Leading members of the National Democratic Congress are sharply divided over President Nana Akufo Addo’s recent announcement of his government’s intention to construct some 88 hospitals across the country.
According to the President, the threat of COVID-19 has aided the government to identify certain health needs that must be put in place to ensure the nation beefs up the health sector.
“Just as the virus has disrupted our daily lives, it has also exposed the deficiencies of our healthcare system, because of years of under-investment and neglect. Whilst maternal, new-born, adolescent health and nutrition remain our top priorities, we must pay increased attention to chronic, noncommunicable diseases such as heart diseases, diabetes and asthma, which have proved to be the common risk factors for the eleven (11) deaths we have recorded from the virus”.
In view of this, the President indicated his “government has decided to undertake a major investment in our healthcare infrastructure, the largest in our history. We will, this year, begin constructing eighty-eight (88) hospitals in the districts without hospitals. It will mean ten (10) in Ashanti, nine (9) in Volta, nine (9) in Central, eight (8) in Eastern, seven (7) in Greater Accra, seven (7) in Upper East, five (5) in Northern, five (5) in Oti, five (5) in Upper West, five (5) in Bono, four (4) in Western North, four (4) in Western, three (3) in Ahafo, three (3) in Savannah, two (2) in Bono East, and two (2) in North East Regions. Each of them will be a quality, standard-design, one hundred bed hospital, with accommodation for doctors, nurses and other health workers, and the intention is to complete them within a year. We have also put in place plans for the construction of six (6) new regional hospitals in the six (6) new regions, and the rehabilitation of the Effia Nkwanta Hospital, in Sekondi, which is the regional hospital of the Western Region”.
The announcement which has been a subject of public discussion has provoked a debate among the rank and file of the opposition party as its members express divergent views over the possibility or otherwise of the project.
On one side, the former Central Regional Chairman of the NDC, Allotey Jacobs, has admonished his comrades to cease their verbal attacks against the President over the latter’s pledge to construct 88 district hospitals in the country.
But NDC Member of Parliament for Juaboso constituency and Ranking Member on Health, Hon. Kwabena Mintah Akandoh in an interview on Okay FM’s ‘Ade Akye Abia’ Morning Show asked the President to be “cognizant of his status as a President when addressing the nation on the state of the COVID-19. We are obliged to listen to the President and help him fight the COVID-19, but the moment he switches into political promises then there will be issues because when it comes to political campaign promises, the President has a certain pedigree…So, if the President comes to paint a picture as if he has now seen the need to build district hospitals due to the COVID-19, then it is not true, the President was not truthful to us because there was no COVID-19 in 2016. He should prove me wrong if he didn’t promise this to Ghanaians in the party’s manifesto”.
Obviously in response to such remarks, Allotey Jacobs stated that it would have been best for the NDC to adopt a wait-and-see approach for a while to know whether the project could even be rolled out, before attempting to shoot it down entirely.
To him, it is ‘premature’ for the NDC to cast doubts over the feasibility of the President’s promise in improving the health sector because it was not capture in this year’s budget.
“If he says he will construct them, we have to exercise patience and watch him. Where is he going to get the funds? How is he going to start? Should he claim to have started one or two, bear in mind that the residents in whose districts the hospitals are being constructed can bear witness or otherwise. So, for me, it is premature for him to be criticized because you’re even urging him on to even find resources to start the projects . . . If he can do it or not, what is important is that 88 districts in this country needs hospitals.
”When it’s getting close to elections and he hasn’t begun, then you can call out his bluff, but it’s too early to even say that it will be difficult or impossible to find the resources to complete it,” the former Central Regional Chairman of the NDC stated.
Seth Terkper says it will be a tall order securing funds for President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s promised 88 district hospitals and 6 regional hospitals.
Mr. Terkper pointed to provisional and actual fiscal data for the year 2019 which suggested that government used 98.2% of tax revenues for wages, statutory payments, earmarked funds and payment of interests on loans.
He pointed out that the 2020 fiscal projections do not deviate from this figure as 97% of loans have been already voted for recurrent expenditure leaving a minute fraction for running government and carrying out capital projects.
He indicated that even though these figures have been a normal trend as Ghana generally borrows for its capital projects, Fitch and Moody’s have recently downgraded Ghana’s credit ratings discounting the country’s ability to get onto the market to borrow at competitive rates.
The former finance minister further pointed government to the realities of the world financial environment grappling with the COVID-19 Pandemic and a huge slum in Oil revenues which form a huge source of Ghana’s revenues.
He told Starr News’ Naa Dede Tettey it will be difficult for the finance minister to return to the International Monetary Fund in the next few months because Ghana had hit its quota of a billion dollars which was secured to support Ghana’s COVID 19 alleviation program.
Mr. Terkper questioned why the cap on the stabilization fund was not raised early enough to rake in more money for such shocks when Ghana’s oil wells had increased from one to three commercial oil wells.
He advised that it was about time Ghana looked at its three epic events that destabilized the country and begun putting in place buffers to cushion the country in such periods.
“The stabilization and the contingency fund were set aside to anticipate these challenges. In our history, we have had the bush fires which destroyed our cocoa farms. Fast forward we have had droughts that affected our food production. We had financial crisis in 2008 and 2014 when there was a fall in crude oil prices from 95 dollars in the budget to about 35 dollars. So we should begin to build buffers as middle income and advanced countries do”.
He recommended that government rather taps into already approved loans in parliament, to complete pipeline health projects some of which have already been captured in the 2020 budget”.