By Ajong Mbapndah L*
From piloting the digitisation program, launching the Pan African Payment and Settlement System, PAPSS, representing President Akufo-Addo at the United Nations as Ghana was elected to the Security Council, addressing the UNSC and meeting with Secretary General Guterres, dashing to Washington DC to meet with Secretary of State Blinken and the State Department’s African Bureau, before making the return trip home, it has been a hectic first month of 2022 for Ghana’s Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia.
The schedule of Vice President Bawumia speaks volumes not only on his work ethic, but also on the trust that President Akufo-Addo has in him. It has been an honour working alongside President Akufo -Addo, a leader who is an embodiment of hard work, public service and generosity of service, says Dr Bawumia.
“We have always worked very well with one another, and we share the same hopes and dreams for Ghana. The President is the boss, and my role is to assist him implement his vision,” says Dr Bawumia.
One of the President’s visions that VP Bawumia is chaperoning is the digitisation program. It is at the forefront of the President’s agenda for Ghana and great strides are being made to upgrade Ghana’s technological capabilities, says Dr Bawumia.
In an exclusive interview with PAV, Dr Bawumia sheds light on progress with key segments of the agenda of President Akufo Addo under his purview, COVID 19, and other seminal developments across the continent.
Vice President Bawumia – Thanks for accepting to answer our questions, could we start with a synopsis of how Ghana is doing politically, economically, and socially?
The last two years during the COVID-19 pandemic have been difficult for countries across the world, regardless of their level of development. Despite these challenges, I believe that Ghana’s political, economic, and social foundations are relatively strong, and our future is bright.
Politically, we are a robust multi-party democracy (we have been since 1992) with free and fair elections and peaceful transitions of power. Despite our political differences, Ghanaians have experienced authoritarianism in the past and we place too high a value on our democratic and human rights to give them up now.
In terms of our economy, we remain, irrespective of the damage of the pandemic, an attractive destination for foreign investment and a pioneer in the fields of digitisation and the democratisation of technology. The government of H.E. President Akufo-Addo has a plan in place for reducing the deficit, fostering public-private commercial partnerships, and improving tax collection. A stable economic environment will support rising living standards and our exceptional public services.
In the face of a deadly pandemic, Ghanaians have demonstrated the strength of our country’s social contract. Lockdown rules were respected by the vast majority of the population and every effort was made to comply with social distancing guidelines and government advice to wear masks. As a result, society was able to open gradually over the course of 2021, allowing Ghanaians to not only return to their livelihoods, but also to reconnect with their loved ones.
How has it been like working with President Akufo-Addo for the past six or seven years now?
It has been an honour working alongside H.E. President Akufo-Addo, a leader who is the embodiment of hard work, public service, and generosity of spirit. We have always worked very well with one another, and we share the same hopes and dreams for Ghana. The President is the boss, and my role is to assist him implement his vision.
Under H.E.’s leadership since 2017, Ghana has experienced significant economic success, with annual GDP growth surpassing 6% in the lead up to the pandemic and with the World Bank predicting a return to this rate later this year. As one of the first countries to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) in 2018, we have signified our commitment to free trade as the best way of generating increased FDI and fostering diplomatic relations with countries around the world. Indeed, our capital, Accra, is the Secretariat of the AfCFTA and is the base of operations for officials implementing the agreement. The President’s position as Chairman of ECOWAS also signifies our administrations dedication to regional trade and co-operation with our neighbours.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the President and his government’s sheer determination to protect our citizens certainly helped us to steer the country through the worst of the crisis. Fortunately, the road ahead looks far more positive than it did in 2020, largely as a result of our government’s early action in mitigating the effects of the virus, as well as our successful vaccination programme.
I look forward to working with the President in the years to come, ensuring that our policy platform continues to result in beneficial outcomes for all Ghanaians.
On COVID 19 and the new Omicron variant, what is the situation like in Ghana, and what extra measures have been taken by the administration to cushion its effects on the economy, and national life in general?
In 2020, during the initial onset of the pandemic, the government followed WHO guidelines in instituting lockdowns, implementing contact tracing, and social distancing, and encouraging basic public safety measures such as the use of facemasks.
By April of last year, the pandemic had subsided somewhat, and we gradually reopened the country, with the government’s official advice to wear masks and maintain social distancing remaining in place.
The importance of these exact same public safety measures was of course reiterated after the emergence of the Omicron variant.
In terms of our economy, along with the rest of the world, COVID-19 hit Ghana hard, but the monetary relief and economic recovery programs instituted by the government, such as free water and electricity, provision of PPEs to schools, and the availability of ‘soft loans’ to individuals and small businesses, cushioned the blow to ordinary Ghanaians.
Moreover, with the Ghanaian state having thrown its arms around the economy during these past two years of economic uncertainty, the IMF has forecasted that GDP is now set to return to pre-2020 levels later this year.
VP Bawumia has been at the forefront of a digitisation agenda for Ghana, can you shed light on what this means for the country and progress made since its launching?
Digitisation is at the forefront of H.E. President Nana Akufo-Addo’s agenda for Ghana, and we are making great strides in upgrading Ghana’s technological capabilities.
The ‘Ghana Card’, a state-of-the-art, biometric ID card, is the beating heart of this government’s digitisation drive. The card is enfranchising all Ghanaians, connecting them with our fantastic public services, improving their access to finance, and helping our security services in the fight against fraudulent activity.
We are using digitalization to create a more inclusive society, fight corruption, and enhance domestic revenue mobilisation. A more secure society and the connection of consumers and business owners to the services and capital they need will spread entrepreneurship beyond the economic hubs of our towns and cities to our rural communities. Encouragingly, the card has seen an impressive take-up thus far with over 85% of the adult population enrolled.
While the spirit and innovation of the private sector is crucial, our government knows that world-class public services are essential for speedy economic development. When we came into office 5 years ago, only 4% of the adult population had a Tax Identification Number. We took the decision to make the unique Ghanacard number the TIN for all citizens and residents. By so doing we now have 85% of the adult population with TINs. This has broadened the tax base and will improve our domestic tax collection, providing us with the revenues for sustained investment.
Healthcare, education, commercial infrastructure – these are the basis of our society and this government’s digitisation agenda will drive them forwards.
Last year you made an announcement at a public lecture that efforts were underway to get the GhanaCard recognised globally as an e-passport, could you shed light on what progress has been made in this direction?
We have made great strides with the rollout of our Ghana Card. To date, over 85% of the adult population is registered to receive their own card, and we are working hard to continue this rollout to all eligible citizens, including our nation’s youngsters and those who live abroad.
In order to ensure international recognition of the Card’s e-passport feature, we have joined the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the aviation industry’s overseeing body and an institution operating under the auspices of the UN.
In November last year, I announced that the Ghana Card’s e-passport feature would be globally recognised by over 195 countries by the end of the first quarter, pending discussions with the ICAO. I am happy to note that we are on course to meet this deadline. The e-passport feature will enable more seamless travel with neighbouring countries and of course throughout the world.
As a result, Ghana will be one of only a handful of countries where a national identification card also constitutes an e-passport, an illustration of the opportunities of digitisation.
I will of course update citizens on developments concerning the activation of the e-passport feature, but discussions are positive. For the time being, I urge travellers to, as always, bring their passport and other forms of required documentation with them. Additionally, citizens should continue to apply for their own Ghana Card so that they can be part of this digital revolution.
What is your response to some critics of the administration who say the digitisation agenda led by yourself is lacking in coherence and may not be transformative for Ghana?
In politics, criticism from opposing parties and their supporters is to be expected and you need to have a tough skin to just get on with delivering the people’s priorities. As such, whilst I welcome robust debate, the cornerstone of any successful democracy, I strongly disagree with the notion that the digitisation agenda is incoherent, and I am sure that the programme will result in a transformed Ghana.
I firmly believe that those who choose not to embrace technological advancement will be left behind, missing out on opportunities to modernise and develop infrastructure that will better serve our citizens.
In Ghana, for example, fraud and petty crime have presented significant challenges, but the introduction of the Ghana Card and its integration with other databases will mitigate these long-standing challenges, whilst also simplifying the lives of Ghanaians by cutting down on bureaucracy and cumbersome paperwork.
While Ghana has made dramatic advances in recent decades, there are still some in our society who will spend their entire lives without being registered on a government system. The Ghana Card changes this, connecting those who had once slipped through the net with essential government services, financial institutions and making them readily identifiable when they travel domestically or even abroad.
I have been pleased with the endorsements of our agenda from a number of experts, such as the CEO of the Ghana Association of Banks, John Awuah, who has praised the technology for assisting with the recovery of loans. We have implemented the national ID card, digital property address system, mobile money interoperability, Ghana.Gov, National E-Pharmacy, Digitised public services like passports, ports, drivers’ licence, Motor insurance, births and deaths, Social security, Ghana revenue authority, etc. We are pursuing a very coherent digitisation strategy. In sum, I have no doubt that as the impacts of digitisation become more widespread, criticism will turn to praise.
In terms of delivering on electoral promises may we know some of the other important milestones attained by the Akufo-Addo/Bawumia administration since the second term started?
During our first term in office, we delivered on or were delivering on about 80% of our promises. Subsequently, the government of H.E President Akufo-Addo was re-elected for a second term in the midst of the pandemic and dealing with the corresponding public health and economic crisis was our first priority. Fiscal stimulus and support for individuals and small businesses shielded the livelihoods of working Ghanaians, but this came at a cost – notably the expansion of our national debt. We promised to consolidate and continue with the flagship programs that we started in the first term like Planting for Food and Jobs, One District One Factory, One Constituency one Ambulance, Year of Roads, Free Senior High School, Digitization. We also promised to undertake new initiatives such as Agenda 111 hospitals, You Start Jobs Program, so far, the fulfilment of these promises are on course.
Our government is also fostering public-private partnerships to boost production in Ghana’s oil fields, ensuring we meet the highest environmental standards for drilling and extraction.
Increased oil exports will help Ghana to rebuild its foreign exchange reserves after the impact of the pandemic and this will allow the country to pay back the debts it has incurred over the past two years.
The government of H.E. the President is also working hard to increase the competitiveness of our gold industry by attracting foreign investment, ensuring that the Ghanaian people and their public services reap the rewards of the country’s natural resources.
On the One Teacher-One Laptop Programme you launched in September 2021, how is the initiative going and do you think the desired impact has been felt already?
The One Teacher-One Laptop programme has been a success. Less than three months after the programme launched, I am informed that 80% of the laptops available had been distributed to high school teachers around Ghana. We have also ensured that our teachers will receive the technical support they need, with 260 GES District ICT co-ordinators having been trained to help them integrate this new technology into the classroom. Free Wi-Fi has also been provided to over 700 Senior High Schools across Ghana.
This government believes that digitisation is the future, and this means modernising our resources in education so we are able to deliver the best outcomes for our youth. We must ensure that no student is left behind and this government continues to strive towards the attainment of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (the UN target to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education) which is an aim that the President and I hold close to our hearts. I am looking forward to the continuation of the programme in 2022 with the provision of laptops to junior and primary school teachers.
Any message from Vice President Bawumia to Ghanaians who think that enough is not done by the administration to impact positively on their lives?
As we hopefully exit the tumultuous years of the pandemic, it is important that Ghana is united and does not descend into discord. We as a government continue to put our citizens first, which is why we are continuing to roll out vital policies such as our aforementioned digitisation programme, alongside our tireless efforts to source more COVID-19 vaccinations from around the world.
While the pandemic was certainly a major setback in terms of the rapid economic growth that we have seen in recent years, this government has both the plan and the policies to deliver a full economic recovery from the pandemic. Indeed, swift state action during the pandemic has meant that we are now in an excellent position to move forward as a nation.
Recently, you helped launch the Pan African Payment and Settlement System, PAPSS – May we know the dividends expected for Ghana and the continent as a whole from this new body?
PAPSS, in essence an intra-African payment system, has come about thanks to the immense hard work and dedication of those at the AfCFTA Secretariat, Afreximbank and African central banks. The system is a major leap forward for the continent, reducing our overall reliance on global supply chains when it comes to trade.
PAPSS addresses the historic challenges of making payments across African borders, adding value through a common African market infrastructure for all stakeholders, from governments, banks and payment providers to corporates, small enterprises, and individuals.
Prior to PAPSS, over 80 per cent of African cross-border payment transactions originating from African banks had to be routed offshore for clearing and settlement using international banking relationships. This needless mechanism was detrimental to overall efficiency and cost people time and additional expenditure.
The system will save Africa more than US$5 billion annually in payment transaction costs. It will play an increasingly significant role in accelerating the continent’s transactions, underpinning the operationalisation of the AfCFTA to which Ghana is the Secretariat. Pilots of the system in the six countries of the West African Monetary Zone (including Ghana) proved to be very successful. The efficiency of monetary transactions increased dramatically, and increased oversight of cross-border payments by central banks will also ensure an added layer of security to transactions.
Of course, the next step now is for all central banks in Africa to join up and ensure the seamless transfer of funds via state-of-the-art financial market infrastructure. This will integrate African markets with one other, thereby enabling instant cross-border payments in respective local African currencies.
Any Ghanaian seeking to send money across Africa will benefit from this new technology as it will reduce the costs of sending money, improve efficiency (no more weeks of needless delay), and strengthen security measures.
This interview is being done in the wake of your presence at the UN in New York, what was your mission and what was the message you presented?
My mission has always been to represent the people of Ghana. There is no greater global stage than that of the United Nations to do so, and I was honoured to represent H.E. Akufo-Addo as Ghana was once more elected to the UNSC.
During my trip to the US, I met with officials in both New York and Washington D.C. In New York, I spoke with UN Secretary-General António Guterres after my address to the Security Council on the pressing matter of urban warfare and the toll this places on civilians. It has never been more important for nations to pool their resources and work with each other to bring about meaningful change.
In Washington D.C. I met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the US State Department’s Africa Bureau. We discussed the ongoing pandemic and the requirement of further vaccine deployment throughout Africa, as well as how we can collaborate with one another to ensure regional stability and the deepening of economic ties.
How is the administration viewing the disturbing resurgence of military coups in West Africa with Burkina Faso being the latest to join Mali and Guinea as countries under military rule?
The resurgence of military coups in West Africa is of grave concern. H.E. President Akufo-Addo and I, along with the rest of the administration, are saddened to see our neighbouring countries fall victim to military violence and extremism.
As I discussed at the UN Security Council meeting in January, urban violence represents an unacceptable risk to the lives of civilians and must be prevented at all costs.
Our government is committed to cultivating a society of tolerance in Ghana, and as a result the country is ranked as the second most peaceful nation in Africa. Indeed, Ghana is proof that democracy can be successfully upheld, and we must work together with our neighbours and international bodies to reach peaceful conclusions to the issues we face in the region.
Like most Ghanaians, you are a football fan – What is your take on performances of the Black Stars at the 2021 AfCON?
I’m always proud of the Black Stars for going out and representing Ghana, regardless of the result, especially during the pandemic which has been a difficult time for all.
It was of course a disappointing AFCON tournament for us, and I know that we are capable of achieving much more. Now it will be important to work together as a team especially as our focus turns to the vital World Cup qualifiers in the coming months.
I am also looking forward to the announcement of the new team coach and their future successes – I will always be cheering them on!
A last question on projections for 2022, how do you envision the year for Ghana and for Africa as a whole?
I believe that 2022 will be a year of continued recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. With our vaccination programme, we are hoping to leave the worst of COVID-19 behind us and this is a significant step forward.
As our economy continues to recover at pace from the pandemic, Ghana should be back on the path to prosperity and our government has the ideas, the ambition, and the political will to continue to improve the living standards of all Ghanaians.
Beyond the politics, the drive and ambition of Ghanaians is reason enough to believe that a bright future lies ahead.
In terms of Africa’s prospects for 2022, our government is committed to supporting the radiation of economic growth throughout the continent and we’re doing this through our work in the African Union and our resolute commitment to the AfCTA.
In addition, the policies that H.E. President Nana Akufo-Addo is implementing in Ghana, such as facilitating foreign investment, ramping up nation-wide digitisation, and improving tax collection, are policies that would benefit every single African economy.
For both Ghana and our African neighbours, it is modernisation, a strong relationship between the public and private sectors, and an embrace of free trade that will raise living standards and this government is a flag bearer for each of these causes.
* ‘Following a “Key Ceremony” at the headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal Canada, Ghana’s National Identity Card (the GhanaCard) will now be duly recognized globally as a valid e-passport/ID card’