The first of two Presidential Debates that hosted candidates of political parties with representation in Parliament ended successfully in Accra on Wednesday night.
Nana Akufo-Addo representing the New Patriotic Party, Dr. Edward Mahama for the People's National Convention, Prof John Evans Atta Mills for the National Democratic Congress and Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom, Convention People's Party answered varied questions on governance, the economy, energy, health, security, education, women and children, Ghana's oil find, regional integration, pension and a host of other subjects.
The Presidential Debate was organized by the Institute of Economic Affairs, IEA, with the support of Joy FM and the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, under the theme: Strengthening the Pillars of Ghana's Democracy.
A second debate is planned for November 12 in Tamale.
The debate turned out a very useful exercise, with the four candidates exchanging pleasantries before and after their grueling sessions.
The four candidates concurred that Nuclear Energy could be one of the viable alternatives the nation must consider to boost its energy supply.
Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom, who was first to give his view on what the country can do to generally ensure adequate supply of energy, said it is time Ghana put into utmost use plants that have been rendered virtually useless for over 15 years.
He said his leadership would tackle the energy issue with a sense of urgency without “worrying about who is executing a contract, and would give the job to the best person available to get those jobs done”. He believed Ghana would, within four years become a net exporter of power and fuel.
According Prof. Atta Mills, the power crisis that hit Ghana about a year ago could have been contained if the government had taken steps to continue measures that were initiated by the NDC.
He said the previous government started the Aboadze Thermal Plant, the Osagyefo barge and West African Gas Pipeline to augment Ghana's energy supply.
“We are even experimenting on wind energy. We are going to insist that traffic lights would be powered by solar; there is biogas also to be expected and even tide wave energy.”
Dr. Edward Mahama advised; “In order to avoid future problems we need to have a healthy mix of hydro, thermal, solar and wind for energy sufficiency.”
Nana Akufo-Addo noted that the country is currently not producing enough energy to meet domestic demand and noted that government has taken “several measures to address the gap” with the future in mind.
The presidential candidates also spent some time on the subject of the nation's economy.
The first question thrown to the candidates on the issue related to how they will create jobs and put money in the pockets of Ghanaians.
And first to answer was the presidential candidate of the NPP, Nana Akufo-Addo.
He said at the level of public sector jobs, he is committed to increasing the number of policemen from 25,000 to 50,000.
“We are committed to putting 20,000 sanitary inspectors on the streets every year for the next five years. We are also committed to increasing the employment range of the National Youth Employment Programme from a 108,000 which it is now to some 500,000,” he said.
In tandem with his party's philosophy, Nana Akufo-Addo said the private sector was critical in dealing with the question of job creation.
He said small and medium scale enterprises in the country should be supported because they are the main providers of jobs.
“That is why we have committed ourselves to establishing an industrial fund. One billion cedi fund to make it easier for people who want to create new enterprises to access capital,” he explained.
Moving Ghana's economy from producing raw materials to industrializing and value adding economy, for him, is a sure way of creating jobs.
He said his government will lighten the tax burden on companies by reducing corporate tax from 25 per cent to 15 per cent.
Touching on Foreign Direct Investment and how to manage it to inure to the benefit of Ghanaians, Nana Addo said he will grow the local private sector by providing technical assistance and capital to small scale enterprises, if given the nod.
Fifty per cent of government supply must come from the local industries to provide ready market for locally produced goods to insulate from unfair competition.
He believes even the United States welcomes FDIs because they stimulate growth.
On the question of how to apply the oil resources to the benefit of Ghanaians, Nana Akufo-Addo said an oil fund would be set up.
Under the supervision of Parliament the fund will dispense the oil revenue judiciously with a huge chunk of the wealth going into the development of the Western Region where the oil is found.
The CPP Presidential candidate, Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom was next to address the question of creating jobs and putting money in the pockets of Ghanaians.
He said he will use the state's purchasing power to buy locally produced goods and provide ready market for producers and thereby keep them in business.
“You come to a state function and nothing will touch your lips and tempted to touch your tongue if it was not produced in Ghana,” he decreed.
He thinks buying and selling is not a bad idea so long as it involves goods produced by Ghanaians in Ghana.
Dr. Nduom posited that the only reason why the oil find should be pursued and explored is because it would benefit Ghanaians, else it should remain under the earth.
Test of ideas
Immediately following was Prof. Atta Mills of the NDC who lamented the collapse of the private and agriculture sectors.
He promised to tackle graduate unemployment, redirect educational courses to make products employable by the job market.
“You have to think about how you are going to prepare people for the jobs. Training is very important. Helping people to acquire skills is very important”, he noted.
According to him, the private sector is in distress, adding that “our SMEs and other industries have collapsed; the business atmosphere is very unfriendly”.
He stressed the need for the oil to be applied to the benefit of the ordinary Ghanaian.
Prof. Mills pledged to foster regional co-operation to help Ghanaian business people benefit from the regional market.
PNC's Dr Mahama, outlining how to create jobs decried the practice where Ghana was still exporting raw cocoa beans.
He promised to put measures in place to help farmers who he said form 60 per cent of the country's productive force.
Dr. Mahama will give subsidies to farmers to help produce and thereby keep them in jobs.
Asked what subsidy he will give farmers, he said “guaranteed prices, buying the produce at the farm gate”.
On oil, he wants the management of oil resources done in a transparent manner to prevent corruption.
The fight against armed robbery and violent crimes appeared to be one of the topmost agenda for the four leading presidential candidates in the upcoming December polls.
Nana Akufo-Addo reiterated the need to beef up the security personnel in the country to be able to fight the incidence of violent crimes.
He pledged to increase the police force from the current 25,000 to 50,000 which he said would be nearing the United Nation's requirement of one policeman to 500 citizens.
He stressed the need for the adequate training and improvement in the working conditions of security personnel.
On the drug menace that has engulfed the country, Nana Akufo-Addo said he would ensure a collaboration of agencies within the West African sub region to ensure a vigorous fight against the drug trade.
Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom proposed a criminal justice information system which would identify properties and people in the country.
"We must also know who is in the country and that is why I think the National Identification System would be pursued vigorously". Such a system, he reckoned, would provide the information on where everybody lived and how to find them.
He also advocated the need to separate the Ministry of Justice from the Attorney General's office to ensure a fair and independent administration of justice in the country.
He called for a demonstration of leadership in times of crises.
"Our leaders must not just sit in Accra, they must go where the conflicts are, soothe peoples feelings, that is true leadership."
Prof Mills of the National Democratic Congress said institutions of state must be seen to be fair and just to all for violent crimes to be brought under control.
He lamented what he described as political victimization currently being perpetrated, which he said did not augur well for the fight against violence.
Prof Mills attributed the drug menace to the lack of political will and promised to tackle the issue with the seriousness it deserved if given the nod in December.
"The drug matter is something that we must fight tooth and nail", he added.
He said the law enforcement agencies must step up their game if the war on violent crimes would be solved.
Dr. Edward Mahama of the People's National Convention said it will not be enough to merely increase the police force when poverty was rife, with high youth unemployment.
He attributed the increasing rate of mob justice to corruption on the part of law enforcement agencies.
He promised to strengthen the Judiciary in the country and make them more independent if given the nod in December.
(Stories and live coverage by Nathan Gadugah, Fiifi Koomson, Isaac Essel, Malik Daabu and Isaac Yeboah.)