The 36 Best Things to Do in Portland This Weekend: Feb 22-24

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Friday, Feb 22

Mike Krol, Vertical Scratchers
“Sometimes I want the palm trees to lean so far that they break and crush me,” Mike Krol sings on “Blue and Pink,” echoing every sad sack who’s had to drag a lovesick head through an obnoxiously perfect LA day. The 10 other songs Krol’s fourth album, Power Chords, are similarly bright and stricken, as the garage-pop auteur uses his titular tools to dig into abandonment and heartbreak. Krol’s always cut the fizzy thrills of his succinct compositions with disarming earnestness, but he seems especially intent on skipping the formalities here—he’s hurting too much to hide his wounds. (9 pm, Mississippi Studios, $10-12) CHRIS STAMM

Poppy, Aviva
If the internet were able to have a child, it would be Poppy. A wispy platinum blonde with perfect Barbie features, Poppy is (in some circles) an internet sensation thanks to her sometimes baffling, but always fun critiques of obsessive online culture. This is especially evident in her music, which features bouncy electro-pop beats set to lyrics in which she questions her gender, her eyelash-length, and whether she’s human or machine. Let me put it this way: Poppy is a wildly successful walking parody of the cult of Kim Kardashian who never breaks character and performs danceable performance art… umm… that’s funny? Jeez! I’m sorry! I can’t explain it any better than that! (7:30 pm, Wonder Ballroom, $20-25, all ages) WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY

Anthony Sanchez Birthday and Benefit Show: The Chicharones, Vursatyl, Bad Habitat, Raise the Bridges, Trujillo, King Ghidora, Randal Wyatt, Eminent, Laryssa Birdseye, DJ Zone, DJ LadyX
Last month, Anthony Sanchez—founder of Runaway Productions and longtime supporter of the local hip-hop scene—was hospitalized after suffering a stroke and has been battling related health issues ever since. With a bill featuring some of Portland’s musical pillars, like hip-hop duo the Chicharones, rapper Vursatyl (of Lifesavas and, recently, Blackalicious), and Chicano rock band Trujillo, this show triples as a celebration of the 18th anniversary of Runaway Productions, Sanchez’s birthday party, and a fundraiser to help cover the cost of his medical expenses. (8 pm, Star Theater, $10) CIARA DOLAN

Pedro The Lion, Tomberlin
It’s only February, but there’s already a big favorite for 2019’s indie rock comeback of the year: Pedro the Lion, the full-band vehicle of renowned songwriter David Bazan. From 1998 to 2004, Pedro recorded four excellent albums full of emo-tinged folk-pop songs about faith, politics, confusion, and self-doubt before Bazan shelved the name to record and tour as a solo act. But with the January release of Phoenix—the first Pedro the Lion album in 15 years—the beloved band is officially back. Phoenix finds Bazan as self-reflective as ever, wielding sturdier song arrangements and backed by a band that knows how to rock. (9 pm, Revolution Hall, $25-30) BEN SALMON

Joel McHale
The comedian and actor best known for hosting The Soup and portraying Jeff Winger on the beloved sitcom Community brings his stand-up through town for a run of shows at Helium. (Fri-Sat 7:30 pm & 10 pm, Helium Comedy Club, $27-40)

Dani Shapiro
Inheritance is the latest from bestselling memoirist and novelist Dani Shapiro, about a genealogy test that revels her father was not actually her biological father, and all of the long-buried family secrets uncovered in the wake of her stunning realization. (7:30 pm, Powell’s City of Books, free)

The Bad Plus
The Minneapolis-hailing jazz outfit spearheaded by pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King bring their fiercely collaborative and genre-spanning live show to the Winningstad Theatre. Part of the 2019 PDX Jazz Festival. (9:30 pm, Winningstad Theatre, $36-46)

The Culture
Legendary Mondays puts in work for Black History Month, presenting this tribute to Black art, Black culture, and Black excellence. Put on your finest and hit the floor with purpose. (9 pm, Senate, $10-15)

Sad Horse, Noxeema, Lost Cat
Sad Horse makes some of the best punk to come out of Portland since Dead Moon’s heyday. It’s clear Elizabeth Venable and Geoff Soule draw creative inspiration from Fred and Toody—their releases play like short jolts of unbridled weirdness cut with sweet, jangly duet interludes (9 pm, No Fun, $5) CAMERON CROWELL

Snap! Y2K: Star Crossed Lovers Ball
The latest installment of the beloved monthly dance night takes cues from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, with Colin Jones, Freaky Outty, and Introcut rolling out a selection of hip-hop, house, RnB, and club remixes from ’90s and early 2000’s. (9 pm, Holocene, $6-7)

Lukas Graham
Danish singer/songwriter Lukas Graham and his band bring their soulful pop and funk-tinged R&B through the Crystal Ballroom in support of the musician’s recently released third studio album. (8:30 pm, Crystal Ballroom, $35-40, all ages)

Police Story 2
Jackie Chan broke two vertebrae making Police Story, which can happen when you’re almost singlehandedly demolishing a mall with your body. Police Story 2 is a little toned down from its predecessor as a result. Well, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. It’s more like when someone knocks on your door because you’ve got your music up way too loud and you’re dancing as hard as you can, and you ease off around 10 percent after they leave, and somehow, less than 15 minutes later, the music has magically resumed its original volume? It’s like that. But with ’80s-era Jackie Chan and friends wreaking the most comically beautiful havoc on each other’s bodies for your entertainment. (7:30 pm, Hollywood Theatre, $7-9)

Saturday, Feb 23

Caroline Rose, Superet, Ings
New York-based singer/songwriter Caroline Rose brings her shapeshifting blend of indie rock and pop back through the Doug Fir for a Portland show supporting her latest album, Loner. (9 pm, Doug Fir, $13-15)

Teenage Fanclub, Love Language
Scottish power-pop heroes Teenage Fanclub are still proudly making gloriously catchy, slightly bummed-out fuzz-rock songs, and thank heaven for that. Last year saw the reissue of their early albums and the departure of founding member Gerard Way, but with this year’s tour the Fannies have lost none of their power, keeping one eye on their marvelous and ever-growing back catalog, and the other eye toward the future. (9 pm, Wonder Ballroom, $20-22) NED LANNAMANN

Wizard World Comic Con
The earlier of Portland’s two giant-sized pop-culture celebrations lands at the Convention Center with special guest AQUABRO (and also a Khal Drogo), Jason Momoa! Plus a lineup of Whedonverse veterans that the con is advertising as “eight Buffy the Vampire Slayer Stars” but really, “A whole bunch of people who made Angel a way better show than Buffy ever was, plus Willow and Tara” is much more accurate. Oh yeah, and—of course—the various people who actually write and draw comic books, most of whom will be shunted off into a small corner of the convention center to be ignored for most of the weekend. (Sat-Sun 10 am, Oregon Convention Center, $40, all ages)

Queer Quest
Godsfall podcast creator and Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast Aram Vartian DMs a two-hour long D&D session for players of all experience levels to benefit the Q Center, a resource center and safe space for LGBTQAI+ people living in the Portland community. (6 pm, Q Center, $25-125)

Daniel Romano, Thayer Sarrano
Prolific Canadian country singer/songwriter and poet Daniel Romano returns to Mississippi Studios for the Portland stop on a tour supporting his latest full-length, Finally Free (9 pm, Mississippi Studios, $12-14)

For more than 15 years, DJ Anjali and the Incredible Kid have been an inimitable force in the Portland dance scene. Since 2002 the power duo has hosted Andaz—their monthly bhangra, Bollywood, and desi bass dance party (the longest running on the West Coast)—and let me tell you, it is WILD. There were flashing lights and Bollywood movies playing on TVs. The air was thick with moisture, so thick that I’m pretty sure it was condensing on the ceiling. Surrounded by energetic dancers, DJ Anjali and the Incredible Kid inundated late-night revelers with rhythms from South Asia and beyond. (10 pm, The Liquor Store, $5-10) CIARA DOLAN

I Heart Gumbo
Even if you’ve never had gumbo, you probably heart it, because it’s just a fun word to say, and so far as meal names go, it’s one of those that just sounds delicious. Guess what, it very much is, and Oh Honey Cookery is hosting this pop-up dedicated not just to showing you how tasty it can be, but helping teach you how to make your own at home. (6 pm, Fika Cafe, $50)

Mic Crenshaw
Veteran Portland rapper Mic Crenshaw heads up a hometown matinee at the Alberta Street Pub in support of his latest full-length, Earthbound. (3 pm, Alberta Street Pub, $7)

Wyrd War Presents: 2019 – After the Fall of New York
Wyrd War loves digging through ’80s detritus and sharing schlock treasures with fellow appreciators of vintage trash. One of the decade’s most unrepentant garbagemen was Italian director Sergio Martino, whose career consisted of watching someone make an original thing, and then saying to himself “I can make that in two weeks with 15 bucks and a gravel pit.” So after apparently catching a marathon of Alien, The Road Warrior, and Escape From New York, he threw a couple bucks towards the chiseled slab of man that was Michael Sopkiw, and imagined a cheapjack post-apocalyptic 2019 that is, in many ways, still more dignified than the real 2019 is. (7:30 pm, Hollywood Theatre, $7-9) BOBBY ROBERTS

Bone Thugs N Harmony
DID YOU KNOW: On the title track of their breakout 1994 EP Creepin’ On Ah Come Up, the Bones are singing “Stalk and gat fools, walkin’ jack moves,” and not, as many kids on the playground during that era sang it, “Smokin’ cat food, rockin’ jacked moves.” The Thugs take no responsibility for any Meow Mix-related illnesses you may or may not have incurred during your impressionable suburban youth. (8 pm, Roseland, $25-40)

Korgy & Bass, Cameron Morgan Group
Local duo Korgy & Bass bring their instrumental hip-hop to the White Eagle Saloon to head up a hometown show along with support from the Cameron Morgan Group. Part of the 2019 PDX Jazz Festival. (8 pm, White Eagle, $8)

And That’s Why We Drink
Christine Schiefer and Em Schulz talk paranormal hauntings and true crime stories over a box of wine live on the Aladdin Theater stage when their popular podcast rolls through town as part of a massive live tour. (7 pm, Aladdin Theater, $30-60)

Patrice Rushen & Ernie Watts, Farnell Newton
Grammy nominated jazz pianist and R&B singer Patrice Rushen takes to the Revolution Hall stage to revisit her acclaimed 1982 album Straight from the Heart along with support from jazz saxophonist Ernie Watts. Portland jazz staple Farnell Newton rounds out the proceedings with a tribute to legendary jazz and blues trumpeter Donald Byrd. Part of the 2019 PDX Jazz Festival. (7 pm, Revolution Hall, $30-50)

26th Annual Hillsdale Brewfest
An outdoor heated tent hosts some of McMenamins’ best brewers as they compete for the championship belt. Last year, Kennedy School’s brewmasters took the title, but will they repeat for 2019? Find out by tasting the different varieties of Hefes, Oatmeal Stouts, Barleywines, and more brought to the contest by McMenamins pubs from all over the state. (11 am, Hillsdale Brewery and Public House, free)

Sunday, Feb 24

Kris Kristofferson & the Strangers
Over 82 action-packed years, Kris Kristofferson’s seen a lot—he’s been a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, a helicopter pilot in the Airborne Rangers, a Highwayman (alongside buds Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash), a vampire slayer (his heroic deeds chronicled in the three Blade documentaries), an award-winning movie star in 1976’s A Star Is Born (SUCK IT, BRADLEY COOPER), and… oh yeah, one of the greatest singer-songwriters country music has ever seen. An eternal badass, Kristofferson is back on tour with a voice like honey-drenched gravel and a catalog that ranges from “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” to “Me and Bobby McGee” to “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” Listen up. Unless you’re a vampire, in which case watch out! (8 pm, Newmark Theatre, $45-70) ERIK HENRIKSEN

Bunk Oscars Party
This years Academy Awards are gonna be… somethin’, I guess? Nobody really knows what the hell is going to happen, the organization itself seems pretty confused as to what it is they’re supposed to be doing, and there’s just a sense of confusion and awkwardness one normally doesn’t see in a group of mostly-rich people gifting each other gold statues for playing pretend the best. Might as well enjoy yourself a sandwich or two with some beers as the circus unfolds on Bunk’s big screen. Make sure the loudest cheers are saved for cinematography and editing, by the way. (4 pm, Bunk Bar, free)

Do the Right Thing
Or, alternatively: Fuck the Oscars. Watch Do the Right Thing instead. (2:10 pm & 9:30 pm, Academy Theater, $3-4)

Half Waif, Whitney Ballen
New York-based singer/songwriter Nandi Rose Plunkett brings her rich synth-pop sounds to the Doug Fir stage for the Portland stop on a headlining tour supporting her 2018 album, Lavender. Seattle’s Whitney Ballen rounds out the bill with her own unique blend of slow-burning pop music. (9 pm, Doug Fir, $12-14)

OM, Emel Mathlouthi
Any stoner metal nerd can tell you that when Sleep—arguably the genre’s most important band—split up in the mid-’90s, guitarist Matt Pike went on to embrace his ear-shattering physicality with High on Fire, while the rhythm section re-emerged as OM. In this configuration, the group has expanded on the powerfully cyclical oneness that made them legends: Al Cisneros’ paralyzing bass/vocal mantras and the methodical polyrhythms of drummer Chris Hakius were left bare in OM’s stark minimalism, while faithful fanatics drowned in a tsunami of hypnotically low frequencies. Sleep has since reformed to glorious acclaim, but Cisneros never stops cathartically chanting OM’s dark missives to the burgeoning legions. These days Emil Amos of Grails has taken over drum duties, while avant-garde soundscapist Robert Lowe augments the Valhallian rumble, lifting Cisneros’ blackened séance to the stratosphere. (8:30 pm, Wonder Ballroom, $20, all ages) CHRIS SUTTON

Ghost Piss, Charlie Moses, Sunbaby, Autonomuse
New York City has sent many a wonderful thing to Portland, and tonight they’re making sure you get a faceful of Ghost Piss. ENJOY! (9 pm, No Fun, $5)

Marc-André Hamelin, The Oregon Symphony
In my world, John Adams is not a former president, but a brilliant composer alive and well and living in northern California. Lucky for us, our hometown orchestra consistently champions his works, performing them with the crackling, virtuosic intensity they deserve. Tonight the band presents Adams’ Doctor Atomic Symphony—a gem that explores the personal remorse of physicists who developed nuclear weapons, the horrors that struck Japan in 1945, and the lingering anxiety of atomic warfare in our present age. This evening’s program also includes a Rachmaninoff piano concerto, as well as Death and Transfiguration from Richard Strauss. (7:30 pm, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, $24 and up, all ages) BRIAN HORAY

Freddy Cole: Celebrating Nat King Cole at 100
Jazz singer and pianist Freddy Cole pays tribute his brother Nat King Cole in honor of the jazz legend’s 100th birthday. (4 pm, Winningstad Theatre, $46-56)

Girls Gone Mild: A Stand-Up Brunch
Portland’s comedy brunch showcase returns! Indulge in a mimosas and waffles while taking in stand-up from comedians Wendy Weiss, Becky Braunstein, Laura Anne Whitley, and more. (11 am, Siren Theater, $15)

Men I Trust, Michael Seyer
Men I Trust was one of the only dream-pop acts on the 2018 lineup for Tyler, the Creator’s music festival Camp Flog Gnaw, and the band later spilled that the rapper personally asked them to perform. The Canadian trio has remained independent of any record label or PR company since forming in 2014, and they produce, mix, and master their jingly melodies, smooth rhythms, and subdued vocals themselves. While Men I Trust spent the majority of 2018 sporadically releasing singles, they’re putting out a third album, Oncle Jazz, later this month. (9 pm, Mississippi Studios, $12-15)

Don’t forget to check out our Things To Do calendar for even more things to do!

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Doctors, Lawyers with Monetary Motives Cause Painful Decisions in Women’s Health Care

By Glenn Ellis

 Women, especially women of color and poor women, tend to suffer disproportionately in our healthcare system. The problem is growing worse now that there’s a group of trial lawyers eager to exploit female victims, under the guise of offering help.

Take for instance that roughly one-quarter of U.S. women suffer from pelvic floor disorders, and according to the Washington Post, about 3-4 million of them have been treated with transvaginal mesh.  The vast majority of these women receive repairs using transvaginal mesh without complications, but a significant minority experienced serious problems.

After the publicity surrounding this issue hit the fan, the lawyers pounced.  It has come to light that a collaboration involving some law firms, doctors, and finance companies are pressuring women into unnecessary surgeries to remove the mesh. Giving new meaning to the term “insult to injury,” this phenomenon, according to the New York Times, is leading unsuspecting women to the operating table – even in cases when the removal could worsen the symptoms.

If that’s not enough, some unscrupulous hedge funds are financing companies connected with law firms specializing in suing manufacturers of the mesh. These law firms often use overseas telemarketing callers in countries such as India and the Philippines to contact women, known to have had the mesh surgery, with offers to join in lawsuits to sue the mesh manufacturers.

The New York Times highlighted a growing problem that tends to target women: the industry grown out of medical device settlements. For example, a court-ordered, charitable fund, the Common Benefit Trust, established out of the Dow Corning breast implant settlement fund, which also resulted from a faulty medical device. The Common Benefit Trust appears to have used some of this money to fund policy centers, advocacy groups, and a conference on litigation.

Pelvic organ prolapse, a medical issue sought to be treated by the transvaginal mesh, is one of the most common reasons for women to have surgery. It is ranked among the top three reasons that women have hysterectomies.

Then there are racial disparities. Compared with African American women, Latina and White women had four to five times higher risk of symptomatic prolapse, thought to be in large part due to the lower rates of African-American women reporting the condition as a problem to doctors. Researchers see this pattern as part of a culture where African American and/or poor women will not typically see the condition as a problem requiring them to consider surgery.

Issues like the transvaginal mesh that has revealed disparate treatment of women are not new. All patients – but especially women patients and minority patients that have traditionally been marginalized – deserve better than to be exploited in some of their most vulnerable times.

Those vulnerable times include childbirth and other areas of maternal health. Dr. Niva Lubin-Johnson, president of the National Medical Association, which represents more than 50,000 African American physicians on issues of health disparities and justice, says, “There is a crisis for African American women that is related to maternal mortality – and that’s across any economic level and educational level for African American women. We are losing in that area,” she says.

As for the transvaginal mesh, Lubin-Johnson says women must take extreme precaution when contacted by anyone about removals of that or any other device. “No, you go talk to your own physician about that and not to someone who is doing a cold call because of some possibility of joining a law suit…Talk to your own physician first; even if they were not the one who put the mesh in.”

Since The New York Times began shining a light on these bad behaviors, federal prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York have begun investigating the allegations of unnecessary and unneeded vaginal mesh removal surgeries. According to reports, doctors, lawyers, financiers and others who may have been involved in the sham have been subpoenaed.

So, if you’re considering medical treatment, be an informed consumer. Be sure to have your health care provider explain all of your options, as well as their possible risks and benefits. Though if these risks are not avoided, by all means, beware of financial lures to have surgeries that you do not need and that could leave you in a condition far worse than before.


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Kathy Thornton-Bias Named President and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee

Kathy Thornton-Bias-BGCGM President and CEO

Milwaukee – (February 20, 2019) – Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee (BGCGM) announced today that after a unanimous recommendation, Kathy Thornton-Bias has been named the new president and CEO of BGCGM effective March 1, 2019. BGCGM conducted a national search process for a new president and CEO.

The search, which began as soon as Vincent Lyles notified the board of his resignation last September, was conducted over several months by executive search firm Egon Zehnder in partnership with the search committee led by BGCGM Board Vice Chair Bob Mikulay, former executive vice president of marketing for the Miller Brewing Company. A number of Clubs employees and community partners were engaged to provide input. The national search garnered many candidates with diverse backgrounds who met the qualifications for the role, and although not all of them were local, they all had ties to Milwaukee.

Thornton-Bias will be the 15th leader of the organization as it celebrates 132 years of serving the community this year. She also becomes the second female to lead the organization since its founding in 1887 by Annabell Cook Whitcomb, the first executive director. At the time, Whitcomb persuaded the Plymouth Congregational Church on Milwaukee’s east side to convert two basement rooms into club rooms for boys, creating the Milwaukee Boys Club. In 1984, in an effort led by then Board Chair Jack McKeithan, the organization became one of the first Club systems in the country to be inclusive of girls, becoming the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Thornton-Bias is a highly respected executive in the business and retail space with a career that spans almost three decades. During that time, she has held senior leadership roles for more than 15 years in large organizations and possesses a wealth of fundraising experience. After graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in Rhetoric and Communications, she joined Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, where she would eventually become the first African American to hold the title Vice President for Divisional Merchandise. She then served as the President of the Retail Division for New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), where she doubled revenues and tripled profits. After 11 years at MoMA, Thornton-Bias became Bang & Olufsen’s President of North America, launching a new revenue stream which would ultimately produce 30 percent of the overall sales for the company. She later moved to Milwaukee to become the President and Chief Operating Officer of the Verlo Mattress franchise.

Thornton-Bias has served on numerous non-profit boards including a current board member of the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Ron Brown Scholars Program, and the University of Virginia, where she serves as a trustee. She is also a member of the Junior League and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She has received widespread recognition from a number of esteemed publications including Ebony Magazine, which placed her on their “Power 100” list, and Essence Magazine, which named her to their list of “Game Changers.” In addition to her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia, she also earned a master’s in business administration from the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University.

Scott Wrobbel, BGCGM board chair and managing partner at Deloitte, said the passion for servant leadership expressed by Thornton-Bias as well as her insightful vision for the future of the Clubs are part of what helped the board come to the hiring decision.

“We were very fortunate to have had a tough choice to make among our candidates, but we knew (Thornton-Bias) was the right choice to lead us,” Wrobbel said. “In all of our conversations, her past experiences were never about her, they were all about the organization she worked for and its people. She will very quickly be seen as a respected voice for our people and the kids in the city of Milwaukee.”

Thornton-Bias said the founding of BGCGM is a strong example of faith in action, and although she has worked primarily in the for-profit sector, work in the nonprofit and education industries are deeply embedded in her family.

“Like Annabell Whitcomb, I am driven by faith and purpose, and I see promise in the vision she set forth with when she founded the organization,” she said. “I plan to focus on four important trajectories as I work toward my vision of the future: greater reach, greater relevance, great impact, and greater unity.”

Thornton-Bias replaces Lyles whose last day with the Clubs was October 31. Susan Ela, former BGCGM board chair, has served as interim president and CEO during the transition period. Ela, former executive vice president and chief operating officer of Aurora Health Care, will remain in the interim role until Thornton-Bias assumes the position next month.

In addition to overall leadership of the organization including strategy, services, programs, finances, talent, brand, resource development, and stakeholder relationships, the president and CEO serves as the primary ambassador and lead communicator of BGCGM. Thornton-Bias, together with her team, will oversee the organization’s 1,100 full-and part-time employees, 2,500 volunteers and 44 locations, including Camp Whitcomb/Mason in Hartland, Wisconsin. In total, BGCGM serves more than 37,000 children and teens annual. The president and CEO reports to BGCGM Board Chair Wrobbel.

About Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee

Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee (BGCGM), one of the largest and longest youth serving agencies in Milwaukee, offers structured after-school and summer programming to more than 41,000 children and teens each year. Within the safety of 44 Club locations and a youth camp, youth have access to free meals, academic support, role models and opportunities to build character and explore new interests. Through programs like the MarVan Scholars academics program and World of Work, the Clubs provide a structured pathway for members to thrive in all stages of their education and gain valuable job experience that will help them develop successful careers as adults.

More than 86 percent of the organization’s annual budget goes toward youth programming. Charity Navigator, America’s largest and most-utilized charity evaluator, has given BGCGM its highest rating of four stars. For more information, please visit

‘Dying of whiteness’: How Trump and the GOP tapped into white America’s suicidal crusade to maintain white supremacy

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Trump Weighs In On Jussie Smollett’s Arrest

12:06 PM 02/21/2019 | US

Evie Fordham | Politics and Health Care Reporter

President Donald Trump weighed in on Twitter after actor Jussie Smollett was arrested Thursday and charged with felony disorderly conduct for filing a false police report following an alleged hate crime hoax.

“Jussie Smollett — what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA,” Trump wrote on Twitter Thursday.

Smollett, known for his role on the show “Empire,” is accused of orchestrating a fake hate crime against himself in Chicago in January. He claimed that two white men attacked him while he was walking home from a restaurant late at night. Smollett, who is gay, told police that the men poured a bleach-like substance on him and tied a rope around his neck like a noose while shouting racist and homophobic slurs.

Some media outlets reported that Smollett said the alleged attackers wore “Make America Great Again” hats popularized by Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, but Smollett said during a “Good Morning America” interview on Feb. 14 that he never said that. (RELATED: Chicago PD Puts Smollett ‘Publicity Stunt’ On Blast For Making The City Look Bad)

That interview took place before Smollett’s story began to crumble. Two brothers, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, were arrested for allegedly attacking Smollett before being released Friday without charges. Smollett allegedly paid the brothers to carry out the attack.

The Chicago Police Department addressed the Smollett controversy during a press conference Thursday.

Actor Jussie Smollett, 36, appears in a booking photo provided by the Chicago Police Department in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., February 21, 2019. Courtesy Chicago Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

Actor Jussie Smollett, 36, appears in a booking photo provided by the Chicago Police Department in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., February 21, 2019. Courtesy Chicago Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

“This announcement today recognizes that ‘Empire’ actor, Jussie Smollett, took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago PD Superintendent Eddie Johnson said. “I am left hanging my head and asking why? Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose, to make false accusations?”

Follow Evie on Twitter @eviefordham.

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African-American history at Sunburst oft overlooked

The places are well known — Spruce, Three Rivers, “bastard Sunburst,” the ballroom, the band saw, the hotel, the general store — but it’s the forgotten black faces from these well known places that, were it not for people like Lewis Oats, wouldn’t be remembered at all. 

Looking out over the placid waters of Lake Logan, it’s hard to envision the bustling sawmill that occupied the site more than a century ago. 

European settlers began logging in Western North Carolina not long after their arrival in the late 1700s, some of them setting up small family-run operations on the rivers and creeks that vein Haywood County.

With the arrival of Canton’s Champion Fibre Company around the turn of the 20th century, demand soared, so proprietor Peter G. Thompson began the first of a series of purchases that would eventually amount to more than 40,000 acres of timberland in an area he called “Sunburst” because of the way the sun rose over the mountains. 

Not far from the Sunburst campground off N.C. 215, a small community of laborers sprang up after 1905, building homes, businesses and places of worship. 

fr cover sunburst

Smoke rises from a bustling Sunburst around the turn of the century. Today, Lake Logan occupies this valley. Donated photo

Just a few years later, Champion sold all of Sunburst to a new entity called the Champion Lumber Company. To overcome some transportation and distribution issues, Champion Lumber moved the whole operation, along with the Sunburst name, 4 miles upstream to a site locals derisively called “bastard Sunburst.” 

“Over time, with the railroad coming in and the needs of the logging industry, it was more convenient to bring it down to where Lake Logan is today,” said Evelyn Coltman, chair of the Bethel Rural Community Organization’s historic preservation committee. 

BRCO is one of about 70 community organizations in Western North Carolina, each with a particular focus; Coltman said that in addition to a food pantry and benevolence committee, her group is tireless in its efforts to gather, record and preserve the history of the area, and then make that history accessible by producing a variety of books and films. 

The most recent is a lengthy presentation of the history of Sunburst, which after its move upriver became an even more significant, sophisticated community that eventually grew to house hundreds of workers — some of whom had electricity, running water and telephone service. 

Those relatively modern amenities, though, weren’t the only progressive notions visited upon the isolated mountain hamlet. 

“He came here to work,” said Clyde resident Lewis Oats, Jr., of his grandfather Fred Moore. “Just like the others came here to work. This was employment, and they were paying, at that time, it was good money.”

Moore, an African-American from Blue Ridge, Georgia, migrated to Haywood County sometime in the early 1900s to work at Sunburst. At the time, so-called Jim Crow laws began to curtail hard-earned rights of former slaves and free-born African-Americans throughout the South. Although their systematic disenfranchisement would come later, African-Americans faced significant disadvantages and discrimination not only from the businesses that refused to serve them, but also the businesses that refused to hire them. 

Oats’ other grandfather, Will Oats, came from Bryson City with his brother Tom to work at Sunburst as well. 

“You couldn’t turn that work down because you didn’t have no work unions or anything like that in those days,” said Oats. “People come from far away just to make a living.” 

Chattel slavery of the type practiced across the Cotton Belt and the Mississippi River basin never really took hold in Haywood County, a consequence of the general unsuitability of mountainous Western North Carolina for large-scale agriculture.

But slavery wasn’t unknown in the area; Franklin, in nearby Macon County, had its own slave market, and the first known sale of a slave — actually, a married couple — in Haywood County took place in 1809. The price, $2,750, translates to around $44,000 today. 

The 1810 U.S. Census reports that about 9 percent of Haywood County’s families owned slaves, who at that time numbered around 160. A decade later that number had grown to more than 270, but never got much higher.

Consequentially, as the Civil War drew to a close, there weren’t many African-Americans left in Haywood County and as Sunburst began ramping up operations 30 years later, the presence of African-American workers there was unusual, but it wasn’t unexpected. 

What was unexpected, though, was the degree to which African-Americans were accepted, even welcomed, at Sunburst.

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Lewis Oats, Jr. Cory Vaillancourt photo

“They were looked upon by the type of skills that they had,” said Oats. “Every man’s work was valued. Sunburst was like a boomtown, so you had a variety of people coming in at the same time who had all these different personalities, and they had to gel together as a unit.”

Although Sunburst’s schools were indeed segregated, the rest of the accommodations were relatively free of discrimination.

“It was a unity thing,” Oats said. “They became friends when they were working together.” 

That, Oats said, created a sense of community that transcended racial lines and focused more on what the workers, regardless of color, all shared in common — a hardscrabble existence in a remote settlement where backbreaking work was the norm and accidental deaths were common. 

“If you ran short on food or whatever, you knew you can count on the next door neighbor to help you out,” said Oats. “Nowadays it’s a horse of a different color.”

An example, recounted by Oats in the recent BRCO video release called Sunburst and Other Logging Operations in the Bethel & Cold Mountain Community, involves his grandfather Fred, one of the only musicians in the camp. 

“He played the banjo, so on Saturdays they’d have a hootenanny and the blacks and the whites danced and sang together,” Oats said. “They had a real good time. There was no ‘This is the black community, this is the white community.’ They all lived together in harmony.”

In its prime, the mill produced enough lumber each day that if lined up end to end it would stretch more than 34 miles. During World War I, when many military vehicles like boats and airplanes were still made of wood, that 34 miles of wood per day increased to 47. 

An arson fire at Sunburst in 1922 accelerated the demise of logging operations that had already begun to dwindle, but another fire three years later was the last straw; the mill was taken apart and moved to Waynesville, the Sunburst post offices closed. 

Canton’s Champion paper mill then bought the area back from the Champion Lumber Company in 1929 and built a dam in 1932, forever flooding the site under dozens of feet of cool, clear mountain rainwater now known as Lake Logan. 

For the next several decades, the site was used as a retreat for Champion’s employees, management and guests until the Episcopal Church purchased it and turned it into a conference and retreat center in 2000. 

Sunburst’s legacy didn’t end beneath the waters of Lake Logan though, especially for the forgotten African-Americans who labored there in relative equality. 

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Louis Oats, Jr.’s grandparents Fred and Ruth Moore both benefitted from his time at Sunburst. Donated photo

“They just tried to live,” said Oats of the African-Americans at Sunburst. “They knew they had to raise families. They knew they had to make money, and that’s how my grandfather got the property in Waynesville, and my [other] grandfather got his property in Canton.”

Oats attended the segregated Reynolds School in the historically African-American Canton neighborhood of Gibsontown before starring as a running back on two Pisgah High School state championship football teams. Although he could have attended college on an athletic scholarship, he opted to join the military instead, where he worked on the Pershing missile program in Europe and had several different top-secret clearances.

He credited his grandfathers — and Sunburst — for giving him the chance to do any of that. 

“After Sunburst closed, they were able to raise their families in the community,” he said. “From Sunburst, they were able to become businessmen, even though one was a sharecropper, and the other one, he was a bootlegger, but they had businesses.”

His mom’s father, Fred Moore, bought land in Waynesville after Sunburst closed, and returned to farming — this time, for himself. He also opened a popular drive-in located in Waynesville’s African-American neighborhood clustered along Pigeon Street. 

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Patrons gather outside Fred Moore’s drive-in, once located on Waynesville’s Pigeon Street. Donated photo

Oats’ father’s father, Will Oats, bought some land in Canton, worked at the paper mill, and also opened up a drive-in. 

“One had a drive-in at one end of the county, and the other one had a drive-in at the other end of the county,” he laughed. 

Notwithstanding the tremendous impact Sunburst (and bastard Sunburst) had on Oats — whose forebears emerged from their terms of employment at the sawmill with social, economic and educational advantages other African-Americans didn’t yet enjoy — as well as generations of African-Americans like him, it’s Oats’ memories that remain most valuable; despite the substantial collection of materials that testify to the existence of Sunburst, not a single photograph of African-Americans working at Sunburst is known to exist. 

That’s compounded by a startling lack of African-American historical resources in general in Western North Carolina. Oats, however, remembers their faces, and the Bethel Rural Community Organization’s work in preserving their legacy means one of the last chapters of the Sunburst story has finally been written.

“The African-American community that was at Sunburst was a strong community,” Oats said. “They had a lot of knowledge when they left there, and they were able to expand once they left Sunburst. The foundation for good roots was set at that time.”

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Evelyn Coltman. Cory Vaillancourt photo

Learn more

Founded in 1991, the Bethel Rural Community Organization is a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a mission “to coordinate local and regional resources to perform programs and projects that enhance the quality of rural life in Bethel Community.” Historic preservation efforts by BRCO have earned the organization multiple awards, including from the North Carolina Association of Historians and Western Carolina University. Historic preservation aside, BRCO has also put almost 550 acres of land into permanent conservation, as well as nearly a mile of river frontage, earning an award from Haywood Waterways Association in the process. BRCO’s largest fundraiser is the state’s oldest half marathon, but the group also produces and sells books, art prints, music CDs, guided audio tour CDs and DVDs, like the one on Sunburst. For more information, visit or email Evelyn Coltman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

What’s behind the teacher strikes: Unions focus on social justice, not just salaries

Updated 8:28 am PST, Thursday, February 21, 2019


(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)

Rebecca Tarlau, Pennsylvania State University

(THE CONVERSATION) For the past few years I’ve been studying teacher unions and teachers strikes throughout the Americas. My research has taken me from the Mexican state of Oaxaca – where teacher protests in 2006 led to both violent repression and a broad-based social movement for direct democracy – to the streets of São Paulo, Brazil, to coal-mining towns in West Virginia.

I’ve learned that certain conditions prompt teacher unions to adopt new forms of activism and take up broader issues of social justice that go beyond how much teachers are paid.

Now is such a time in the United States.

Factors driving the strikes

The teacher strike that began Feb. 21 in Oakland, California, is just the latest example in a wave of teacher strikes that have swept the country over the past year.

In my view as a researcher who deals with issues of education and labor, the current teacher strike wave in the United States is the result of three factors.

First is the acceleration of market-based education reforms, including the expansion of charter schools.

Second is networks of teacher activists organizing and transforming their unions to focus on broader social issues.

Third is the framing of teacher union action as part of the struggle for racial justice.

These factors have led teacher unions to form alliances with community organizations, enlist students and parents to join the activism, and speak out against efforts to expand charter schools and privatization.

Inspired by Occupy

Let’s look at how these three factors played out in Oakland, starting several years ago.

As I learned through interviews, teacher activists in Oakland drew inspiration from the Occupy movement in 2011. They helped occupy a local elementary school to protest its closing, and eventually created a union caucus called Classroom Struggle with a couple dozen teachers to promote more social justice issues. Then, last spring, these teacher activists created a slate, in alliance with African-American teacher and organizer Keith Brown, and won the leadership of the Oakland Education Association. Since taking office on July 1, 2018, this new union leadership – inspired by the successful strikes in West Virgina, Arizona and Los Angeles – have been preparing for a strike.

The conditions that led to the Oakland strike are similar to those that led to strikes in other cities earlier this year, such as Los Angeles.

For instance, public education in Oakland has been defunded and the city, much like Los Angeles, is experiencing charter school expansion that teachers say is taking money away from public schools. One recent report found that charter schools take US$57.3 million a year from public schools in Oakland.

Teacher union actions in Oakland also mirror tactics and strategies that unions have used in other cities. For instance, Oakland teacher union leaders have enlisted the help of student and community groups and focused on racial justice.

All these actions have transformed the Oakland Education Association – and many other teachers’ unions across the country – into leaders of a social movement that has the potential of redefining public education, the labor movement and American politics.

Much of the media attention on teacher strikes has focused on the economic reasons for the strikes, such as low teacher salaries, rising health care costs and aging textbooks. But there are important historical factors at play.

Historically, teachers’ unions have not led social, racial and economic justice movements. But there are some exceptions. Those exceptions include teacher unionists’ critique of authoritarianism in Mexico in the 1980s and 1990s; teachers’ participation in the movement for a return to democracy in Brazil in the late 1970s; and, in the United States, the participation of many teacher union leaders in the civil rights activism of the 1950s and 1960s.

However, it is also important to note that during the 1960s, many teachers in the United States also found themselves at odds with communities of color. Perhaps this is best exemplified by the 1968 Ocean Hill-Brownsville Strike, when the United Federation of Teachers rallied against black community control of schools.

New alliances

Today’s teacher activists have bridged the divide between teacher unions and communities of color. For instance, between 2010 and 2012, teacher activists from Chicago’s Caucus of Rank and File Educators, or CORE, aligned with other community groups to organize against school closings in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. CORE also supported parents and students occupying an elementary school to prevent its closure. Their rallying call – “Schools that Chicago Students Deserve” – included demands for reduced class size and other things related to classroom conditions.

In Los Angeles, activists embraced this social movement approach to union activism, fighting for the “Schools that LA Students Deserve.” In 2014, the Los Angeles activists created a new caucus, Union Power, winning the elections and immediately hiring dozens of new organizers to help build towards a strike. They worked in alliance with dozens of community organizations.

The Black Lives Matter movement fueled energy into a new student movement, called Students Deserve, directly supported by the union leadership. The six-day LA strike in early 2019 represented, more than anything else, an explicit racial justice struggle. The LA strike also called into question claims by the charter and voucher movements that school choice policies represent the best path to social mobility for children from poor communities of color.

Teacher unions are not always – and not often – the leaders of broader social justice movements. Now that’s changing due to a new generation of union activists who see their struggle as part of the fight for equitable resources for the communities in which they teach.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here:

Striking Oakland Teachers Demand Better Pay, Smaller Classes

What to Know

  • Oakland teachers want smaller class sizes, more counselors and full-time nurses, and a 12 percent retroactive raise

  • Teachers say their salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living in the Bay Area

  • Oakland Unified School District said schools will remain open, staffed by non-union employees and substitute teachers

Teachers in Oakland, California, went on strike Thursday in the country’s latest walkout by educators over classroom conditions and pay.

The city’s 3,000 teachers are demanding a 12 percent retroactive raise covering 2017 to 2020 to compensate for what they say are among the lowest salaries for public school teachers in the exorbitantly expensive San Francisco Bay Area. They also want the district to hire more counselors to support students and more full-time nurses.

Teachers picketed schools as the strike began, and their union leader said the educators were forced to do so because he said administrators did not listen to teacher demands for two years.

“For two years we have been negotiating with the Oakland Unified School District to make our students a priority over outside consultants and central office administrators,” said Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown. “It’s time for them to listen to the voices of the community.”

The walkout affects 36,000 students at 86 schools.

'OUSD Better Have My Money': Teachers Strike in Photos‘OUSD Better Have My Money’: Teachers Strike in Photos

“I want smaller class sizes so I can give my students what they need. It’s really hard to be the teacher, the nurse, the social worker or the counselor to 25 students in a day,” Estefana Ramos, a 1st grade teacher at Manzanita Community School, told NBC Bay Area.

The Oakland Unified School District said schools will remain open, staffed by non-union employees and substitute teachers. However, parents should not expect school as usual, it said.

“We’re hopeful that we can find a resolution as soon as possible,” said district spokesman John Sasaki.

Oakland teachers have been working without a contract since 2017 and have said their salaries have not kept up with the cost of living in the expensive San Francisco Bay Area.

Speaking to a crowd of teachers and parents Thursday morning outside Manzanita Community School, where Rep. Eric Swawell, D-Calif. District 15, was also in attendance, Brown demanded reinvestment in Oakland schools, student support, more nurses, counselors and librarians, as well as smaller class sizes and a living wage to keep teachers in Oakland.

“These are the kinds of things that all teachers in California stand for and the 325,000 teachers of the California Teachers Association stand fully behind Oakland Educator Association teachers and Oakland,” said California Teachers Association President Eric Heins.

RAW: Oakland Teachers Take to Picket Lines During StrikeRAW: Oakland Teachers Take to Picket Lines During Strike

Rep. Barbara Lee, a democrat who oversees East Bay cities, said Thursday that she stands behind teachers.

“They deserve a living wage and the tools they need to give our kids the very best education. I’m hopeful OUSD and the teachers’ union can come to a quick agreement that prioritizes our students and the teachers who educate them,” Lee tweeted.

Teachers and supporters will all join together at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland at 11:30 a.m. for a rally.

A teacher’s starting salary in the district is $46,500 a year and the average salary is $63,000, according to the union. By comparison, a starting teacher makes $51,000 a year in neighboring Berkeley and the average salary is $75,000, the union said.

Initially, the district offered a 5 percent raise covering 2017 to 2020, saying it is squeezed by rising costs and a budget crisis.

In negotiations Wednesday aimed at averting a strike, the district increased its proposal to a 7 percent raise over four years and a one-time 1.5 percent bonus. The offer went higher than the recommendation of an independent fact-finding report that suggested the two sides agree to a compromise 6 percent retroactive raise.

Oakland Teachers to Walk Off the Job ThursdayOakland Teachers to Walk Off the Job Thursday

But union officials with the Oakland Education Association rejected the offer Wednesday.

Brown said the latest offer does not address the high cost of living that is driving educators out of Oakland.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf tweeted support for teachers Thursday, saying “As an OUSD alum and parent, I stand w/ Oakland teachers who deserve higher wages and better working conditions. To ensure a sustainable education system where everyone thrives, we need a fiscally stable OUSD that is locally controlled. Our goals are shared.”

Nearly 600 teachers left their positions at Oakland public schools last year, according to the union, which says the district can’t retain teachers or attract experienced new teachers with such low wages.

The talks have not centered on pension or health care benefits, which are free for full-time workers and their beneficiaries. The Oakland district spends an additional $13,487 per teacher annually for health benefits for educators and their families.

The union has also called for the district to scrap a plan to close as many as 24 schools that serve primarily African-American and Latino students. The union fears the move would likely lead to further losses of students to charter schools that drain more than $57 million a year from Oakland public schools.

Principals are not in the same union as the teachers and plan to be in schools Thursday but have come out in support of teachers’ demands.

About 30 of Oakland’s more than 80 school principals went to the state Capitol on Wednesday to call for better school funding ahead of the strike.

“Pretty much every principal is in support of the teachers having higher pay,” said Cliff Hong, an Oakland middle school principal.

Recent strikes across the nation have built on a wave of teacher activism that began last spring. Unions for West Virginia teachers, who went on a nine-day walkout last year, ended their two-day strike Wednesday night. Last week, teachers in Denver ended a three-day walkout after reaching a tentative deal raising their wages.

Teachers in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school district, staged a six-day strike last month that ended when they settled on a 6 percent raise with promises of smaller class sizes and the addition of nurses and counselors.

NBC Bay Area’s Bob Redell, Pete Suratos, Kiki Intarasuwan and Brendan Weber contributed to this report.

Oakland Teachers Walk Off the Job

Teachers in Oakland raised picket signs Thursday in the country’s latest strike by educators over classroom conditions and pay.

The city’s 3,000 teachers are demanding a 12 percent retroactive raise covering 2017 to 2020 to compensate for what they say are among the lowest salaries for public school teachers in the exorbitantly expensive San Francisco Bay Area. They also want the district to hire more counselors to support students and more full-time nurses.

The walkout starting Thursday affects 36,000 students at 86 schools.

In a message to parents, the Oakland Unified School District said schools will remain open, staffed by non-union employees and substitute teachers. However, parents should not expect school as usual, it said.

“We’re hopeful that we can find a resolution as soon as possible,” said district spokesman John Sasaki.

Oakland Teachers Walk Off the JobOakland Teachers Walk Off the Job

Oakland teachers have been working without a contract since 2017 and say their salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living.

A teacher’s starting salary in the district is $46,500 a year and the average salary is $63,000, according to the union. By comparison, a starting teacher makes $51,000 a year in neighboring Berkeley and the average salary is $75,000, the union said.

Initially, the district offered a 5 percent raise covering 2017 to 2020, saying it is squeezed by rising costs and a budget crisis.

In negotiations Wednesday aimed at averting a strike, the district increased its proposal to a 7 percent raise over four years and a one-time 1.5 percent bonus. The offer went higher than the recommendation of an independent fact-finding report that suggested the two sides agree to a compromise 6 percent retroactive raise.

But union officials with the Oakland Education Association rejected the offer Wednesday.

Union president Keith Brown said the latest offer does not address the high cost of living that is driving educators out of Oakland.

Oakland Teachers to Walk Off the Job ThursdayOakland Teachers to Walk Off the Job Thursday

Nearly 600 teachers left their positions at Oakland public schools last year, according to the union, which says the district can’t retain teachers or attract experienced new teachers with such low wages.

The talks have not centered on pension or health care benefits, which are free for full-time workers and their beneficiaries. The Oakland district spends an additional $13,487 per teacher annually for health benefits for educators and their families.

The union has also called for the district to scrap a plan to close as many as 24 schools that serve primarily African-American and Latino students. The union fears the move would likely lead to further losses of students to charter schools that drain more than $57 million a year from Oakland public schools.

Principals are not in the same union as the teachers and plan to be in schools Thursday but have come out in support of teachers’ demands.

About 30 of Oakland’s more than 80 school principals went to the state Capitol on Wednesday to call for better school funding ahead of the strike.

“Pretty much every principal is in support of the teachers having higher pay,” said Cliff Hong, an Oakland middle school principal.

Recent strikes across the nation have built on a wave of teacher activism that began last spring. Unions for West Virginia teachers, who went on a nine-day walkout last year, ended their two-day strike Wednesday night. Last week, teachers in Denver ended a three-day walkout after reaching a tentative deal raising their wages.

Teachers in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school district, staged a six-day strike last month that ended when they settled on a 6 percent raise with promises of smaller class sizes and the addition of nurses and counselors.


Akufo-Addo’s 2019 State Of The Nation Address (FULL STATEMENT)   
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President Akufo-Addo was welcomed by Parliament on Thursday to present his third State of The Nation Address in accordance with Article 67 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana.

Read full address below


Mr Speaker, I am glad to be here with you again in this august House, the Parliament of our Republic, to perform, for the third time, the pleasant duty of fulfilling my constitutional obligation, by giving Honourable Members and the Ghanaian people a message on the state of the nation.

In accordance with protocol and convention, it is good to see that First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo, Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia, Second Lady Samira Bawumia, Spouse of Mr. Speaker, Mrs. Alberta Ocquaye, Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo, and Justices of the Supreme Court, Chairperson Nana Otuo Siriboe II, and Members of the Council of State, Chief of Defence Staff Lt. Gen O.B. Akwa, Inspector General of Police David Asante Apeatu, and Service Chiefs, are all present. Mr. Speaker, the House is duly honoured by the welcome attendance of the former Presidents of the Republic, their Excellencies Jerry John Rawlings and John Dramani Mahama, former First Lady, Her Excellency Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings, and the Dean and Members of the Diplomatic Corps.

The House should also take note of the passing last year of some distinguished citizens of our country – Vice President, Kwesi Bekoe Amissah Arthur; UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan; Senior Minister, J.H Mensah; Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice V.C.R.A.C Crabbe; PNDC Secretary, K.B Asante, and the Poet Laureate, Prof. Atukwei Okai. May their souls rest and abide in the bosom of the Almighty until the last day of the Resurrection when we shall all meet again. Amen!

Mr. Speaker, I hope the House will bear with me, as I have a lot to say, and I may take quite some time.    

A month ago, almost to the day, I was in Yendi, fittingly attired as a self-proclaimed Prince of Dagbon, Prince Abudani, the first of that lineage, to witness the installation of Yaa-Na Mahama Abukari II as the overlord of Dagbon.

Thousands of our compatriots were there to share in the joy of the occasion. It was a ceremony that many had despaired we would ever see, but a new Yaa-Na, accepted by the two gates of Abudu and Andani, was installed on that day.

It brought to an end decades of feuding that laid low the proud and ancient kingdom of Dagbon. It was a happy day, and it marked the climax of a long, tortuous journey, and a hard grind on the part of many people through the years.

Two years ago, when I had the honour to become President of our country, I decided to summon all the resources of the state and my own energies, and make a concerted effort through the dedicated, patriotic Committee of Eminent Chiefs that had been working on the problem for the past 17 years, to find an acceptable solution. With the blessings of the Almighty, we have had a breakthrough, and this led to the month-long series of events that climaxed in the installation on 25th January 2019.

Mr Speaker, I was not looking to be accorded any special title or accolade, and I was certainly not looking for praise. I did want to do whatever I could to make sure that this long-running sore, that was such a blight on Dagbon and Ghana, and which dragged down the development process in our country, could be resolved, and we could move on.

We had spent enough emotional stress, enough time, enough energy and enough money on the Dagbon dispute; I wanted that amount of emotion, that time, that energy and that money to be spent on making Dagbon and Ghana prosperous.

I am grateful for the hard work and wisdom of the eminent chiefs, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, Asantehene, the Nayiri, Naa Bohugu Abdulai Mahami Sheriga, Overlord of Mamprugu, and the Yagbonwura, Tuntumba Boresa Sulemana Jakpa, Overlord of the Gonja State, all of whom I salute, and for the support of many people in this House on both sides, and I pray that we all continue to build on this achievement and midwife the process until peace becomes part of the fabric of Dagbon.

The Minister for Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs intends to use the momentum of the Dagbon settlement to tackle the other protracted chieftaincy disputes in the country, hopefully, for resolution.

Mr. Speaker, in order to reinforce and support the process of reconciliation and the restoration of peace in Dagbon, I have decided that, this year, the official 62ndIndependence Day celebration will be held in Tamale, on 6th March. This will be the first time in our nation’s history that the celebration is being held outside of our national capital of Accra. I am, very much, looking forward to it.   

Mr Speaker, this past week, the grounds of Jubilee House, the seat of our nation’s presidency, have resounded to a lot of celebrations, as we marked the handing over ceremonies of the constitutional instruments to the six new regions in our country. It has taken 18 months of very hard work and some complicated manoeuvring to get to where we are today.

Again, the requests and agitations for creation of new regions have been long-standing, and we have somehow never got around to dealing with them. The first petition for the creation of Oti region, for example, dates back to 1954.  Mr Speaker, it was time to deal with these outstanding issues so that we could get ahead with the business of developing our country. The creation of the six new regions opens up the country and ensures that no one feels cut off from the centre.

Mr Speaker, no corner of this country is being left behind. It is for this reason that we have created the three development authorities. It is for this reason that we have re-aligned the national budget to ensure that every constituency gets the cedi equivalent of $1 million a year for priority projects.

I am able to state, and every member of this House should be able to testify, that work is going on in each of the 275 constituencies around the country. The water and toilet provision segment of the Special Development Initiatives is taking place in every constituency. We came into office with a plan, Mr Speaker, and I am happy to say that we are working and delivering in accordance with that plan.

Mr Speaker, now that the regions are in place, we have the singular opportunity to avoid the old mistakes of urban planning that have made some of our towns and cities such unattractive places. The lessons would seem to show that the political capital does not necessarily have to be the site of all the institutions, and this would guide us in the setting up of the new regions. Indeed, when designating the capitals of the new regions, at the ceremonies at Jubilee House last week, I made it clear that Government is committed to the equitable distribution of government structures and institutions across the regions. We will keep to the commitment.  

Mr. Speaker, we have also embarked on another aspect of our ambitious decentralisation programme, that is the exercise to expand full democracy to local government. In addition to the creation of thirty-eight (38) Municipal and District Assemblies, and the elevation of twenty-nine (29) Districts to the status of Municipalities, the Bill for the amendment of article 55(3) of the Constitution has been gazetted, to pave way for the direct, popular election, on partisan basis, of Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives (MMDCEs). It is expected that a Referendum will be held on the Bill, alongside the Unit Assembly and District level elections in 2019. I am calling, respectfully, for a repetition of the bi-partisan support, that made possible the hugely successful outcomes in the referenda for the new regions, to ensure the success of the impending referendum. Furthermore, a multidisciplinary panel of experts is being assembled to plan, cost, schedule and help implement a roadmap for the election of MMDCEs. We are committed to devolving more and more power to the Ghanaian people.

Mr Speaker, the economy is at the heart of all we seek to do, it is the success of the economy that will guarantee an improvement in the quality of the life of our people. I believe we are all now agreed that the fundamentals have to be sound if the economy is to flourish. We have just concluded a programme with the IMF, and, with continuing discipline, we shall sign off from the deal in April. This is the seventeenth time Ghana has had to go to the IMF in the sixty-two years of her independence.

Mr Speaker, we cannot make the progress we all desire unless we are consistent and disciplined in the management of our economy. The yo-yo nature of the boom and bust has not helped us achieve our goal of sustained prosperity, and lift us out of poverty. We have gone through another round of painful impositions to get to where we are today with healthy fundamentals.

Mr. Speaker, production in the economy, as measured by real GDP growth, has picked up very strongly in the last two years. From 3.4% in 2016, real GDP growth increased to 8.1% in 2017. In 2018, provisional data for the first three quarters indicate a strong real GDP growth of 6.0%, higher than the annual target of 5.6%. Real GDP growth for 2019 is forecast at 7.6%. Ghana’s recent GDP growth has placed it amongst the highest in the world.  The fiscal deficit is being brought down from the 7.3% of rebased GDP in 2016 to a provisional 3.9% of GDP at the end of 2018. The debt-to-GDP ratio has declined from the 56.6% of GDP in 2016 to 54.8% at the end of 2018.

Inflation has dropped from 15.4%, at the end of 2016, to 9% in January this year, the lowest in six years, as announced by the Ghana Statistical Service last week. Interest rates are declining, and so is the Bank of Ghana Monetary Policy Rate. Our trade balance account, for the first time in more than a decade, recorded a surplus in 2017, and is expected to remain in surplus. In May 2018, a US$2 billion Eurobond was issued for 30 and 10 years of US$1 billion each with coupon rates of 8.627% and 7.625% respectively, and these were the lowest rate and the longest maturity in our history, signifying confidence in the economy. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that, today, Ghana is the leading recipient of Foreign Direct Investment in West Africa.

Mr Speaker, these are good figures, and as we prepare to exit from the IMF programme in April, we expect the impressive figures and good performance to continue. We are very much aware that this is not the first time we have had such a good set of figures, but we are determined to do things differently this time around; we have imposed on ourselves fiscal discipline, we are paying off legacy debts and deepening good governance practices and business confidence is growing. We will maintain the discipline, and bring progress to our country.

We have decided to institute a legal framework to help with the discipline. We have passed the Fiscal Responsibility Law, Act 982, capping the deficit at 5% by law, and some two weeks ago, I inaugurated the Presidential Fiscal Responsibility Advisory Council, chaired by the eminent, respected economist, Dr. Paul Acquah, former Governor of the Bank of Ghana and former Deputy Director of the Africa Department of the IMF, with some of the finest and most reputable economists of our country as members. Its purpose is to advise the President on relevant, additional measures needed to maintain fiscal discipline.  

We have done this because we know the temptation to go on a spending binge will always be there, we know election years will come around and there will be pressure on government to splurge, and persuasive arguments will be made that you have to stay in government to be able to implement your programmes. However, I am bent on running a responsible administration, mindful of the next generation, and not, merely, the next election.  

In the meantime, our efforts are bearing some fruits, and the world has taken notice of the improvement in our economic fundamentals. In September last year, after almost a decade, we received our first Sovereign Credit rating upgrade from Standard and Poor’s (S&P). This upgrade saw us move from B minus to B with a stable outlook. In December 2018, we also hosted the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, a visit that was historical in every sense, as this was the first time that an IMF Managing Director had ever stepped foot on Ghanaian soil.

Mr Speaker, revenue mobilization poses the biggest challenge in the management of our economy, with the tax exemption policy, in particular, proving to be an Achilles heel, and a growing menace to fiscal stability and revenue generation. In the last eight years, tax exemptions in respect of import duty, import VAT, import NHIL and domestic VAT have grown from three hundred and ninety-two million Ghana cedis (GH¢392 million), that is 0.6% of GDP in 2010, to GH¢4.66 billion, that is 1.6% of GDP in 2018.

These figures do not include exemptions from the payment of corporate and individual income taxes, concessions on tax rates, petroleum tax reliefs, customs tax exemptions enjoyed by diplomatic missions, and waiver of processing charges at the ports.

If we continue at this rate, in less than sixteen years, half of Ghana’s revenue base will be given away as tax exemptions.

Mr. Speaker, this is not sustainable, and we intend to do something about it to reverse the trend, by introducing suitable measures that may disrupt the easy and comfortable arrangements that many have become accustomed to, but which we have to take to ensure that we have the firmest of foundations for the economic take-off that has escaped us for so long.

Mr. Speaker, workers in the public sector begun the year on a good note, after receiving a 10% increase in their salaries, on top of the 11% increment of 2018. Forty-one thousand (41,000) workers in the informal sector were also enrolled onto Tier-3 pensions schemes, with pensioners seeing an average increment of 11% in their monthly pension incomes, with the lowest income bracket receiving a 14.7% increment. Last year, the Youth Employment Agency (YEA) engaged some one hundred and seven thousand (107,000) youth in various employment modules, with an additional one hundred and twenty-five thousand (125,000) set to be engaged this year.

Mr. Speaker, to consolidate further the relations between the social partners, in the post IMF era, Government will shortly sign a landmark social partnership agreement with Organised Labour/the Trades Union Congress, the Ghana Employers’ Association and Government, represented by the Ministries of Finance and Employment and Labour Relations, to provide a medium for building a sense of cohesion, trust, self-management, frank and open discussions to champion the course of development.

Mr. Speaker, the fight against child labour has chalked some modest success. Through the implementation of the second phase of the National Plan of Action (2017-2021), Ghana has been moved up from the Tier-2 Watch List position of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report to Tier-2 in 2018.

Mr. Speaker, our ports remain important national assets. And we must manage them to improve trade and to the benefit of all Ghanaians. Government has introduced reforms at the port to improve efficiency. Among others, we introduced the paperless operations at the ports and goods can be cleared within 1 to 3 days. Going forward, we have set ourselves the goal of making our ports the most competitive in West Africa. In this regard, some further reforms would soon be announced by Government to enhance the competitive position of Ghana’s ports.

Ghana may be the toast of the world because of its economy. We have all accepted that these economic fundamentals are the foundation upon which our people will become prosperous, but if they are uneducated or poorly educated, then prosperity will continue to elude them. Mr Speaker, a sudden injection of oil revenue or a rise or fall in the price of gold or cocoa can make a dramatic difference to your financial situation, but there are no shortcuts to having an educated and skilled workforce. We have no choice but to provide our young people with quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for every Ghanaian. It is the only way to ensure prosperity, and to protect our democracy. We are not sparing any efforts to make education in Ghana of the best quality, and fit for the needs of the 21st century.

In September 2019, a new standards-based curriculum will be rolled out from kindergarten to Class 6 in primary schools. This curriculum has drawn upon the best practices from all over the world, and will focus on making Ghanaian children confident, innovative, creative-thinking, digitally-literate, well-rounded, patriotic citizens. Mathematics, Science, Reading, Writing and Creativity are, therefore, at the heart of this new curriculum.

Mr Speaker, poverty should not be an excuse for any Ghanaian child not to reach their full potential. It, therefore, warms my heart that we are now able to say that education in the public sector is free from Kindergarten to Senior High School, and, that this year, legislation would be passed to redefine basic education to include Senior High School.

Young people have to have options on which career path they choose, and I am glad to announce that all is set for the construction of 10 state-of-the-art Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) Centres this year. For far too long, we have preached about the importance of TVET without doing very much to demonstrate this importance. We send or urge young people to go to poorly equipped TVET centres, and we are surprised that they are not keen. The new TVET centres would be world class, and attractive to assure young people that they are not being sent to second best options.  

We are also bent on demystifying science, mathematics and technology. Ten Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) centres are being built around the country to provide support for the introduction of STEM into basic education after the completion of a successful pilot phase. We can be sure, therefore, that Ghana’s young people will be able to acquire skills that would put them at par with their peers anywhere in the world. The importance of science, technology and innovation has led me to appoint a Presidential Advisory Council on Science, Technology and Innovation (PACSTI) to advise the President on how to infuse the application of science and technology in the development of our nation, headed by a distinguished scientist, Prof. Edward Ayensu.

Mr Speaker, we shall bring before Parliament this year, a tertiary education policy Bill that will bring all the public universities under a common law, and make the administration of the public universities less cumbersome.

Mr. Speaker, a well-motivated and remunerated teacher is at the centre of our quality education and comprehensive teacher policy. This has started with the upgrading of the initial teacher education certificate to degree status, and the move to put the teaching profession up there with other professions in terms of respect and exclusivity. Currently, many of our teachers, who complete the three-year Diploma in Basic Education (DBE) at our Colleges of Education, go on, later, to do a two-year top-up first degree, by distance learning, at the University of Cape Coast. This means that, in addition to the extra amount of money spent on getting a degree, it will take them not less than five years to get one. With the introduction of the 4-year Bachelor of Education degree, teacher trainees would now obtain their first degree at the end of their schooling. This ensures that they enter the teaching service as university graduates.

Mr. Speaker, when our children master the connection between science and their everyday lives, we would reach the stage in Ghana where we would be rid of the many diseases, borne of filth and poor hygiene, that are still part of our lives. In pursuing these goals, we need to remind ourselves repeatedly that health is wealth, and it is only a healthy population that can make Ghana prosperous.

In May 2018, Ghana won accolades at the World Health Assembly for having eradicated Trachoma, an eye disease that has plagued us for a long time. Today, our NHIS is buoyant. Government has paid up the GH¢1.2 billion arrears we inherited, and brought the operations of the NHIS back to life. On 19th December,2018, the introduction of mobile renewal of membership was launched. Since then, there have been, on average, seventy thousand (70,000) members renewing their membership every week, by dialling *929# on any mobile phone network. Soon, in collaboration with the National Identification Authority, Ghanaians would be able to register, renew and access health care services using the Ghana Card. We have to thank Dr. Samuel Annor’s brief, but productive stewardship as CEO of the National Health Insurance Authority for that. I wish him well in his retirement.

To deliver healthcare to Ghanaians more efficiently, in 2018, Government granted financial clearance for the recruitment of eleven thousand, one hundred and eighteen (11,018) health personnel to increase existing clinical staff. To augment the efforts of clinical staff, in September, 2018, the Ministry of Health received further financial clearance to employ fourteen thousand, five hundred and twenty-four (14,254) Nurse Assistants (Clinical and Preventive). These nurse assistants belong to the tranche that passed their exams in 2016 from Government Health Training Institutions, and have commenced work by 1st February, 2019. The Ministry of Health is working to obtain financial clearance for the recruitment of the 2017 and 2018 graduates.    

The health delivery system will be significantly strengthened by the expected arrival in June of 275 ambulances, i.e. one per constituency, to make treatment of emergency cases more effective. Drone technology has also been introduced into that system to help deliver essential medicine, blood and blood products to remote communities.  

We still face problems of inadequate infrastructure in our health establishments. We have problems of numerous structures at various stages of completion that cannot be finished and brought into use, because newer structures are being started, and there is no money to finish the ones started earlier. Mr Speaker, again, this is a long-standing problem that is a mark of our underdevelopment. We will not ignore or sweep the problem under the carpet. We are dealing with it, and will complete them.

Ghana’s hardworking nurses and doctors would do their best, as they have always done, to make sure we get the best health care, but it behoves on each one of us to look after ourselves better. Apart from exercising and taking our regular health check-ups seriously, it is imperative that we eat healthy diets to prevent diseases that are caused by poor choices of nutrition.

Mr Speaker, when we are dealing with matters of good health, we must necessarily move on to shelter and housing. There is an acute shortage of user-friendly, decent housing for people in middle and low-income brackets in our country. This is a long-standing problem that gets worse with each passing day. It is time to tackle the issue and find a resolution. We are starting with the completion of the many abandoned projects dotted around the country. A consortium of local banks has raised 51 million dollars to fund the completion of the social housing units started by the Kufuor administration in 2006 at Koforidua, Tamale and Ho.

The Saglemi Housing Project, started under the last NDC government, is also high on our list of priorities this year. The five thousand (5,000) units it offers would boost our housing numbers. We are, therefore, establishing the value for money issues surrounding the project in order to reconcile the number of houses built with the schedule of payments made, and accelerate delivery.

The 2019 budget made provision for the construction of two hundred thousand (200,000) housing units, and a database of local and foreign developers has been created to help make this policy a reality. Land banks have also been secured in several towns across Ghana where factories, producing pre-fabricated building materials, can be sited for this huge construction effort. There are many well-intentioned projects that ended up pricing out the low-income earners, who were supposed to be their beneficiaries. We are determined to learn the lessons from past projects. The Ministry of Finance is working to launch a one billion Ghana cedi housing fund that would target low-income earners.

Government will continue with the other housing projects for the police, armed forces and government workers across the country, through agencies like the State Housing Corporation.

The most exciting news on the housing landscape, though, is the drafting of plans to regenerate Nima, which holds the dubious title of being Accra’s first slum. It has, of course, progressed very much since those early days, even if it has been unable to shake off the urban-slum title. I am a proud resident of Nima myself, and I am extremely excited that the regeneration plans will not dislodge or dispossess residents, but would rather transform Nima into a well-laid out residential area with full amenities. I am looking forward to it, good work that is being done by the Ministries of Inner City and Zongo Development and Works and Housing.

Another big problem is that of poor drainage in our towns and cities, which leads to flooding during the rainy season. Then, there is the serious problem of sea erosion along the coast that endangers the lives of our coastal people. It is time to deal with these long-term problems and find long-lasting solutions, and we are doing just that.   

The Odawna Storm Drains in Accra, which have caused many tragedies over the years, are now being reengineered by a team of experts who will give it a permanent fix. The Dichemso Drainage System is also on our list of priorities, and a bid has been put out for experts to transform it into a more efficient system.

Our ongoing coastal protection projects are proceeding in Adjoa in the Western Region, Blekusu, New Takoradi phase II (Elmina), Dansoman, Axim and Dixcove. This year, we will also begin others in Amanful Kumah, Dansoman phase II, Komenda, Anomabo, Cape Coast, Mensah Guinea, Ningo Prampram, New Takoradi Phase III, Apam, Kokrobite, Bortianor, Blekusu Phase II and Aboadze-Shama Phase II, Maritime University, Nungua, Takoradi, Anyanui and Essipong.

Mr. Speaker, we are putting in place plans to avert the perennial flooding caused by the spillage of the Bagre dam, which has resulted in the constant loss of lives and property over the years. In the short-term, desilting of the White Volta will be undertaken this year, in conjunction with discussions with the Burkinabes to regulate the flow of the spillage, and mitigate its impact. The Ministry of Works and Housing will, in the coming week, receive a report on a feasibility study conducted by the Chinese company, SinoHydro, for the construction of a dam at Pwalugu, to serve as a receptacle to hold the volume of water spilled from the Bagre Dam for irrigation purposes, and also for the generation of electricity. This will be the permanent solution to the Bagre Dam problem. The requisite approvals will be sought by the Ministry from Cabinet and Parliament to permit the construction of the Pwalugu Dam.

Mr. Speaker, if there has been any Government that has been on the side of Persons with Disabilities, it is my Government. We have increased the share of the District Assemblies Common Fund to Persons with Disabilities from 2% to 3%, and we have also ensured the implementation of our pledge of employing 50% of the persons who manage the country’s toll booths from amongst Persons with Disabilities.

Mr. Speaker, we are continuing with initiatives to improve the Creative Arts Sector. We have also worked to finalise the Creative Arts Bill, leading to the setting up of the Creative Arts Fund. For the first time, in 2018, Government provided support to the Creative Arts Council, and the Creative Arts Masterclass, to build capacity of Creative Arts practitioners, has also commenced. The Eastern Regional Theatre has been completed, and work is currently ongoing towards the construction of the Kumasi theatre.

Mr Speaker, considering how often Ghana is in the news usually for good reasons, we have not been able to attract as many visitors to our country as we should. We are making a special effort from now onwards to attract tourists into our country. Under the See Ghana, Eat Ghana, Wear Ghana and Feel Ghana campaign, the Ghana Tourism Authority recorded a 20% growth since its launch to over six hundred thousand visitations to various tourist sites. The World Bank has approved a US$40 million grant to support the Tourism Ministry and its agencies to help upgrade tourist facilities.

In September 2018, in Washington D.C., in front of the Congressional Black Caucus of the United States Congress, I proclaimed 2019 as the “Year of Return”, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first 20 West African slaves in the Commonwealth of Virginia, in what was to become the United States of America. We intend to use the symbolism of this “Year of Return” to bring together Africans, persons of African descent, and all well-wishers and lovers of freedom to strengthen the commitment to ensuring that the blots on our history, i.e. the Transatlantic Slave Trade and slavery, never reoccur. In response to this proclamation, some seventy (70) African-American Hollywood celebrities visited Ghana in December 2018. The year-long campaign, being coordinated by the Ghana Tourism Authority, is expected to increase arrivals considerably. 

Training across the entire tourism sector is also receiving priority. The Hospitality Training Institute has been renovated, and re-opened in July 2018 to provide needed training in the hospitality and tourism sectors. Under a Tourism Attractions Upgrade Project, several tourist sites, including Elmina Heritage Bay, Axim Fort St. Antonio, Assin Manso Slave River, Tetteh Quarshie Cocoa Farm, Bunso Arboretum, Kintampo Water Falls, are undergoing upgrades.  A draft Legislative Instrument (LI) on Sites and Attractions is currently undergoing final stakeholder consultations. This will ensure world-class standards are set and maintained at all our tourism sites and attractions.

Mr. Speaker, the greatest attraction of our country is its people. Yes, we have castles and forts, we have water falls and dramatic mountain ranges, we have breath-taking beaches, and historical sites that reduce visitors to strong emotions, but it is the people of Ghana and our welcoming attitude that are the strongest attraction to visitors. We should never forget that we all have a responsibility to make visitors to our country feel welcome. In this “Year of Return”, when we have invited the world to visit, I would urge each one of us to make a special effort to make a visit to our country a memorable one. Our music, our foods, our clothes and the quintessential akwaaba smile will make a visitor to our country come back again and again.

Mr Speaker, but there are things that many of us do that would put off any visitor from visiting our country, no matter how attractive the geography or the history might be. I refer, especially, to some of our sanitation habits.

Mr Speaker, public resources must be channelled into ventures that generate wealth, and not spent on avoidable expenditures. The cost of clearing and cleaning up our cities and towns after those who litter has become prohibitive. The littering habit seems to be more predominant in the cities and urban areas, and, mercifully, largely absent in the villages.

Last year, I reiterated before you my pledge of improving sanitation in the country, and making Accra the cleanest city in Africa, by the end of my term. There has been a significant improvement in sanitation, even though, I acknowledge, more can be done. However, this is currently the state of play. We have witnessed an increase in the coverage of solid waste management, from 16.6% to 53%, and, over the course of last year, thirty-five thousand, eight hundred and sixty-two (35,862) household toilets were built, as opposed to one thousand, six hundred and ninety-eight (1,698) in 2016. We will intensify efforts at making Accra a clean city.

In 2019, apart from continuing with educating and sensitizing people, we intend to use the bye-laws to enforce cleanliness. The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Sanitation are working together to try sanitation offences. Persons who litter would be tried and punished, and so would those who steal litter bins from our streets.

We are launching a National Sanitation Brigade to help us carry this out, and, through this vehicle, we will not only keep our towns and cities clean, but will also provide jobs for our young people. Once waste is properly and efficiently managed, we then can explore how to use the waste collected to advance the economy of our nation.

A cursory look around our cities and towns would show us that plastic filth is our biggest problem. We intend to solve this problem through the internationally recognized priorities of waste: reduction first, followed by reuse, recycle, recovery and, lastly, disposal, which is to be avoided whenever possible.

Government has prepared a Plastics Management Policy, with the overarching aim of meeting the challenges of comprehensive plastics management. About 82% of Ghana’s plastics waste could be readily recovered and recycled with existing technologies into value-addition products in high demand locally and within the West African region.

A vibrant recycling industry in Ghana could recover nearly one million tonnes of waste plastics from the environment and landfills annually, to be recycled into basic-need products valued at GH¢2 billion per year, creating many jobs across the economy. Currently, extensive discussions are being concluded with investors on the most sustainable options available to rid Ghana of this plastic filth menace.

Mr Speaker, we are also tackling the problem of electronic waste head on. On August 20, 2018, I launched the National E-waste Program to mark the commencement of two key provisions of the Hazardous and Electronic Waste Control and Management Act, Act 917.

These provisions empower the External Service Provider (SGS) to verify, assess and collect the advance recycle eco fee on all electrical and electronic equipment from all exporting countries, and also to establish a state-of-the-art recycling facility at Agbogbloshie, whose construction will begin in April. Not only would we solve the problem of waste disposal in an environmentally-friendly manner, setting up the recycling facility will lead to the creation of over twenty thousand (20,000) direct jobs, through the establishment of associated holding centres in each regional capital and collection centres in each district.

Mr Speaker, it is unfortunate that, in 2019, we still have to revisit this topic, but, open defecation cannot be a characteristic of a country that is working to be transformed economically, and to be counted amongst the developed nations of the world. That is why it is absolutely imperative that we make a success of our One House-One-Toilet Policy.

The Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) Programme is being implemented in over four thousand, five hundred (4,500) communities in one hundred and thirty (130) districts to achieve Open Defecation Free (ODF) Communities.

Mr. Speaker, affordable and reliable energy is absolutely critical to realising our vision of economic transformation. I am happy to announce that gas production tripled during the year, from 100 to 300 million cubic feet per day. The Ministry of Energy is undertaking steps to remove the transmission bottlenecks, to ensure that Ghanaian gas can reach power plants located in the eastern part of the country, and I am confident that, by August this year, the situation would have been fully remedied to ensure Ghana uses locally produced gas for the bulk of its thermal power generation, saving substantial amounts of foreign exchange on imported fuels.

Government is committed to achieving an electricity generation mix that ensures diversity and security of energy supply. For this reason, we will continue to promote the deployment of renewable energy in line with our policy target of 10% renewables in the energy mix from the current 1%.

Another justification for renewable energy is that, in spite of Ghana’s excess electricity generation capacity, we can still not achieve our universal access target because there are many Ghanaian communities, especially those on islands and lake sides, that cannot be reached through the national grid. For example, there are currently two hundred (200) island and two thousand (2,000) lake sidecommunities that require mini-grids from renewable sources to meet their energy needs.

To reduce government’s expenditure on utilities, and also promote the use of solar power for government and public buildings, the Ministry of Energy initiated the Solar Rooftop Programme. The Ministry is leading by example with the installation of a 65-kilowatt solar rooftop system at its premises.

Jubilee House will also be powered, as from August this year, by solar energy, as an example to other public institutions. In fact, government’s target is to install up to 200 megawatts of distributed solar power by 2030 in both residential and non-residential facilities in order to reduce Government’s liabilities to ECG (PDS Ghana Ltd).

Renewable energy has also become a necessary addition to our energy sector because it has increasingly become cheaper, and is key to the implementation of our international obligations under Sustainable Development Goal 7, on access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy, as well as Sustainable Development Goal 13, on urgent action to combat climate change.

There has been good news with the recent announcement by Aker Energy of one of the biggest oil finds in Africa. Mr Speaker, this has led me to think that an NPP government must be good for Ghana. After many, many years of our looking and almost giving up, it took an NPP government to discover oil in 2007. In eight years of NDC administration, 13 oil block deals were signed, and not a single one was developed. The first one signed in 2017, under my government, which was Aker, has led to the second biggest oil discovery in Africa. Enough to make a believer of anyone, I might say.   

Mr Speaker, there is no avoiding the fact that the oil industry, unfortunately, has a reputation for corruption. Since the discovery of oil in our country, there has been heightened anxiety among the people that we do not fall into the same trap of the oil money benefitting individual officials to the detriment of the state and the general public.

On the fight against corruption in the oil industry, and to aid transparency, we have established a National Register of Contracts on which all the Petroleum Agreements signed by the Government have been published. This provides a platform for citizens to scrutinize the oil contracts signed by government, and accords with the international call for contract transparency. 

We have also passed the General Petroleum Regulations, which provide for the disclosure of beneficial ownership information of companies operating in Ghana’s oil and gas industry. This will ensure that people do not hide in the shadows to appropriate oil blocks to themselves, at the expense of the citizens of Ghana. The interest of major oil companies in Ghana has become dramatic. Today, oil companies such as the American giant, ExxonMobil, and the Norwegian conglomerate, Aker, have signed petroleum exploration agreements with Ghana. Through the launch of the “GHANA OIL AND GAS LICENSING ROUNDS 2018”, the bidding process for the allocation of new petroleum rights to prospective investors, the first such exercise in our history, other global players such as BP, China National Offshore Oil Corporation, and Total have expressed interest in coming to Ghana.

Mr Speaker, be it in the oil industry or manufacturing or retail, every day demonstrates the urgent need for our own businesses to develop and flourish. We have put in place the mechanisms to train young entrepreneurs and to help established businesses with a stimulus package to expand their companies.

Under the Presidential Support programme, one thousand, three hundred and fifty (1,350) start-ups and small businesses have benefitted from a special government business support programme. Beneficiaries received between ten thousand (GH¢10,000) and one hundred thousand Ghana cedis (GH¢100,000) each, at a special interest rate of 10%, instead of the average prevailing market rate of 26%.

This is designed to help grow and expand their businesses, and will create about thirty thousand (30,000) direct jobs. Eighteen thousand (18,000) jobs have already been created under this programme. This is the first time in Ghana’s history that there has been a deliberate, systematic and coherent national support for start-ups and small businesses.

Businesses, which benefitted, included agribusiness and agro-processing, information communication and technology, tourism and recreation, sanitation and waste management, health, food and beverages, green and ecological businesses, sports and real estate

Already established businesses are also receiving help, with an amount of two hundred and thirty million Ghana cedis (GH¢230 million) being disbursed among sixteen (16) companies under the stimulus package. This has led to the creation of eight thousand, five hundred (8,500) to ten thousand (10,000) direct and indirect jobs.

Proof, if some were needed that we are getting something right, and generating the right atmosphere to attract foreign business, has come with the announcement that three major international automobile manufacturers, Volkswagen, Nissan andSinotruck have signed MOUs to establish assembling plants in our country. Renault is also conducting feasibility studies on establishing an assembly plant in Ghana, as is Toyota. We will outdoor, in March, the National Automotive Policy spelling out the terms, conditions and incentive package for participating in Ghana’s new automobile industry, which will also apply to indigenous car assembly companies.

Mr Speaker, our local textile industry has been struggling for years, and many textile companies have, indeed, gone under. We have decided to give it a major stimulus to help put it on a strong footing. The local textile industry has, therefore, been granted a zero-rated VAT on the supply of locally-made textiles for a period of three years. We have put in place a tax stamp regime for both locally manufactured and imported textiles to address the challenge of pirated designs and logos in the textile trade. The Tema Port has been designated as a Single-Entry Corridor for the importation of textile prints, with a textile taskforce in place to ensure effective compliance, and reduce, if not eliminate, smuggling of imported textiles. A new textile import management system has been instituted, also, to control imports of textiles. 

Mr. Speaker, the “One-District-One-Factory” policy has taken off, and 79 factories under the scheme are at various stages of operation or construction. Another 35 are going through credit appraisal. All told, there is a lot of activity going on under the scheme, and it has awoken the interest of young people to go into manufacturing business. Under the Rural Enterprises Programme, funded by the African Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, 50 small-scale processing factories will be established by the end of the year in 50 districts across the country, particularly in areas where there is evidence of significant post-harvest losses. These will be owned and managed by organized youth groups, with technical support from the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Mr Speaker, small and medium scale enterprises form the base of businesses in our country, and financing has been the bane of their operations. MASLOC was established in 2006 to meet a critical need by providing the type of small-scale loans needed by these small-scale enterprises at reasonable rates. Sadly, MASLOC was undermined by base political considerations and endemic corruption, and the centre was almost run down completely.    

I am glad to report that MASLOC has been revamped, and is getting back to do what it was set up to do. There has been strict adherence to credit procedures and prudent management of the credit recovery process. These have resulted in a recovery rate of 89% of loans administered under a pilot scheme introduced in 2017.

MASLOC was given an amount of thirty-five million Ghana cedis (GH¢35 million) in October 2018 for disbursement. This is the first time an amount of such magnitude has been given to the Centre outside of an election year. Of the thirty-five million Ghana cedis that were received, the Centre has disbursed twenty million, five hundred and sixty-three thousand, one hundred Ghana cedis (GH¢20,563,100), with fourteen million, three hundred and seventeen thousand, two hundred Ghana cedis (GH¢14,317,200) to be disbursed for pending applications, which have been approved. So far, 87% of the monies disbursed have gone to women, i.e. to twenty-four thousand, five hundred and eighty-two (24,582) women. The 2016 NPP Manifesto promised to allocate 50% of MASLOC funds to women, and we have surpassed this promise.

It has obviously been noticed that interesting things are happening at the successfully restructured MASLOC, and that is why the Centre was allocated an amount of two hundred million Ghana cedis (GH¢ 200 million) in the 2019 budget. Such an amount is unprecedented in the history of MASLOC. In 2019, MASLOC will give increased attention to youth start-up businesses in vegetable farming, poultry, piggery and fish farming.

Mr Speaker, the incidence of bad governance methods that almost collapsed MASLOC has, unfortunately, affected the running of many businesses generally and the financial sector in particular. The banking sector has gone through what can only be described as a traumatic upheaval.

Again, Mr Speaker the woes of the banking sector have also been a case of long-standing bad practices that we, previously, had been unable or unwilling to deal with, which we are now having to deal with in the most painful manner. The clean-up has cost the national treasury GH¢12.7 billion, money we can ill afford, but which was necessary to sanitise the sector, minimise job losses, and protect deposits of one million, one hundred and forty-seven thousand, three hundred and sixty-six (1,147,366) Ghanaians and their businesses and the people they employed. The banking sector has emerged stronger from these developments,and inspired confidence in it. In all this, I have been anxious that our local banks are helped and given as much support as possible, which has been done, but l will not be on the side of criminal behaviour if that is discovered. I would urge that we are all patient for the investigations to be made in a calm manner.

And, while I am on the subject of rogue activities in the banking sector, it is probably the time to mention the MenzGold debacle. This is a tragic phenomenon that appears to have occurred in plain sight, and affected a lot of people, in spite of warnings from official institutions. As the authorities try to unravel the intricacies of what happened, I admonish all Ghanaians to learn the necessary lessons for the future, even as State institutions work to bring a resolution to the matter, and those who are seen to have indulged in criminal activities, are brought to justice. Last week, I inaugurated the Presidential Financial Stability Advisory Council, an inter-institutional consultative coordination body, which groups together all the regulators of our financial system, and whose purpose is to advise the President on the measures to be taken to preserve the stability of the financial system. The existence of such a body would have forestalled the emergence of the Menzgoldsaga, and will make it difficult, in future, for any such scheme to get off the ground.

Mr Speaker, during times like these of banking and business upheavals, agriculture appears even more attractive. It is more predictable and the soil and plants and animals far more reliable than sharp figures. The past two years have shown that, when a government takes deliberate measures to support agriculture, it pays healthy dividends.

There has been food and for the first time in a long while, we had more than we needed. It was not that long ago that Ghana was in the humiliating position of having to import maize from her landlocked Sahelian neighbours and plantain from Cote d’Ivoire. Thanks to the programme for “Planting for Food and Jobs”, admirably organised by that outstanding Minister for Agriculture, Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, this House stands informed, that, in 2018, exports of food crops such as cassava, rice, yellow and white maize, soya, plantain, cowpea and yam were made FROM Ghana to Burkina Faso, Togo and Cote d’Ivoire in considerable quantities. We had a bumper harvest of produce, and, last year, we did not import a single grain of maize.

Based on the successes chalked in 2017 and then in 2018, the Ministry took giant strides to scale up the Planting for Food and Jobs Campaign in 2019, and to introduce new modules of the programme. Four of such new modules are the Greenhouse Villages programme, the Planting for Export and Rural Development (PERD) programme, the Rearing for Food and Jobs (RFJ) campaign and Mechanisation Centers programme.

We are hoping that the success will lead to a fundamental change in attitudes towards farming practices, and the sector will be truly transformed. Bumper harvests and increased food production in general would be the norm, and not a surprise once in a while. Extension services will be expanded, and our farmers will have the confidence to know that theirs is a worthwhile business from which they can and will get healthy remuneration and respect.    

Mr Speaker, this year the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development plans to implement a flagship programme – “Aquaculture for Food and Jobs” (AFJ) – complementary to the “Planting for Food and Jobs” initiative – to reinvigorate and boost the aquaculture industry. Priority will be given to youth entrepreneurs, distressed farmers, second cycle and public institutions to set up and operate fish farms across the country.

The programme will offer participating individuals and groups the requisite inputs, such as cages, fingerlings, fish feed and training, to be able to establish their own farms. The AFJ will be implemented for three years, from 2019 to 2021, in collaboration with the Nation Builders Corps (NABCO) and the School Feeding Programme. It is expected to create seven thousand (7,000) jobs, and add an extra thirty-three thousand, six hundred and twenty-eight (33,628) metric tonnes of fish to our domestic fish production. Piloting of the AFJ has already started at the James Camp Prison.

For traditional fishing, Government will collaborate with the private sector to facilitate the provision of five thousand (5,000) outboard motors and fifty-five thousand, two hundred and fifty (55,250) bales of prescribed fishing gears through the fisheries associations. To promote the effective and efficient distribution of premix fuel, we will continue to use the premix fuel tracking system, and audit landing beaches, measures which have ensured that, since November 2018, there has been no report of premix diversion, a marked improvement from the past.

To modernize the fisheries sector, US$185 million of loan money has been earmarked for the construction of twelve (12) landing sites and two (2) fishing harbours in some selected fishing communities in the country.  Phase I will kick off in March at Axim, Mumford, Winneba and Teshie. Recently, I cut the sod to commence work at the Jamestown Harbour Complex, which, like the development of Elmina Fishing Harbour, is part of our plans for the fishing sector in 2019.

Mr Speaker, as is well known, our lands and water bodies have been under extreme pressure for some time. Farming lands have been destroyed, and rivers that used to provide safe drinking water and fish turned into toxic water bodies.

This is why we placed the ban on all small-scale mining, so we could find ways to deal with the illegal mining, or galamsey, as it is popularly called. The ban on small scale mining has now been lifted, but not on galamsey. Some of our water bodies have shown remarkable signs of rejuvenation. River Ankobra, for example, looks restored to life; indeed, some fish have even been seen in the Ankobra for the first time in a long while. But the battle against galamsey is nowhere near being won yet, and I appeal to all citizens to be part of the battle to keep our lands and water bodies safe.

As I have said on several occasions, this government cannot be against mining. It bears repeating that, with the Almighty having blessed our land with so many precious minerals, mining, inevitably, will be part of our lives. That is why I had the pleasure of reopening the AngloGold Obuasi Mine, on 22nd January, 2019, which had remained effectively closed since 2014, in fulfilment of a campaign pledge I made to the people of Obuasi on 15th July, 2016. In order to help Anglogold Ashanti secure the needed investment for this project, Government provided a number of fiscal incentives, and guaranteed the stability of the project against changes in the legal environment, especially in the early years of the mine’s operations. The fiscal arrangements made this time has provided a more equitable balance between the interests of Government and the investors. With an estimated two thousand, five hundred (2,500) jobs to be created, Obuasi is being brought back to life again, and, this time around, under the new management of AngloGold Ashanti, the development of Obuasi will reflect the wealth its soil produces, like its counterparts in other mining cities around the world. 

Mr. Speaker, we intend, also, to mine, at long last, our bauxite deposits in order to establish an integrated aluminium industry in Ghana. The Ghana Integrated Aluminium Development Corporation, a statutory corporation, has been set up, with the support of Parliament, to spearhead Government’s commitment to create an integrated aluminium industry.

Since its formation, the leadership of the corporation has been working tirelessly with transaction advisors and other stakeholders to ensure the objective of achieving an integrated aluminium industry is executed in a timely manner. A request for proposal is ready to be sent out to the market by the end of this month. This request will solicit proposals from investors interested in partnering government to develop various components of the integrated aluminium industry in Ghana.

Taking cognisance of the fact that achieving an integrated aluminium industry agenda requires the uninterrupted and competitive supply of power to the industry, Government is in the process of negotiating special arrangements to supply power at internationally competitive rates. This arrangement is expected to be approved by Cabinet and, subsequently, hopefully, by Parliament soon.

The same model is being pursued for the exploitation of our iron ore deposits, which, together with our considerable manganese deposits, can enable us found a steel industry to serve our country and the region.

A data centre, the first of its kind, now exists at the Minerals Commission, which will allow prospective investors and partners to access every information regarding the bauxite deposits and the aluminium industry. The Minerals Commission is in the course of creating an equivalent data centre for our iron ore deposits.

Mr Speaker, the security services are at the forefront of keeping us and our nation safe. Let me pay homage to the men and women of the services for the sterling work that they do. The Ghana Armed Forces, in collaboration with other security agencies, have been in Operations CALM LIFE, COWLEG, HALT, CONQUERED, FIST, GONGON, CITADEL, AHODWO and VANGUARD. Ayekoo to you men and women of the Armed Forces. Ghana is proud of you. Your hard work is contributing to making our nation a safe place. 

I would like to mention the improvements that have been registered in dealing with nomadic herdsmen. The Ghana Armed Forces assisted the National Security to embark on OPERATION ROADSTAR, and as a result a 40-cre cattle ranch has been constructed to accommodate over six thousand (6,000) cattle at Wawase, in Afram Plains, and reducing, considerably, the tensions in the area with the nomadic herdsmen. There are plans to replicate these ranches in other parts of the country.

Government is pleased to have fulfilled its promise to the Military Personnel by increasing the United Nations Peacekeeping Troops contribution allowances from Thirty United State Dollars (USD 30.00) to Thirty-Five United State Dollars (USD35.00) per soldier per day. And as promised, we will continue to pay the troops regularly at the operational areas.

We will continue to modernize and provide the equipment needed by the Military to help them carry out their mandate effectively. Tomorrow, I will be presenting to the Ghana Armed Forces 50 ANKAI Buses, the first tranche of the 138 Staff and Operational Vehicles of various categories, and 26 dispatch motorcycles. This year, we will provide the Army with 30 Otokar Armored Personnel Carriers (APC), and 6 Fast Patrol Boats for the Navy.

We will also provide improved training facilities by transforming the Military Academy into a World Class Institution, and expand the housing project from six 16 flats to 44, and begin constructing 160 2-bedroom apartments across the country. This year, we will also complete and commission the 500-bed Military Hospital in the Ashanti Region, and begin the third phase of this project.

Mr. Speaker, the amendment of LI 1332, which is seeking to change the length of service of the men and women of the other ranks of the Ghana Armed Forces from 25 to 30 years and the associated career progression plan, has been reviewed, laid and passed by Parliament, and will be implemented this year as planned.

Mr Speaker, it is the police that we the ordinary citizens have to deal with in our everyday lives. It is, therefore, not surprising that, often, the police come in for a lot of criticism from the people.

Mr Speaker, as is the case with many of our institutions, things had deteriorated for a long time, and we had come to accept the abnormal as normal. We have been busy this past year supplying the police with equipment, cars, motorbikes, drones and other vital policing equipment. Financial clearance has been given, and they are in the process of recruiting up to four thousand (4,000) men and women into the service. That is a first, gradually we are increasing the police numbers, and the service too is waking up to its responsibilities and offering more training to their officers. I look forward to a better trained, better equipped and happier police service that has the respect and cooperation of the people.

Mr Speaker, we need this well-trained police service if we are to abide by the rule of law. I am aware of the frustration of many at the delays in the justice delivery system, which are the result of a multiplicity of factors, which we are trying to address.

And this must be the appropriate time and place to mention the abysmal state of the lower courts around our country. Many people must have seen on television the barely concealed outrage of the Chief Justice, as she has been going around examining the courts. It is obvious that most of the lower courts are not fit for purpose, and we must provide suitable structures for our law courts. Discussions on how to raise the money are currently ongoing, and I am optimistic that a solution will be found.

Mr Speaker, I am pleased to note that there appears to have been a marked change in the Ministry of Justice. No longer do we have people bringing frivolous claims against the State because they know the case will not be defended, and they will get judgement debts. I believe the word is now out that every claim against the government will be vigorously defended, and the State will no longer be the soft touch it used to be for people to get suspiciously large judgement debts awarded to them.

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to state that, as you know, Parliament has virtually completed its deliberations on the Right To Information Bill, and that, any moment from now, the nation will hear the news of its long, anticipated passage. I will, happily, assent to it as soon as it is brought to my table. 

Mr Speaker, we all await the Special Prosecutor to start his work. It is in everybody’s interest that we know that any accusations of corruption in public office will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted, if the prima facie evidence is there. This should be an essential feature of the governance culture of our country. For myself, I know the Special Prosecutor to be a responsible public official, who will act when he is ready.

Mr Speaker, Ghana remains an active player in international affairs, especially in the region of West Africa and on the continent of Africa. Ghana’s voice is loud and clear on issues at international fora. Good neighbourliness underpins our foreign policy and we try to be at peace with all. I have been intimately involved in trying to find a resolution to the difficulties in Togo, and we hope that they are coming to an end.

Mr Speaker, communications inside and with the outside are critical for the modern existence of any nation. Our roads, inside the country and those leading out to our neighbouring countries, have been in a dreadful state for a long time. Everybody has by now heard about the arrangements we have made with the Chinese company, Sinohydro, and it is a matter of great relief to me that I am able to say that work will now be starting on the roads that have been designated to be part of that project. It is worth stating that we are very much aware that there are many more roads that do not come under the SinoHydro deal, which are also in a bad way and we continue to seek ways to build a road network worthy of our nation.

I am glad to be able to report that the Accra to Tema railway service has started running on the refurbished line. The opening of the Accra/Nsawam line has been postponed, because sand winners have undermined the ground underneath the track near Pokuase. It is now being repaired, and the service will start hopefully by the end of February.

If we want the railways to work, we would all have to take an interest in and stop the activities of encroachers on the railway lands. The rehabilitation of the narrow-gauge line will continue from Nsawam to Koforidua. Work is continuing on the rehabilitation of the Kojokrom to Tarkwa section of the Western line, whilst work on the standard gauge section from Kojokrom to Manso is ongoing.

Apart from all the investment being made, the government is committing an extra one billion US dollars to the development of the new railway network. Five hundred million dollars ($500 million) will be applied to the development of the Western line, and five hundred million dollars ($500 million) will be applied to the first phase of the Kumasi to Paga section of the national network.

The development of the Tema/Ouagadougou railway line is also progressing steadily. Twelve shortlisted companies have been invited to proceed to the next stage of the procurement process. This year, land acquisition will commence beyond the Volta River at Mpakadan, and the strategic investor will be selected.

To sum it up, the railways are coming in a big way into Ghana, and we shall open up our country for the development that we all desire.

Mr. Speaker, Government recognizes the significance of aviation to our country’s economic and social development. Operations at the Kumasi, Tamale, Takoradi airports have been revamped, with the resurgence in domestic airline operations through the introduction of new domestic operators like Unity Air and Passion Air. Soon, the flag of Ghana will be flown again, as we have identified strategic investors to launch a Home-Based Carrier.

Whilst we embark on the protracted process of building roads and railways to open up our country, we are doing so with modern technology. Mobile telephony has almost covered the entire country, and broadband internet connectivity is available in many places.

There are one million, two hundred (1,200,000) registered and verified addresses through the National Digital Property Addressing System; in other words, we have joined the modern world, and gradually leaving the right turn at the blue kiosk, and opposite the Kofi-broke-man seller, behind us.

People are able to renew their National Health Insurance cards in minutes in the comfort of their own homes. You can now renew your driving licence, and register a car in half an hour, register your business online, and acquire a passport in a week without any of the difficulties that used to come with trying to get any of these things done. The National Identification card, the Ghana Card, has been issued to people in government departments and members of the security services, and, this year, the rest of the population will be registered and receive their cards. We are determined to join the digital world.

Mr Speaker, Ghana won, last year, the bid to host the 13th All Africa Games. It presents our nation with the opportunity to upgrade sporting infrastructure in the country, and position our nation as a preferred destination for the development of sporting disciplines on the continent. We have begun renovating and upgrading our sporting infrastructure such as the Accra and Cape Coast Sports Stadia, and the Azumah Nelson Sports Complex in Kaneshie, and a complete refurbishment of sports facilities across the country. Funds have also been released for the completion of the University of Ghana Sports Stadium, started by the Kufuor-led NPP Government, but abandoned soon after 2009. The Ghanaian people are also expectant of a return to normalcy of all football-related activities as soon as possible, and the Normalization Committee is working to ensure that they meet the March deadline.    

Mr Speaker, three months ago, a member of this honourable House and the representative of Ayawaso West Wuogon constituency, died suddenly, throwing all of us into mourning. On 31st January, three weeks ago exactly, a by-election was called to elect a replacement for the late Emmanuel Kyeremanteng Agyarko. May his soul rest in perfect peace.

During the course of that morning, some events took place in that constituency, which led to an uproar in the country. My first instinct was to let the police do their investigations, and then prosecute, if they found evidence of criminality. The narration that this was another incident of “normal by-election violence” caused me to expand my response.

Indeed, Mr Speaker, recent by-elections in Akwatia, Atiwa, Chereponi, Talensi andAmenfi West had been marked with violence, and some people still have their physical and emotional scars to show for it.

I could have sat it out, as some did, for Akwatia, Atiwa, Chereponi, Talensi andAmenfi West, but I decided that that would not be in the interest of Ghanaian democracy. The time has come to put an end to the phenomenon of politically-related violence. The only way in our system to begin to deal with such a situation is through the work of a Commission of Inquiry. Thankfully, I got four responsible Ghanaians of independent spirit, who agreed to serve on the Commission. I hope the findings and recommendations of the Emile Short Commission will enable us chart a path to ending politically-related violence in our country.

The events of last Monday, in Kumasi, where a meeting of the national and regional executives of the opposition National Democratic Congress was broken up by acts of violence, leading to the tragic death of a citizen, have reinforced the urgent need for us to find that path. I want to use the platform of this Message to make a sincere, passionate appeal to the leaders of the two main political parties in our country, NPP and NDC, to come together, as soon as possible, preferably next week, to agree on appropriate measures to bring an end to this worrying and unacceptable phenomenon of vigilantism in our body politic. I have asked the leadership of the NPP to extend an invitation to the leadership of the NDC for such a meeting. The security services of the country will be on standby to assist this meeting. If voluntary disbandment by the parties is not feasible, then I will initiate legislation on the matter. Vigorous debate and the exchange of ideas should be the true basis of political dialogue and competition in our country, not the activities of party vigilante groups.

Mr. Speaker, what was tolerated over the years cannot and must not be accepted anymore.  We must not take our peace and security for granted— not for a moment. Our children and grandchildren will not forgive us if we were to compromise our peace and stability.  I will not permit that to happen under my watch. Our forebears paid too high a price, with their blood and toil, to bequeath to us this beautiful nation; the lives of our citizens are too precious to waste.

So, let us come together shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand and let us all be guided by the inspirational words of (the second stanza of) our national anthem:

“Hail to thy name, O Ghana,

To thee we make our solemn vow:

Steadfast to build together

A nation strong in Unity;

With our gifts of mind and strength of arm,

Whether night or day, in the midst of storm,

In every need, whatever the call may be,

To serve thee, Ghana, now and for evermore.”

Mr. Speaker, we have our challenges, but our nation is in good health.

I thank you very much for your attention.              

May God bless us all, and our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.


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