President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo will, in keeping with the time-honored constitutional tradition, deliver the State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Parliament today, telling the country about the government’s successes, challenges and pipeline initiatives in the previous year.
The nature of the address does not only reflect on past initiatives — President Akufo-Addo will touch on critical issues that may set the tone for his second term in office after being declared the winner of the presidential election on December 7, 2020.
SONA is highly significant for a participatory democracy such as Ghana’s that is characterised by an open and transparent relationship between the government and the people. The President addresses the nation and informs Ghanaians of the government’s work.
President Akufo-Addo will, as per constitutional practice, appear before Parliament to give his address for the fourth time since becoming President of the country.
According to Article 67 of the 1992 Constitution, “the President shall at the beginning of each session of Parliament and before a dissolution of Parliament, deliver to Parliament a message on the state of the nation.”
The President, who is gearing up for his inauguration on Thursday to continue with his stewardship for another four-year term, is therefore expected to announce some new initiatives and programmes as well as do an assessment of ongoing projects and policies which would ultimately chart a path on which his administration would be steering the development of the country.
Highly expected on the roll of priorities is the state of the country’s economy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first case of which was recorded in the country in March last year.
Much of 2020 has been consumed by the coronavirus pandemic and the global economic crisis it sparked.
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, Ghana’s economy had been forecast to grow by 6.8 per cent this year, near its seven per cent average growth rate in 2017–2019.
The government’s spending in response to the pandemic, estimated at GH¢11.7 billion in 2020, mainly funded the public-health interventions and the economic relief package.
In all, the estimated net fiscal cost of the coronavirus crisis is GH¢25.3 billion in 2020, equivalent to 6.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Mostly, the government paid for this by taking emergency loans, including from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Bank of Ghana, thus widening the 2020 projected fiscal deficit to GH¢44.1 billion or 11.4 per cent of domestic productivity (GDP) — one of the highest deficits in history.
After signing off from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), President Akufo-Addo in his last February State of the Nation Address gave provisional data for the first three quarters in 2018, which according to the President also indicated a strong real GDP growth of 6.0 per cent and which was higher than the annual target of 5.6 per cent while the real GDP growth for 2019 was projected at 7.6 per cent.
Currently, the GDP growth target for 2020 had been readjusted to 1.9 per cent due to the pandemic.
True, COVID-19 has highlighted the nation’s development deficits, such as inadequate health infrastructure and mostly primitive housing conditions, and the government is right to make bridging these deficits a priority.
It is, therefore, the expectation of many Ghanaians to hear a lot more from President Akufo-Addo on the next line of action to the people.
Revenue mobilisation, which has a lot to do with the health of the country’s economy, also comes to mind and it is one of the subjects which could not escape the attention of President Akufo-Addo in his last address to parliament to end his first four-year term.
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It posed the biggest challenge in the management of the country’s economy, with the tax exemption policy said to be proving to be a major obstacle to fiscal stability.
It is, therefore, the expectation of many Ghanaians that the government would do a lot more to change and improve the trend with the introduction of pragmatic measures.
The ongoing development of the six new regions, which were created last year, is also one of the major highlights to be on the radar of President Akufo-Addo as he mounts the dais in the Chamber of Parliament to address the House and the nation.
After the handing over of the constitutional instruments to the six new regions and the three development authorities, the government decided to provide each of them with GH¢20 million to cater for the running of the regions.
The government also provided each constituency with a million dollars for development and so it is the anticipation of all that President Akufo-Addo would tell the house about works that are ongoing in each of the 275 constituencies around the country and in particular the new regions in terms of its administration and the entire development process.
The President has maintained that he would ensure an equitable distribution of the country’s resources and how that had panned out would feature prominently in his address as well as the impact on lives.
In his last address, President Akufo-Addo assured of the construction of 10 state-of-the-art Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) Centres as well as 16 model senior high schools (SHSs) in Zongo communities.
A ceremony was performed at the Tema Technical Institute last year to cut the sod for work to start on the project.
And as part of measures to demystifying science, mathematics, and technology, 10 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) centers were also on the bill to be built around the country to provide support for the introduction of STEM into basic education.
The Free SHS policy is the government’s flagship programme, receiving much of the education funding as well as annual budget funding amount from the oil revenue.
The President will, therefore, tell the nation the preparations in place to absorb the first batch of Free SHS students and the development of infrastructure in SHSs as well as the universities to completely phase out the track system for school attendance.
The reopening of schools on January 15, 2020, as announced by the President in his last nationwide broadcast has also become topical and the President is expected to touch on it today. There is also the tertiary education policy bill which continues to raise lots of concerns within the academia and among the university communities.
Housing, which is so dear to many Ghanaian workers, is also expected to be given a higher priority considering the construction and commission of some significant housing units prior to the December 2020 elections.
Already, President Akufo-Addo in his February address told the House that the 2019 budget had made provision for the construction of 200,000 housing units, and a database of local and foreign developers has been created to help make this policy a reality.
It is, therefore, the expectation of many that he would touch on the subject to give Ghanaians something to cheer about today.
The woes of the banking sector as well as the support in terms of stimulus packages for small and medium scale enterprises which were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including support for customers of banking and financial institutions whose money were locked up, is also to be a major highlight in today’s address.