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30.01.2006 General News

Kufuor to outline jobs programme in Sessional Address

By Asare Otchere-Darko
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After five years of macro stability TIME FOR JOBS In his Sessional Address to be read Tuesday, President John Agyekum Kufuor will tackle head-on the unquestionable adage: “There's no money in the pockets.”

And, he will do so by drumming home the actual link between the government's exemplary macroeconomic management, on one hand, and the job opportunities and job security that it is enabling, on the other hand.

The President, according to hints picked up by The Statesman, will encourage Ghanaians not to allow the “obsession of negative propaganda and exaggeration of economic hardships” by the opposition to discourage them from taking full advantage of the economic and social opportunities currently available. A specific amount of ¢1 trillion is earmarked to create jobs for Ghanaian youths this year.

The Head of State is expected to emphasise, “It is great to be born Ghanaian today,” because the prospects are bright and tangible for now and, most refreshingly, future generations.

The trick is for the people to remain vigilant, patriotic and involved in laying the building blocks of prosperity on the foundation laid by the New Patriotic Party. This strong foundation, the President will emphasise, has been made possible basically through responsible and decisive leadership, encouraged, ultimately, by the patience, maturity, understanding and active support of the good people of Ghana.

“The message in the Sessional Address is a clear call to Ghanaians to pick up their tools of productivity because the gates to employment are wide open.” That was how a senior Castle source put it to The Statesman at the weekend. Another added: “The President is simply saying to Ghanaians: Don't be deceived into docility by the negative hype from the usual detractors; get out there and make it happen.”

Citing supporting evidence, President Kufuor is expected to stress in the speech that the transition from durable macro-economic stability to real growth and expansion in the economy is here. He will therefore announce his government's programme to create jobs, especially for the youth, and urge the private sector to do same by consciously exploiting this record period of combined real stability and growth never before experienced since independence. The New Patriotic Party has often been accused of trumpeting indicators such as relatively strong cedi, low interest rates and inflation rates, to say the economy is doing well, whereas 'real' people are widely perceived not to be feeling the positive news in their living standards.

But, the President will challenge this perception, arguing that it cannot be supported by the unfolding evidence.

The President is expected to point out the massive expansion currently seen in telecommunications, retailing, construction, transport, tourism, financial services and the importation of raw materials for various local industries is a clear sign that the economic boom is here. He will call for more investment in agro-processing.

Significantly, President Kufuor will appeal to Ghanaians to take up the challenge and provide the energy and fuel to push up economic growth. For those lacking in employable skills, the President is expected to outline how the 'Investment in People' agenda aims to assist them.

He will tell Members of Parliament that his three-orbed vision of Good Governance, Human Resource Development and Accelerated Private Sector Growth is the sure-fire formula for Ghana's prosperity and hence the only project in town. The President, our sources say, will remind Ghanaians that the NPP is delivering according to plan. The quality of governance on display, he may say, can be best summed up by the NPP motto: Development in Freedom.

President Kufuor, our sources suggest, will say the vision of the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy II (2006-2009) is basically three-fold: to achieve the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals; to consolidate and deepen the ongoing efforts towards good governance; and, finally, to see Ghana among the Middle Income Countries within the next decade.

The speech will highlight the advantages of having this year's budget read in November 2005 and outline how the government is going about investing in people and investing in jobs in consonance with the spending plans stated in the 2006 budget.

According to the Ministry of Manpower Development, Youth & Employment, the Youth Mass Employment programme, which kicks in this year, is expected to create 200,000 jobs by the end of the year.

Crucial to this is a scheme called, Youth-in-Agric. The Employment Ministry is working in collaboration with the Ministry of Food & Agriculture on this programme. The two ministries are also to give financial assistance to existing operators in the agric sector to expand and employ more young people in tune with the GPRS programme of rural development through modernised agriculture. Over 50 percent of the consumer price index is due to food, underlining the link between inflation and productivity and the logic in pursuing a national policy of food security.

In line with the Ministry of Trade & Industry's policy to create at least one major industry in every district, Government is to support the private sector with credit for the setting up of food processing plants across the country. With the focus on food security, cassava, yam and cocoyam, are among the staple diets to be processed in powdered form for local consumption.

Again, Gladys Asmah's Ministry of Fisheries has also embarked on a radical expansion of the aqua farming sector to make fish readily available all year round.

When he was contacted at the weekend on the issue of jobs creation to be highlighted by the President Tuesday, Finance Minister Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu told The Statesman that sources of the ¢1 trillion for youth employment, include ¢113 billion (5 percent) of HIPC funds.

“We are using only 5 percent this year because we are pushing more HIPC funds into the Energy sector. We want to complete the West African Gas Pipeline by December 2006 and we need it early to fuel the economy's accelerated expansion and growth.”

Also, over 15 percent of this year's District Common Fund is being proposed for youth employment in every district, Mr Baah-Wiredu disclosed.

He further revealed to The Statesman that about 10 percent of funds for the National Health Insurance Scheme will support the employment of Health Assistants at the community level, who will assist in the local administration of the NHIS.

“It is very much in line with our manifesto pledge in 2000 to bring jobs to every hamlet in the country,” the Finance Minister said.

The Capitation Grant is also another source of employment. Due to the unprecedented increase in school enrolment that the introduction of free education in public schools at the basic level has caused, the demand for teachers have risen further, pushing government to speed up recruitment drive in that area. 10 percent of the GETFund is set aside for the payment of teachers' allowances.

Also, the Capitation Grant is being financed through the Social Mitigation Levy on petrol, which was severely criticised by the Wahala serial street protesters of 2005.

With Ghana being officially recognised in the world as a favourable destination for business outsourcing in the ICT sector, more jobs are expected there. Typical of the prospects is ACS, a business processing outsourcing firm in Accra that employs about 2,000 Ghanaians and operates a 24-hour shift.

“We cannot lose focus on the link between a stable macro-economic environment and a vibrant market, and the job opportunities that it creates. When we can start a year with the dollar at ¢9,000 and end it without it doubling in depreciation to ¢18,000, we cannot ignore what it means to importers, consumers and the general economy,” the Finance Minister noted.