On January 30, 2002 Ghana web carried an article with the title, “Birim North MP Visits Toronto.” I am responding to the article in my capacity as the Moderator for the Town Hall meeting that took place at Al Curuba Banquet Hall in Toronto, on Sunday January 27th, 2002. I am responding because, in my opinion, the scene and events as portrayed by the publishers of The Ghanaian News of Toronto were downright untrue or skewed at best. In fact, the tone of the article smacks of malice, hatred and envy. The publishers of The Ghanaian News best know the reasons for which they reported the event in the manner in which they did. While a PhD student at University of Toronto, Hon. Dr. William B. Akoto, the MP for Birim North, founded a competing monthly journal to The Ghanaian News. Dr. Akoto’s Newspaper was initially called Ghana Connection and was later renamed, African Connection. The skewed account of Hon Dr. Akoto’s forum in Toronto is, in fact, an attempt for the rather uncompromising publisher of The Ghanaian News, Mr. Emmanuel Ayiku, to get back at his long-time competitor and rival, Dr. William Boakye Akoto. The report is therefore, far from true. It was done either out of malice, hatred or both. To my knowledge, many people have called the publishers’ offices and have asked them to retract the publication. My office, for example, was besieged with protest calls by those outraged by the contents of the article when the hard copy of The Ghanaian News hit the stands yesterday carrying the same article. Hon. Dr. William Akoto did not have “to be rescued a couple of times by the Honorary Dr. La Kumi,” as alleged by the publishers of the Ghanaian News. True Account of Hon. Dr. Akoto’s Forum in Toronto. Hon. Dr. William Akoto beat one of the most popular voices championing the cause Ghanaian womanhood - the famed actress and entertainer, Ms Omaboe a.k.a. “Maame Dokono”- to win his seat as MP for Birim North. Before Dr. Akoto, a long- time resident of Toronto, left for Ghana to fight for the seat, his friends and well-wishers met at Al Curuba Banquet Hall to wish him well and to raise funds to support his bid for Ghana’s Parliament. When he recently came back to Toronto on a private visit, he found it expedient to meet his friends and compatriots at Al Curuba Banquet Hall to both thank them and to inform them of the achievements of the NPP Government in its first year in office. Before the meeting, some of the people in attendance had intimated to me, as the moderator, that they would want to hear about how the elections went and also the nature of Parliamentary proceedings. Because of time constraints, however, I took it upon myself to appeal to the audience to skip those areas so that the Hon. Member of Parliament could pattern his delivery along the same lines as the recent People’s Assembly that is doing the rounds in the towns and cities of Ghana. Citizenship Bill Dr. William B. Akoto dismissed as untrue, a publication in The Ghanaian News, a recent article to the effect that Ghana’s Dual Citizenship Bill had been passed by Parliament. He intimated that “the Bill is now before the relevant Parliamentary Committee. As soon as the Committee finishes its work, it will be placed before Parliament for debate and normal Parliamentary procedures. “This is an issue that both sides of the House agree on its importance, so I do not anticipate any problems in getting the Bill passed as soon as it is laid before Parliament,.” he said. Hon. Dr. Akoto further added that the Bill would have been passed by now but for the importance that Parliament placed on the National Reconciliation Bill. He was hopeful that the Dual Citizenship Bill, which is dear to the hearts of Ghanaians in the Diaspora, would be passed in April 2002. Achievements and Plans of the NPP Government Repeal of Criminal Libel Law The Hon Member of Parliament for Birim North and Vice Chairman of the Education Committee of the Parliament of Ghana, Dr. William Boakye Akoto, enumerated the many achievements of his Party’s one year in office. He said, “The repeal of the obnoxious Criminal Libel Law is a landmark testimony to the commitment of the NPP government to ensuring that the rights of Ghanaians are never, ever again trampled upon.” In his view, the freedom Ghanaians enjoy today are reflected in their vehemence and forthrightness during their contributions to radio talk shows in all Ghanaian languages and newspaper articles. The Economy Hon. Dr. Akoto acknowledged that the NPP Government inherited “an economy on life support.” The nation’s debt to foreigners stood at $5.8 billion; interest rates at 50% per annum and an inflation rate of 45% p.a. Over 45% of Ghana’s annual revenue went into servicing debts, leaving very little for the business of building the country. This situation necessitated the application by the NPP Government to declare Ghana as a Highly Indebted Poor Country ( HIPC). “This initiative, when confirmed, would help free some badly needed money to help the Government reduce poverty in the country,” he intimated. In its desire to bring interest rates under control, stabilize the Cedi and curb inflation, the Government had to adopt stringent measures in its first year of office. These measures have succeeded in reducing interest rates from 50% to 35%; inflation rate from 45% to 25% and the exchange rate has hovered between 7000 to 7200 Cedis to US1.00. He observed that the rate of depreciation of the cedi, which was about 37% per year during the era of the previous administration, has been reduced to 2.5% in NPP’s first year in office. He noted that the achievements on the economic front have won the NPP Government world wide praises and renewed confidence in the country’s resolve to put its house in order. “Ghana’s Finance Minister, Hon. Yaw Osafo Marfo, has been elected by the World Economic Forum as the second best Finance Minister of the world, next to Canada’s Paul Martin,” he said. Education The Honourable Member of Parliament agreed that the Education System needs to undergo a massive overhaul. In the interim, however, the Government has injected 120.4 billion Cedis into the Ghana Education Trust Fund in the first nine months of NPP’s administration. The NDC Government set up the Trust Fund and intended to fund it by increasing the VAT rate. The increase in the Fund came as a result of increased collection efforts in VAT in the 2001 fiscal year. In contrast, he noted that the NDC Government transferred only 31 billion Cedis into the Education Trust Fund in the entire 2000 fiscal year. To find a long-term solution to the educational problems facing the nation, he hinted that the Government will soon se t up an Education Review Commission whose task would be to “come up with a comprehensive plan to once and for all, help to drastically improve conditions in our schools and to enhance teaching and learning in the country.” Dr. Akoto lamented the results of the latest BECE, especially, in the rural areas. Agriculture On Agriculture, the MP noted that the Government has taken many important initiatives to ensure that not only is enough food produced to feed the nation but also to feed agro-businesses and for export. One of the most significant initiatives was the mass spraying of cocoa farms to control diseases and pests. The offshoot benefit of the exercise was the creation of some 25,000 seasonal jobs. The Government has also contracted $25 Million loan to help increase local rice production and cassava production for industrial application and export. The Government will achieve these objectives by making credit available to farmers. Rural Development The Honourable MP intimated that the Government has established an Emergency Relief Social Programme, which will be the prelude to the long-term programmes for rural development and poverty alleviation at the local level. He announced that the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development transferred 190 billion Cedis within the NPP’s first nine months in office to the District Assemblies to initiate development programmes This, he noted, contrasts favourably with “the paltry 78 billion the NDC Government transferred for the 2000 fiscal year. Housing Dr. William Akoto noted that the Government has secured a loan for the construction of 5,000 low cost houses that are to be built in Accra and all the other regional capitals as a first, but significant, step to making housing available to Ghanaians Health On Health, the MP said that the Government has not abandoned its promise to abolish the cash and carry system that has characterized the health delivery system in the country. He promised that it would be abolished by the end of the NPP Government’s first term in office. Other Matters Golden Age of Business Hon. Dr. Akoto added that President Kufuor has declared a “Golden Age for Business” in which he would encourage the Private Sector as an engine of growth. The President has set up a Ministry and appointed a Minister of Private Sector Development and that he is also in the process of setting up a Secretariat at the Castle to cater for the needs of investors. National Reconciliation Bill Hon Dr. Akoto said that, “almost every Ghanaian is in support of the Government’s initiative towards reconciling the nation.” He reminded the audience that the Bill has been passed and that the President has signed the Bill into Law. He further added that the Opposition is apprehensive because it falsely believes that the exercise is meant to go after those behind the June 4th and December 31st coups. “The Opposition intends to go to court to challenge the Bill and if that fails, they threaten to boycott the work of the National Reconciliation Commission,” he said. Decentralization On decentralization, Dr. William Akoto, MP, gave credit to the NDC Government on the concept of District Assemblies. This ensures the transfer of power to the districts. He added, “The NPP Government is committed to the concept.” Corruption Hon Dr. Akoto cleared the air when he said that the President’s “Zero Tolerance for Corruption” aims at the President himself, his Ministers and MPs and he expects that those who go against the law will be prosecuted. “Those who are able to go undetected will be prosecuted by successive Governments,” he intimated. Questions and Answers After delivering his speech, the Moderator opened the floor for questions. The audience of about 150 people asked the Hon. MP a variety of questions. These questions touched on the crime rate, threats on National Security, food security, rural development, MP’s absenteeism in Parliament, the $20,000 MP car loans, monopoly in telecommunications industry, why Western Union pays Cedis in Ghana and whether or not they (Western Union) pay tax, the need for additional loans contracted by NPP Government and the high rate of duty on imported goods. The high light of the question period came when a gentleman asked why the Government taxes imported cars “as if they are selling your own car back you.” The Honourable Member of Parliament answered all questions asked to the satisfaction of the audience. On a question on the duty on equipment meant for business, Dr. Martin La-Kumi, Honorary Consul General of Toronto, indicated that it would be a good idea to register the business before importing the equipment. He also hinted that as Consul General, he was working on having Ghanaians in Toronto being able to register their Ghana-based businesses while in Canada. Hon. Dr. Akoto ended by inviting Ghanaians in the Diaspora to come home and set up industries in Ghana to support the President’s declaration of the Golden Age for Business. Supporting the Hon. Member of Parliament at the Town Hall Meeting were, Dr. Martin La-Kumi, Ghana’s Consul General of Toronto, Charles Agyei-Amoama, Chairman of NPP Canada Chapter, Mr. Yaw Amoako, Secretary NPP Canada Chapter and Professor George Sefah-Dei, President of Ghana Union of Ontario. Mr. Ken Ntiamoa, founder and first Chairman of NPP, Canada Chapter, hosted the function.