Work For Ghana And The Future, Broadcast To The Nation
September 20, 1961
I had hoped that on my return to Ghana after a prolonged visit to the USSR, China and countries of Eastern Europe, I would be able to give you a detailed account of my mission and discuss with you the lessons which we could usefully learn. Many of the countries I visited have made spectacular progress in their economic and cultural development. I am convinced that we have much to learn from them on how to speed up our industrialisation and our educational progress and how to improve our economic planning. Ghana must develop her own social and political institutions best suited to her circumstances, and the personality and temperament of her people.
However, I must leave to a future occasion, a full discussion of these matters and of the ideas and schemes I have in mind for the progress of our people and country. Tonight, I wish to talk to you about the stoppage of work which started in my absence and which continues to disturb the normal economic life of the Sekondi/Takoradi community.
Let me discuss with you, the procedures which the strikers have adopted and the reasons which they have given for their surprising behaviour. This is not an ordinary industrial strike arising from a dispute between employers and their workers on conditions of work. Its ostensible object is to force the Government and Parliament to withdraw legislation initiated by the Government and approved by Parliament, concerning the entire economic and-financial policy and programme of work of the Government. These strikers have taken it upon themselves to determine what the Government’s policy should be, not by constitutional means, but by resorting to an illegal strike. No government in this world would allow itself to be coerced by the illegal actions of a very small section of community. If the railway workers of Takoradi disagree with the policies of their constitutionally elected Government, they have every right to make their views known to the Government, through their Members of Parliament whom they chose at the last elections, or, if they prefer, through the Trade Union Congress, which is the spokesman for the organised workers of the nation.
But what is the nature of these supposed grievances which have prompted these workers to take this illegal and disgraceful action? They object to the compulsory savings scheme, to the monthly deduction of income tax and to the Government’s taxation policy as a whole, in fact to the whole budget. This budget, which I outlined in my speech on the 4th of July, was arrived at after the most careful consideration by the Cabinet of the services which the Government must provide for the well-being of its people and of the fairest and most equitable way of finding the money to pay for these services.
As I emphasized in my speech, since independence, we have been able to provide public services on a scale far greater than were provided during the whole period of colonial rule, both of the kind which yield an immediate benefit to everybody, such as public health, education, roads, etc., and also those which serve to develop the nation and strengthen its security and independence. At the same time, the cost of these services has been greatly increased by the Government’s action last year to improve the standard of living by increasing wages.
Nobody can deny that we have made spectacular progress as a result of the expanded activities and efforts of the Government. For a time, it was possible to pay for those expanded services without increasing the burden of taxation, because the world cocoa price made it possible for us to earn the money through our exports. Everybody knows that the economy of Ghana greatly depends on the world price of cocoa a factor over which we have no control. When the price of cocoa fell last year, it became clear that the Government’s services and its development expenditure could not be paid for, without higher taxation, unless the money was found by a large reduction in the price of cocoa paid to farmers. I was firmly convinced, that if the situation called for additional sacrifices, these must be distributed among all sectors of the community and not thrown on the farming community alone, as has substantially been the case all these years. The Government has therefore decided to meet the problem in the most honest and equitable way, partly, by the cutting of expenditure as much as it was possible and partly, by raising additional taxes on commodities and incomes.
The bulk of the increased income taxation will fall on the companies. There has been no substantial increase in personal income tax, but a new system of collection has been devised to ensure that all shall pay what is due from them.
Finally, we proposed that internal development expenditure should be met by all sectors of the community being asked to contribute to National Development Bonds. This is a compulsory, but patriotic scheme which is not taxation.
As l announced in my speech, the purchasers of State bonds are being asked to lend money at interest to the Government, which will be repaid in full, for the development of the country. In this way, the benefit of economic development will accrue not only to the community generally, but also to those individuals who contribute, in proportion to their contributions. You help yourselves by helping the nation, by saving for your own future.
Nobody has to my knowledge, come forward with any suggestions of a better way of raising the money for development. We could have cut expenditure, by much more in preference to imposing new taxes. But if we had done this, we would have had to dismiss public employees and workers on a substantial scale and thereby caused far more hardship than the new taxes and contributions could possibly cause — quite apart from the ill effects which reduction in the standard of public services would have had on the life of the whole nation.
The strikers of Takoradi say they object to the compulsory savings scheme, which requires them to save only 5 percent of their incomes. I repeat, only 5 percent of their incomes — to help their country. People earning less than £G10 a month are altogether exempted from this contribution.
They say they object also to paying a very modest income tax which is only payable on incomes in excess of £G40 a month.
Obviously, there must be some sinister motive in this matter. The majority of the people who are now on strike because, they want a withdrawal of the budget provisions are altogether exempted from the compulsory savings scheme, and from paying income tax, and are not directly affected by them. What, then, is their grievance? Even those who have been asked to make the 5 percent compulsory contribution and who are liable to pay income tax, which in no case can amount to more than a very small fraction of their income, forget that only last year, the workers in the lower income brackets got a wage increase of 22 percent.
When I arrived back in this country in 1947, workers were receiving wages as low as 9d. a day for their labour. As a result of the direct agitation and action of the Convention People’s Party under my leadership, workers were receiving a minimum pay of 4s. a day in the rural areas and 4s. 6d. in the municipal areas at independence. Today, again as a result of my interest in the workers, workers receive a minimum pay of 6s. 6d. a day throughout the country. Surely, there is more to this Sekondi-Takoradi strike than meets the eye.
I have tried to explain to you tonight how the budget is made up of two parts, first, a programme of work and services and, second, the means by which that programme is to be paid for. The taxation — direct and indirect — and other contributions which the people have been called upon to pay are needed to enable your Government to continue the work it has set out to do. That programme consists of many things, for example, the bringing of more and better medical and health services for you and your children. For this alone, we shall require over ten and a half million pounds this year as compared with three million in 1957. In 1957, there were scarcely 100 Government doctors in the whole country. Today, there are about 250 Government doctors in employment and another 300 under training and during this year, we hope to increase the number of practising Government doctors to about 350.
For education on which the future depends, we shall this year, be spending over fifteen million pounds, as compared with nine million in 1957. In 1957, there were 570,000 children at primary and middle schools. This year, the enrolment is 762,000, an increase of nearly 200,000 in four years. The secondary school enrolment in 1957 was 9,800. This year it is expected to be 16,500 or almost double the 1957 figure. These are some of the things for which we need money and also some of the things which we will have to forgo, if we cannot raise money. I have not even touched on the expenditure for our new elaborate housing programme. Nor have I touched on the expenditure for defence, which we must maintain in order to ensure the security of our independence and sovereignty.
It was with great sorrow and shame that l learned that some of the leaders of the strikes on Sekondi-Takoradi had addressed telegrams to foreign organisations seeking their support. These people have declared openly that they are determined to force the Government to alter its entire fiscal policies by unconstitutional means. In this action, they have shamelessly and openly sought foreign support. Is more evidence needed that we must be constantly on the alert, if we are to maintain our hard-won independence?
There is something even more sinister than this. In an unsigned paper circulated through the country and purporting to come from the strikers, it has been suggested, that our Republican Constitution should be abolished and that o we should go back to the system of having Governor-General, and thus revert to a past which we have just discarded. This clearly exposes the purpose of this strike and those who hide behind the strikers and instigate them. We, the people of Ghana, have played our part in breaking: the shackles of colonialism in Africa. In the few short years since independence, there have been great achievements which we can look on with pride. These things could not have been done except by single-minded people immovable in their faith and strong in their unity. These qualities have already changed the course of history: we are creating an Africa fit for heroes to live in. It is unpardonable to indulge in actions which will endanger these achievements and give our detractor cause for hope that we cannot live up to the bright promise of the 6th March, 1957.
There is the last word I have to say. It was you, the people of Ghana, who chose me as your leader. I accepted this high position in a spirit of humility and dedication — humility, because I am conscious that the leader of a people emerging from colonial domination has a hard, exacting task; dedication, because, it is only in a sincere spirit of dedicated service, that a leader can be worthy of his people.
I stand by these ideas today as I did at the beginning of our struggle. I must emphasise, however, that so long as I remain your President, I shall not tolerate any subversive and lawless acts aimed at upsetting the Constitution and endangering the security and safety of the State.
Tomorrow is a public holiday - Founder’s Day. The entire nation recognizes that I am the founder of the new State of Ghana. This holiday is not only in my honour, but also, it is an occasion to remember the foundation of our nation and all that went before, and to re-dedicate ourselves to the cause of our nation. Let us therefore, as from tomorrow, resolve that we will forget our selfish interests in the greater interests of the nation and the future.
I ask all of you who have still absented yourselves from work to resume work by 7:30 a.m. on Friday, the 22nd September. Those who do not do so would have given clear indication that they and the instigators behind them are determined to bring about the overthrow of the Constitution by illegal means.