Address by the President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, at the May Day Celebration, On Friday, May 1, 2020.
Workers of Ghana, I am happy to be able to join you on this special day set aside to celebrate workers across the world, May Day, which is, annually, the occasion for energetic, enthusiastic parades and joyful celebrations to acknowledge and pay tribute to the great contribution the toil of working people make to the lives of societies and nations.
Unfortunately, this year’s celebration is a muted one because of the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, which is affecting all the nations of the world. That is why we are having to commemorate this year’s special occasion in the studios of Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, instead of Independence Square, and I am glad that the Secretary-General of the TUC, Dr. Yaw Baah, invited me to be a part of this celebration, which is being held in this unique manner. It was an invitation I could not turn down, because we have to commemorate May Day, whatever the circumstances. GBC is to be warmly commended for assisting in this initiative.
So, let me, on behalf of Government and the people of Ghana, wish all workers a Happy May Day celebration. We recognise and appreciate the efforts and sacrifices you have made towards the construction of the happy and prosperous Ghana we seek, and, on this day, I say a big ayekoo to each one of you.
Since I became President, on 7th January, 2017, some three and a half years ago, I am glad to state that the relationship between Government and Organised Labour has been one of cordiality, co-operation and mutual respect. I continue to be reassured by the determination of organised labour and its leadership to rally behind government to create a progressive nation, buoyed on by faster economic growth rates, and driven by the quest for decent jobs. I have been heartened by this, and I am determined, for as long as I remain President of the Republic, to continue even more firmly on this path of co-opetration and collaboration on which we have embarked.
Workers of Ghana, job creation is one of the most important priorities of this government. It is the thrust of the social contract, and over the course of our stay in Government, we have taken bold, innovative and urgent steps to realising this. Indeed, the latest Ghana Living Standards Survey states that the rate of unemployment, which stood at 11.9% in 2015, dropped to 7.3% in 2019. By the same token, our GDP has been growing over the last three years at an average of seven percent (7%) per year, up from the 3.4% we inherited in 2016. Ghana, in this period, has become the largest recipient of foreign direct investment in West Africa. All this, because our macroeconomy has been considerably strengthened.
However, recent events have threatened to derail the progress we have made as a nation. That is why I believe the theme for this year’s celebration, “COVID-19 in Ghana: Impact on Employment and Working Conditions”, is apt, as it puts into sharp focus the exigencies of our time, and the work each and every one has to do to get our nation fully back to work.
The outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in our country has meant that Government has rapidly had to implement a number of measures to help stem the tide of the spread. As I indicated in my 8th address to the nation, my single-minded goal is how to protect our population from the virus, see to the rebuilding of our economy, and steer the country out of this crisis.
Some of the measures implemented, like those of 15th of March, have decreed the suspension of all public gatherings and the closure of our schools and borders. These measures are still very much in force, which means that, this year, we are not gathered at Independence Square. We have also reviewed some of the measures, and lifted the restrictions to movement of persons resident in Accra, Tema, Kumasi and Takoradi.
Two weeks ago, when I invited the leadership of the Trades Union Congress to Jubilee House, we discussed at length what impact the virus and the measures to contain it have had on businesses and the welfare of workers. In the words of the admirable TUC Secretary-General, Dr. Yaw Baah, and I quote, “what we are seeing is mind-boggling. Businesses are collapsing, in almost all the sectors of the economy, many people have already lost their jobs, and many more would have lost their jobs without the easing of these restrictions.”
In spite of this stark assessment, I was encouraged by his statement that the fight against COVID-19 is a shared responsibility, and I want to stress, once again, that, together, we will defeat this virus.
Like virtually all other countries, Ghana has not been spared the adverse effects of the pandemic. With the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimating that 2.7 billion workers in the world have been affected by the imposition of partial and full lockdowns, preliminary data available to us, in Ghana, indicates that the impact of the virus on our economy has been dire. Indeed, no sector of our economy has been spared by the pandemic.
The Bank of Ghana tells us that the virus will have a negative impact on exports, imports, taxes, foreign investments and foreign exchange receipts, with GDP growth rate estimated at 2.5 percent, in a worse-case scenario. The virus has also resulted in reduced productivity, job losses, and steep decline in revenues for Government, businesses, households and individuals. Should the pandemic persist for much longer, we could face an uphill battle in trying to minimise its effects on the growth and development of our economy, and in ameliorating the suffering of our workers, the poor and the vulnerable.
As Government and as social partners, it is our collective responsibility to chart our own course out of this pandemic onto a path of sustained growth, progress and prosperity, which will safeguard jobs, and ensure the safety of the population. It is obvious that a weak response to the threat of COVID-19 would jeopardise the gains made to create a buoyant economy, and will worsen the lives and livelihoods of all Ghanaians.
So, we have put in place a Resilience and Recovery Plan, hinged on the Coronavirus Alleviation Programme, to support businesses and households, with the overarching aim to ensure economic activity and sustained livelihoods, and on the one billion dollar IMF Rapid Credit Facility to help close the financing gap that has been created as a result of shortfalls in revenues, together with unbudgeted, additional expenditures. Equivalent discussions are ongoing with the World Bank to raise more funds, which should be completed soon. I have charged the Ministry of Finance to work with the Bank of Ghana to design innovative policies, and find more resources to strengthen the productive sectors of the economy, particularly industry and agriculture, and I understand that the process will shortly yield positive results. The Minister for Finance and his South African counterpart are leading the efforts of African Ministers for Finance to obtain debt relief for our economies. The World Bank, through the IDA, has granted a debt repayment standstill for the next nine (9) months, which will result in our delaying principal and interest payments, totalling five hundred million dollars ($500 million), to create greater fiscal space to promote our economy. I have also asked the Ministers for Finance, Trade and Industry, Food and Agriculture and the Chief Executive of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) to create a future-proof, resilient plan, consistent with the principles of Ghana Beyond Aid.
Through the GH¢1.2 billion Coronavirus Alleviation Programme, Government ensured the provision of hot meals and dry food packages to over four hundred thousand vulnerable families; and has absorbed, for three months, the water bills of all Ghanaians, and the electricity bills of all lifeline customers, and provided a 50% subsidy for all other customers. We have also instituted a comprehensive incentive package to help motivate our health workers, who are the heroes and heroines of our struggle.
Government has taken other measures. It has extended the tax filing date from April to June; through negotiations with the banks, we have ensured a two percent (2%) reduction of interest rates by banks, effective last month; and, additionally, the banks have granted a six (6) month moratorium of principal repayments to entities in the airline and hospitality industries, i.e. hotels, restaurants, car rentals, food vendors, taxis, and uber operators.
Further, in collaboration with the National Board for Small Scale Industries (NBSSI), Business & Trade Associations and selected Commercial and Rural Banks, Government will, from this month of May, roll out a soft loan scheme up to a total of six hundred million cedis (GH¢600 million) to support micro, small and medium scale businesses. Loans disbursed will have a one-year moratorium, and two-year repayment period.
The decision by the commercial banks, with the support of the Bank of Ghana, to institute a three billion cedi (GH¢3 billion) credit and stimulus package, to help revitalise industries, especially in the pharmaceutical, hospitality, services, and manufacturing sectors, is one I very much welcome.
Workers of Ghana, the onset of this virus has not only led to job losses, but has also revealed the ingenuity and can-do spirit of the Ghanaian, thereby creating jobs. It has stimulated our capacity to produce for ourselves, and is making us depend on the things we make and grow for our own survival. This is a clear manifestation of our potential to be able to move this country to a situation of self-sufficiency. Out of adversity comes opportunity. The “Veronica Bucket” has won universal acclaim for its inventiveness. Ghanaian scientists are working on the discovery of an African vaccine to counter the virus, and of a test-kit suitable for our conditions. Today, we are able to produce in increasingly large quantities sanitizers and essential personal protective equipment required by our healthcare workers to fight the virus. We have to do even more. It has also led to a paradigm shift in work management protocols, and the mainstreaming of digital technology in all aspects of our working lives. To this end, I have directed the Minister for Employment and Labour Relations to lead a national dialogue on the “Future of Work” to fashion out a national strategy so we are not taken by events, such as this pandemic, in the future.
Let me state that Government will intensify the implementation of the four-point national strategy on formalisation to facilitate the identification and provision of support, relief and stimulus packages to businesses and workers in these difficult times. I also assure organised labour that Government will continue to deepen its engagement with them, as we try to mitigate the adverse impact of COVID-19 on the economy, businesses and jobs.
At this stage, I implore each and every one of you, just as we have done over the last couple of months, to continue to sacrifice so that we do not have to bear a greater cost in the future. All sections of society must see this sacrifice as a common effort to defeat this common enemy.
Before I conclude, I have to provide you with a current update on our fight against the pandemic. As at yesterday, we have conducted a total of one hundred and thirteen thousand, four hundred and ninety-seven (113,497) tests, the most per million people of any country in Africa, with two thousand, and seventy-four (2,074) testing positive. Our recoveries have increased from one hundred and eighty-eight (188) to two hundred and twelve (212), and the number of deaths, sadly, stands at seventeen (17). Our positivity rate has gone up marginally from 1.5% to 1.8%, six (6) persons are critically ill, and one thousand, eight hundred and thirty-nine (1,839) persons are well and responding to treatment in health facilities or are being managed from home. This, in effect, means that there is, presently, no big pressure on our healthcare facilities to manage these cases. We pray to God it stays that way.
Steps at increasing further our testing capacity have been taken, with the coming on stream of the Veterinary Laboratory in Accra, the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research Laboratory also in Accra, the University of Health and Allied Sciences in Ho, and the Veterinary Laboratory in Pong-Tamale, to aid the labours of the Noguchi Research Institute, the Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research, and the National Public Health Reference Laboratory at the Korle-bu Teaching Hospital. A number of isolation, quarantine and treatment facilities have also been identified across the country for use. The nation is profoundly grateful to the Church of Pentecost for the generous, Christian gesture of making available its multipurpose Convention Centre, at Gomoa Fetteh, as an isolation centre which can house over one thousand (1,000) persons and three hundred (300) medical staff.
It is important for every Ghanaian to note that the more people we test for the virus, the more persons we will discover as positive, and, thus, have the opportunity to isolate and treat them. The implementation of this strategy of tracing, testing and treating is our surest way of rooting out the virus.
As I have stated, time and again, all the measures put in place to combat the spread of the disease are under constant review, and Government will not hesitate to cordon, impose a curfew, trace, test, and treat persons in communities where we are witnessing significant spread of infections.
I will continue to urge all of us to continue to practice social distancing, wash our hands with soap under running water, refrain from shaking hands, and, wear our masks whenever we leave our homes. Businesses and other workplaces should operate, and observe staff management and workplace protocols of social distancing. This applies equally forcefully to public transport operators and users of our market places. We must observe these measures religiously, as they are the weapons of our battle against the virus.
With the suspension of all public gatherings still in force, and our schools closed, Government has taken the decision to extend further the closure of our borders for a month, effective 1am on Monday, 4th May, until Sunday, 31st May. We know that the overwhelming majority of positive cases came from travellers or contacts of travellers. So, we have no option but to keep our borders closed until we are confident that we have put in place measures to prevent travellers from importing the virus.
These restrictions cannot and will not be a permanent feature of our lives, but they are, for now, essential to our survival. As I said last Sunday, I shall be outlining, shortly, the steps for, systematically, easing the restrictive measures to bring us back to normality.
But, I would plead with you – stop the stigmatisation of recovered persons – as it will rather drive people away from getting screened, tested and treated. The stigmatisation of recovered persons must not go on, because if the virus did not end their lives and livelihoods, the stigma from members of their communities should not. The overwhelming majority of them will continue to live perfectly normal lives, and cease to be sources of infections.
Workers of Ghana, the role of organised labour, during our national struggle for freedom and independence from the British colonial power, is written in letters of gold. The historic call for Positive Action in 1950, made by our first President, Kwame Nkrumah, would not have succeeded without the active support of the trades’ union movement, then led by the legendary trades unionists, Pobee Biney and Vidal Quist. In the post-independent era, organised labour has continued to play a very constructive part in the development of our country. Today, our nation requires its active involvement in this fight against the pandemic, and I call upon all working people to step forward again. I am confident that, together, if we remain united and resolute, and maintain discipline and self-discipline, we shall defeat this virus. This, too, shall pass! For the Battle is the Lord’s.
Once again, I wish you a happy May Day Celebration, even if a restrained one.
May God bless all Ghanaian workers, and us all, and may God bless our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.
I thank you for your attention.