THE SCENE at Parliament House yesterday after President John Kufuor's delivery of the State of the Nation address was one of mixed feelings from the two sides of the House.
Throughout the President's 16-page speech that took him one hour, thirty-five minutes to deliver, the majority side of the House, as expected, lauded and urged the President on while the minority side, in accordance with parliamentary practice, voiced their objections and displeasure.
It was however agreed by both majority and minority leaders, as has been the practice, that Members be given some time before the debate of the address start on Tuesday, February 19, 2008.
While some said the presentation met their expectations, others said it was the same message the President had presented over the past seven years that he has been in office, a sort of old wine put in a new casket.
Even in the House, members of the minority side had shouted “the value is the same,” mimicking the Bank of Ghana's slogan for the redenominated currency, which the President mentioned as one of his good fiscal policies. He said the cedi was now more than the US dollar, in terms of the exchange rate.
In separate interviews with DAILY GUIDE after the President's presentation, the MPs either praised or condemned the address, depending on the side to which they belong.
The Minority Leader, Alban Bagbin, who was seen entering and leaving the chamber with the President, later told reporters that he had met with the President to “ask if his speech would be cleaned up of negative connotations”.
Hon. Bagbin said the President had focused too much on the political aspect of his administration, saying the majority of the issues he raised in his address had already been addressed in the budget statement.
He said the President also failed to acknowledge his predecessors and refused to give them due credit. Instead, “he took credit for a lot of things as his own” and “he just mentioned the oil but not what would be done”.
The Minority Leader further asserted that the President had not discussed the rampant drugs engulfing the country, because “it is a sore point”.
He also took note that the President had not been relaxed during his delivery; “he is on his way out and on the way out, you need to make friends”.
In the view of the Ranking Member on Finance and Member of Parliament for Lawra Nandam, Dr. Benjamin Kunbour, the President's address was not new as he had been repeating the same subject matter since he came to power.
According to him, the only thing the Kufuor-led New Patriotic Party (NPP) administration bequeathed the nation was that “he left Ghana worse off than he met it. He left Ghana a divided nation on tribal, regional, ethnic and political lines”.
Dr. Kunbour did not spare the President's speechwriter the criticism. “The Speechwriter should have done better research,” as there were several inconsistencies in the speech, he claimed.
He thought the President should have used the occasion to apologize to all Ghanaians for whatever wrong he might have done them.
Dr. Kunbour, a private legal practitioner, averred that President Kufuor had institutionalized party politics to the extent that even brothers who do not belong to the same party do not want to have anything to do with each other.
A Deputy Minister of the Interior, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu described Kufuor's address as the most brilliant he had heard.
“The content was impressive and the style was interactive, informal and conversational.”
He said the President showed his greatest statesmanship by demonstrating his respect for the MPs, when he said he was twice a Member of the House.
“He showed that he is a nation builder. It takes a few bold people to take such decisions.”
Mrs. Gifty Eugenia Kusi, leader of the Women's Caucus, agreed with Mr. Agyeman-Manu that the address was brilliant and devoid of political colouration.
“It was good that the President did not compare his achievements with anyone. He just presented his achievements.”
Hon. Moses Asaga, MP for Nabdam and also the Ranking Member for Energy, criticized Kufuor heavily for the energy crisis Ghana experienced last year, claiming that Kufuor's administration had inherited a vibrant energy sector which “was neglected, leading to a severe energy crisis unprecedented, and serious blackouts.”
He disclosed that Kufuor's zero tolerance for corruption policy was another façade, as “people who had no money are going around spending a lot and congress is spending a lot. President Kufuor's zero tolerance for corruption gradually deteriorated to free-for-all NPP corruption.”
Asaga also complained that fuel prices had increased by 300 percent, a sharp contrast to what the President had inherited.
“The National Youth Employment Programme is a smoke screen.
We have an increase of about half a million youth unemployed, leading to petty crimes and high prostitution in the system.
“This is the real legacy of President Kufuor; deep corruption, untold hardships, unaffordable fuel and electricity and serious unemployment.”
MP for Bole/Bamboi, John Dramani Mahama also criticized the President for saying that he had met a “parlous state” when he first came to office.
According to the Bole/Bamboi MP, every government who ever ruled the country contributed to the improvement of the country.
He indicated that every government met a different challenge and the challenges Kufuor met in 2001 were different from the challenges met by Nkrumah, so it was therefore tactless of the President to compare his achievements with the NDC “as if they had not done a thing”.
He said as a President, Kufuor had not tackled corruption but further implicated himself when he stated during his speech that evidence was needed to prosecute a person of corruption.
He was of the view that the President should have also discussed this year's election and give the assurance that it would be conducted in a free and fair manner, as Ghana did not need a similar episode like Kenya's.
Hon. Amadu Sorogho, Member of Parliament for Abokobi-Madina said “it was the same thing. There was nothing new in that statement”.
He said the President only “came to praise himself,” and added that there were some areas such as security and modernization of agriculture that the President did not touch.
He further stated that it was the expectation of most people that the President would mention in his presentation projects such as the West Africa Gas Pipe (WAGP) line, which was started by the NDC government, and give the credit to the NDC. “But he said the WAGP was his legacy, which is not true.”
Kwame Addo Kufuor, MP for Manhyia said it was an excellent presentation. “He spoke as a father of the nation.”
Nana Dr. Susubiribi Krobia Asante of Asante Asokorehene noted that he was happy about the aspect of the President's address that touched on government's new policy on education. He said that policy gives emphasis to Science and Mathematics, “which is key to development”.
John Ndebugre, MP for Zebilla described the address as lacking, since it did not address the current security issues in parts of the country like Bawku and Anlo.
He added that the President needed to have given “assurance of what is being put in place with the Electoral Commission to ensure transparent and fair elections”.
Dr. Kwame Ampofo, MP for South Dayi, was of the view that the address was not impressive, as “it was just like a political manifesto”.
The President, he said, should have told the nation what he did during his term.
Mrs. Juliana Azumah Mensah, like Dr. Ampofo, did not see anything extraordinary about the address.
“The presidential palace, for instance, is a misplaced priority as there are more pressing issues than that.”
In her view, the President should rather tackle the lack of water in most parts of the country and the ever-increasing rates of electricity and not the palace.
“And since he told us how much the nation owed when he came to power, I think he should have similarly told us how much he is leaving behind.”
By Sylvanus Nana Kumi,