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Digitisation will ignite Ghana’s economic recovery from the pandemic, says Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia 

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Over the past two years, commentators and columnists alike have heralded the emergence of a ‘new normal’ in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some have reported that the global economy is retreating from free trade and innovation to protectionism and stagnation. Others have predicted the demise of cities as employees move out to the suburbs or work from home - writes Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia of Ghana.

There is a general consensus, however, that digitisation (the greater use of technology to solve societal challenges) will be essential to rectifying the damage of the pandemic.

The Ghanaian government, that of H.E President Nana Akufo-Addo, could not agree more.

We see technological advancement as a means of securing Ghana’s economic recovery from the pandemic and providing our citizens with the skills and opportunities they rightly demand from us.

Whether it’s the new ‘e-passport’ we announced in Montreal this week at a meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), or the technology being provided to our schools, or our proposal for a national ‘e-pharmacy’, this government knows that digitisation will deliver for Ghana.

To start the process, we have introduced the ‘Ghana Card’, a biometric ID card launched last year that will serve to connect Ghanaians with the services and resources that they need to thrive.

Out of a population of 31 million, a total of 14 million Ghanaians have received their cards thus far and this includes over 85% of adults.

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The importance of the card’s uptake cannot be underestimated.

Card holders will be readily identifiable and therefore have access to all government services, whether it’s the police, the health service, or the passport office.

They will no longer need to pay for documentation, fraudulent or otherwise, and will now be connected to Ghana’s financial system, giving them access to capital and investment.

As such, with an official ID in hand, Ghanaians who once lived on the edge of society are now connected not just to their fellow citizens, but to the institutions and services that belong to them by right.

It is these connections that weave the fabric of our national society, making us one nation, and providing each citizen with the same privileges and guarantees.

As an outward-looking country, we also want to democratise access to the outside world, connecting Ghanaians with opportunities across the globe.

That’s why our Ghana Card has an e-passport component, allowing Ghanaians safe passage back to Ghana from all airports operating under the ICAO.

According to ICAO, border control authorities will be able to confirm the veracity of the Ghana Card in less than 10 seconds, establishing that it has not been altered, cloned, or copied.

In practical terms, this means that the relevant authorities will be able to verify the identity of Ghanaian passport holders faster and more effectively.

In the not-too-distant future, we expect that electronic visas will be issued under ICAO 2.0 and other future protocols. When this starts, electronic visas could be issued on the Ghanacard.

The e-passport also means that the Ghanaian diaspora will no longer need a visa to re-enter the country, incentivising them to spend more time here, to the benefit of both our society and economy.

While Ghanaians should always travel with their physical passport, our citizens can now be safe in the knowledge that if they are facing difficulties abroad, their Ghana Card will smooth their journey home.

In this sense, the card is like an insurance policy, but one that is free – a great rarity indeed.

Beyond foreign travel, the Ghana Card’s popularity is explained by our citizens having rightly associated increased digitisation with increased prosperity.

Ghanaians are ambitious: they want to be able to take out a loan to start a new business, they want to travel for work, they want and need official documentation, whether it’s to drive a taxi, start a restaurant, or build a home.

Digitisation enables the fulfilment of these personal ambitions, and it will strengthen the fabric of our society too.

Take this government’s One Teacher – One Laptop programme, where 4,500 laptops have been distributed to high school teachers around the country. Or study our plans for a national e-pharmacy, which will give Ghanaians access to the medications they need, no matter where they live.

The primary role of government is to keep its people safe and provide them with economic opportunity and digitisation does both.

I believe that the pandemic and its fallout have made a leading role for government more important than ever.

From the African continent to the United Kingdom and US, debt and inflation have soared, and money is tight.

While the media is pessimistic and advice from commentators largely amounts to ‘wait and see’, this government has instead decided to take a proactive approach, namely fusing our digitisation agenda with the building blocks of Ghanaian society.

Security. Education. Healthcare. Access to the outside world.

Ghana, and indeed every country, needs to get these things right to recover from the damage of the pandemic and to get through the now seemingly locked door to economic prosperity.

I firmly believe that the digitisation agenda is the key that fits the lock and we Ghanaians commend it to our friends and allies around the world.

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