Friday, June 2, 2023

Unemployment crisis likely to cause coups – Ablakwa warns

Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa

Member of Parliament for North Tongu, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa says the teeming unemployment situation in Ghana has the tendency to threaten Ghana’s democracy and stability of the state.

Hon. Ablakwa in a statement on Ghana’s youth unemployment crisis on the floor of Parliament warned the Akufo-Addo led government of a possible coup if unemployment is unsolved.

Read Below The Full Statement of Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa


I am absolutely indebted to you, Right Honourable Speaker, for this opportunity to make a statement on what is undoubtedly Ghana’s most pressing and intractable crisis – YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT.

Mr. Speaker, the 2021 Population and Housing Census conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service did not only reveal that Ghana’s population has increased from 24,658,823 in 2010 to 30,832,019 in 2021; it also reveals rather depressingly that the unemployment rate has almost tripled in about a decade.

The census indicates that more than 1.55million people or 13.4% of Ghana’s economically active population are out of work – this compares to a jobless rate of 5.3% in the 2010 census.

Mr. Speaker, according to the 2021 census, the unemployment figure gets even more precarious when data is analyzed for the 15 to 24 years category – unemployment for that age bracket jumps to a staggering 32.8%.

Mr. Speaker, as the unemployment situation worsens, we seem also to be running out of time. Paragraph 33 of the 2022 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of Government which was presented to this House on 17th November, 2021 by Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta projects that by 2024, 6 million young Ghanaians will join the labour force while 9 million jobs in Ghana will require digital skills by 2030.

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Mr. Speaker, if anyone was tempted to downplay or underestimate the enormity of this national crisis which threatens the very stability and viability of our nation state, the heart-wrenching spectacle of long arduous seemingly unending queues by prospective applicants seeking recruitment into our security services only a few months ago at various regional capitals must settle the matter.

Preceding these recent meandering, seemingly unending and acutely distressing queues was the harrowing stampede which left many young job seekers injured on the 10th of September, 2021 at the Accra International Conference Centre when the Youth Employment Agency organized a job fair.

Blood gushed out as many were ready to risk their lives by breaking through glass doors – scenes that must awaken the conscience of national leadership.

Mr. Speaker, according to a World Bank report on Ghana’s youth unemployment situation released on September 29, 2020 – the World Bank estimates that Ghana is faced with at least 12% youth unemployment and more than 50% underemployment, both higher than overall unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan African countries.

There are a number of additional credible reports that highlight the gravity of the challenge confronting us: a Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) – Ghana 2020 Post-election survey conducted from May 23 to June 3, 2021 revealed that 57% of Ghanaians consider unemployment as the most important issue requiring government’s policy priority.

Another report from Child Rights International, has shown that a majority 55% of children in Ghana dream of migrating to other parts of the world in the next 20 years in search of greener pastures.

The research which was conducted between June 2020 and April 2021; it had 11,288 children aged between 12 and 17 from all 16 regions taking part in the survey.

Mr. Speaker, the Child Rights International survey does not surprise me as I have personally travelled to the shores of Europe to witness at first hand and engage with survivors at the height of the migrant crisis in 2018 where young Africans including women and children traverse the dangerous, tortuous and perilous Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea.

Mr. Speaker, as the people’s elected representatives, this is the grim reality that stares us in the face and we all know it. There’s not a single day without an avalanche of requests from anxious constituents and other desperate young Ghanaians about helping them find jobs.

Most of the personal stories leave you totally downcast. Some recount how they have been home after graduating with honours for as long as four or five or six years.

Others speak of how they have been compelled to pursue further higher education including multiple Masters and PHDs to enable them get occupied academically as they seek to acquire better qualifications to beat the competition, and yet often that appears also not to be a saving grace.

A few days ago, I encountered a deeply troubling example of a PHD student willing to conceal his Masters degree and PHD student status as he sought assistance for an immigration job which requires only a first degree.

Stories such as these break you down, makes you crestfallen and leaves one wondering just how much time we have before an explosion?

Mr. Speaker, it would not be an exaggeration to surmise that the long queues we have seen across regional capitals for recruitment into the security agencies if put together, in addition to all Ghanaians in search of employment outside security establishments, they would most likely form a queue from Parliament House, Accra all the way to Techiman.

Mr. Speaker, the desperate queues we have witnessed – and I made it a point to observe keenly the queue from the El-Wak Sports stadium through the Lands Commission and via the Ghana International School all the way to the Togo Embassy Roundabout – these queues give rise to fundamental concerns.

These archaic methods of recruitments where the youth are put at the mercy of the vagaries of all kinds of weather conditions do not protect the dignity and health of these young Ghanaians. The era of digitalization must reflect a new recruitment approach.

The other fundamental concern is the unconscionable practice of selling forms to prospective job seekers by the security services and other public sector departments.

I hold the firm view that this practice which cuts across governments cannot be allowed to continue. It creates the terrible impression that those in authority are determined to make financial gain for institutions they run at the expense of already emaciated unemployed youth, most of whom have been home earning nothing for more than three years. A free online recruitment process is the least we can do for our people.

Then, there is the other fundamental concern about a growing perception of so-called protocol recruitments. It appears “who you know” and “who knows you” are dominating the job search narrative. A transparent, credible, meritocratic and orderly recruitment system must be urgently erected to restore confidence and begin to address the waning patriotism amongst the Ghanaian youth.

Mr. Speaker, all security experts are ad idem and have indeed loudly cautioned about the major national security threat that our current youth unemployment conditions pose to our nation. We do know it was this threat that led the Kufuor administration to launch the National Youth Employment Programme in 2006.

The Mills/Mahama era consolidated this with the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA) in 2012 and later the Youth Employment Agency by passing the Youth Employment Agency Act, 2015 (Act 887).

Under President Akufo-Addo, the Nation Builders Corps was created with beneficiaries receiving a three-year engagement contract which appears to have lapsed in October last year despite mixed signals from officialdom.

What is clear is that all these measures were intended to be stopgap interventions to address an emergency – the unemployment crisis, as more sustainable policies are pursued to deliver more permanent and decent jobs.

With the YEA estimating that of the 100,000 graduates leaving our tertiary institutions every year, only some 10% of that figure find jobs; it is obvious that all the employment schemes by successive governments in the Fourth Republic though useful interventions, they have been most inadequate.

Mr. Speaker, Ghana’s unemployment crisis has been further worsened by the impact of COVID-19 which led to an economic recession. Results from a COVID-19 Business Tracker Survey conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the World Bank show that about 770,000 workers (25.7% of the total workforce), had their wages reduced and about 42,000 employees were laid off during the country’s COVID-19 partial lockdown.

The pandemic also led to reduction in working hours for close to 700,000 workers. The survey was carried out between May 26 and June 17, 2020 across the country to assess how the novel coronavirus has impacted private businesses. Some 4,311 firms were interviewed.

As we are all well aware, a full recovery is not yet upon us – the global cliche is to build back better.

Mr. Speaker, Ghana is in urgent need of a Marshall Plan to arrest the unemployment conundrum. A business-as-usual approach will only extend the scary queues and bring much closer the day of Armageddon.

This is the time to question traditional notions with vigorous creative thinking. How can we accept that the public sector is choked when there are over 400,000 vacancies from the security services, education, health, sanitation, civil service, local government and so on and so forth.

How many times have we not visited numerous schools in our constituencies lacking professional teachers; see how many communities are in search of doctors, specialists (for instance: In North Tongu, we are in search of a Paediatrician, the Volta Region has only one Opthalmologist, this is just to highlight a few unacceptable shortages); MMDAs across the country report of massive vacancies from Agric extension officers, procurement specialists, IT professionals, lawyers, and many more.

Mr. Speaker, it is clear to me that the issue is really about our inability to grow and transform the Ghanaian economy which is capable of employing the right numbers we need in the public sector.

We must be honest and willing to admit that, and be ready to carry out the hard-work and dynamic vision required to change our economic fortunes. We sincerely do not need the international credit rating agencies to tell us just how much work we have to put in to revive and revitalize this economy.

We must also pay attention to our national human resource management which must be aligned to our educational system. HR, National Development and Education cannot continue to be misaligned without a comprehensive integrated vision of the Ghana we want to build and how we intend to get there.

Mr. Speaker, we have always known that technical and vocational skills is sine qua non to national transformation and yet it remains heavily underfunded and greatly despised. We need a new paradigm for the development of our middle level manpower needs that leverages on the Technical Universities concept.

Mr. Speaker, our entrepreneurship drive would not succeed if we do not create a unique capital regime for young entrepreneurs. How about establishing an entrepreneurs bank specially designed for start-ups with the lowest or abolished interest rates and a deliberate mentorship package since we know that traditionally about 80% of start-ups collapse at inception largely because of lack of support and an unfavorable ecosystem.

We cannot fulfill the dream of an Africa Continental Free Trade Area which Ghana is blessed to host its secretariat if we do not depart from traditional norms which have failed over the years and embark on a new radical entrepreneurship drive which is backed by a reserve fund of not less than GHS10billion.

Mr. Speaker, the current industrialization policy under the 1D1F initiative seems to be taking off gradually and it is quite obvious that a more aggressive scaling up is needed. Too many districts like mine are yet to benefit and many more existing industries such as Juapong Textiles, Akosombo Textiles and Kumasi Shoe Factory just to mention a few are struggling to survive.

Too many others such as the Aveyime Rice also known as Praire Volta, Ayensu Starch, Zuarungu Meat Factory, Bonsa Tyre Factory, Aboso Glass Factory, Pwalugu Tomato Factory, Aveyime Shoe Factory have all collapsed. The Komenda Sugar factory remains a white elephant. Our industrialization landscape must look much better for a country grappling with a debilitating unemployment crisis.

Mr. Speaker, the agribusiness value chain remains an untapped potential. For example, we have absolutely no business shipping out the thousands of jobs we continue to give away due to our alarming rice importation which on the average has been increasing by 54.81% annually since 1961. Just imagine how many jobs the over US$450million rice importation bill can create.

Mr. Speaker, in times of crisis we must be unconventional and think differently – isn’t it time to create more opportunities for the youth of our country by placing a moratorium on the granting of contracts to retired staff? Let’s encourage all retirees to go home and enjoy their pensions instead of encumbering their positions under the cloak of contract staff.

Isn’t it time to offer early voluntary retirement incentives through SSNIT to public servants above 50 years, who so desire to take advantage of an early retirement package, so we can create even more decent opportunities for the younger generation?

Mr. Speaker, as a people we have defeated even more daunting challenges when we have united and resolved to emerge victorious no matter the price to pay. From slavery, colonialism to ending the era of coups, we have shown what we are capable of achieving greatness. Sadly, the coup spectre is back next door and all around us, a solution to our unemployment canker is a sure way of maintaining the democratic stability we all cherish.

Mr. Speaker, there can be no future for this democracy and no stability for this Republic if we do not urgently address the unemployment crisis which has robbed so many young people of their dignity and promise.

This year marks thirty years since the return to multi-party democracy in 1992; that is the same period – 30 years, Lee Kuan Yew used to transform Singapore from third world to first when per capita GDP climbed from US$400 in 1960 to more than US$12,200 in 1990 by the time Lee Kuan Yew was stepping down as Prime Minister.

The other Asian Tigers we celebrate used the same period to transform their economic fortunes and create nations of limitless opportunities for their young people.

Thirty years is enough time for our people to reap the democratic dividend and fulfill the dreams of our forebears; they may be unwilling to wait for another thirty years of missed opportunities. May God help us.

I am exceedingly grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.