MESSAGE ON THE STATE OF THE NATION BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC, NANA ADDO DANKWA AKUFO-ADDO, ON WEDNESDAY, 30TH MARCH 2021, AT PARLIAMENT HOUSE, ACCRA.
It is always an honour and a pleasure to be back here, where I was a three-time Member, to give a Message on the State of the Nation, as required by the Constitution.
Mr. Speaker, I hope you will forgive me if I begin by asking Members of the House to join me to salute the management, technical and playing teams of the Black Stars, who, against the odds, beat the Super Eagles of Nigeria in Abuja yesterday. Their qualification for the World Cup in Qatar has brought so much joy to Ghanaians, and we are looking forward to an outstanding performance in Qatar.
In accordance with protocol and convention, it is good to see that First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo, Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, Second Lady Samira Bawumia, Spouse of Mr. Speaker, Mrs. Alice Adjua Bagbin, Chief Justice Anin Yeboah, and Justices of the Supreme Court, Chairperson Nana Otuo Siriboe II, and Members of the Council of State, Chief of Defence Staff Vice Admiral Seth Amoama, Inspector General of Police Dr. George Akuffo-Dampare, and Service Chiefs, are all present. Mr. Speaker, the House is duly honoured by the welcome attendance, virtually, of the former President of the Republic, His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor, former First Lady, Her Excellency Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings, and the Dean and Members of the Diplomatic Corps.
Mr Speaker, from my vantage point as President of the Republic, from the focused point as head of government, from the enviable position of a husband, a father and a grandfather, I know that there is a general sense of anxiety in our nation at the moment.
The Ghanaian people are anxious about the economy, the cost of living, income levels, jobs for young people, and even about issues on which we all thought we had achieved a national consensus.
When some amongst us are raising questions about the certainties on which we are building the state, it is not surprising that worries about the stability of the government would become cause for heightened tension in the nation.
Mr Speaker, two years ago to the day, we were in the midst of a lockdown in the main metropolitan centres of our country. We were truly in the midst of the unknown. It took a while before it even got a name, but a pandemic it was, and the only certainty about it was that nobody knew very much about it. The scientists, the health experts and the World Health Organisation were all united in their view that the virus would cause a lot of devastation.
The world before COVID now seems such a long time ago, and the trauma of a world ruled by a pandemic has changed all our perspectives. Back in March 2020 when the first cases of COVID hit our country, we and the rest of the world were in unchartered territory, fear and sheer terror gripped our land. Probably, to future generations, it will look quite obvious what should have been done, but, two years ago, it felt like we had fallen into a dark, malicious and terrifying abyss.
We could not have been prepared for the catastrophe that hit us, even the richest economies with the most sophisticated structures were unprepared.
Maybe some of us have forgotten what the experts were predicting at the time. Our health and medical infrastructure was woefully inadequate, and we would not be able to cope. There were going to be piles of dead bodies strewn across the streets of Africa.
There was a general consensus that we should spend all our energies and resources on protecting lives. I remember, for example, the discussions about PPEs two (2) years ago; nobody was asking or was interested in how much they cost; just find them for our health workers and that was the only consideration.
I wonder how many people remember the cost of the first face shields and nose masks that came into our country.
I took the decision we would prioritize the saving of lives, and, then, we would get together to rebuild our economy. Nobody imagined the devastation would be so widespread and last so long.
We have had our share of COVID deniers and conspiracy theorists, but, it is fair to say, Mr Speaker, that our management of the COVID outbreak has been exemplary, and has been so acclaimed by the world. And with the great mercies of the Almighty, we have saved lives. Indeed, the total number of deaths we have sadly recorded, one thousand, four hundred and forty-five (1,445), represents a miniscule fraction of the total number of deaths on the African continent, 0.6%.
I remember, a year ago, we were in the midst of the second wave of covid infections and deaths; there was widespread fear; again there was consensus we should concentrate all attention and resources on protecting lives.
By that time, a little more was known about the virus and the anxiety had shifted to the provision of vaccines. We moved rapidly to secure the provision of vaccines first for the frontline officials and workers and those most at-risk, and then to the general mass of the population, always relying on the current scientific thinking.
We had to learn some very hard lessons, and our belief in the need for self-sufficient was reinforced when vaccine nationalism was played out blatantly by the rich and powerful countries. Mr Speaker, the Presidential Vaccine Manufacturing Committee, which I set up to respond to this obvious deficiency, has put in place a comprehensive strategy for domestic vaccine production, and the establishment of a National Vaccine Institute to implement the strategy, which will enable us to begin the first phase of commercial production in January 2024. A Bill will shortly be brought to you, in this House, for your support and approval for the establishment of the National Vaccine Institute.
This pandemic exposed other shortcomings of our country, which have, undoubtedly, contributed to the anxieties that have befallen the nation.
Agenda 111 was born out of this necessity to address some of these shortcomings. At the normal rate of growth, we are not likely to make up the deficit in our health facilities infrastructure for a very long time. Hence, the need for a special, dedicated programme of infrastructural development. We are undertaking the construction of 111 entities, which comprise standard 100-bed district hospitals for one hundred and one (101) districts without hospitals, with accommodation for doctors and nurses; six (6) new regional hospitals for each of the six (6) new regions; the rehabilitation of the Effia-Nkwanta Hospital in the Western Region; one (1) new regional hospital for the Western Region; and three (3) psychiatric hospitals for each of the three (3) zones of the country, i.e. North, Middle and Coastal. It is an ambitious project, which must and will be done, and which will create some thirty-three thousand, nine hundred (33,900) jobs for construction workers, and, on completion, some thirty-four thousand, three hundred (34,300) jobs for health workers.
Mr Speaker, I have to report that, like all major construction projects, it is evident that the initial schedule we gave for the completion of the Agenda 111 was overly ambitious. Identifying suitable sites around the country, for example, has turned out to be even more problematic than had been anticipated. I am able to say that a great deal of the preparatory work has now been completed, and work has started at eighty-seven (87) of the one hundred and eleven (111) sites. I have been assured that preliminary work on the remaining twenty-four (24) sites is ongoing. We have every intention of seeing this project through to a successful end, which will enable me to commission all one hundred and eleven (111) hospitals before I leave office on 7th January 2025.
Mr Speaker, we have saved lives and fared much better than we had feared and the experts predicted, but the consequences of lockdowns, border and business closures, and unplanned expenditures have combined to have a devastating impact on our economy.
The unplanned expenditures included, but were not limited to, the recruitment, on a permanent basis, of fifty-eight thousand, one hundred and ninety-one (58,191) healthcare professionals, and the payment of extra incentives to our frontline health workers.
It took an unbudgeted GH¢1.9 billion to ensure that our children and teaching staff went back and stayed in school safely. Some, including a few in this Honourable House, went as far as to accuse the government of trying to kill Ghanaian children when we introduced the controlled school re-openings. I might add here that, in some countries, school closures have lasted for twenty (20) months, and children are only now going back to school. Our children did not lose a single academic year.
We provided nearly five million (5 million) households and over ten million (10 million) people with electricity and water subsidies at the time they were most needed.
In all, data from the Ministry of Finance tells us that an amount of GH¢17.7 billion (or 4.6% of GDP) has been spent in containing the pandemic since 2020.
Mr Speaker, the NPP government came into office with a plan to build a resilient economy and set us on the path to prosperity. We were on course, and our performance between 2017 and the beginning of 2020 demonstrates we were making rapid progress. Indeed, in 2017, 2018 and 2019, we recorded average annual GDP growth rates of 7%, making us one of the fastest growing economies in the world. We grew the economy from the cedi equivalent of fifty-four billion United States dollars ($54 billion) at the end of 2016 to the cedi equivalent of seventy-two billion dollars ($72 billion) in 2020, a thirty-three percent (33%) increase.
Then COVID arrived.
This is not something that anyone could have planned for, and the consequences are there for us all to see around the world. The big and established economies of the world have been knocked off their planned trajectory. Countries, where budget deficits were unknown and prohibited by law, suddenly had to accept huge deficits to underwrite social cohesion.
The economic devastation of COVID has, since the beginning of this year, been further aggravated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has worsened the economic outlook of the entire world. We, in Ghana, have not escaped this development, and the consequences are being felt in rising living costs at our markets and at fuel stations. The terrible events in Ukraine have a direct impact on our lives here in Ghana. Mr Speaker, thirty percent (30%) of our wheat flour and fertilizer imports come from Russia. Sixty percent (60%) of iron rods and other metal sheets are imported from Ukraine, and almost twenty percent (20%) of Ghana’s manganese is shipped to Ukraine. The bombs might be dropping on cities half a world away but they are hitting our pockets here in Ghana. Even so, we have managed to ensure that fuel supplies have not been disrupted, unlike in several other parts of the world.
Last week, the Minister for Finance spelt out, in detail, to the country the economic and fiscal difficulties we face, and the raft of measures we are introducing to bring relief and restore us to economic growth.
The measures that have been announced by the Minister for Finance are meant to demonstrate that we are aware that we are in difficult times, and we are addressing the situation. The belt-tightening measures being set for members of the Executive have been elaborated within this context. [I hope you are going to join us].
This government remains alive to its responsibilities to the Ghanaian people. The difficulties of the time notwithstanding, we intend to continue to grow this economy and bring prosperity. That will only happen when we continue to invest in the future.
Our children will continue to be educated and be equipped to run a modern and digitalized economy. The Free SHS and Free TVET are the best vehicles we have devised to take us to the realization of our goal of an educated and skilled workforce. The computerized school placement is currently ongoing and the latest batch of JHS students will soon embark on their Free SHS and Free TVET education.
The TVET institutions are being upgraded and equipped to enable them train the increased numbers of children that we want to be attracted to that sector to meet the modern needs of our economy. This year, I will be commissioning some of the thirty-four (34) refurbished National Vocational and Technical Institutes (NVTI’s) across the country. The refurbishment comprised the construction, rehabilitation and equipping of laboratories, workshops, additional classrooms, hostels, and administrative offices.
Within the next few months, the construction of five (5) technical colleges will begin in various parts of the country. Three technical institutes will be upgraded to tertiary status. The initial phase for the construction of nine (9) TVET campuses will commence next month in Bosomtwe, Akyem Awisa, Boako, Kenyasi, Patuda, Dambai, Larabanga, Guabuliga and Tolibri. These campuses will have academic facilities, workshops, laboratories, hostels and staff accommodation, and provide further access for training.
Government is in the process of securing financing for the construction of five (5) STEM universities in five (5) new Regions, that is Western North, Savannah, North East, Ahafo and Oti regions. Steps are being taken to turn the planned Bunso campus of the University of Environment and Sustainable Development into a standalone, independent University focused on the study of Engineering. Construction of this campus is set to begin within the next three (3) months.
Mr. Speaker, there is great potential for our people in the creative arts, fashion, and film industry. We want to unleash the creativity, enterprise and innovation of our youth, by giving them education and skills training in the Creative Arts. The Creative Arts Senior High School, in Kwadaso, whose construction is currently seventy percent (70%) complete, will serve as a beacon for many young and talented people, seeking a fulfilling career in this field.
Mr. Speaker, I recall, with nostalgia, the end of year 2019, just before the onset of COVID, when the world came to Ghana in that “December to Remember”, and we were the happy place to be at the end of our Year of Return. Ghana continues to lead the push for African renaissance through the decade-long ‘Beyond the Return Project’. The “December in GH” component of this project has positioned Ghana as the destination to visit every December. Last year, the country recorded some six hundred and twenty-three thousand, five hundred and twenty-three (623,523) visitors, up from the three hundred and fifty-five thousand, one hundred and eight (355,108) visitors, the year before, signifying a marked rebound of our tourism sector. We should recapture those glorious moments and build on them as we work hard to reclaim what we lost to the COVID years.
Government is, therefore, undertaking a comprehensive renovation and modernization of tourist attractions across the country, such as the Cape Coast and Elmina Castles, Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, which will enable us position Ghana as the preferred tourism destination in West Africa.
Mr Speaker, Government is determined to make our country the place where hard work pays good dividends. We have made substantial investments in the agriculture sector, for example, because we recognise this is where a substantial number of our people make a living.
The successes of the Programme for Planting for Food and Jobs have transformed the lives of many farmers around the country. I am glad to announce that the Tono Irrigation Dam has been fully rehabilitated, and is back to life and fully operational, and is serving the needs of many farmers in the areas around the dam.
The result of significant investment by my government in the Ghana Commercial Agriculture Project has resulted in the availability of a total of thirteen thousand, one hundred and ninety (13,190) hectares of additional irrigable land, through the rehabilitation of Tono, Kpong Left Bank and Kpong Irrigation Schemes, for rice and vegetable cultivation. Immediate benefits arising from the scheme include improved rice yields increasing from 4.5 tons per hectare to 5.5 tons per hectare, leading to increased production and growth in farm incomes. This has benefitted some fourteen thousand, two hundred and sixty-four (14,264) smallholder beneficiaries directly, creating some forty thousand (40,000) jobs along several value chain activities generated from the irrigation schemes.
In particular, at the Kpong Left Bank Irrigation Project, Government, through the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, has recently engaged nine (9) large scale investors in addition to smallholder farmers at the Kpong Left Bank Irrigation Project (KLBIP) who would be producing rice, maize and vegetables on one thousand, three hundred hectares (1,300ha), using modern production technologies to achieve improved productivity and production, within the next three (3) months.
Government has also invested in the vegetable sector, through the Ghana Peri-urban Vegetable Value Chain Project. We have provided irrigation infrastructure covering a total of five hundred and forty-one (541) hectares, which directly impacts vegetable farmers in the Greater Accra Region. In addition to these farmers, we have also provided inputs and technical support to vegetable farmers at Hikpo in the Volta Region and Asokwa in the Ashanti Region. The project has provided off-taker arrangements for both domestic and international markets.
The construction of eighty (80) warehouses, with a combined storage capacity of eighty-thousand metric tonnes, (80,000MT), has been completed, and their entry into the food production chain is offering better protection to the harvests of farmers.
There is no doubt that but for the vigorous interventions we have made in agriculture in the past five years, which have made us more self-reliant in our food needs, our country would have been at much greater risk as the fallout from the dramatic worldwide increases in freight charges hit prices in our markets and on our supermarket shelves.
Mr Speaker, the cocoa industry has marked a lot of interesting and far-reaching achievements this past year, including producing one million, and forty-seven thousand, three hundred and eighty-five tonnes (1,047,385), the highest ever recorded in Ghana’s history. Together with our counterparts in Cote d’Ivoire, we have addressed the inequalities in the international marketing system of cocoa by paying a Living Income Differential of four hundred United States dollars ($400) per tonne of cocoa to our farmers.
This is a remarkable initiative that cushions the income of the Ghanaian cocoa farmer, the backbone of our economy. I want to draw attention to one other innovation in the industry that appears to be a small item. A non-adjustable electronic weighing scale has been introduced for the purchase of cocoa from our cocoa farmers. This scale, which was introduced at the start of the cocoa season in October, has been approved by the Ghana Standards Authority, it cannot be tampered with by purchasers.
Not many people outside the cocoa industry will realise the significance of the introduction of this little bit of technology, but it brings to an end one of the main sources of distrust between cocoa farmers and officialdom. The age-old belief/suspicion that cocoa farmers are being cheated by tampering with the weighing machines has come to an end.
The same use of technology to attract more young people into agriculture is continuing with the training of five hundred and thirty-seven (537) youth in the production of high value vegetables using Greenhouse technology. One hundred and ninety (190) of them have been on an 11-month internship in Israel, and they are back with a lot of enthusiasm. We are expecting great things from them.
Indeed, Mr. Speaker, we are expecting greater things from the greater use of technology and the digitalization of our economy as a whole. I am happy to report that the National Identification Card, the Ghana Card, has finally been integrated into our everyday lives as a cradle-to-grave necessity.
Never again will it be that someone, born in this country, will live a full life, die and be buried, without any record of his or her existence. The operations of the Births and Deaths Registry are finally being digitised to make sure that documents issued from that department are accorded the respect they should have.
Every child born in this country will be registered, and the date of birth registered will remain your date of birth throughout your life. There will be no school age, no football age, no SSNIT age, and no official age. When we register for National Health Insurance, the details of our identification will be the same as the details on a driving licence, a passport and yes, on our tax identification.
Today, we all have addresses at which we can be identified, even if we live, unfortunately for the time being, in a kiosk. And when we die, that inevitable rite of passage will be recorded to mark the end of our life.
Mr Speaker, it is not enough that the state collects all this information, it is critical that every citizen is able to benefit from the digitisation process. The benefits range from being able to give directions to our address for deliveries and being able to gain access to government services without having to go to the Ministries.
The Rural Telephony Project, being undertaken by GIFEC, is working to fill the void created by the telephone operator’s inability or unwillingness to extend their services to areas they deem uneconomical to operate. It is important to extend basic telephone voice and data connectivity to every part of the country, so we leave no one behind.
Mr Speaker, I have spoken on other occasions about the digitization of port operations or what we all now call the paperless port. I am glad to say that the initial problems have largely been overcome, and we are witnessing the advantages in faster processes at the port and less opportunities for corruption with the reduction of human interface. ICUMS, when it was introduced, provoked a lot of controversy. At the moment, we are seeing the benefits. Indeed, Customs revenue, prior to the implementation of ICUMS, for the period June 2019 to May 2020, stood at GH¢11.25 billion. Between June 2020, the start of ICUMS, and May 2021, teething challenges, ill-considered propaganda and the impact of COVID-19 on global trade notwithstanding, customs revenue has increased by 27.6% to GH¢14.36 billion. Indeed, customs revenue for 2021 stood at GH¢16.08 billion, as opposed to GH¢12.03 billion in 2019 when ICUMS had not been implemented.
The digitisation of hospital records has started, through the Lightwave Health Information Management System. We started with the Teaching Hospitals, and we plan to work in a phased approach to cover every health facility in Ghana. I am sure this will be a welcome innovation for all.
We have learnt the very hard way the first step to prosperity in Africa is for our countries to trade among each other. It is the reason we campaigned for and supported and proudly host the continental office of the AfCTA. Trading under the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) officially commenced on 1st January, 2021, and Ghana was the first country in Africa to establish Customs Procedure Codes to facilitate trading under the AfCFTA. We have established a National AfCFTA Coordination Office to facilitate activities. We have high hopes that the AfCFTA office, which we proudly host, will bring urgency to growing trade among the African states.
Probably the most significant step towards making this intra-African trade possible was taken in Accra a few weeks ago with the launch of PAPSS, the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System.
This is a leading-edge technology connecting African banks, payment service providers and other financial market intermediaries to enable instant and secure payments between African countries.
It means a trader in Ghana can order supplies in Kenya with cedis and buy it in Kenyan shillings and not have to go through dollars or euros or pounds sterling. This will simplify the historical complexities and costs of making payments across African borders and provide operational efficiencies to open up vast economic opportunities for all stakeholders.
It means we have a simplified process that reduces the costs and complexities of foreign exchange for cross-border transactions between African markets and enables innovation in cross-border trade and access to new African markets.
Mr. Speaker, if we campaign so hard for the opening up of trading among African states, we had better have something to sell. I am glad to report that despite the adverse effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on firm-level production and productivity as well as the disruptions in global supply chains, the manufacturing subsector showed significant recovery last year. Manufacturing recorded an average growth of 7.0% in the first half of 2021 compared to 0.7% in the corresponding period in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.
Our flagship One District One Factory (1D1F) Initiative is being implemented, with business promoters being empowered and supported either to establish new factories or to transform existing manufacturing enterprises to contribute significantly to job creation across the country.
Mr. Speaker, through the 1D1F initiative, the made-in-Ghana label is being stamped on a wide range of products proudly manufactured in Ghana. Out of a total of two hundred and seventy-eight (278) 1D1F projects at various stages of implementation in all the sixteen (16) regions, one hundred and six (106) factories are currently operational, one hundred and forty-eight (148) are under construction, while twenty-four (24) projects are at mobilization stage.
Mr. Speaker, in order to bring the youth on board the 1D1F Programme, fifty-eight (58) out of the two hundred and seventy-eight (278) 1D1F Projects have been developed as enterprises fully owned by youth groups, with direct Government support. Each of these 1D1F Youth companies are owned by between forty (40) and fifty (50) youth as shareholders.
In addition, five (5) medium scale state-of-the-art agro-processing Common-User Facilities (CUFs) have been established with direct support from Government and are owned by various groups of farmers, whose farming operations had previously been undermined through lack of processing facilities. These farmer-owned companies have been established in five (5) Districts, namely Dormaa West, Savelugu, Sefwi Akontonbra, Sekyere Central and Tarkwa Nsuaem. They cover oil palm processing, rice milling and the processing of maize into maize grits.
Mr. Speaker, quite a number of global vehicle manufacturing companies have set up assembly plants here in our country, and started producing vehicles for our market and for the West African market. The well-defined Ghana Automotive Development Policy we outdoored in August 2019 has facilitated this welcome development.
Since June 2021, Toyota and Suzuki brands of vehicles are being produced here, commencing with the production of Hilux Pickup and Swift models. VW and Sinotruck, which commenced commercial operations in 2020, have continued to assemble their brands of vehicles and are enjoying significant local patronage.
In addition, a new state-of-the-art assembly plant with capacity to assemble 5,000 new vehicles per annum has been established by Nissan in Tema, which is currently producing Nissan and Peugeot brands of vehicles for the Ghanaian and West African markets. I will have the pleasure to commission this new plant in Tema tomorrow. Three other vehicle manufacturers, namely KIA, Hyundai and Renault are also expected to commence commercial production this year.
Our national iconic automobile brand, the Kantanka brand produced by Kantanka Automobile Company Ltd., also stepped-up production of its made-in-Ghana vehicles which include Nkunimdie SUV, Omama Pickup, Onantefo 4×4 Pickup, Otumfuo SUV and K71 Small SUV models.
Now that the Minister for Finance has announced an embargo on the importation of 4×4 vehicles for official use, I hope the local assembly plants will take full advantage of the opportunity especially since government is continuing with its policy of giving first priority to locally assembled vehicles in respect of all publicly financed procurement of vehicles.
Mr Speaker, we have proof beyond the education, agriculture and manufacturing sectors to show that we have been using state revenue to expand infrastructure across other sectors, and improve lives. For the first time in our history, we are doing something about the infrastructure needs of the Judiciary on a major scale.
A courthouse is an essential element of the architecture of a state dedicated to the promotion of the rule of law. And yet there are large areas of our country that are not served by any court, and people have to travel long distances to access the services of a court. Unfortunately, as a former Chief Justice once put it, the conditions of most of the court facilities around the country, where they exist, are not fit for purpose.
We have, thus, embarked on a project to provide one hundred (100) courthouses and accompanying residences for judges and magistrates around the country. Fifty of them are being built and are near completion, and should be handed over to the Judiciary soon.
Mr Speaker, one hundred and twenty-one (121) residential units for the Judiciary are also being built across the country.
Furthermore, twenty-two (22) new modern townhouses are being constructed at Danyame, in Kumasi, to address the accommodation challenges facing Court of Appeal Judges assigned to the Northern Sector.
Some of you might remember that work began some twenty years ago on the construction of Law House, a proposed new office accommodation for the Office of Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice, a 12-storey edifice consisting of ten (10) floors above ground and two (2) storeys underground. Work on the project had stopped many years ago. I am glad to say not only has the project been resurrected, I am told it is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
Mr. Speaker, whilst on the subject of law enforcement, the passage of the Right to Information Act, the Witness Protection Act, the amendment of the Criminal Offences Act, and other laws have enhanced significantly the capacity of the State in the fight against corruption. It is also an undeniable fact that budgetary allocations for institutions actively engaged in public sector accountability, i.e., the Office of the Auditor-General, the Judiciary, Parliament and the Ghana Police Service, have witnessed significant increases since I assumed office in 2017. Furthermore, we now have a new Special Prosecutor who appears to have all the wherewithal necessary to exercise vigorously the prerogatives of his office.
Mr. Speaker, it is in the road sector that we have registered the greatest infrastructure achievement. I know that the word “unprecedented” is often used with careless abandon in our public discourse, but I use it carefully and purposefully. In the five years of my government, so far, more roads have been built, improved and upgraded than at any other equivalent period under any government in the history of Ghana. Some ten thousand, eight hundred and seventy-five (10,875) kilometres of new roads have been constructed in these five (5) years.
Let me mention that yesterday, it was my honour and great pleasure to have commissioned the Tamale Interchange, the first such interchange in the northern sector of our country, which the people of Tamale celebrated. I considered it to be a most satisfying birthday present. We intend to continue with the building of roads round the country to accelerate the opening up of our country.
Mr Speaker, we have kept to our promise, and kept the lights on in spite of worldwide upheavals in the energy sector, and in spite of the huge legacy debts we inherited. We have almost completed the process of restructuring these debts to reduce their crippling effect on our public expenditure.
With the introduction of more Bulk Supply Points (BSPs) in areas such as Kasoa and Pokuase, power transmission has improved tremendously in the South-Western and North-Western parts of Greater Accra. Power lines are getting upgraded to reduce commercial and technical losses and increase transmission capacity.
Under the National Electrification Scheme, a total of two hundred and seventy-nine (279) communities have been connected to the national grid. This has increased the national electricity access rate from 85.17 percent in 2020 to 87.03 percent as at January 2022. Four hundred and eighty-seven (487) more communities are at various stages of connection and completion. We are on course to achieve our ambition of universal access to electricity by the end of my term as the President of this country.
The accommodation problems facing the military have long been matters of national sadness. I am glad to say that the first stage of the Military Housing Project, dubbed the Barracks Regeneration Project, has started with construction going on at all garrisons across the country. The Military Academy at Teshie is being modernized, and we are keeping our Armed Forces retooled and equipped to enable them live up to their duties. Each of the different branches of the Armed Forces – the Army, Navy and Airforce – has received significant financial assistance to upgrade its logistical bases, and strengthen its capabilities, and its welfare requirements are being substantially addressed. We are building modernised Armed Forces, with higher numbers of personnel, that will be fit to meet the demands of the 21st century.
The protection of our borders puts extra burden on the military, especially since there is increased terrorist activity in the Region and instability in many of our neighbouring countries. Fifteen (15) Forward Operating Bases, or FOBs as they are called, are being constructed across the country to help in the prevention of cross border crimes and terrorist activity.
Mr. Speaker, I believe we can all testify that our Police Service is undergoing a great improvement and a change of image before our very eyes. During times of anxiety, we need a responsive police service to boost the confidence of the population and it is good to see the police rise up to the challenge. Nothing starts people off in a bad mood more than the driving habits and traffic jams that create chaos on our roads and make every road journey a nightmare. Gradually, the police are bringing order to the roads and we all now know that the law is no respecter of persons or vehicle types.
I urge all of us to cooperate with the police to perform their duties to enable all of us go about our lives in peace. I am happy to state that Government has been able to provide much needed modern equipment for the Service, and we are tackling their accommodation needs as well. We are constructing three hundred and twenty (320) housing units at the National Police Training School, which are at an advanced stage of completion. Work is also ongoing on the construction of a huge barracks complex at Kwabenya, to replace the one adjacent to the DVLA at 37, where the conditions of living are poor.
Mr. Speaker, together with the implementation of a number of operational and personnel welfare interventions, the morale of police officers has received a considerable boost, and, today, public-focused interventions, instituted by the IGP, have resulted in a better police-public relationship. The Police Service is gradually regaining the trust and confidence of the public, under the leadership of its new IGP.
Mr. Speaker, as I indicated last year would happen, a national dialogue on illegal mining was held under the auspices of the Lands and Natural Resources Ministry in Accra as well as two other regional ones in Kumasi and Tamale.
If ever the support of all citizens was required to make something work, it is in the battle to end illegal mining, and restore our lands and water bodies to health. We have declared River Bodies and Forest Reserves as Red Zones for mining. We have suspended the issuance of all prospecting, exploration and/or reconnaissance licenses for minerals in forest reserves, launched Operation Halt II to help rid our water bodies and forest reserves of illegal miners, revamped the Community Mining Scheme as more sustainable and greener safeguards to replace illegal mining.
What we need, above all, is the buy-in of all citizens to recognize that the degradation caused to the lands and water bodies by the illegal mining practices affect each one of us, and we should all take an interest to stop those involved.
Let me use this platform to extend, again, the condolences of the nation to the victims of the Appiatse Explosion. The response to the disaster by the public and the organs of state was highly commendable. Government responded swiftly in the immediate aftermath of the incident by dispatching a high-powered delegation to Appiatse.
An Appiatse Support Fund has been established to spearhead the building of a decent, green and sustainable community, to enable victims of this tragic incident and members of the community get back on their feet and rebuild their lives. Arising out of this incident, Government will ensure that the Health and Safety policies of the mining industry are in accordance with international best practice.
Mr. Speaker, the Green Ghana Day, last year, was a great success, as many people turned out to join in the exercise to plant trees. I urge all of us to continue to take care of what we planted to make sure that the seven million seedlings we planted, i.e., two million more than the original target of five million, become fully grown trees. And please join in the Green Ghana Day when it comes along on 10th June, the designated Green Ghana Day for this year, when we seek to plant twenty million trees, that is a four-fold increase over the 2021 target of five million.
Mr. Speaker, you would recollect that, in my Message to Parliament last year, I indicated that Government is collaborating with the private sector to establish fourteen (14) medical waste treatment facilities, and commence the construction of sixteen (16) integrated recycling and composting plants across the country, to help address, once and for all, the safe disposal of medical and municipal solid waste. I am happy to inform the House that these facilities and plants are at various levels of completion, and will be completed by the end of this year.
Mr. Speaker, as part of Government’s “Water for All” programme, several water systems have been initiated and are at various stages of completion. The import of the programme is to ensure that each Region will benefit from at least one water supply project. Phases I and II of the Upper East Region Water Supply Project have been completed, and will be commissioned soon. Contractors are on site working on the water projects in Keta and Sunyani, and preparatory works are ongoing on the Yendi, Damongo, Tamale, and Sekondi-Takoradi water projects.
Mr Speaker, I cannot purport to speak about the state of the nation without addressing some critical governance issues that have featured recent public discussions. Certain elements have attempted to advocate coup d’états as the answer to the problems of the nation.
We came through a long and tortuous journey to arrive at today’s consensus on a multi-party democracy, but the last twenty-nine (29) years of our 4th Republic have shown that this has been the most productive period since our independence. Both the major political parties of the country, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC), have made positive contributions to this development. There is work to be done on building our institutions, but our democracy is worth fighting for. It is up to us to find a way to accommodate each other and our differences to make things work for the benefit of the Ghanaian people.
Mr Speaker, it might also well be that coup d’états have re-entered our discourse because of the turmoil in our neighbourhood. The West African Region is suddenly back in the international headline news for all the wrong reasons; we are back again as the region of political instability and the place for coups. Long and bitter experience led ECOWAS to its current stance of zero tolerance for military coups. We, in Ghana, know the cost of instability; it leads to the exodus of our artisans and professionals, and the emptying of teachers from our schools.
Mr Speaker, today, at every traffic light junction in our big towns and cities, you can see the results of instability in our neighbourhood with the influx of refugees into our country. We should be unapologetic about campaigning for stable democratic Governments in our region.
We do not want to be an island of peace and stability in a region of turmoil. We do not aspire to be prosperous in the midst of want and poverty. We want a stable and prosperous Ghana in a stable and prosperous Region. We should use our Chairmanship of ECOWAS, our membership of the AU, and as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council to work towards achieving these goals.
There are many problems that we have to overcome to get back to where we ought to be. I need your support. No President, no Parliament, no government can undertake this task all by themselves. We need all Ghanaians to pull and push together.
Mr. Speaker, taking into consideration the fact that COVID infection numbers have fallen dramatically, and on the advice of the COVID Taskforce, I announced, on Sunday, 27th March, in the 28th update of the “Fellow Ghanaians” series the lifting of most of the restrictions that we have had to endure for the past two (2) years. As the health experts have advised, I hope we shall continue with some of the measures, like the washing of hands and the enhanced hygiene protocols, that have served us so well even though they are no longer mandatory. I am sure we are all very relieved that the wearing of masks is no longer mandatory and we can hug our loved ones. With the lifting of the COVID restrictions, I am looking forward to renewed energy and enthusiasm, as all work places re-open at full capacity.
Mr. Speaker, despite the protracted and sometimes acrimonious nature of proceedings, I am happy that the House has, finally, found it possible to pass the E-levy Bill. I believe the levy is going to make a significant contribution to revenue mobilisation and the management of the national economy, and I want to thank Members of the House for making this possible.
The road to recovery will be hard and long, Mr. Speaker, but we have started on a good footing by accepting that we are in a difficult place, and are taking the difficult decisions that will get us out. If anyone ever had any doubts about the need to be self-reliant, the point has now been forcibly drilled home to us. The pursuit of the Ghana Beyond Aid agenda is even more compelling now.
I have no doubts whatsoever that we have it in us to build the Ghana of our dreams. I saw the spirit of togetherness and the willingness to help each other when COVID struck. We looked out for each other. I saw the sense of enterprise and innovation of the Ghanaian. I saw our manufacturers quickly adapt their plants to produce sanitizers and our tailors equally quickly displayed the innovation they had always been known for, by turning face masks into fashion items. We have first class health professionals and they came into their own during the crisis, and we are providing the infrastructure to enhance the quality of their work. We have first class teachers; they showed it when the pandemic struck, and kept our children firmly to their books. The self-confidence of the Ghanaian is well rooted.
Let us, more than ever, hold our heads up high, and face the future with courage, hope and assurance. Let us recall our age-old Ghanaian values of hard work, enterprise, solidarity, dignity and hospitality. Look around you, believe in Ghana, and be inspired by Ghana. We will bounce back together. The Battle is the Lord’s!!
May God bless us all, and our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for your attention.