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29.12.2005 Feature Article

A New Presidential Palace: A Need Or Want?

A New Presidential Palace: A Need Or Want?
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Another debate has rocked the legislative halls of Ghana's Parliament which the two sides have taken polar opposite sides again. It is all about the issue of new presidential palace to be built for future presidents of the Republic to dwell in.

The root cause of the debate is: “is the new presidential palace a need or want”? Can't the president use the Castle? Is there any limitation of the Castle? When you ask two MPs from both sides of the divide, they would defend their cause. The question is why should the NPP government spend close to US$30 million or ¢276 billion on Presidential offices and residence at a time when the GPRS review report shows a worsening trend of key indicators like maternal mortality, child malnutrition, infant mortality and a high incidence of guinea worm, at a time when per capita income which is less than US$6000, at a time when 9 out of 10 persons in the Upper east are living in poverty, 8 out of 10 live in poverty in the Upper West region, 7 out 0f 10 in the Northern Region and 6 out of 10 persons in Central Regions are in poverty, at a time when economic infrastructure projects across the country with a short term return on investment are crying for funding?

When Nkrumah was building the Akosombo Dam he faced legions of opposition. The same man Nkrumah was criticised when he was building the KNUST skyscraper halls which kiss the sky. People said “Kwame are you building the halls for ghosts to come and reside in them? At least that time the population of Ghana was small and thus easy to plan for.

When the former NDC government bought the Gulf Stream Presidential Jet the whole deal was branded as one of the classified national transaction in our national issue and this NPP did everything to castigate the transaction as unrealistic and untimely.

Sometimes our ruling parties do not agree with national issues. Take for instance when the Valued Added Tax (VAT) in 1995 was passed the then leading opposition party-NPP amassed support from Ghanaians and staged Kumepreko, Siemepreko and Wiemepreko demonstrations all over the country. People were killed. In principle the NPP was against the VAT. We all Ghanaians thought that the NPP when it came to power would repeal the VAT Act and free Ghanaians from the shackles of taxes yet it also saw the need to add an additional 2.5% as National Health Insurance Levy (NHIL). Within the same 12.5 % VAT was the 2.5% GETFund which the NDC never enjoyed its fruit but when the When the NPP came in 2001 to reap the fruits and blessings of the GETFund, it decided that tertiary education can best be funded mainly by the GETFUND. The government however has defaulted on occasions in paying the 20% VAT collected into the GETFUND choosing rather to spread the arrears in hundreds of billions of cedis over five years without interest.

The NPP government passed the National Health Insurance Act. Now should the new presidential palace be completed in not too distant tomorrow are we saying that the NDC or a different party if it comes to power in the near future would have to repeal the NHI Act, bring VAT to 12.5% and sell the new presidential palace?

If all Ghanaians would agree and say that that project be stopped and executed in 2050, then that is the voice of the people. This is consensus building. Most Ghanaians are peeved about this new deal to get a new palace for the president in sense that if there is something involving the executive, funds could be easily be secured even if the Finance Minister had to cross the fiercest battlefield or darkest dungeon to get the money. However it appears that when it has to do with other sections of society, the attitude from the leadership is sluggish. For the last decade Ghanaian universities have been complaining of not been funded properly, not to talk about the accommodation problems on our campus. Students are crammed in small rooms like concentration camps. Those who can afford hostels are living in dilapidated buildings like police cells-no proper ventilation. When you enter into the lecturer theatres you would find students in the windows trying to hear a lecturer shouting at the top of his voice.

Move to our rural areas one teacher handles four classes in some cases. Some pupils attend classes under trees. These are a few of the problems facing the nation. Can we wait till all these problems are solved before the government considers building a new palace? Can all these problems be solved in the lifetime of a nation?

We need to strengthen our democracy and of course democracy is expensive. If we think it is expensive let us try the immediate alternative-military dictatorship which we are familiar with. One thing is that we must put pressure on the same government that manages to secure US$ 30 for a new presidential palace to use the same negotiation skills to lobby so that Job 600 be completed, so that our parliamentarians will get offices to operate from. It appears the power of the president is too much and is self-centred. The same president and the government should have the political will to construct bridges, roads, expand our tertiary institutions, and build more halls of residence for our students in our tertiary institutions.

If leave the question of the new presidential palace to our politicians, answers would be subject to their political affiliations. Who then can best answer the question? We need a new presidential palace but what about guinea worm infestation? Government in trying to solve their utmost needs should not forget about the needs of the people.

When is the right time? Who determines that the time is ripe? Is it the legislature or the executive or through random sampling of opinion from Makola, Kejetia or the Techiman Markets? “The voice of the people” they say, “is the voice of God”. Appiah Kusi Adomako is an international freelance writer and the president of the Ghana Chapter of Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation. He can be contacted through: Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, P.O. BOX. KS 13640. Kumasi-Ghana: 027-740-2467 [email protected] Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.