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Ghana's President Vows to Keep Tight Grip on Spending Before Election

  • Reuters

FILE - Ghana's military and police maintained order during the 2012 elections. Hikes in civil service wages during that election caused the deficit to soar.

FILE - Ghana's military and police maintained order during the 2012 elections. Hikes in civil service wages during that election caused the deficit to soar.

Ghana's government will not repeat mistakes made during the last election and will maintain strict fiscal discipline ahead of the 2016 vote, President John Mahama told parliament in an annual State of the Nation address Thursday.

Mahama, who will run for a second four-year term against main opposition candidate Nana Akufo-Addo in presidential elections scheduled for November, said he would ensure a peaceful and transparent vote. He said the economy had begun showing positive signs, setting the stage for transformation, and listed numerous social infrastructure projects completed during his presidency.

"Change is happening, Ghana is being transformed and we are impacting people's lives," he said in the three-and-a-half-hour speech, which was often interrupted by jeers from the opposition bench.

After years of crippling blackouts that have hurt businesses and angered voters, power generation is likely to be another electoral battleground.

Mahama said the power crisis was almost over, and that the government had added generation capacity more quickly in the past year than at any time in Ghana's history.

FILE - People protest power cuts in Accra, Ghana, May 16, 2015.

FILE - People protest power cuts in Accra, Ghana, May 16, 2015.

Ghana must still act quickly to match demand growth and ensure sustainable power supply, the president said.

Critics weigh in

The main opposition party described Mahama's speech as "mere propaganda," saying he had not addressed the core economic issues facing Ghanaians, such as unemployment.

"The president pushed the economy to the background," minority leader Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu told reporters shortly after the speech. "Agriculture is in the doldrums, there is massive youth unemployment and yet all we heard was about infrastructure."

During the previous election in 2012, hikes in civil service wages caused the deficit to mushroom, triggering a fiscal crisis that the government is still working to overcome with the aid of an International Monetary Fund program.

That crisis, coupled with a fall in global commodity prices, has sharply slowed growth in Ghana, whose economy — based on exports of gold, cocoa and oil — was for years was considered one of Africa's most promising.

Some economists are warning the government not to overspend in a bid to win victory.

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