|President’s State Of The Nation Address, 2011 – Hope For Improvement In Social Services|
|Saturday, 19 March 2011 10:00|
By : Nana Yaa Frempong
Developing nations in sub- Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America who are member nations of the United Nations (UN) are expected to have achieved the eight international development targets set in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) come the year ending 2015.
While some of the nations are assiduously working to achieve these targets, others are severely saddled with wars and conflicts of various forms just some four years to the completion of the project. Ghana, fortunately, is making giant strides in her quest to fulfilling the demands in the MDGs. The President’s third State of the Nation Address in February, 2011 under the theme “Raising Ghana to the next level,” promised some hope of achieving the targets spelt out in the MDGs in the social (essential) services sector namely education, health and water.
Basic Education Education is one of the essential services nations world over cannot do without because it is key to the development of human resource needed for general national development. For this reason, every country works hard to get its educational system right and running. Ghana since independence, some 54 years ago, has designed and implemented various educational reform programmes with the aim of improving the standard and quality of education to the levels accepted worldwide. This desire to improve educational standards is tailored to the demands of the UN’s MDGs which requires member-nations to achieve universal primary education by 2015.
Ghana, under this stipulation, has, since the year 2000 when the United Nation’s Millennium Declaration came into force, introduced various policies and programmes to meet the sector target. The School Feeding Programme (SFP) and Capitation Grant are notable programmes initiated by the past government which resulted in increased enrolment in basic public schools. The present NDC-led government has improved upon these inherited programmes by expanding the coverage of the SFP to benefit more children, particularly in rural communities. Since the Mills’ administration took office in January 2009, it has increased the Capitation Grant from the previous GH3.00 to GH4.50 (50% increment) paid to the schools per pupil in a year.
Furthermore, the government, through its social democratic values, has initiated some other programmes to augment the existing ones to enhance the quantity and quality of education. The provision of free school uniforms and exercise books and the programme to ensure the removal of estimated 4,400 schools or classrooms under trees and the abolition of the “shift system” are vigorously and effectively being implemented towards the attainment of the goal 2 of the MDGs. This vision to ensure tremendous improvement in education in Ghana was given further impetus as the president stated vividly in his State of the Nation Address that government is intensifying its commitment to free school uniforms and exercise books while turning more schools under trees into brick and mortar classroom blocks. Over 1,000 new basic schools have been built throughout the country since the introduction of this programme, and a projection of the construction of additional 1,500 schools this year has began in earnest.
However, this critically good initiative will not yield fruit without the participation of teachers who have the responsibility to impart knowledge onto the children to ensure that the nation’s future human resource is adequately equipped with the requisite knowledge and skill to meet modern and prevailing demands to fast-track development. The plight of teachers in this country are obviously open secret and the President promised that his government remains committed to improving their conditions in order to facilitate quality impartation of knowledge and skills. The inclusion of teachers on the ‘Single Spine’ pay policy, despite the challenges bedeviling it, is one step in the right direction.
A healthy people will surely make a healthy nation, as it is often postulated, and to be healthy means that one must be free of diseases or illnesses. The provision of good quality healthcare remains an intractable challenge to many nations, particularly those in the third world and developing countries. Ghana is no exception to this assertion as after 54 years of independence we are still saddled with numerous health difficulties. Deaths are as a result of inaccessibility to health facilities and neglect or refusal to conform to basic health principles.
Governments, past and present, have initiated various policies and programmes to mitigate the health challenges the citizenry face. These attempts are being executed in tandem with the MDGs to reduce child mortality rate, improve maternal health and combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. Not too distance is the inception of the National Health Insurance Scheme which has become the reference point to accessing healthcare in Ghana. On the scheme is the provision of a facility which allows pregnant women to access free healthcare in fulfillment of the health-related MDGs.President Mills was emphatic in his sessional address to the nations’ legislators that the present government, in its wisdom, will continue with the NHIS and streamline it to make it more responsive, appropriate, effective, efficient, and equitable by reviewing the payment of premiums and claims.
The sustainability of these policies and achievement of the MDGs depend on the commitment of the government to improve the health sector. Consequently, the 2011 State of the Nation Address focused on targeting of allocation of resources towards the health of women and children and eradication of communicable and non communicable diseases by providing funds to sustain as well as expand the NHIS and provision of more health infrastructure. His Excellency the President promised that his government is constructing additional district and regional hospitals as well as staff housing while other existing facilities are being refurbished to cater for the healthcare needs of the citizenry.
The fight against HIV/AIDS and eradication of guinea worm is of great concern to the Mills’ administration. Through pragmatic measures, government has succeeded in bringing down the HIV/AIDS prevalent rate to below 1.9% and there has not been any reported case of guinea worm in about a year now. Mental healthcare delivery has been under serious challenge for far too long but the situation is soon to turn around the corner as the President gave assurance that this government has facilitated the passage of the Mental Health Act and has adopted a community mental health care strategy to facilitate the implementation of the Act.
Essential, or perhaps most significant to the development of every nation is water. Whether good and clean or bad and dirty, people, animals and every other living thing cannot live without it. But as it is premised that a healthy people make a healthy nation, then it is exigent for the people to drink the kind devoid of infections. The provision of potable water has over the years been a pain in the neck of all successive governments. Even though Ghana is blessed with many water bodies like rivers, lakes and other sources of water, this essential and priceless commodity is mostly unreached by a majority of the citizens. The battle to get it right in the provision of potable water to the people has dragged on for far too long .
People still queue long periods, particularly in the capital, Accra, in almost vain search for a drop in their buckets. His Excellency the President expressed the hope that raising Ghana to the next level will do away with all problems associated with portable water especially in the urban enclaves. Accra has been allowed to develop haphazardly, hence, no matter how much the situation improves the complaints will rage on. The president perhaps got it right but the magnitude of improvement was the issue.
Raising Ghana to the next level requires also the lifting of potable water to every home. Though it may seem daunting, with the assurances from the President of the rehabilitation of some of the treatment plants, various expansion works at the dams, and the ATMA Rural Water Supply projects, one can only hope that we are on the right path to nipping in the bud the water crisis in this country and may be we might meet the MDGs of water for all.
The President was very passionate about the non-partisan approach by the NDC-led government that needs the participation of all to ensure that we satisfy the demands of the social service-related MDGs within the stipulated time and thereby better the lives of the people of Ghana.