Today is the 9th day of the partial lockdown declared by the President. Yesterday, we received with concern news of the hospitalisation and transfer for intensive care of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. COVID-19 is proving to be a highly infectious disease and no respecter of persons.
This is the reason why we must cooperate with the directives announced by the President to restrict our movement as much as possible during this period, and continue to abide by the WHO and Ghana Health Service (GHS) protocols aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
On Sunday, we also received the sad confirmation of the death of a young man at Ashaiman following a shooting incident involving a security officer. While we are not yet fully apprised of the circumstances surrounding this unfortunate death, I wish to express our deepest displeasure at the shooting of an unarmed civilian and call for a speedy investigation into the circumstances surrounding the shooting.
We woke up this morning to official reports that Ghana's incidence of COVID-19 infection has risen to 287. This is an alarming situation. While the GHS ascribes the sudden increase in numbers to enhanced surveillance and testing, it is a call to arms to redouble our efforts in battling this disease.
Last Saturday, I donated my widow’s mite of 650 PPE and associated items for distribution to various health facilities across the country. During the rage of this pandemic, protective clothing, disinfectants, sanitisers, laser thermometers etc. are the most critical items needed by our frontline health workers. This will give them the confidence to continue their work without fear of getting infected with the virus themselves.
My motivation for this donation was to fill a stop-gap and buy enough time for the government-acquired medical items to become available. Last Sunday, the President announced the receipt of some items including PPE. It is the hope of all Ghanaians that these items would be despatched speedily to where they are needed.
As the President of the Ghana Medical Association said, they are grateful for the incentives given to health workers, but they need the PPE urgently to go about their business of saving lives.
Concern has also been raised about who are frontline workers. It is known that health staff work as a team. From doctors, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory staff, cleaners, cooks, security personnel etc.
It may have been useful to consider a package that would cover all healthcare staff rather than a hefty package for only ‘frontline health workers’. The government should consider a package that benefits all health care staff who are working.
Consultations with professional groups of health workers on how to administer the incentives can result in a conclusion that is acceptable to all of them.
Last week, I made some suggestions about drawing money from the Stabilisation Fund to cushion some of the unintended consequences of the partial lockdown. These included some temporary relief from utility tariffs including water and electricity.
I suggested a flexible adjustment in timelines for submission of SSNIT returns due to the manpower downturn occasioned by the pandemic. I also requested consideration of some tax relief for small businesses and tax exemption on critical medical items and other goods required for our COVID-19 response effort.
I also suggested the scrapping of the 50% increase in the Communication Service Tax (CST) and negotiations with the telcos for some reduction in data tariffs in exchange for a free six-tmonth extension of their licences. This will be welcome relief for thousands of Ghanaians who are having to work from home.
I urged the government to provide food from the National Buffer Stock Company or elsewhere to alleviate hunger in the most deprived communities within the lockdown areas.
I am grateful to note that some of these suggestions were taken on board during the President's last broadcast to the nation. While the announcement of relief from water tariffs was received with appreciation, the lack of water in many parts of the specified areas make the three-month cancellation of tariffs meaningless for some.
The Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL) must be supported to increase the supply of water to make this gesture meaningful to all. Our people are also urged not to waste water at this critical time.
Clear instructions must be given to GWCL that the presidential directive of three months’ relief from water tariffs means that no consumer must be billed for the months of April, May and June. This is notwithstanding arrears on their bills.
Clearly, electricity tariffs are the more burdensome of the two utilities. There is much expectation that some subsidy payment from the Stabilisation Fund to the ECG and generating companies can provide some temporary relief, however small, to consumers in this difficult period.
It will also be necessary to look at the pricing of LPG, especially at a time when the price of crude on the global market is at an all-time low.
The President's announcement of the distribution of hot meals and dry food packages to deprived communities is welcome news. The president stated that this will be in collaboration with faith-based organisations. This collaboration is good news because if care is not taken, in both the distribution and procurement of the food, partisan and parochial interests will defeat the purpose of the whole gesture.
I believe that traditional rulers and our Assemblymen and women in the affected areas must also be involved in this enterprise.
Our (NDC) representatives on the Finance Committee of Parliament have been urged to fully participate in the expected meeting on Thursday with the Ministry of Finance to discuss the modalities for the disbursement of the proposed stimulus package.
We will table proposals to ensure that this money is utilised efficiently and administered in a manner that is fair and just to all Ghanaian businesses that are suffering the adverse effects of the economic slowdown occasioned by this dreadful COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, today is World Health Day, celebrating nurses and health workers. In the midst of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded by the WHO that without nurses, and other health workers, there would be no response.
To all who continue to support with medical items, and providing lunch packs and fruits to our COVID-19 health workers and the public, I say thank you and more grease to your elbows.
Let us continue to #SupportNursesAndMidwives in our health facilities and communities.
John Dramani Mahama
April 07, 2020.