23.03.2005 Press Review

Ghanaians rush to quiz President

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Accra, March 23, GNA - Shortly after President John Agyekum Kufuor had ended his opening address at the Fourth People's Assembly, energetic men ran towards the four microphones mounted for the questions session of the programme.

In a few minutes, long queues were formed with women mainly tailing the lines.

Noticing the disadvantaged position of the women, the comp=E8re intervened after several men had had their chance to allow the voices of women to be heard.

Even so, a man leading one of the four queues vehemently refused to be gender sensitive.

The questions were on a wide range of issues including petroleum products prices, import duties, compensation for popular occultist Dr Ram Beckley, disciplining the Chief Justice, rural development, ejection of hawkers, unemployment, entertainment.

Whereas some questions could be described as insightful and serious, others just provided a good opportunity for comic relief. Indeed, for a determined few, it was a sheer chance to praise or advise the President in person, hence the admonition of the comp=E8res, Nana Ohene Ntow and Oboshie Sai Cofie, to guard against turning the event into praise and worship session fell on deaf ears. It was obvious from the start of the programme that it was going to be an exciting one as the audience, which filled the main auditorium of the Accra International Centre to capacity cheered loudly when the President arrived at 1000 hours prompt.

The President's opening remarks were received with spontaneous applause while scattered praise singers ran commentary and appellations on the sidelines.

Nevertheless, the programme proceeded smoothly until a known critic of the Government on radio, Dr Asemfofro, told President Kufuor that contrary to his promise to make life better for Ghanaians, import duties under his Administration were much higher than under of the previous government.

Additionally, he asked why the Government did not pay compensation to Dr Beckley, whose property, he claimed, were vandalized by the security agencies on suspicion of engaging in diabolical acts. Dr Asemfofro's comments obviously did not go down well with some members of the audience who booed at him.

But both the President and the comp=E8res urged the audience to be tolerant and to behave properly.

"Let us be tolerant," President Kufuor warned. "You may disagree with somebody's views but it is important for us to hear them otherwise we would defeat the purpose of this event. Perhaps, those who do not understand the issues would gain some knowledge here." The President's advice received resounding applause and the session progressed without any further hitches.

As it was almost over, the President's attention was drawn to the fact that a visually impaired person and a physically challenged man could not compete with the agile bodied men for the microphone. The physically challenged person wanted the State to give him a tractor for his commercial farm. He alleged that Secretaries of Ministers of State discriminated against the visually impaired when they sought audience with their bosses.

As the Ministers were present at the function, they were expected to carry the message to their secretaries that President Kufuor wanted them to treat all persons fairly, irrespective of their handicaps. When the session eventually closed, the cheery audience followed the President to the lobby to view a photo exhibition of the projects and programmes so far executed by his Administration.

Several of them told the GNA that they defied the heavy downpour to attend the ceremony and that the time was well spent.

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