ghanaians, I didn’t intend to depress you with my New Year Message. The intention is to lay bare the reality and prepare your minds for a robust and aggressive solution to the national mess. I may not call this a promise but if you find me taking tough decisions in 2015, know the reason I do this.
I feel your pain. I hear your cries. I have a conscience just like you. After the sweet talk and insincere praises from paid praise-singers and the sycophants around me, I hear the true voice from the inner recess of my being. That voice speaks to my conscience and I know that as it stands now, I should not find my name in the noble pages of the history of this nation if I continue to rule this nation the way I have done since I took over.
I wish you a happy New Year and ask for God’s blessing for you all. Let us work together in 2015 to safeguard the peace of our nation and learn to sacrifice for Ghana.
God bless you and God bless our Homeland Ghana.
NOTE to reader: This piece was written by Manasseh Azure Awuni ahead of the President’s 2015 New Year message on December 31, 2014.