Ambassador Fritz K. Poku's Address At Ghana's 49th Independence Anniversary Dinner Madam Chairman of COGA, Council Members, Fellow Ghanaians as well as Friends of Ghana
I would like first of all to say how honoured I am to be back again this year to celebrate with you the 49th Anniversary of Ghana's Independence. I must say from the onset however that Ghanaian Missions abroad are this year not marking the occasion because of the focus we want to put on next year's celebration, which will be Ghana's Golden Jubilee at the age of 50. This notwithstanding, we still believe that every anniversary of a country's independence is a milestone in its development. This is why I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Council of Ghanaian Association (COGA) in the Washington Metropolitan Area, for their high sense of patriotism and public spiritedness in organizing this evening's event.
On such occasions while we celebrate our achievements, we recall the sacrifices and contributions of our founding fathers, together with the Ghanaian people in their struggle, not only to achieve political independence but also the successes chaulked in economic prosperity. We also take the opportunity to reflect on the state of affairs of the country and affirm of our vision as a people. For a people without vision do perish. We are fortunate that in the case of Ghana, our past history, however checkered it might be, has positioned us to do just that especially under the political and economic dispensation ushered in by the able and wise leadership of President John Agyekum Kufuor. Thanks to the Government's strategic planning and programmes, we are heading towards a very bright future.
Indeed the State of the Nation, as clearly came out from President Kufuor's address to the Parliament early this year, is strong and one of hope and confidence. It could not have been otherwise. On the international scene, Ghana for the third time is serving on the United Nations Security Council and making contributions towards the shaping of world affairs. Ghana is playing a key role in Peace-Keeping, not only in our sub-region, but in several other places on the globe. Ghana again has been selected to host the CANN Football Competition in 2008. In the same year 2008, Ghana will also host a United Nation's system wide Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Above all our Head of State has gained the respect and high regard not only of his peers, but has become a focus of consultation by the leaders of the Group of 8 developed countries.
On the domestic front, inspite of the misguided impression given on the Ghanaweb, Ghana has achieved political stability and enjoys a functioning democracy. The good governance practiced in Ghana, which has become well acknowledged by the international community, has given the country the confidence to be the first to submit itself to the scrutiny of the African Peer Review Mechanism. President Kufuor indeed, as part of this process, submitted himself to probing questions from 26 Heads of State of countries which have signed on to the Mechanism at the last AU Summit in Khartoum. The performance of the President enhanced further the good image of Ghana.
As far as the economy is concerned, our country has achieved macro-economic stability through the prudent management of the economy. Inflation is being controlled and moving downwards in tandem with interest rates. The good and commendable performance of our economy has enabled Ghana to maintain its status as an AGOA eligible country. Ghana has, on three successive occasions, gained eligibility for the MCC Account, which is meant to reward countries that rule justly, invest in their people and empower their private sector. Ghana is again one of the 18 countries to benefit from 100% debt-cancellation by the G-8, beginning this year, and currently boasts a B+ credit rating from prestigious institutions.
There is no doubt therefore that Ghana is really in good shape and can look forward to a very prosperous future. Certainly, there are challenges, first of all, the Government will have to address the rising expectations of the Ghanaian people. Two years ago, the government raised the minimum wage to a historic $1.00 a day. The current minimum wage as recently announced is nearly $2.00 a day. President Kufuor's government is now even thinking about establishing a living wage. Thus the government is determined to post a GDP growth rate from the current 6% to 10% on a sustainable basis for the next 10 years. This will put Ghana in the middle income group with a per capita income of $1,000.00.
The government would also continue to take bold and hard headed decisions, such as it has done by adopting the Highly Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC) and the establishment of the National Petroleum Authority as a means of deregulating the petroleum sector. When these decisions were taken, they were unpopular, but the benefits that have accrued to the nation in terms of freeing resources that otherwise might have been used in servicing debts or subsidizing the lifestyles of Ghanaians have vindicated the wisdom in such bold decisions. Government therefore, intends to pursue policies that will bring the concept of the Golden Age of Business and Ghana Incorporated into fruition and reality.
Ladies & gentlemen, Ghanaians should therefore rest assured that the best years of the country are yet to come and that all Ghanaians, irrespective of their geographical location have a role and a part to play. I will therefore urge you as Ghanaians in the diaspora to continue to support the government by sending your remittances home for your various activities and endeavours. I also encourage you to conduct yourselves as true ambassadors of a proud and prosperous nation. The Ghana government for its part will live up to its commitment to promote the welfare and empowerment of Ghanaians in the diaspora. Actuated by this commitment, the government has passed, first, the Dual Citizenship Law which enables Ghanaians to take second citizenship without loosing their nationality, thereby enjoying the best of two worlds.
Attentive to the concerns of Ghanaians in the diaspora the government only a few days ago, passed a Bill which will enable Ghanaians in the diaspora to cast their vote in future Parliamentary and Presidential elections. All these measures are no doubt in recognition of the contributions that Ghanaians in the diaspora are making towards national development. The government of President Kufuor will therefore not relent in its effort to ensure that Ghana is a place where the supreme welfare of each and every citizen is guaranteed by the common weal.
This leads me to the duty and services that the Ghana Embassy, as a Mission, owes to the Ghanaian community. But to enable the Mission fulfill the objectives and purposes of serving the community, we need the utmost co-operation of the COGA and all Ghanaians. The starting point is to let the Embassy know where you are. Thus, it is not a matter of any political propaganda or agenda that Ghanaians abroad are advised and requested to register with the Missions. Indeed if you look at the second page of your passport, you would see this advice which has been reprinted over decades: “Ghanaians who are resident abroad should at the earliest opportunity register their names and addresses at the nearest Diplomatic Mission or Consulate. Failure to do so may in a period of emergency result in difficulty or delay in according them the assistance and protection of which they are entitled.”
It is in this context that since my assumption of office a little over one and a half years ago, I have made it an article of faith to maintain close relations with the Council and all Ghanaians. As a matter of fact, out of the productive meetings we have had so far with the community, I have decided that beginning this year, the Embassy will hold quarterly meetings with the COGA. I have also proposed that given our limited resources, human and institutional, I would personally attend three key Ghanaian festivals or durbars which the COGA may wish, based upon its own criteria to select.
In the same vein, I am pleased to inform you that the Mission, in collaboration with COGA, is compiling a database of all Ghanaian citizens not only in the Washington Metropolitan area, but also in the entire United States. This will be a complement to the Skills Bank which the Mission operates for an effective utilization of Ghanaian talent, expertise and resources. Another part of this exercise is to issue I.D. cards to all Ghanaians as a reference point for the extension to them of the services to which they are entitled.
In addition to the above, having taken recognition of some complaints, the Mission has clearly come out with guidelines which spell out the procedures and modalities for acquisition of passports as well as visas. This information is on our website www.ghanaembassy.org. This should save you from making phone calls to request basic information. Indeed the Consular Section now provides expedited and efficient services. Passports are now processed in a week, instead of the previous 2 to 6 weeks, visas are processed within 48 hours instead of one week.
But there is always room for improvement. To help us improve our Customer and Public Relations, periodic in-house training sessions for employees of the Embassy have been instituted and it is encouraging to note that the hitherto indifferent attitude of the staff has been replaced with enthusiastic disposition to work. Furthermore, a Complaint Box has been placed at the main entrance of the Mission to help us assess the
Madam Chairman, Council Members, Fellow Ghanaians, it is on this forward looking and hopeful note that I would like to conclude, by once again expressing my delight in sharing this evening with you and to thank the COGA and through your Association, Madam Chairman, all Ghanaians for their encouragement, assistance and collaboration with the Mission. I would also wish to remind Ghanaians in the diaspora that it is everyone's call and duty to work to uphold the good image of our country. It does not serve the individual or the country as a whole, if scurrilous and negative postings are made on the World Wide Web.
It is not only unpatriotic, but it is at variance with the high regard that the international community has for our country as well as the fund of goodwill that abounds everywhere. After all, Ghana has been declared by a university Professor in Rotterdam through a compilation of an Annual World Database on Happiness, as the 10th happiest place on earth. Indeed we will not be far from being the No. 1 place, if all Ghanaians will bury their differences and make a positive contribution towards our national reconstruction, renaissance and development.
May God richly bless all of you and make our nation strong and prosperous. Have a good evening.