Vice President Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur
Her Ladyship the Chief Justice
Honourable Members of Parliament
My presence here this morning is in fulfillment of Article 67 of Ghana's Constitution which requires the President of the Republic of Ghana to deliver to Parliament a message on the State of the Nation at the beginning of each session of Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, permit me, to start by extending on behalf of Ghanaians, congratulations to all our Members of Parliament. In particular, I wish to acknowledge our newest Members of Parliament and extend to all of them a warn-i welcome of partnership in shaping the destiny of our beloved country. As the elected President of this dear country, I wish to express my personal gratitude to all Ghanaians for the trust and confidence entrusted in me. I am fully conscious of the expectations of our people and I pledge to work with a sense of urgency and remain sincere and truthful at all times.
As I stated on January 7 when I took the oath of office, I promised, that as president of this nation, "I will work hard to place us on the right path, and I will lead us over the hurdles and past the obstacles that might threaten to keep us from meeting our goals."
Mr Speaker, Ghana is a different place now from what it was when we began the journey towards democratic governance. We have come a long way since 1993 when the first President of the 4th" Republic, Jerry John Rawlings, delivered the first State of the Nation Address under the 4th Republican Constitution. Ghana's democratic credentials were further consolidated with the election of John Agyekum Kufuor and later Professor John Evans Atta Mills of blessed memory.
Mr Speaker, our recent Presidential and Parliamentary elections have been adjudged by both domestic and international observers as by far the most credible, transparent, free and fair since 1992. This shows that each step of our democratic journey has been marked by improvements. As Ghanaians, we must be proud of this achievement.
Mr Speaker, the Electoral Commission must take much of the credit for this feat; since our return to constitutional rule in 1992 the EC has organized six successful elections. They have conferred victory where victory was due without fear or favour in the critical periods of 200w, 2008 and 2012. Our Electoral Commission has earned, in the process, an enviable reputation as arguably one of the best electoral institutions on the African continent.
Mr. Speaker, I entered public service out of a genuine desire to help make a difference in the lives of our people. My vision for this country is to create a conducive national environment in which our children grow happily into responsible adults; where workers are proud to work and defend our national values; where improved maternal health reduces the hazards of childbearing; where teachers use their influence to positively mould the next generation; a Ghana in which we all create and share in the benefits.
Mr Speaker, I believe that as a country we can achieve more by working together. Togetherness will enhance our capacity to meet our urgent needs; while promoting excellence and rewarding achievement. Ghana has witnessed impressive development in the last two decades. There have been improvements in roads and social infrastructure across the length and breadth of this country. Health facilities have been expanded and access improved, and so have educational institutions with the private sector playing a pivotal role. In many respects, Ghana has witnessed many positive changes for which we must all be proud.
Real challenges however remain even as we have made these advances. As a developing middle income country, there is still a lot more to be done to further reduce poverty, expand infrastructure and provide more social services for our people. These challenges are formidable, but they are insurmountable.
Mr. Speaker, this administration will pursue rapid economic development with a sense of urgency in order to create new jobs particularly for our youth. In partnership with the private sector, we will expand our infrastructure in a manner that will accelerate economic growth.
We will embark on an ambitious but realistic programme of building new roads and bridges; expand electricity generation to energize our economy; increase access to good drinking water and quality healthcare for our growing population; and improve sanitation and human security for all. We aim to transform our schools, colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age with emphasis on technology and innovation.
Mr. Speaker, a well-designed and efficient public sector working in partnership with the private sector will be instrumental in our objective to deliver a prosperous nation.
Over the next four years, we will build an economy that rewards hard work and nurtures Ghanaian entrepreneurs and businesses whose prospects will not be tied to political cycles and patronage. As President, I am firmly focused on these goals, because these are the right things to do.
Mr. Speaker, In my first term as President, I will focus on delivering on the following, which constitute the vital pillars underpinning our national development programme.
Putting the People First
A Strong and Resilient Economy
Transparent and Accountable Governance
PILLAR ONE: PUTTING PEOPLE FIRST
Mr. Speaker, as a Social Democratic Party, we put people first. We believe that our people are our most treasured asset and this is what informs our social development agenda. The thrust of our social policy and human development programme revolves around education, healthcare, social security and protection for the vulnerable-- women, children, the aged and people with disabilities. We will focus on and emphasize the productive and reproductive capabilities of these social groupings, while ensuring at the same time that the most vulnerable in our society are effectively protected.
Mr. Speaker, our people need decent and sustainable jobs to lead meaningful lives. Job creation and gainful employment therefore will be at the core of my priorities. I am determined to expand opportunities for all. Our policies and initiatives will be geared towards facilitating sustainable employment generation, which will then facilitate economic growth and enhanced incomes.
I have directed the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations to work with the Ghana Statistical Service to produce quarterly labour surveys to inform policy and planning. These surveys will create an accurate database of the unemployed among all categories of Ghanaian society and track these on a quarterly basis. It will also ensure that new jobs are accurately recorded and tracked while making it possible to coordinate the various Job-creation and employment initiatives.
Mr. Speaker, our quest to build an equitable society in which the productive capacities of our people are tapped for national development will come to naught if we do not give our children sound, meaningful and relevant education. This is even more imperative in today's knowledge- based economy. Any nation whose people do not have the required level of education will be left behind. Towards this end we will:
Prioritize and expand access at all levels;
Aggressively address quality enhancement and outcomes at all levels by putting in place measures to monitor quality of educational service delivery especially teaching and learning at all levels of our educational system;
Reward outstanding educational service providers to boost morale in the sector; and
Work to improve gender parity in education.
Encourage community participation in management of schools.
Work towards standardization and affordability in fees.
Mr. Speaker, I extend a hand of partnership to our social partners- the religious bodies with longstanding roles in the provision of educational services and private sector operators of educational services- to engage in this national reconstruction exercise for expanding access and improving quality of education in Ghana.
Mr. Speaker, with specific reference to basic education, we will ensure that every child gets a head start by working to effectively and practically integrate kindergarten education into the existing system. To this end, District Assemblies will be required to incrementally build new structures in all existing public schools to serve the needs of kindergarten education. We shall expand training of kindergarten teachers to ensure that our children all over the country acquire basic numeracy and literacy skills before they start primary education.
It is also the objective of this government, to eliminate the remaining schools under trees by the end of 2016. We intend to enforce compulsory basic school attendance and deepen pro-poor interventions like the distribution of free school uniforms, free exercise books and free computers. The school-feeding programme will be progressively expanded to all public basic schools in rural communities to satisfy the basic nutritional needs of the pupils. Mr. Speaker, we are committed to tackling the greatest challenges facing education at the secondary level in our country. Paramount among these is a lack of access occasioned by inadequate space and facilities for the large number of qualified Junior High School graduates.
To address the limitations imposed on access to secondary education we will, over the next four years, construct a total of two hundred new community day Senior High schools, giving priority to Districts, which currently lack such schools. Mr. Speaker, this level of aggressive expansion and improved access to secondary education also means the need for more qualified and well- motivated teachers, as well as administrative staff. In the next few months, government will:
Roll out a special sandwich teacher educational training programme targeted at our unemployed graduates, in preparation for the full implementation of our access to secondary education programme.
Lead a process to modernise and increase the number of colleges of education with special emphasis on deprived areas and communities.
Design and implement a distance education programme for teachers with ten decentralized satellite campuses across the country, taking full advantage of
contemporary information and communication technology platforms that will allow electronically-shared access to instructional and curriculum resources by these students and staff in these colleges.
In the area of Special Education, government will facilitate the completion of ongoing construction of Assessment Centres and equip our special education units with the necessary teaching and learning aids including devices for the hearing and visually impaired. In doing this we intend to emphasize inclusive education by ensuring that our children with special needs are fully integrated into our society through the educational arrangements.
Government will provide incentives for special educators and ensure our children-with- special-needs benefit from the advantages of modem technology.
Mr. Speaker, this year we will initiate a Bill for Parliamentary consideration towards the establishment of a new University in the Eastern Region, committed to Sustainable Environmental Development and Research. In addition we will begin the road map for converting our existing io public polytechnics into fully fledged technical universities.
HEALTH FOR ALL:
Mr. Speaker, the relevance of improved health services cannot be over emphasized. It augments investment in all sectors. A sick population cannot generate the productivity needed to maintain the acceleration of our economy.
Presently, our healthcare system still has personnel deficits and service deficiencies despite the facility expansion and human capacity development programmes we have been implementing. In the next four years, we will work towards improving access, service quality, increased personnel, enhanced working conditions across the various professions in the health sector.
In furtherance of our plan we will undertake the following:
Construction of an ultra-modern, new Teaching Hospital for the University of Ghana Medical School.
Start the processes for the establishment of Regional hospitals in the Eastern and Upper East Regions. We will continue work on the Regional hospital project in Wa in the Upper West Region.
Upgrade the Central and Volta regional hospitals into teaching hospitals to expand the scope for training medical doctors and other healthcare specialists.
Commence work on 12 new District Hospitals at Dodowa, Abetifi, Fomena, Garu, Kumawu, Sekondi, Salaga, Tepa, Wenchi, Madina. The refurbishment of the Takoradi European hospital will commence in earnest.
Commence work on a new hospital in Kumasi to decongest the KATH
Initiate work on phase one of the Specialist Emergency Centre at Korle-Bu Teaching hospital.
Establish an additional 1,600 CHIPS compounds across the country by the end of 2016. This will be consistent with our record over the last four years.
Mr. Speaker, in addition, we will initiate the necessary processes towards the construction 0? Polyclinics especially in the Districts as well as regions that currently lack such health facilities. In embarking on this journey of expanding access, we will also begin to explore new modalities of public-private-partnerships in Health investment, in a manner that brings new investment, expertise and technology into the health sector, providing citizens a variety of options of where they access their health services.
Mr. Speaker, there is an ongoing review of the operations of the N HIS. Our goal is to ensure a more efficient, expanded and sustainable delivery. We will work to reduce cost and eliminate fraud in the system. New improved claims processing centres will be set up, and improved IT systems put in place to enhance service and create a better platform for monitoring the scheme. Government has taken note of the last review workshop held and will present the recommendations especially in respect to sustainable financing of the scheme to cabinet for consideration. We will pursue the implementation of the Mental Health Act in order to mainstream psychiatric treatment and care for our population for our population.
Mr. Speaker, with regards to the deficit in health personnel, we will consolidate the gains made in the training of health care professionals through the establishment of the University of Allied and Health Sciences by;
• Transforming the Kintampo Rural Health Training Institute into a University College to support the training of Physician Assistants for our ambulance and emergency services as well as the training and deployment of clinical psychologists and environmental Health Inspectors.
• Scaling up the training of midwives and nurses and allied health workers to fill the gap created by ageing health professionals.
Mr. Speaker, Ghana has made significant progress towards achieving Universal Access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services through the implementation of a National HIV & AIDS Strategic Plan. HIV prevalence has stabilized at 1.5 percent with over 25 percent decline in new infections among the youth. In all, Government committed GH15o Million to support the implementation of the new five (5) year strategic Plan. This was in addition to government's support for prevention & treatment services. With this plan we intend to achieve virtual elimination of mother to child transmission and cut the rate of new infections by half.
This year, our National Response to HIV will require GHÂÂ¢180 Million to continue with effective implementation of the Strategic Plan. This funding will enable the Ghana AIDS Commission enroll over 220,000 Persons Living with HIV on the National Health Insurance Scheme Free of Charge. Some additional 15,000 will be initiated on Anti-Retroviral Therapy. Most importantly, over 625,000 expectant mothers will be tested for HIV.
Mr. Speaker, as we forge ahead in social development and economic transformation, it is important to be mindful of segments of our society who, for reasons of social, cultural or economic circumstances become vulnerable and marginalized. It is for this reason we have created the new Ministry for Gender, Children and Social Protection. The Ministry is to coordinate and implement the numerous Government social intervention programmes aimed at the poor and disadvantaged in society. Let me say again for emphasis, that the mandate of this ministry is not to promote gay rights as some segments of society have sought to portray.
We have also taken stock of all the existing social intervention programmes, and relocated them directly under the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection. This will enable us develop a more efficient targeting mechanism and eliminate duplication and manipulation of the existing fragmented programmes.
The new Ministry will have oversight of the Disability Council and will take steps to integrate fully our challenged brothers and sisters in the mainstream of national life. We have shown a commitment to this by appointing Dr. Dana as a Minister of State. I have asked the Secretary to the Cabinet and the Chief of Staff to take note of any special needs he might have in order to allow him fully function in his role as Minister.
The Ministry will establish a database of the poorest households or individuals in our society and fashion programmes to enhance their access to social services. This Ministry is at the heart of our being as social democrats. The fruits of economic growth shall be equitably shared for the benefit of our population. We cannot advance as a nation, half poor, and half rich. Our Minister assigned to GCSP is experienced and capable and I am sure that many will soon see the results of her expertise in that sector.
YOUTH AND SPORTS DEVELOPMENT
Mr. Speaker, let me now turn my attention to an area that has often proven to be one of the greatest unifiers of our people, sports. A few weeks ago we had to endure the painful experience of missing out on our much-cherished dream of winning a fifth African Cup of Nations title.
Our Black Stars exited the just ended AFCON competition at the semi-final stage through the lottery of penalty. I recall how barely a year ago, our beloved late President Mills standing before this august house in his last sessional address, urged our football authorities to take seriously the issue of penalty taking by our teams as it has often been our nemesis in major competitions. What many appreciated as a humorous comment turned out to be prophetic as the same problem came to haunt us at the just ended AFCON competition.
Mr. Speaker, I hope that upon their return from South Africa, the handlers of our National Team have begun undertaking the necessary post mortem in order to ensure our qualification for the World Cup in Brazil next year. I request the FA and the management of the Stars to go back to the drawing board immediately and commence the building of a more formidable team that will not only qualify for the World cup but will surpass the achievements of their predecessors in previous World Cups. Another major tournament we need to prepare for is the Olympic Games in 2016.
Mr. Speaker, we are mindful of the fact that poor planning and a lack of adequate preparation
can derail our efforts to qualify for and participate effectively in these and other competitions.
We will roll out a number of policies to unearth and develop sporting talents to feed our various
National teams. These will include:
• Provision of incentives for MMDAS to establish at least one well-resourced sports and athletic infrastructure in districts.