Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to what will be a very short ceremony.
The COVID-19 pandemic that countries all over the world including ours, are having to grapple with, has exposed the fissures of inequality in our society. Several thousands of our country men and women, risk starvation and hunger because they are no longer able to move freely to earn a living. Given the nature of the disease, we can only continue to urge fellow countrymen and women to heed the directions issued by government and stay at home as far as practicable. Please stay Home, so that we can all help reduce, if not stop the spread of the coronavirus. The situation faced by many bread winners in homes across the areas affected by the partial lockdown and beyond is dire. Many are either unable to go about their income-generating activities, or their work places have shut down as a result of the lockdown or the pandemic.
Yesterday, Monday, I received a mail from a young school teacher in Adenta who lamented that she is suffering and starving because school has closed down and her employers have still not paid them for the months of February and March. She is not alone in this situation. In many such cases, we have tried to lend support as far as our means would allow.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is why I have welcomed the utilisation of part of the Stabilisation Fund to alleviate some of the unintended consequences of the lockdown occasioned by this pandemic. This includes the distribution of food to deprived communities within the affected areas. Organized efficiently, this is a welcome lifeline to many deprived households that face the grim prospect of starvation as a result of the fall-out from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately reports from the field are a cause for worry, both in terms of the quality of the hot meals served and the mode of distribution of the food. The over-crowding and general scramble for food that characterizes this exercise defeats the protocol of social distancing and can accelerate the spread of the virus.
If trust is engendered in the people that the process of distribution will be fair and that the distributors will carry out their duties justly, and they are assured of their turn in a transparent way, people will be more measured and will not rush for the food in a manner of the ‘survival of the fittest’.
We must also be mindful of what happens to people who live with disability in circumstances such as this. We must also prioritise in order that the food items reach all, especially children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. There have also been unfortunate reports of demands for party affiliation as an identifier for free food, bought from the State’s resources. This must end now and immediately because Coronavirus does not know NPP and NDC. Neither does it know CPP, PNC, PPP or APC etc.
In order to ameliorate this challenge and ensure transparency, I reiterate my suggestion that government actively involves the Traditional Authorities, Assemblymen and women, CSOs and NGOs in addition to faith-based organisations to steer and ensure fair, equitable and non-partisan distribution of food and essential items to the vulnerable, including people with disability.
These critical stakeholders know their communities better and they know those who really need support. So let’s involve them now! Accordingly, I have in view of the situation many of our people are facing, procured and will be making available, food items to cater for a total of 20,000 households across these areas affected by the lockdown, and these include the areas of Greater Accra, Kasoa and Greater Kumasi.
Ladies and gentlemen, these items – Rice, Oil and Canned Fish – will be delivered to our traditional rulers in the lockdown areas; the Ga Traditional Council, the Tema Traditional Council, the Kpone Traditional Council, the Awutu Senya Traditional Council, the Asanteman Council, the Council of Zongo Chiefs in both Accra and Kumasi and the umbrella bodies of faith-based organizations and people living with disability. We count on these bodies to coordinate and manage a fair distribution of these items to households in their areas.
I am requesting the chiefs to work actively with the assembly members of the affected areas in order to ensure that the items get to the people who it will cover, and they are delivered to their homes. There must be no gatherings and large crowds at the palaces or any locations in a manner that negates the country’s efforts towards managing the COVID crisis.
Just as I came to the aid of our health workers when there was a dire need for protective clothing, this support to some 20,000 households must be done in a fair and just manner without any parochial considerations. This is a widow’s mite to support our people in these difficult times. We are all in this together, and we should take care of one another, no matter where. We are one people, bound by one love – and this is a time to build bridges, not barriers; to bring love, hope and trust, not hate and mistrust.
I wish on this note to reiterate my call for a broader participation of traditional leaders, heads of faith-based organizations, Assembly men and women and local CSOs in the efforts at contact tracing, surveillance and public education in respect of the COVID-19 disease.
In this regard I call on the President to urgently meet with the National House of Chiefs and solicit the support of our chiefs in this regard. This is also important considering the reported resistance communities are putting up against the use of facilities in their area for setting up isolation centers.
My brothers and sisters, the worrying trend of the increase in confirmed cases of Coronavirus infections – 566 as at yesterday – calls for a dedicated commitment by us all towards supporting the fight against the infections.
The latest extension of the lockdown period is accordingly appropriate. We must help our security personnel to enforce the directives and ensure that movement during this period is minimized in order to stop the spread of the virus.
Considering the new cases being discovered, it is clear that we are entering a new phase where there is the beginning of a horizontal spread of the disease. This requires us to redouble our efforts in the battle against the pandemic.
More testing centres need to be set up in order to shorten the waiting time for results. This is necessary so that appropriate models of the expected trajectory of the disease can be developed in order to guide any decisions on easing the restriction of movement of people.
We must set up a National COVID-19 Command Centre equipped with appropriate communication systems and bank of phone lines with volunteers keeping in touch with persons who are in quarantine, persons who are in isolation, those who are awaiting results and those suffering symptoms of the disease.
Contact tracing is very critical in this phase of the fight against the pandemic. Reports that persons engaged in contact tracing are threatening to cease work are worrisome. Government should immediately take steps and appropriately incentivize these people so that they can continue the critical work they are involved in. We must also watch out for the increasing stigma developing around this infection. There are reports that person who have tested positive have fled their communities because of fear and ignorance about the disease.
This development of suspected cases can hinder the fight against the virus, especially in the light of the CDC estimation that one infected person has the potential to infect as many as 500 other people.
Public awareness needs to be stepped up. Messages developed in all the major local languages should be created and played extensively on all media, public and private. Government can utilize a clause in the NCA Act that compels media both public and private to provide airtime to air messages such as this in times of emergency. This clause proved useful during the fight against Ebola and can come in handy again at this time.
There are increasing reports of the benefits of wearing masks to prevent and slow the spread of the disease. Examples are given about the low rate of infection in the Czech Republic is because of the widespread use of face masks.
In an earlier suggestion I advocated for local dressmakers and garment companies to be used to produce millions of reusable face masks for free distribution to the public. Persons entering public places or gatherings must be compelled to wear these masks. These masks must be washed every day and pressed with a hot iron so it is ready to use on another occasion. Surgical masks and other medical masks must be reserved for our health personnel.
I acknowledge Government’s response to the call of the Ghanaian people to implement a raft of policy interventions, which seek to reduce the unintended consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on our people. In order for us, the people of Ghana, to realize the needed benefits from the subsidies in electricity tariffs announced, I urge the President to assure and fund the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) and the Power Producers to enable them discharge their duties without interruptions due to inadequate funds to purchase fuel to produce power.
In the face of significantly lower global prices for crude oil, I reiterate my call for a temporary reduction in LPG prices to enable households opt for its use in these difficult times when their incomes have dwindled due to the lockdown. It has also emerged that the definition of who a ‘Frontline Health Worker’ is, was not properly thought through by government when the President announced the motivation package. This issue is demoralizing and demotivating many a health worker. I suggest that a discussion with the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) and other professional health-related unions would achieve a consensus on how the incentives package could be utilised.
The GH¢80 million from the Stabilization Fund (SB) budgeted for this, can be applied more fairly to maintain the morale and esprit de corps among our health workers in these crucial times. This might also be the time for government to employ more doctors and other health workers-in-waiting who have been idling at home, some for many years. This might become necessary as many health workers who suspect they may have been exposed to the virus have begun to self-isolate in order not to further spread the disease.
Similarly, our security personnel have been complaining, not only about the quality and frequency of their food rations, but also their COVID-19 duty allowance. It is important for government to address this urgently in order to maintain the morale of the officers and men and women engaged in this important national exercise, because just like health workers, they are also risking their lives to interact with the public during this pandemic. It will be useful to also provide them with reusable face masks, gloves and sanitizers for their self-protection.
At this point, Government has not yet addressed the need to negotiate with the Telcos for a reduction in their tariffs to benefit the millions spending longer hours online and making calls. As I speak, several students and pupils are having lectures and school sessions online because of the Coronavirus disease. This has drastically increased their expenditure on internet usage to the extent that some can no longer cope. Indeed, there have been reports of several students who are unable to complete online lectures before their ‘data’ run out. Several people are also working from home.
Due to these pressing needs, I wish to bring the issue of cost of internet and voice services back as another priority policy agenda. I have already suggested that government can assure the Telcos of a free six (6) months extension of licenses – some of which are to expire very soon. This value can be applied to cushion consumers during this 3-month period. Additionally, the Telcos can also be compensated with funds from the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communication (GIFEC), which already has the mandate to ensure universal access to telecommunication. Furthermore, the National Information Technology Agency (NITA) should leverage its robust broadband infrastructure – 4G cell sites and optic fibre cables, a lot of which were deployed during my time – to meet the increased demand for wireless and fixed broadband in these COVID-19 times. The removal of the 50% increase in the CST will provide further relief for the many who are having to work or stay at home at this time.
Even though water tariffs have been absorbed for the next three months, there have been loud complaints of interruptions in the supply of treated water through pipes and / or water tankers. I urge government to redouble its efforts in this sector in order to give meaning to the campaign for regular handwashing with soap under running water.
A further measure, which would go a long way to cushion SMEs and individual Ghanaian families, would be for the Bank of Ghana to open a dialogue with the banks and financial institutions to offer a 3-month moratorium on payment of debts to borrowers. I understand one bank has already voluntarily announced such a concession. This will be helpful at a time many Ghanaian businesses are shut and breadwinners of families have had to stay at home and cannot earn an income. It is also time to explore the role of alternative medicine and traditional remedies in the fight against the Corona virus. Some traditional medicines are known to boost the immune system and can help both in the prevention of people succumbing to the disease and also play a role as a palliative function in the management of persons suffering with COVID-19.
It is predicted that this pandemic and the disruption of global trade and economic activity will adversely affect the economies of developing countries. Ghana is no exception. The fast track approval by the IMF of the highly concessional Rapid Credit Facility is therefore timely and very welcome. This will help cushion the economy from the dangers of recession.
Our economy has revealed from this Covid stress test that it is still fragile and we need to be prudent in how we manage going forward. We must also be diligent in how we apply the $1 billion facility as the various tranches are released. We face significant pressure on our local currency, declining domestic revenues, a slowdown in GDP growth, increase in deficit to GDP of between 8% to 9%, ballooning debt which is projected to hit almost 70% by end year. This scenario requires that we exercise strict prioritization in our borrowing and expenditures and this might be the right time for the President to consider trimming down the bloated size of his government. At this crucial time, the most critical need of our health workers is the supply of PPEs. When I donated PPEs to health facilities in the various regions, I advocated the need for government to urgently supply adequate PPEs to protect our health workers. I further requested that our national strategic medical stock ensures items such as PPEs and other vital logistics are in place well in advance of outbreaks. The initiative to have local manufacturing companies produce PPEs is welcome and must be speeded up. This can be done, and we must kickstart the efforts more robustly now. Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your time. I thank my journalist friends, camera men and other technical staff who made it possible for me to reach out to you in your homes and work places.
Thank you WoezorTV, TV XYZ, JoyNews, PowerFM and Volta 1TV for the live broadcast. And thank you to the many members of the NDC and sympathisers who contributed and made this support to 20,000 households possible. Thank you very much.
We are not in normal times, but together we will win this fight.