I am honoured by the invitation to be here at this year’s WASSA. This is my second WASSA since assuming the high office of the land. I much enjoyed my first, which was with the Police Service, and I know that I will enjoy this too, my maiden one at Burma Camp as Commander-in-Chief.
Officers, men and women of the Ghana Armed Forces, the traditional challenges to security, such as chieftaincy conflicts, land disputes, religious intolerance, ethnic conflicts and political rivalry, are being compounded by contemporary threats like drug and human trafficking, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, armed robberies, cyber-crime and activities of nomadic herdsmen. Today, the challenges to Ghana’s national security are numerous, complex and sometimes quite unpredictable. Nonetheless, and in the face of all these threats, you continue to discharge your duties equably and professionally. All of us owe a debt of gratitude to you, the men and women of the Armed forces, for being prepared to put your lives on the line to keep our nation safe, safeguard our sovereignty and protect our territorial integrity. So it is good that you take this one afternoon off to make merry. And, to all service personnel and ‘civilians’ who will receive awards this afternoon for distinguishing themselves over the course of the past year, I say ‘ayekoo’, and more grease to your elbows.
I am glad to see the immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, my good friend, Air Marshal Michael Samson-Oje, present with us, as well as some of his predecessors, like other good friends, Brig. Gen. Nunoo Mensah (who was in fact part of my 1998 campaign team for the NPP presidential primary), Maj. Gen. Edwin Sam and Lt. Gen. Seth Obeng. Each and every one of them is to be congratulated for the work they have done over the years in moulding the Ghana Armed Forces into what it is today – the toast of the region, and dare I say, one of the best trained in the world. To the new Chief of Defence Staff, Maj. Gen. Obed Akwa, a man I know quite well from the days when we both worked for that outstanding Ghanaian leader, former President John Agyekum Kufuor, I congratulate you on your appointment. You have distinguished yourself as the consummate professional, and I wish you the very best of luck. The men and women of the Armed Forces are looking up to you to take them into a new era of modernity and even greater professionalism. The same goes for the distinguished soldier, Maj. Gen. William Ayamdo, whom I also congratulate on taking up his new position as Army Commander, that is Chief of Army Staff. I am confident that he will continue to contribute effectively to the growth and strengthening of the Armed Forces.
I was in The Gambia on 19th February, where I attended the inauguration of that country’s new President, Adama Barrow. I went in the company of, amongst others, the new Chief of Army Staff and the officer-in-charge of the Southern Command, Brig. Gen. Oppong Peprah. Everyone I met told me how professional and well-disciplined our 208 troops, who were a part of the ECOWAS Mission in The Gambia (ECOMIG), were. The thoroughness with which they executed their mandate, a mandate which was to enforce the rule of law and ensure that the rightfully elected leader assumed the reins of government, left me proud as Commander-in-Chief. To some extent, however, I was not really surprised, because, when I was Foreign Minister, some 10 years ago, one of the things that consistently buoyed me up was the performance of Ghana’s Armed Forces in peacekeeping operations. Everywhere I went in the world, it was one of the first things my fellow Foreign Ministers, indeed, even foreign Presidents, would tell me – ‘your soldiers are very professional, they are doing a good job’. Whether it was Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Somalia, wherever it was, the reports of how good Ghanaian soldiers are were all the same. Long may it continue! And in this context, let me thank and congratulate you on the effective role you played in ensuring that our last electoral exercise of 7th December, 2016, was conducted in a peaceful, stable atmosphere that has won the admiration of the world, and enhanced the image of our country, as well as of its democracy.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my vision for the Armed Forces is summarised by this quote attributed to British Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery, one of the most inspirational commanders of the 2nd World War. He said and it is worth quoting him: “The soldier who is well provided for, who is not disturbed by petty and unnecessary inconveniences, who knows that everything possible is being done for him, who is well-clothed and well-fed, is a contented soldier.” Achieving such a state for the officers, men and women of the Armed Forces, is going to be the focus of my government.
I can state that the realisation of this vision began during the first few weeks of my coming into office. An amount of $13 million was released to clear the arrears owed our peacekeepers. So as I speak, no soldier is owed any monies arising from peacekeeping duties.
Again, the decision has been taken to ensure that all military personnel, who embark on peacekeeping missions, will receive their allowances whilst on tour, and not when they arrive in Ghana after the completion of their duty tour. No matter in which part of the world you find yourselves on peacekeeping duties, you will be paid your allowances there. That is the principle, and we are not going to go back on that. Peacekeeping monies are for peacekeepers.
In furtherance of our commitment to improving your welfare, my administration, in fulfilment of a manifesto pledge, has increased the peacekeeping allowance, effective January 2017, from US$31 to US$35.
In terms of military preparedness, government will actively support contemporary training methods that will not only keep you abreast with international military trends, but will also ensure that you remain the beacon of Armed Forces across the continent. We are committed to providing you with modern military equipment, which would complement the training you would receive.
Government is also committed to enriching the human resource base of the Armed Forces by supporting initiatives that will provide further education for soldiers, sailors and airmen to enhance further their skills at protecting our territorial integrity.
With regard to our sailors, the advent of oil and gas has made their role more critical, as they now have the added responsibility to protect our waters and oil fields from new dangers. In the presence of the Minister for Defence, the energetic, excellent Dominic Nitiwul, government is going to allocate the needed resources to you to protect our sea lines of communication, especially in the wake of current activities in the Gulf of Guinea, such as piracy, disruptions and destruction of oil/gas operations and installations, bunkering, drug trafficking and smuggling, among others. Our airmen will not be left out of this programme of resource enhancement, so that we have an Air Force worthy of the name.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in boosting the morale of the Armed Forces further, the ‘Asempa’ budget statement read a week ago by the Minister for Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, announced the “Barracks Regeneration Project”, which will refurbish and renovate all military barracks across the country. Additionally, more residential accommodation facilities would be put up in all the units to reduce the acute accommodation problem facing our soldiers. A contented soldier is one whose remuneration does not unduly distract him from his mandate. My government intends to take your welfare seriously.
The 37 Military Hospital is the National Emergency and Disaster Hospital for the country. Under the last NPP government, it was expanded, refurbished and re-equipped. As a result, it was designated a Level IV referral hospital of the United Nations. I am pleased to announce that action on the third phase of the 37 Military Hospital Project has begun. This is to ensure that the hospital continues to provide first class healthcare for members of the Armed Forces and their families, and also for 37 to meet more effectively its function as a national emergency hospital.
Government is also committed to constructing a new military hospital in Tamale to service the health needs of military personnel and their families in the northern sector of our country.
There is one last issue I would like to touch on before I finish. Legislative review of the Armed Forces (Amendment) Regulations of 1986 (LI 1332) has begun. Its purpose is to extend the serving duration of “Other Ranks” from the current 25 years to 30 years, in fulfilment of the manifesto pledge we made. I want all Ghanaians to see me as a man of my word.
Let me reiterate that my government is determined, within our means, to give whatever support is required to ensure that we have Armed Forces that remain the best in the region, and one of the best in the world. Just as I indicated at the WASSA of the Police Service, let me re-state that I am determined to do something about the state of our economy. Our nation is a wealthy one, and my government and I are resolute that we will put measures in place that will make the wealth apparent in the lives of our people. That is how, by the grace of God, I will justify the great faith the overwhelming majority of Ghanaians reposed in my party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), and myself by the historic verdict of 7th December, last year.
Ghanaians want Armed Forces that are professional, well-disciplined, well-motivated and respectful of the rights and liberties of the people. We should work together to achieve this goal.
Thank you for having me, God bless you, God bless our homeland Ghana and make her great and strong.