Four Convention People’s Party (CPP) presidential hopefuls on Tuesday evening locked horns in a debate to sell themselves to their party electorates and Ghanaian voters ahead of their Saturday’s primaries.
Modelled on the United States format of putting presidential aspirants to the test before the party’s primaries to elect them, the event turned out to be a friendly exchange rather than the hot banter that characterises the American debates.
The presidential hopefuls, Ms Samia Yaaba Nkrumah, former Chairperson of the party and daughter of Ghana’s first President Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Mr Ivor Kobina Greenstreet, a former General Secretary of the party, Mr Bright Oblitei Akwetey, who has twice contested for the flag-bearer position, and Mr Agyapong, a businessman, were quizzed by the moderator, Prof. Kwame Karikari, on issues on the Ghanaian economy, industrialisation, agriculture and health in the country’s first-ever inter-party presidential debate sponsored by TV Africa.
Ghana’s indebtedness has become topical with the current government, accused of being on a borrowing spree. Asked about what they would do to wean the country off loans, Mr Greenstreet disagreed with the question and insisted that loans were not bad but it was how the loans were used that mattered.
“Loans are very very good and loans are very, very important. The problem we face as a nation is the type of loan we have been contracting and what we have been using it for. If we are taking loans to pay off other loans or debts, that is the wrong utilization,” he stated.
Mr Agyapong said some of the loans taken by successive governments were unnecessary and insisted that his government would revisit and renegotiate all loans the country had taken.
He insisted “we need systems that provides opportunity and not loans.”
Ms Nkrumah said the high debts were because of the mismanagement of the economy.
“Until we change the structure of the economy we are going to get more loans,” she asserted and added the only way out of the debt situation was to add value to the country’s raw materials instead of exporting them raw.
All the aspirants agreed that the country’s association with the International Monetary Fund over the years had done it more harm than good but Mr Greenstreet was of the view that successive governments that went to the IMF were to be blamed as the IMF did not force them to come for loans.
Throughout the debate, two candidates — Mr Akwetey and Ms Nkrumah — maintained that the state must be in business to create opportunities for Ghanaians to complement the private sector.
Mr Akwetey said the party believed in where the state would be in control of businesses and also build a system where the country would be self-reliant, be food- sufficient and not allow foreigners to build the economy.
For Mr Greenstreet, the current structure of the economy is aimed at making donors happy rather than satisfying Ghanaians.
“We need policies that are responsive to the needs of the people. We do that through highly organised national development plan which has links with all sectors of the economy and nothing is kept in isolation,” he argued.
Mr Agyapong said the country needed a system that would manage the country’s resources but did not explain how the system would work.
On Agriculture, Mr Akwetey said the country would have to restore agriculture subsidies to empower farmers because the countries asking Ghana to scrap the subsidies highly subsidized their farmers and also grew rice and poultry industries.
The reliance on rudimentary and rain-fed agriculture, Mr Greenstreet said, had not helped the country and advocated massive investment in the country’s research institutions, and added that because most of the research institutions were donor-funded, they were promoting genetically modified crops in Ghana instead of paying attention to local crops.
Ms Nkrumah said her administration would revive and modernise Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s seven-year development plan on agriculture and offer tax incentives to local entrepreneurs and also help small-holder farmers to form cooperatives so that they could benefit from loans.
She said the CPP was against the plant breeder system as it would confine the nation to further dependency.
Mr Agyapong opined that a way to boost agriculture was to motivate farmers by providing them with inputs and farming implements as well as encouraging commercial farming to promote exports.
A different CPP government
Stating how his administration would be different from the country’s successive governments, Mr Agyapong said a CPP government would cut down on government expenditure and put money in the pocket of Ghanaians, capture the data of Ghanaians on a common data base and eliminate corruption which he said was destroying the country.
Ms Nkrumah stated that her administration would lift Ghana from the economic quagmire it was in and practice proper decentralization where the grassroots would be part of decision making.
“A CPP government under my leadership would abandon the structure-adjustment model of development and go back to the Nkrumah’s principle. Ghanaians through the state and cooperatives will control our economy and strategic industries.
“We would take the unprecedented step to renationalise all our natural resources and national assets. Everything that was sold, you the Ghanaian, will get hold of it once again. There would be no compromise on ownership of resources,“ she assured.
Mr Akwetey, on the other hand, put priority on the need for the country to exercise sovereignty over its economy and natural resources, create jobs while at the same time fighting corruption with an iron fist by resourcing all the country’s anti-corruption institutions.
“CHRAJ has been left unattended to for a long time, they are only receiving salaries. We need a strong hand in the police service to reorder their activities and get them to win the respect of Ghanaians so that we can be secure and people will not commit crime with impunity and get away with it,” he said.
For his part, Mr Greenstreet said his administration would be different from the current administration by being transparent, accountable and responsive to the needs of Ghanaians.
The four presidential hopefuls in the CPP flag-bearer race have vowed to unite and support any candidate that would emerge victorious in Saturday’s polls.
Mr Bright Akwetey, Ms Nkrumah, Mr Agyapong and Mr Greenstreet all made their commitment to help the party forge a unted front ahead of the 2016 elections.
The vows seemed significant in many ways as two of the party’s flag bearers in the 2008 and 2012 elections – Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom and Dr Foster Abu Sakara have quit the party, with Dr Nduom forming his own party, the Progressive People’s Party.
The debate was not without controversial moments as Mr Greenstreet complained of tiredness after the first round, insisting that he was tired.
And Mr Agyapong’s long commentaries on questions without concrete answers also drew murmuring and laughter from the audience in the TV Africa studios.