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It was 12. 27 am, well past the bedtime of many people. But His Excellency, John Dramani Mahama is no ordinary person. He is the President of the Republic of Ghana, and for him, time pales into insignificance when he has work to do.
It was evident that he had a long day but there was no sign of stress on his face as he stepped out from the inner chambers of his home in Accra, Ghana to receive us in his modest living room.
He not only beamed his trademark charming smile, but welcomed the Ovation interview team with a warm handshake. And when he settled comfortably into the leather couch, without any airs or aides, he said; “Let’s start”.Very impressive.
No doubt, those who call him the people’s president are certainly not wrong. President Mahama is as humble as they come.
In this interview, the fine gentleman, who is simple, selfless and pragmatic proved that he is a hands-on man, someone who knows his onions, someone who knows the minutest details of the work his government had carried out in the last three years.
We were astounded with the eloquent brilliance of this cerebral son of a former Minister as he effortlessly reeled out facts and figures on various projects, from education to economy, healthcare to infrastructure. Apparently, details are second nature to him.
Passionate about his country and committed to building an enduring legacy, President Mahama who is inspired by such heroes as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and Prof. John Evans Attah Mills revealed that his vision from inception was to focus on five areas: Electricity, Education, Water, stabilizing the economy as well as restoring social and economic infrastructure.
We noticed that whenever he talked about education, his face lit up. He sincerely believes that education is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
He sees education as a powerful beacon which if properly harnessed can banish the scourge of poverty, ignorance and disease and set a nation firmly on the path to greatness. He was also as animated when clarifying issues on the other core areas like manufacturing, power and agriculture.
Dispelling some notions about his persona, leadership style and track record, he also spoke about corruption, his driving force and vision for Ghana. This is President Mahama speaking straight from the heart.
Having lived in Ghana for over a decade, we all witnessed the electricity crises, but it is obvious that things are getting better. What is your government doing to solve this problem once and for all?
As at January this year, we have put in 854 megawatts of emergency generation. That generation is available and we have managed to match demand and supply. But then we need an extra redundancy which we do not have at the moment.
What that means is that if something happens to one plant, then we will slip into a deficit. If you bring the plant back up, everything becomes normal again. So, we have been through the challenging period which is July. And this July, why we suffered the deficit is because of the delay in receiving light crude.
What happened was that apart from light crude, we did not have gas as well and our plants are designed to run on light crude or gas. We have been running on light crude and we have been ordering that light crude from Nigeria. Unfortunately, there was vandalization of the terminals in Nigeria and so the parcel of light crude we were expecting did not come as planned. Because the light crude did not arrive, it meant some plants could not work, and so that made our generation go down again.
Now, the latest information is that we have received that parcel that was delayed, and another that we ordered has also arrived. So we have enough now, and so we would begin to see an improvement in terms of demand and supply.
What we have also done to prevent this type of thing happening again is that I have ordered the Bulk Oil Storage and Transportation Company which is responsible for keeping Ghana’s strategic stock to keep one month’s supply of light crude in reserve so if there is any challenge in terms of shortage in light crude, BOST will supply. And then restock later. That is now in place.
Aside from that, going forward, things are going to improve because we are going into the season where the lake level will begin to rise and in the last two days, we have seen a 0.2 increase in the lake level, so it means we can bring some more hydro into the system.
But Ghana is on the brink of energy security because, one, the TEN field will soon become operational. On August 18, 2016, I am going to turn the tap for the TEN field to start producing. That will produce about 80,000 barrels of oil per day. And it has associated gas.
But then a few months ago, I cut the sod for the ENI project. The ENI project is a gas field and it has about 1.3 trillion cubic feet of gas, which can add 1,000 megawatts of power to Ghana’s generation for the next 20 years. And we are expecting this to come on stream at the end of 2017. So we have done all the things that are moving Ghana into an era of energy security and even becoming a net exporter, because if you have another 1,000 Megawatts to Ghana’s generation, Ghana cannot consume all of it.
At peak hour, consumption comes to about 2,200 megawatts that is during the warm season in March when people turn on all their air conditioners and all of that.
And so if you add another 1,000 megawatts to our current installed capacity, then you are talking of about 3,000, so there will be extra power that Ghana will be looking for what to do with. That is why we are all looking forward to the beginning of the regional electricity market which is supposed to start in 2017. So that countries that have extra power can put it on the regional electricity market and sell it to those who have a deficit.
So we are working towards achieving 5,000 megawatts by the year 2020. Any extra power we have will be put on the regional electricity market so that we can dispatch to countries who want additional power.
Burkina Faso wants additional power, Togo wants additional power, Mali wants additional power, Liberia and Sierra Leone too.
We have a short term plan, we have a medium term plan and we have a long term plan. Our plan is that between now and 2025, we would have been able to generate enough power to make Ghana self-sufficient. We know that from now on, power shortages will be a thing of the past for Ghanaians. It is a promise that we are committed to.
But coming back to the short term, as I explained earlier, the major problem has been created by the lack of supply of light crude. We have the generating assets but we did not have light crude to fire them. Aside from that, we have some assets that run on only gas, and they are stranded in the East because we do not have enough gas. There has been vandalisation of the West African Gas Pipeline, and so we have not been able to get enough pressures from the gas pipeline and that is why Asogli is not working today.
Asogli is a 180 megawatts plant. The second phase that I went to commission is half of a 360 megawatts plant. And they are finalizing the other phase. So if it is done, we will have Asogli 1 which is 180 megawatts and Asogli 2 which is 360 megawatts, we will then be talking of almost 500 megawatts capacity sitting in Tema that does not have gas to run.
One of the things we are also doing is to construct East-West pipeline from Obuasi to Tema so that gas from the local gas fields that we have can be transferred to the East to fire some of the thermal plants that we have there.
Right now they are going through the tender process for the West-East gas pipeline so that once ENI and others come on stream, if we have any extra gas in the West, we can pipe to the East to supply the plants there. That is the overall situation with power generation.
Currently Akosombo is running at half capacity, only three turbines are working. Akosombo has six turbines and that is because of the low level of the lake. We want the lake to recover so we would not be running six turbines again.
We would run three turbines now, anytime we need peak load, we will bring in an additional turbine or two and when the load goes down we will keep reducing again so that we can nurse the lake back to its original level. That is the strategy with Akosombo going forward.
But right now we are going into the rainy season. There are floods in the North because it is the rainfall from the North that feeds Akosombo. We will continue to bring it in.
Akosombo has always been our base load but because of climate change and other things, it can no longer be our base load. That is why we have shifted to thermal generation and that is why the price of electricy had to go up because you are using light crude which is more expensive. And you are using less hydro. Hydro is 6 cents per kilowatt hour, gas is 11 cents per kilowatt hour while light crude is 15 cents per kilowatt hour.
Some experts have said Africa is having electricity challenges because countries are not embracing the new forms of power generation like solar or wind. Are these areas you would like to explore?
You can use solar as supplementary. If you want to develop as a serious industrial nation, you cannot develop with solar. No industrialised nation is using solar as base load. If you look at all of them, they are using coal and nuclear, renewables are just supplementary.
So they cannot ask us to stick to renewables. We must have a base load of hydro, nuclear or coal. That way, we can also develop.
The pollution from those leading countries have gone on for centuries; they need to reduce while we should be allowed to develop before we are made to embrace renewables immediately.
Now again there are all sorts of technologies, there is even clean coal technology. So if we have hydro and it is not as reliable as it used to be in the past, we can supplement with nuclear or coal because that is much cheaper, 5, 6 or even 7 cents, it is far cheaper. If we have that, we can actually industrialise because you can give your industries cheaper power and make them competitive globally.
If I am competing with China in the Aluminium industry and China is giving power to its Aluminium smelter at 4 cents, and I am giving my own smelter at 11 cents, and we are both going to the same market, there is no way we can compete.
We also need some base loads so that we would be able to give our industries cheaper power which would enable them to expand production. In Africa, residential consumers enjoy cheaper power than industries. We use industries to subsidize residential consumption.
This is because the population has a louder voice than the industries, but in actual fact the reverse should be the case.
Businesses and industries should actually pay less than we in the residential. If they pay less, they would expand their business, and that means more jobs would be created and the residential consumers will have more money to pay for the more expensive power. That is what we are trying to do gradually.
What I have said is that anytime we get cheaper power, we should concentrate on bringing the tariff down for businesses, industries and manufacturers. So that they can pay cheap rates for power.
Therefore, as we get more hydro in, instead of using it to subsidize residential, we will subsidise industries. If we put in a new coal plant, and we bring in let’s say another 750 megawatts for let’s say 7 cents per kilowatts hour, we will give more of that power to the manufacturing industry and then we would retain the cost for residential. That is the vision that we have going forward.
We have designed a coal plant, which we are working on at the moment also. We need to do a terminal for offloading the coal because we are getting the coal from outside. With the terminal, we will fire the plant. We have designed it to produce 750 megawatts. If that is available, and we have addition from the hydro, we will be able to reduce the tariffs for industries.
A lot of your critics are saying that your government is incurring too much debt, what is your response to this accusation?
If you look at the facts, it is absolutely untrue that we are incurring debt because post HPIC, Ghana had a debt write off. But if you look at the period from 2006 until 2008, under the NPP government, they virtually doubled the debt again after it had been written off. We will release what the debt figures were from independence till now, we will show the structure to Ghanaians. Our debt profile is currently $24 billion and in total, that is dollar and cedi debt, GHc104 billion.
But if you look carefully at the graph, our debt profile is declining and that is because we have now put in place a public debt management strategy.
Before, any state-owned enterprise that borrowed money, it was added unto the public debt, but what we have done now is to create a Public Debt Management Strategy that says that state-owned enterprises must borrow off their own balance sheets.
So we are no longer piling state-owned debts on the public debts. Today, if you go to the Ghana Airport Company, all the work they are doing at the moment, they have borrowed the money themselves and they are responsible for their own development.
If you go to Ghana Ports and Habour Authority (GAPOHA), the ports expansion and all they are doing, the debt incurred is a Private Public Partnership (PPP) between GAPOHA and Meridian Ports Services. Government has no obligation towards it.
That is what is happening with all our state enterprises. As a result of that, you find out that the debt to GDP is slowing.
And so, currently, if you do the calculation based on 4.9 per cent growth in the first quarter of this year and you take the debt as a percentage of GDP, the debt has come down from 72 per cent to 63 per cent. So the debt is declining and anybody who says we are piling up more debt is mistaken because it shows the person is not in tune with the new Public Debt Management Strategy we are using.
It must be said however, that absolute public debt is incurred by investing in public infrastructure where there are no financial returns. Hospitals for example; if you build a hospital, you do not expect that the hospital will repay the debt. We are building district hospitals, we are building regional hospitals and we are building polyclinics.
Can anyone put a price on the cost of healthcare to the people? The number of pregnant women who will not die during childbirth because there is now a better facility in their locality? The number of children who go to school because now there is a secondary school in their community? People who would have dropped out after Junior High School?
Therefore, if debt or credit is being taken in order to put in the social and economic infrastructure so that it will help to stimulate and grow the economy, it should be applauded because it will create jobs. During the construction period, people are employed as well. If you go to all the schools, the hospitals, the roads, the water projects and everything we are building, it is Ghanaians I see working on these sites. Welders, engineers, carpenters, painters everybody.
If you go to the roads, today, more than 90 percent of the roads are constructed by Ghanaian contractors, if you go there you will find out that the owner of the company is Ghanaian, the workers, engineers, iron benders etc are all Ghanaians. And so, those monies, even if we borrow them are going back into the pockets of Ghanaians.
The point is we are borrowing, but we are borrowing sensibly. Seriously, no country develops with its own resources alone especially countries in Africa.
You must take credit to put in the critical social infrastructure but you must put it in places where you would get return on investment. Three things that I have concentrated on since I came into office. One was to stabilize the electricity, which as I explained, we are doing a lot of work on, two was to stabilize the economy, which we have attained through the stabilization of the cedi. The cedi has been stable for one of the longest periods ever, expenditure has gone down, revenue has gone up, the deficit is coming down, inflation is slowing, and so on the macro level, there is stabilization taking place. The third focus was to restore the social and economic infrastructure.
The social and economic infrastructure of this country was in very bad state. The point is you cannot achieve anything if you do not repair the social and economic infrastructure. You cannot evacuate cocoa to the ports because the roads are bad. And so people close to the border find it easier to cross the border to sell their products instead of selling to Cocoa Board.
Now that we are doing the roads in all those areas, there is more cocoa being evacuated to the ports, you can send fertilizer to the farmers so that you can increase their productivity, more food can come to the market, which means food can become cheaper, people now have access to clean drinking water, which means people will be prevented from having all these water-borne diseases for which they go to hospital and overburden our NHIS. It is a very interlinked situation that we have adopted.
But certainly with debt, like every government, we have debt, the NPP government borrowed quite a lot and were even given debt forgiveness in what was called HIPC. They used that funds for some development, it is the same thing; but we have approached it in a different way that has not overburdened the public debt.
In addition, we have also deployed the funds probably more judiciously in priority areas, areas that are targeted at economic growth of Ghana and Ghanaians.
By the way I should add that through the Public Debt Management Strategy. We have in agreement with the IMF put a ceiling on commercial borrowing. We will not go above $500 million per year. There is no ceiling however on non-concessional credits. We have capped commercial credit for the next three years.
Also, all state enterprises have to set up their own debt service accounts and borrow on their own balance sheets. If you therefore look at the trajectory of our debt, it is coming down, and with the acceleration of growth, it means it will come down even faster.
Some people are complaining that all they are seeing are structures and there is no money in their pockets, that the suffering is too much and unemployment is rife. Have you heard some of these complaints?
Yes, we have heard the complaints and it is the very reason that we are doing all that we are doing so that the people will live a better life. Honestly, if you do not build the infrastructure, unemployment will get worse because you need to build certain foundation upon which the economy can grow and create the jobs that you want.
All the things we are doing is what will grow the economy. If an investor comes into this country and he cannot get a school to send his children to, no roads to move their goods, no good hospitals for their staff and so on, he may just go elsewhere. You need the social infrastructure to act as a kind of stimulus that would create jobs and put money in people’s pockets.
It is like putting the cart before the horse to say we have to put money in peoples’ pockets before we develop critical infrastructure. If you have developed a farm or you are developing an irrigation project and you do not have a road that gets there, how will the farmers there earn money? Yes, you have the irrigation project, farmers grow the crops, how do you evacuate the products?
If you have roads, you are a farmer and earn good income but you do not have the school to send your children to, would you not feel left out?
Our belief is that infrastructure helps to boost economic growth and development. If an economy is booming, it creates jobs.
You can invest much more in agriculture, agriculture has the tendency to create loads of jobs. There are places in this country that are cut off from the rest of the country for sometimes as long as six months of the year. There are agricultural products there that people cannot access or if you access them and you farm, you cannot bring the food across, and so you must build a bridge there in other that the trucks can go across and bring that food.
Not only that, if you do not have power, if you do not have water, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises cannot flourish anywhere.
Today we have achieved 80 percent electricity access in Ghana and so every small village you go to, people have power to set up small businesses like welding plants…
(Cuts in) Before you got into office what was the electricity access percentage
Before we came into office, in some areas we had about 57 percent but averagely, from 2008 it was below 60 percent. We have raised it from that to 80 percent today.
We have taken access to water from 58 percent in 2008 to 78 percent today. Small town water systems, boreholes all across this country have been constructed. We have eradicated guinea worm.
Before now in the farming season, when you go to the farming communities, everyone is sick with guinea worm and cannot go to the farm. And you say these investments, you can’t eat them?
Do we put money in your pocket when you do not have hospitals to go to when you are ill? They say a healthy population is a wealthy population. Because health means wealth.
Your Excellency, the way you have explained your vision makes sense, it is so easy to understand, is it that the government information machinery is not explaining it well to Ghanaians?
It is populism, a certain group has taken control of the media in Ghana and it makes it difficult for people to discern the truth. So as much as you are putting out the information, it is either being blocked or distorted.
Another topical issue is corruption. They say President Mahama and his government officials have stolen all their money. How would you react to this allegation?
It is absolutely absolutely untrue (President Mahama leans forward in his seat). I have responded to them (the opposition and all those making the allegation). I have said that some people have become political Quantity Surveyors. You can make an assessment of a project, only if you know the scope of work of that project.
Their own flag bearer, Nana Akufo-Addo said Kasoa Interchange was overpriced. A Member of Parliament from his own party came out and said he does not know what he is talking about because he did not know the scope of the project.
His thinking of Kasoa Interchange is that it is just a bridge. Kasoa Interchange is made up of three bridges. There is a main interchange and then two bridges to enable the people of East Kasoa and West Kasoa cross to the other halves of the city.
So if you hear an interchange and you just look at the price without being a quantity Surveyor, you are not an Engineer, you are just a Lawyer, you come out and say that it is overpriced, on what basis are you making your judgement?
The Kasoa Interchange includes 20 kilometers of inner city roads within Kasoa Town. We felt don’t just build an interchange; let it also have an impact on the people. Therefore, we are building 20 kilometers of Asphalt roads within the Ga South District. We are building a brand new polyclinic with a complete Accident and Trauma Centre, so when people have accidents on the road, the nearest hospitals are Korle Bu in Accra and Winneba.
By the time you rush anyone there, some of them would have died, so we said it would be useful to have that polyclinic. It also includes three Millenium Schools while 20 communities in Ga South District are getting clean drinking water as part of the interchange. And so, without looking at the scope, you say the project is overpriced?
This kind of propaganda has become the sing song of the opposition because they cannot fault the massive social infrastructural interventions we are making, they cannot fault the amount of work that is going on all over the country, they have nothing to say but spill lies.
I am sure that real Ghanaians who are benefitting from these our interventions know the truth and cannot be decieved by empty words or comments that have no facts.
It has become a political strategy of the opposition to counter everything being done by alleging that everything is inflated.
Most of these works, are being done by tender. And I have given a directive that where a tender is not held or it is not possible to hold the tender, there should be value for money audit conducted. These projects are subjected to value for money audit.
There are some projects that you necessarily must sole source because the money came from a certain country and they expect that contractor who sourced the funds would have to execute the job. And to ensure the people are not short changed we insist that we do value for money. Crown Agents is the one that does the Value for Money audit.
The Ridge Hospital is one of those projects that he (Akufo-Addo) openly said was overpriced.
The Ridge Hospital is one of those projects that went for value for money, and the value for money saved us $40 million. The Crown Agents said that we can apply the $40 million on additional expansion work on the Ridge Hospital, and so the scope of the hospital was expanded because of the value for money that was undertaken, and yet you point at the $40 million and say it was an inflated contract. You see my point?
And he said they built roads at $300 million. I don’t know where he got that figure from and that we are building roads at more than $1 million per kilometre. Every road has its own scope and that is why you do the design.
There will be marshy areas where you have to scoop out all the clay and marsh and dump some rocks there. And so if you are doing a kilometre of road over land like that, it will be far more expensive than a kilometre of road over rocks, so no two roads are comparable.
Roads have different specifications, you can ask them to use asphalt of a certain thickness because you do not have articulated trucks running on that road. There are other roads you ask for higher thickness because the load on the road is heavier.
If you are working on this road in front of my house, the asphalt thickness would be like this (demonstrates) very thin, because no heavy truck comes down this road, but if I am doing a highway, then I need to raise the asphalt to a very high thickness. So if you say, comparatively, roads were cheaper in this time than that time, what is the basis for such comparison?
Every road depends on design and conditions over which the road is crossing. Is it an existing road? That means it has a base already, or is it a virgin road, in which case you are cutting a new road, carving it out, which will entail clearing the forest and cutting the road through. So it is difficult to understand his statement.
I have challenged him (Akufo-Addo) to a debate, I have said bring all these points you are raising one by one and lets us have a debate. Let me and you debate to the Ghanaian public about the points you are raising; inflation, infrastructure and things. But he has run away.
(Cuts in) But the story is that you are the one running from a debate
How can I run from a debate? I want a productive debate, one on one with Nana Akufo-Addo. What they are talking about is the IEA. I want a debate on all the contentious issues he has raised. And I will respond and Ghanaians will be the judge.
There is this talk in town that you have not been assertive enough, that you have not been able to control members of your cabinet who are not behaving properly
We have 300 FM stations in this country, we have seventy newspapers or so, we have all kinds of media. All kinds of media raise allegations against office holders.
I cannot on the basis of every allegation that is raised take action. It means I will change my cabinet so many times if I acted on every single allegation.
For every allegation that is made, I have said I will consider the accusation seriously, we will investigate and if those allegations are substantial that requires that I take action against a Minister, I will do so. And I have done that in several cases, I have changed Ministers.
But they expect that anytime anybody comes out and says that this Minister did this, I should remove the Minister.
A Minister held a birthday party, her 50th birthday party, Nana Oye Lithur, her husband is a prominent person in this country. He organized a good party for her, they said I should fire her that she is showing ostentation.
Meanwhile, this is one of my best Ministers. Oye has turned that Gender Ministry around. Before now, no development partner will touch the Gender Ministry, today, they are chasing them with funds to do programmes for children and women.
And because she had one ostentatious party, and lets her hair down, I should sack her. Those are some of the examples. And we all know how passionate she has always been about women and children issues.
Mr. President, how have you managed to raise funding for some of these your very ambitious projects. Some of your critics have said that some countries just donate these projects to Ghana. What is Ghana doing right in terms of getting funds to execute these projects?
We are prioritizing. All we are doing is prioritizing. Before it was all scattered. Anybody who had a portfolio, who had contacts in government could make government spend money on inconsequential things.
But now, for every project that comes, we go to cabinet. We debate it, and we agree that this project is beneficial to the people of Ghana before we approve it.
We have five priority areas. And we decided from the get go to channel the bulk of our resources on these five areas, it is not that we would not consider any other areas, of course, we are doing things in agriculture, manufacturing etc. But I said these are areas I want Ghanaians to see the difference. Water, Electricity, Education, Health and Roads were the five priority areas. We chose to concentrate on these areas during the four years of this administration. Before, we were doing so many things put a little here, put a little there, but in our view we needed to be strategic. The bulk of our borrowing and other things have gone into these five areas. And that is why Ghanaians can see and feel the impact.
People are bothered about maintenance, are you considering what they do in some other advanced societies, like in Dubai where they concession some of these facilities instead of the African way where it is just left to some political associates to run and eventually they are run aground?
All of the hospitals we are building have a maintenance contract with the contractors which form part of the cost.
For these new district hospitals we are building, we have a maintenance contract, and we have insisted that they should work with a Ghanaian company, so that after their three or five years contract has elapsed, the Ghanaian Company will continue the job.
Two things are clear; we have built maintenance into the contract which shows that we are futuristic and we also want Ghanaian companies to upgrade their skills and technology when they undertake to understudy the companies involved in the projects.
Like the Ridge Hospital, we are trying to use it as a pilot to get a hospital management company of international repute to take that hospital and manage it. If that example works, we will use that template for the bigger hospitals. As for the District Hospitals, maintenance was part of the total contract sum.
The aesthetics and architecture of many projects that you have embarked on have been remarkable, in fact when we have posted some on our platforms, people have asked if we are sure these facilities actually exist in Ghana. What is the motivation for not constructing mere buildings but monuments?
What we have done is that under each of the modules, especially education and health, we have had what is like a Programme Implementation Unit that is responsible for selecting the designs. And so from the polyclinic level up to the biggest hospital, we have agreed on certain standards which all the contractors must stick to and that is how all the designs have come about.
We said look, if you want to build a hospital, build it well and make sure that it has everything that is necessary to give quality healthcare.
And so the Regional Hospitals all have a certain standard. They must have a certain number of beds, they are from 300-500 beds, Teaching Hospitals are from 600 beds. Then the District Hospitals must have 150-160 beds. The District Hospitals must have four theatres, they must have a certain number of x-ray machines, not one but two. The specifications have been carefully done to ensure that there are not too much pressure on the facilities, the specifications are set, the designs are then presented and we choose the best design for the particular hospital that we want.
They might not be the same design, but if you go to a district hospital, you should expect the same standard and quality of service. That is what we have done and it has worked out very well.
With the schools, the same thing. Different designs were brought and we said aesthetically, we needed to choose a design that would last us for a long time and so if you look at the schools, we have 24 classrooms. In some of the communities, they cannot immediately fill 24 classrooms, but if you look at the rate of Ghana’s population growth, in the next 10-15 years, if we do not build the kind of schools we are building now, we would have to start building another set of secondary schools at that time, and the cost would of course be much more, so I said it is better to build those schools big now and let the population naturally grow to fill it in future.
We also agreed that they should all have laboratories. In the past, they came up with what was called the district resource centres, and all the schools had to come to these centres to make use of the facilities, this did not work.
So I said look, let every school have its science resource centres, each of the new schools we are building has a Chemistry Lab, Biology Lab, they have a Physics Lab, they have a General Science Lab, they have an ICT/Computer Lab, they have their own Library, they have their own Guidance and Counselling Centre, everything that you need in a top secondary school is made available. They have an Assembly Hall, they have 16 washrooms, they have eight offices for the teachers, they have the Headmasters Office and the Administration Department all within that block.
For the next 20-25 years, you can be sure that anywhere we have sited that school, it will have the capacity to absorb all the children within its catchment area.
And what we have done is to select areas that are deprived and areas that do not have any secondary school close by. You find that most of the children there finish JSS but because there are no Senior Secondary Schools around, or if they do not get posted to schools that have boarding facilities, they just drop out of school.
And so we look for such areas and plant one of the Community Day Senior High Schools there. Presently, all the children who have completed JSS now have the opportunity to further their education instead of dropping out. And the idea is working.
I give you the story of this girl, Apim, she finished JSS, and she passed.
The computer could not place her, the computer does a cut-off based on the number of places available in secondary schools. And she fell behind the cut off. There are thousands of students who fall behind the cut off yearly. Not because they have not qualified to continue their education in a senior high school but because there are not enough spaces.
So this girl fell out and for one year, she was at home with her mother, she had to do menial jobs to assist the family, she was selling ice water and working in a chop bar.
Until we built the Community Day Senior High School in Otua, it was the first one I commissioned last year. They did the recruitment of students and she was accepted. Do you know that today, she is the Girls Prefect in that school? Imagine someone that would not have had a secondary education if we had not built that school. I brought her to Parliament in February and showcased her as one of our success story.
Are these the kinds of stories that keep you going, that propel you to keep working?
Yes, these are the type of stories that show we are making an impact. See, secondary education is very critical especially for girls, because they come out of junior high school at the age of 15, and if they do not continue into secondary school, one, the likelihood that they would suffer from teenage pregnancy is high, two, child marriage is likely and in some of our communities, at 15-16 they would marry the girl off. So it is absolutely important that they should go on to secondary schools because when they complete secondary school they are at least 18 years old. 18 is the age of maturity in this country. That bottleneck of secondary education, we need to open it because Ghana has been successful in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we have 97 percent school enrolment, which means 97 percent of children of school going age are in school which is impressive. We have also achieved gender parity, which means that we have as many boys as girls in school. All of them go through Primary School to Junior High School, and when they finish JHS, that is where many face bottlenecks and drop out and that has been a problem for years.With this our intervention in Senior Secondary education, we are widening it so that the minimum qualification for any of our children will be secondary. If they are going ahead to tertiary, that will be very good, but if not, we should also create an outlet for vocational schools so that when they finish senior high, if they are not able to continue, they can go into the post-secondary technical schools or post- secondary vocational schools, to learn a skill and all that. That has been the driving vision behind my work to increase access. Right now, we are building 123 of those schools and they are at different levels of completion. And I have said that anyone that is completed they should be populated, they need not wait for any official commissioning.
That is why most of them when I go there to commission, the children are already in the school, enjoying the facilities. Education is very important in our quest for growth and development.
Tell us your inspiration. What drives you, what books do you read, your heroes?
I was born into an Nkrumahist family, my father was a Minister in the CPP era. I was very young at the time but I studied History in the University and so, I am a student of History, I like to learn and analyse the history of nations especially my country and sometimes I see a parallel between our first government and now.
Nkrumah was building industries, he wanted Ghana to become self-reliant, some of the same accusations that he was driving Ghana into debt, that Akosombo was unnecessary, that he was busy doing white elephant projects, and all that. You can hear that same kind of song sounding today from the opposition. When you are trying to rebuild the social and economic infrastructure, you are trying to bring the industries back, we are doing the Kumasi Shoe Factory and today the Kumasi Shoe Factory is employing 200 young people who are producing boots for our military, shoes we used to import before, they are producing school sandals for our children.
You reopen the Komenda Sugar Factory, they say you have rebuilt the Komenda Sugar factory but there is no sugar cane to process (laughs heartily). And yet they are saying they want to build one factory per district, how absurd! Where will they get their own raw materials?
Sometimes, I see a throwback from the Nkrumah era and this era when you are building the social and economic infrastructure and people say we would not eat infrastructure. And in Nkrumah’s time, they said the same thing. They said are we going to eat Akosombo and things? To the extent that Nkrumah at one time said, if I had known that it was milk and sugar Ghanaians wanted, I would have used the money to make the taps flow with milk so that people can drink. It was out of frustration really.
If you are a student of Nkrumah, you would have noticed his frustration. He built the motorway between Accra and Tema, and it was called a white elephant project because at that time, the number of cars using it were very few.
Today go and see that very motorway. We have signed an agreement to expand it because it has become too choked, it is no longer a motorway, it is like an ordinary town road.
We are expanding both lanes and we are going to put a new interchange at the Tema end, so that we are able to carry the amount of traffic the area attracts today.
When Nkrumah built the ports, they said what was the need for a port like that? Today, we are going to expand the port to be able to take four times the volume that it currently takes and we are creating four new berths of 16 metres deep that can take the largest container vessels because Ghana’s import volumes have risen and if you project the rate of growth of the country, there will be no space in Tema Port to be able to take anything in a few years.
So we are thinking ahead and expanding the port and that is where all these monies we are taking are going into. We are also expanding Takoradi Port which is also our alternate port, so that it will be attractive for some people to take their items through Takoradi.
We want to rehabilitate the rail lines from Takoradi all the way to Kumasi, so that we can use it to bring down bauxide, manganese and cocoa and then take containers up to Kumasi.
We need to raise the credit to be able to do all these things but if you have an opposition that keeps saying that you are borrowing too much how will you be able to achieve these things that are critical to our economic growth and development? In addition, a lot of these projects we are doing have a rate of return so they will be able to pay for themselves over time.
Of course there are some like education and health which will pay for you intangibly because if the population is very healthy then they would be able to put in more work and increase productivity.
Even in the real sector, we are investing too. Rice Production has gone up. When we came into office we were producing only 30 percent of the rice we are consuming in this country, today we are producing 60 percent. Four new private rice mills have just been opened.
Please tell me, why would these investors open Rice Processing Mills if there is no business or there is no rice? They have come here to process rice to sell to the local market and even export. The Brazillian Rice Processing plant is doing exactly that, serving the local and export markets.
Who are your heroes?
First I must mention Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, then I admire Mahatma Ghandi for his calm disposition and his non-violence struggle. Mandela naturally is one of my heroes. And then Prof. Atta Mills. He is not only my hero but was my mentor.
Who is your favourite author?
I have read so many books and I do not think I will say I have a favourite author. Presently, I read serious books, biographies, history and things like that. Biographies are usually one offs, which make them impactful. I found Obama’s biographies, Dreams of My Father and the Audacity of Hope fantastic. Basically, these days I acquire books that are inspirational.
Talking of books, I have read some myself, and I heard that Presidents grow grey faster than the average man, share your own experience with us?
If you take your job seriously, yes, you will go grey very fast. If you apply yourself to the progress of your country, you just cannot help it, it happens naturally.
But if you are a dictator, and you do not have to go for election, you do not have to worry about doing any serious work, you can ride your Ferrari car around town without any care or pressure. Recently, I went to Kigali and somebody showed me a story titled “Mahama Chosen as World’s Best President”, I said what?
So I tweeted and said it was a hoax. I said I never accepted such award. And will never. I said in any case, different countries have different challenges, And there is no criteria to judge a job like that because the challenges my country faces are completely different from the challenges Obama faces as American President. It is also different from the challenges Paul Kagame faces as Rwandan President. And yet all of us have our cultures, we have our people and all of us want our country to make progress.
I must say I compare myself to Kagame and my friend the President of Ethiopia. Ghana has a population that is more independent, more expressive and so every progress you make has to do with carrying the people along with you.
So though we are making slow progress, that progress is sustainable because the people are involved. The people are the centre of our policies.
I compare it to two shepherds, one shepherd walks and all the sheep follow him while the other shepherd as he is walking, the sheep are running here and there. The second set are independent minded. That is Ghana for you. I used to say that Ghana has 26 million Presidents, all of who know my job better than I do.
And so from 6am to 10am, all the 300 Radio Stations have political programmes and they have phone in programmes, so you find out that Ghanaians are calling and telling me how I must do my job, how some roads have not been constructed. Of course we listen to the people, and react when necessary.
But sometimes, it seems as if you are paying the price for success. The roads have been in a bad shape for a long time, when the roads were bad everywhere, everyone was fine. Now that I am working on the roads, some people are angry with me. They are saying why am I doing one road and I am not doing theirs and I explain that I must start from somewhere.
Sometime ago, I visited a chief and he says, Mr President they are doing that road in the other area but you have not done mine, all I could do was appeal to him.
I said, Chief, we will come to your road soon. What the feedback we are getting tells me is that there is so much work to be done, and so we have to keep working.
You mentioned Rwanda earlier, recently it was reported that during the AU meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, Heads of State had approved the use of an African passport. Is it realistic?
It is realistic. I am sure it will grow. The purpose of the African passport is to allow visa free travel across the continent. We are starting with the diplomatic and then other categories. Eventually, we have to broaden it so all Africans can have one. The next hurdle will be to ensure that states begin to issue it to the citizens. I think it is a good first step. Ghana has already taken the lead, we have opened it up. We have said that any African from a non ECOWAS country can actually apply for visa on arrival.
And it has not led to an influx since we started as some people thought. We already have had this arrangement with other countries like Kenya for instance, they do not need to come here with a visa.
And there are several countries whose citizens need not come here with a visa. Since we started, I did not see every Kenyan dust up their passports and come here. Or that every Ghanaian would wake up and go to Kenya. But when we announced the policy, some people were up in arms. They said people will flood this country. It has not happened like that.
You are said to be a gentleman, is that a weakness, they say you are too gentle sir?
(Pauses for a little while) Well. It is the way I was brought up. I was brought up to respect everybody, I was brought up to listen to everybody, and I believe that it is partly because of my training. I studied history like I said earlier and when you study history, it teaches you that every human being is a grain of sand in the Sahara. You are just a drop of water in the ocean, you are here in this world for such an infinitesimal period of time and so there is no need for this whole anger and bitterness everywhere?
It is history that teaches me that you do what you need to do, you listen to your fellow man, you do good, and you are here for such a short time and after that you are gone and someone else takes your place. And that is what informs the attitude I have, that gives me the patience to deal with people and tolerance to accommodate them.
Sir your final thoughts to the average Ghanaian who feels left out and disconnected from the workings of your government?
I believe that governance is like a painting. And so for every president who comes, you start to do the paint work. Initially when an artist starts painting, you see it as chaotic drawing. It is when he has finished the work that it makes sense and you then say wow! This is nice. This a beautiful lady, or this is a beautiful landscape. It is the same situation with us. We have a vision of where we are going and I can see a bright future for this country. Indeed, not only I but all the international organisations have said that Ghana is on the course of prosperity. They say we are on the course of prosperity because all the difficult decisions that need to be taken, I have taken them in my first term even against popular will.
There are certain decisions that I have taken that were tough, so tough that people think I am wicked. But I have taken them in the interest of a better life for our people.
I gave the example of two fathers. You have a father who accedes to your every wish, I want money to do this, he gives you, daddy I want to eat this he buys it for you, I want to do this, he does it for you.
And you have another parent, who is saving for the future of the family. And so you say daddy, I want this, he says no, take this instead. You say I want to eat this, he says no, we cannot afford this, take that. You say daddy, I want to do this, he says no, I cannot do it now, do it later.
The two fathers die. And suddenly you realise that your father who wanted you to have everything is living in a rented house. They then said come and pay the rent after your father died, you could not and they eject you.
And the other father who did not give everything his child wanted also dies and the child realises that they live in a house they own.That to me is the difference and it encapsulates what we are doing.
When people say we cannot eat roads, we cannot eat hospitals, we want money in our pockets, it is like that first father. We can take all the money that we should use to build roads, hospitals etc and put it in Ghanaians’ pockets directly, years later, we would find out that we have been living in a rented house.
We have the vision of the second father who is telling you sacrifice a bit, and at the end of it, if he dies, you find out that he owns the whole house that you were living. You will be happy and be enjoying your life. Which of these men would you like to be your father?
Source: Ovation International