Folks, the new social intervention measures announced by President Akufo-Addo relative to the COVID-19 pandemic are laudable.
As a party that is inclined to social democratic principles, the NDC believes that providing some safety net to cushion the vulnerable and Ghanaians at large, is a vital necessity in a time like this. We, therefore, support any policy or program, that is intended to cushion Ghanaians against the impact of the pandemic.
Indeed, most of the newly announced interventions, such as free water, distribution of free food to deprived communities in lockdown areas, provision of insurance to our frontline health workers, local production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) among others, were first canvassed by H.E John Dramani Mahama. We are glad that at long last, President Akufo-Addo is beginning to adopt these recommendations.
But aside the announced interventions, the Flag-bearer of the NDC, H.E John Dramani Mahama has made other far-sighted proposals, that government must adopt to enhance our mitigation efforts against the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. President Mahama has proposed that:
1. Government cancels the 50% increment in the Communication Service Tax (CST) and negotiate with Telcos to suppress their pricing (airtime and data cost), in exchange for a free 6-months extension of licenses and other incentives.
2. Government scraps taxes on essential products such as sanitizers, wipes, food, among others to make these items readily available and accessible for our people.
3. Government provides Ghanaians with free electricity, as has been done by the Government of Togo.
4. Government expands the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) program to cover more poor households in this time of crisis.
5. The Ghana Buffer Stock Company should release and distribute free food to more deprived households in lockdown areas.
These far-reaching suggestions if adopted by President Akufo-Addo will go a long way to further enhance our mitigation plans against the socio-economic impact of the pandemic on the nation.
Admittedly, the newly announced interventions will bring some relief to Ghanaians, but the critical issue that remains to be seen is their implementation.
President Akufo-Addo has proven time and again to be an expert in delivering flowery speeches laced with lofty promises, but he is always found wanting when it comes to actual implementation.
For instance, in the last few weeks, the President has given several assurances to our frontline health workers that government is procuring and will be providing them with PPEs. However, till date, this promise has not been fulfilled and has compelled doctors and nurses at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital to threaten a sit-down strike action over lack of PPEs and other essential logistics.
This is just a reflection of the general apprehension among our frontline health workers across the country. Various health facilities, be they clinics or hospitals are reeling under the burden of lack of basic PPEs.
This has put our frontline health professionals at great risk as they are the first line of contact with victims of COVID-19. It is disheartening to note that above four (4) Doctors and Nurses have tested positive for the virus in the last few days. There can be no greater disincentive to the sacrifices of our health professionals than to deny them personal protective gears to work with.
Also, during one of his recent addresses, the President told the nation that his government has ordered 50,000 test kits which were to arrive in the country weeks ago to enhance our response plan against the pandemic. But as we speak, this promise has not been fulfilled. But for the 20,000 test kits donated to the country by Jack Ma, we would have experienced a shortage of test kits by now. The general rate of testing even in lockdown areas remains very low and there is no specific indication as to when mass testing or voluntary testing will commence.
These two (2) examples underscore the need for the nation to remain focused on the implementation of the new social interventions announced by the President rather than the mere announcement.
As a responsible opposition, we will do our part to follow-through on the actualisation of the social mitigation measures announced by the President to ensure that they don’t end up as pipe dreams, as has been the trend under President Akufo-Addo in the last three (3) years.
But It is worth adding, that some of the announced social interventions raise pertinent questions that need to be addressed.
For instance, the President indicated that he has directed the Ghana Water Company Ltd (GWCL) and the Electricity Company of Ghana to ensure the stable supply of water and electricity during this period.
▪︎How reliable is this directive given the recent press statement of the GWCL, in which they indicated that they are experiencing challenges with water supply in Accra and several parts of the country, and admonished consumers to brace ourselves for imminent water rationing, which by the way, has already begun?
▪︎How reliable is this directive, given recent lamentations of GRIDCO about the lack of sustained financing to fuel various dual power generation plants? This is what is partly accounting for the intermittent power outages we are experiencing in several parts of the country as recently reported by several news portals including.
How has the President addressed these critical issues to assure the nation that the directives he has given to GWCL and ECG to ensure the stable supply of water and power respectively, will be kept?
▪︎Again, the President indicated that government is collaborating with some faith-based organizations to provide dry food and hot meals to 400,000 individuals in lockdown areas. Question is; what is the selection criteria for these 400,000 individuals?; on what basis (daily or weekly) will this be done?; and how can we assess and evaluate the implementation and impact of this program to ensure that it is not exploited for the benefit of the rich and political apparatchiks of the ruling NPP as we have seen in similar ventures?
Before I conclude, may I remind President Akufo-Addo that although he has heeded good counsel in these difficult times, the announced socio-economic impact mitigation measures cannot be a substitute for the management of the pandemic as a science.
Most of the serious challenges confronting our fight and response plan against the COVID-19 pandemic haven’t been resolved and that should not be lost on any of us. In fact, this should give every Ghanaian genuine cause for concern because:
As we speak:
1. Our frontline health workers across the country lack PPEs and basic logistics to work with.
2. We are yet to see the establishment of additional isolation centres in the other 14 regions of the country, especially in the northern part of Ghana.
3. Government’s promise to establish additional testing centres has not been fulfilled.
4. Public education and sensitization on the pandemic still remain low, especially in deprived communities. Even in some of the Metropolitan Epicenters, some public spaces such as markets are still choked with little to no social distancing.
5. The lockdown is not being observed in deprived areas in the lockdown zone. Also, the excesses of some of our men in uniform in enforcing the lockdown have not stopped and has even resulted in the killing of a citizen at Ashaiman; an incident the President failed to condemn in his address to the nation.
6. Surveillance along our land borders is still very weak, thereby exposing us to illegal migrants who could be infected like the 10 Guinean nationals who entered the country illegally a couple of days ago.
7. Information and communication on community infections haven’t been transparent to aid in contact tracing.
In conclusion, let me commend the visionary John Dramani Mahama for his unprecedented investments in health Infrastructure (BOG Hospital, Ridge Hospital, UGMC etc.), the provision of potable water (Teshie desalination project, Kpone water project, etc.) and the Transport sector (Ayaloloo Buses), which have become pivotal to our response plan against the COVID-19 pandemic. We thank him for the constructive alternative solutions he continues to offer and we are grateful for his donation of PPEs and other medical supplies to hospitals and our frontline health workers across the country.
Folks, it is clear from all indications, that we are likely to see an astronomical jump in positive cases as the Ghana Health Service is due to receive the results of some 15,384 individuals, out of a total of 19,276 persons, who have been reached through contact tracing.
So far, government’s response to the pandemic has been one of Public Relations and Information Management. There are a lot of things government is not telling us. We must brace ourselves for a possible extended lockdown and extremely hard times in the coming weeks.
In critical times like this, we must celebrate works and not words. Promises are not achievements!