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Ghana’s First Female Sanitation Minister Faces Tough Questions

Lydia Seyram Alhassan, Ghana's first female sanitation minister, faces tough questions over her role in the 2019 by-election violence

by Victor Adetimilehin

Ghana’s parliament has grilled Lydia Seyram Alhassan, the first woman to be appointed as the Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources, over her role in the 2019 by-election violence that marred her entry into politics.

Alhassan, who represents the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the Ayawaso West Wuogon constituency, was nominated by President Nana Akufo-Addo in January 2024 as part of his new cabinet. She faced a vetting committee on Tuesday, March 5, where she was questioned about her qualifications, vision, and past controversies.

A bloody by-election

One of the main issues raised by the opposition members of the committee was the violent incident that occurred during the by-election that brought Alhassan to parliament in 2019. The by-election was triggered by the death of her husband, Emmanuel Kyeremateng Agyarko, who was the previous MP for the constituency.

On January 31, 2019, masked men armed with guns and machetes stormed a polling station in the constituency and attacked some voters and observers, injuring at least 18 people. The opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) accused the government of deploying the men, who were allegedly members of a pro-NPP vigilante group, to intimidate and harass their supporters. The NDC subsequently withdrew from the by-election, paving the way for Alhassan’s victory.

The government denied any involvement in the violence and set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the matter. The commission found that the masked men were operatives of the national security apparatus, who acted without authorization from their superiors. It also recommended that some of the perpetrators and officials be prosecuted and that victims be compensated.

A woman in pain

Alhassan told the vetting committee that she had no intention of winning the election through violence and that she was not aware of the presence or actions of the masked men. She said she was focused on serving her constituency and continuing the legacy of her late husband.

Alhassan also recalled how she was received by the opposition MPs on her first day in parliament, who booed and jeered at her, calling her a “bloody widow”. She said she was deeply hurt by the insults, which she described as an attack on all widows in the country.

“As a woman and as a mother, I was so touched by [the violence], and I pray what happened on that day should never happen to any person trying to represent his or her people. It should never happen again in the history of our quest to lead this country in our democracy. Issue of violence should never happen in our elections ever again,” she said.

A vision for sanitation

Apart from her personal ordeal, Alhassan also faced questions about her vision and plans for the sanitation sector, which is one of the most challenging and underfunded in the country. Ghana has a poor record of sanitation, with only 15% of the population having access to basic sanitation services, according to the World Health Organization. The country also suffers from frequent outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, and other waterborne diseases.

Alhassan said she was committed to improving the sanitation situation in the country, by implementing policies and programs that would ensure access to clean water and safe disposal of waste for all Ghanaians. She said she would work with other ministries, agencies, and stakeholders to address the root causes of the sanitation problem, such as poor infrastructure, inadequate funding, weak enforcement, and low public awareness.

She also said she would leverage her experience as a businesswoman and a philanthropist to mobilize resources and partnerships for the sanitation sector. Alhassan said she had already initiated some projects in her constituency, such as providing boreholes, toilets, and waste bins, which she hoped to replicate in other parts of the country.

“I believe that sanitation is a human right, and it is also a matter of dignity and development. I will do my best to ensure that every Ghanaian has access to clean water and a decent toilet, and that our environment is free from pollution and disease and I believe that with the support of the president, the parliament, and the people, we can achieve this goal,” she said.

A historic appointment

Alhassan’s appointment as the Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources is a historic one, as she is the first woman to hold that position in Ghana. She is also one of the 13 women nominated by President Akufo-Addo to serve in his 30-member cabinet, which is the highest number of female ministers in the country’s history.

Alhassan said she was humbled and honored by the president’s confidence in her, and that she was ready to serve the nation with diligence and integrity. She also said she hoped to inspire other women and girls to pursue their dreams and aspirations, and to contribute to the development of Ghana.

“I am grateful to the president for giving me this opportunity to serve my country in this capacity. I am also proud to be a woman and a role model for other women and girls who want to make a difference in their communities and their country and I believe that women have a lot to offer to the sanitation sector and to the nation as a whole, and I will work hard to prove that,” she said.

The vetting committee is expected to submit its report and recommendations on Alhassan’s nomination to the plenary of parliament, which will then vote to approve or reject her appointment.

Source: Modern Ghana 

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