Brigitte Dzogbenuku is the candidate of the Progressives Peoples Party (PPP) for the December 7 Ghanaian presidential election. Mrs Dzogbenuku is not new to political races, she was the running mate to Kwesi Ndoumu in the 2016 presidential election.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Managing Editor, Idris Akinbajo, and political reporter QueenEsther Iroanusi, she says constitutional review, freedom of information law and preventative health would be top on her agenda as president.
The former beauty queen also explains how she has managed to deal with misogyny and marginalisation in politics.
This is the second part in a series of interviews with Ghana’s presidential candidates for the December election. Read the first part here.
PT: Considering the current global crisis, what plans do you have for boosting Ghana’s economy?
Brigitte: Whether with the crisis or not, the economy has not attained the height to which it should. I think the crisis just made it even more obvious. With the PPP, we have always believed that the country should be opened up for business.
I saw someone on social media today talking about our roads. We’ve had a roadmap over the country since, we call them the N-Roads and we have up to eight of them. Part of the N1 was what Nkrumah built and at some point, it becomes a narrow road. These roads should be dualised, same with the eastern and western corridors.
We believe that if these roads are just done and opened up, we have so much resources in Ghana which will open up to investments and give jobs to people and open up the economy as well. So, our first idea is just to open up the roads. We have taken so many loans for road construction in this country. I believe all political parties want the best for Ghana, so if you want the best, let’s open up the country for investment and access to businesses.
We have so many cash crops and food crops that are inaccessible because of bad roads. The agric industry can employ people but fix the roads first. I do business in my hometown and it is difficult for me to go there so I get a car coming from there to bring my products every week.
PT: Do you think the government has handled the COVID-19 crisis well? What would you have done differently?
Brigitte: We have not been tested enough to judge whether we have managed the COVD-19 crisis well. Yes, I commended them for the lockdown, the hospitals that were opened up to treat patients but I don’t think we were tested enough to beat our chests and say we handled it well.
Yes, the lockdown helped but people were hungry and what did we do? We took 55million Cedis and bought them rice and stew. How then can I say it was handled well? It was not efficient. We were lucky that we didn’t feel the full brunt of COVID-19, not even to the extent of Morocco or South Africa. So we were saved by that and maybe that institution of three days fasting and prayer worked.
The unfortunate thing is we have taken advantage of this crisis…to think that, because it is election year, the government was able to give free water and free electricity, so we can actually do it but we were not doing it. It is only because it is in our favour that we are doing it.
To give a blanket free, there are people who can afford it. There are people who can run their generators for an entire day and not feel it, should they be given free electricity? It is not supposed to be punitive, it’s just saying ‘let’s take from you and give these people’ and that is what could have been done. But a lot of these things is being done for politics.
While they were good interventions, it will cost us a lot of money in the end because of politics. The intervention is one, what matters is the purpose behind it; you are not doing it because you are compassionate about the Ghanaian people.
PT: What is the most important infrastructure that Ghana needs and how will you make it work?
Brigitte: Health has been shown to be paramount. Without our health, we can do nothing. Because of health issues, we were made to stay at home for three weeks. So, the first thing is to look at the health system and how we are providing it. Yes, the two major parties talk about infrastructure – which is important but we also believe that the training and care are also important. We have nurses and doctors who are trained and that is it. Even the nurses and doctors are not motivated enough and sometimes motivation is not only your salary. Apart from the payment, how comfortable are they? Have they been housed? How are they managing with rent and transportation? If the person does not feel cared for, why should they give care?
A lot of it is investment in human resource. It is not about building edifices, it is also about investing in the people. And we in PPP are about the people. Provision of equipment in these infrastructures is also key.
PT: The current government appears to have invested more in the NHIS but it appears spending on healthcare has reduced. Is the government handicapped by the limited resources available to it?
Brigitte: I don’t think it is limited…we have said that corruption alone takes away from us $3 billion a year. It is what is priority to you. And yes, the NHIS must be invested in, but that is another thing. We the PPP believe in intervention, preventative health which boils down to sanitation.
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Get the districts involved and then it won’t be Accra that is the cleanest city, Ghana will be clean. But we do this ‘top-down’ administration, we still are not allowed to vote for our own MMVCs, so it is a distraction from above. You say you go and make sure your district is clean and yet you are not resourcing the district chief executive. He keeps quiet because he is appointed by you and cannot tell people the president has not paid him.
If you want to take up sanitation at the district level, empower the district chief executives to put in measures to attack the sanitation at that level.
The last time we had a mass spraying of insecticide against mosquitoes was in the 60s. And yet, with COVID, we were able to organise people to go and spray markets and fumigate and put pest control, simply because it is election year and it is good for people to see that you are doing something. How effective that was doesn’t really matter now because the COVID-19 was apparently not as bad as we thought. But what if we had put that in malaria control – one disease that is killing us in this country and Africa as a whole?
If we put one per cent of our budget in preventative health, the NHIS will not suffer so much. Instead of putting it into the insurance, put it in prevention. Yes, the insurance is important but how much do people get from the package? You get to the hospital and they say ‘your insurance does not cover this and that’, so is it paracetamol that the insurance has covered? And yet the premium is being paid.
If I should become president, the one way I will attack sanitation, for example, would be at the district level. I will set a competition at the district level. Let’s see the cleanest district, we love competition in Ghana. And you will see everybody participate and will put their resources into it.
PT: In specific terms, how would you address the issue of corruption in governance in Ghana?
Brigitte: We have a constitution that gives the winner all the powers. So, one party wins, no other person comes in. The constitution says at least 19 ministers must come from parliament.
So one, we have parliamentarians in the executive in the cabinet. When they go and discuss something at cabinet level, they are the same people who come and vote; how then do you disagree in such cases? So parliament is no longer a check for the executives because most of the parliamentarians are in the executive. We have to change that, the constitution must change.
And there has been a constitutional review – which we spent six million cedis to do and we just parked it on the shelf. Not only that, the attorney-general is the minister of justice. Now, if there is a corrupt MP who is an executive sitting in parliament, how do I even start to prosecute my colleague? That, also, has to change.
The attorney-general must be a minister of state but we can choose to make her a minister of sanitation for all we care, she doesn’t have to be the minister of justice so that she can check; when the executive falls foul, she is independent and she can prosecute them as the attorney-general.
Also, like I said before, we don’t elect our DCs and MMDCs, they are appointed by the president. So even if there are cases of corruption, there, it is up to the president to say ‘I fire you’ or ‘I don’t fire you’.
Another thing is our rights to information bills. There is a bill that has been passed but not implemented. So if you want some information right now, they are making you pay for it. We are supposed to remove that payment and make the information free, put it online if you like so that if we want it, we can get it.
Today, when I filed the asset declaration form, you declare your asset and it could be a plain paper for all they care, you just put it in an envelope and seal it and even their registrar-general is not allowed to open it unless necessary. What if they open it and there’s nothing there? So, it’s not a public declaration, it is very private, very secret.
And, of course, if I come into office and I have my little house somewhere and after four years, I have my house somewhere else say Airport Hills, nobody is going to ask me how I got it, and all these things are the ones allowing us to be corrupt.
PT: So you support public declaration of asset?
Brigitte: I totally support public declaration of assets. I support the right to information bill. I support the review of the constitution so that ministers are not parliamentarians or vice versa, so that the attorney-general cannot be the minister of justice and the special prosecutor must be left to do their work independently.
Right now, a special prosecutor cannot act because whatever case they want to prosecute still goes to the attorney-general and the attorney-general can decide there is no case to prosecute and that’s the end of the case. And, of course, the winner takes all, so we see the president appointing up to 3,500 people in institutions, it shouldn’t be so.
The same thing, politics has infiltrated our security services. The police have to be allowed to do their work. The heads of the security institutions are politically influenced.
PT: About the security institutions, you repeatedly talked about allowing them to be independent and for their recruitments to be based on merit. Is it possible for a Ghanaian president not to interfere in the operations of the security agencies?
Brigitte: The heads of the security agencies must know that they do not have allegiance to the president but to the state. My father was a general in the army, so this I know, and that was why he got fired.
I know this for a fact when during the 1981 coup, my father was heading the military academy. He almost got himself killed because he did not support it and that is why he was forcefully retired because he stood and said he bares allegiance to the state not to any coup maker.
If the president does not appoint you, then you don’t feel beholden to him. You have risen through merits, through the ranks, you have worked hard and taken up your position and not because you are related to someone or you are the same tribe, but because you have actually worked and risen and you earned it.
PT: So if elected president, you would support the power to appoint the heads of security agencies to be taken away from your office?
Brigitte: I don’t mind. If I’m going to be killed, I’ll be killed. I think that the two major parties have worked in fear of each other for so long for 28 years that it has become the norm. You must start working in trust and it sounds very womanly and emotional but that is actually where the strength lies.
Because everybody, you want to believe, is working for their own name and their own credibility. There are people who actually want to work for the good of Ghana, so give the opportunity to work. But if you are always looking over your shoulders in fear, you will deliver decisions in fear and you will make appointments in fear.
PT: As a woman, what are the challenges you have faced and how have you tackled them?
Brigitte: I was thinking about it this morning. The silly and almost immaterial challenge I face is I am judged based on ‘oh, but your face was too oily’, ‘you should carry this bag’ and so on. Being judged.
I was on the platform of the last debate we had and I see them commending the men, it was as if I didn’t exist there. There is still the misogyny and the fact that we are completely overlooked as women capable of being in leadership and we have to be a bit more vocal, louder, and aggressive or tilt some of this seemingly irrational advice – which are actually the truths.
The two parties are working in fear of each other, forgetting that both sides are also Ghanaians and consistently cutting them out. Each of them makes 46 per cent of the Ghanaian electorate but instead of working in trust of each other, they are working in fear because one side consistently disenfranchises the other side whenever one side is in power.
We must understand that we are all Ghanaians and live in trust with each other and maybe it should take a woman to let them understand that.
Yes, I am seen as a woman but I have come to learn that we women must work twice as hard as men to be thought of as half as good as them and that is not hard to do. We can do it.
PT: How about the support from women?
Brigitte: I get support from women but not enough. But it is also because we have been socialised in a certain way. I mean, take out a Ghana cedi, its six men on the note. That’s how we started. And all the prominent women who helped, nobody talked about them. Another reason is probably because they (the women) did not ask to be heard.
Maybe this is the time for us to start and say we have something to say because we do have something to say as well but we are afraid to be insulted and judged on our makeup and our outfit. But at the end of the day, that is not what matters. What matters is that I want to be heard.
They said if you are not at the table, you are on the table and if you are on the table, it is used. The men are not going to allow you, you just have to make your way regardless of what will happen.
Somebody on social media told me ‘Madam, you are very beautiful but you are not presidential, it is not a beauty contest’. People are so angry and bitter that they want to bring that bitterness on you. I just ignored the comment.
So, yes, the challenges are there but we wake up every day and battle it one day at a time.
PT: There is the Volta secessionist group. The current government believes it’s only force that can be used to quell the situation quickly, would you do it differently?
Brigitte: That’s not the only solution but they must deal with it quickly and emphatically. This thing came up some months ago, they arrested some people and then they let them go. Then it starts to look as though you are not interested in tackling the issue or being involved in it in order to disenfranchise the Volta region when it comes to voting – as some people have accused them.
We are a few weeks from the election and you hope that nothing will happen again. They have said they are not involved. Look, the devil finds work for idle hands. The youth there can only get up and behave like that because they have been incited by some people who have probably given them money to do that. You think that if these people were fully engaged, they would have the energy to wake up at 3 a.m. and block roads? No. They are not engaged.
And this is what we should do. We could put industry there. I mean, it is not an overnight thing but this is something that should be considered long ago. Quelling it with force is not the only solution, put some interventions there.
This is what happens when you say you are doing youth employment things and only give it to party people and people feel like they are not getting something. They are already angry. So we must start looking at long term interventions.
Yes, you must intervene immediately and emphatically. Sue the culprits to court and all but this is also the time to start thinking of what to do with all these idle people.
PT: You have talked about your dissatisfaction with the okadas in one of your interviews and you said what Ghana needed was an efficient transport system. Would you ban okada if you get to office?
Brigitte: I don’t want to get into this ban on okada conversation. But it is not simply about legalising or not legalising. I think we have simplified it too much and this is also politics – one side saying we legalise, the other side saying we should not. It is not a black and white issue. The okada is obviously providing okada for the youth but it is also about safety issues.
The thing is, we have not enforced our laws. We don’t obey our road and safety regulations and we let these people ride…but it is not as simple as that. Yes, people need transport especially in the rural areas. So, maybe we should streamline the rules and the law and enforce it.
In some rural areas, the roads are not motorable and only accessible to okadas. Maybe this is when we should make the laws for them to stay in those areas and ply their trade. Those who run delivery services are okadas too to some extent, so we must apply the laws. Even up north and next door, in Togo, they use a lot of bicycles and motorbikes, they obey road regulations. Why can we not do it here and still provide that service?
It has also become a popular service because we don’t have other suitable means of transportation. We had the Rapid Bus Transport (RBT). We have 230 buses parked somewhere. The bus lanes have become petrol stations and that is because one party started it and the other will not finish it. Politics.
In my teenage years, we had buses that run on time, not only in Accra. So what happened? We have played politics with them and they have run down. We can revive them. Those are the options we can give. It’s simple. Legalising okada is one way out but makes the transport system efficient.
We said we are building rails, we also said we will put in subways, we can do it.
PT: Where would you get the funds for that?
Brigitte: When you talk more about money, it kills the vision. Money will always kill your vision. But if you have it (vision) you can take funding, a loan. The point is, we are afraid of taking loans because we know we don’t use it for the purpose we collected it for.
I told you $750 million was taken for Accra-Kumasi dualisation. Where is today? Where is the money? We waste three billion a year on corrupt deals that we can’t explain and nobody is prosecuted for it.
We do dodgy deals and put our money in Jersey and we are not allowed to know where it is. So it is with those monies.
PT: About controversial deals, the current administration had a Bauxite deal with the Chinese government. Would you be willing to do such a deal with China too, for example, build you a metro system and then take your mineral for 15 years?
Brigitte: I cannot say for a fact. This is something that the technical people will have to sit down and discuss. It is something you discuss with the ministry of transport and find out how much it is going to cost, how much of internal generated funds can be used, how much is needed as a loan.
But just going to the Chinese and accept a deal and you get excited because it is a lot of money, no. And it is because we access a lot of our investment nearly on a cash-on-cash basis without the long term return in consideration and the long-term return is value for money. It is not always cash but also the difference it will make.
Because we majorly want to score political points, we don’t think in a robust manner. We say affordable housing. We build houses and people cannot afford it or access it and the politicians end up buying these houses and rent it out.
PT: Four years ago, you got one per cent of the votes. What have you done since to make more Ghanaians move towards your party?
Brigitte: I don’t think it is what we have done, I think it is what Ghanaians want differently. I think Ghanaians now want something different after 28 years of the two parties.
Our policy system has not changed. It is a 10-point agenda and it is still the same thing we are saying. Deal with the constitution first, then we will see what happens with corruption. It’s fundamental.
And as long as you continue voting in these two parties without attacking the fundamental, it is not going to change. So, they are beginning to realise they want something different. It’s not about me alone or me wanting to become a president.
If at the end of the day, I don’t become a president, I hope that I have been heard. I hope that Ghanaians realise that the fundamentals are actually wrong because the two parties are not speaking about that because it favours them. Maybe the only different thing is that it is not Papa Kwesi Nduom anymore, it is me. My running mate is equally a younger person and we’ll see where that takes us.
If you go four years ago, our party was disqualified around this time. So, we had this groundswell and they came out and said we are not on the ballot paper and made a lot of people believe. Nobody found anything wrong with it. We went to court and we were reinstated but a lot of people who were for us were disillusioned. So we lost a lot of votes there too.
People are hopeless and are asking what next? There’s a lot of fear and helplessness and they need somebody who is talking hope rather than some supposed saviour who if he gets, will come and give you some to eat. We talk about empowering the Ghanaian not giving you free everything.