Ms Hannah Tetteh, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, has recommended that Ghana should be a bi-lingual country with her citizens speaking both English and French to help materialize the vision of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
She said unless member states became fully committed to the total eradication of artificial barriers which constituted major impediments to the free movement of people, goods and services across the region, the vision of ECOWAS would not be realized
Ms Tetteh noted that for 38 years the common problems that motivated the founding fathers to establish ECOWAS as a regional economic community still lingered.
Ms Tetteh said this in a lecture on the theme: Regional Integration as Tool for Poverty Reduction in West Africa at a ceremony to inaugurate the Consumer Utility and Trust Society (CUTS) International, a non-governmental organization think tank that is involved in conducting research and engaging in network-based advocacy in trade, regulation and governance.
CUTS has opened its third international office in Africa in Accra after those of Lusaka and Nairobi. The lecture also marked the 8th CUTS 30th Anniversary Lecture.
Ms Tetteh said an educated and capable human resource remained indispensable to the efficient exploitation of the sub-region’s enormous resource for its development.
“It is undoubtedly the panacea to the widespread poverty, technological backwardness and economic and social deprivation of the West African sub-region,” she added.
She appealed to member states to consciously increase budgetary allocations to education as a strategy to produce intelligent, creative, capable and reliable workforce to drive the desired economic growth and sustainable development which she said was a prerequisite for poverty reduction.
Mr Ishmael Yamson, Chairman of Standard Chartered Bank (Ghana), said: “We must have vision and ambition for ECOWAS. We must look at the larger 300 million people” and added that the private sector must be encouraged to actively participate in the Regional Integration efforts.
He said more needed to be done to harmonize the legal and regulatory framework for the ECOWAS region especially the two divergent systems derived from Britain and France in the region.
Dr. Toga Gayewea McIntosh, Vice President, ECOWAS, expressed passion about the ECOWAS integration process, said regional integration should be seen as a tool, rather than a strategy for fixing the problems and challenges of the region.
He said: “We need to study the cost of non-integration for which we will establish a working group to engage in that research,” and announced that ECOWAS was developing a citizens card to facilitate movement.
Prof Ernest Aryeetey, Vice Chancellor of University of Ghana, said regional integration would lead to competition.
Mr Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General of CUTS International, said his organization had done a study on the costs of economic non-cooperation in South Asia two years ago which showed a gain of $2 billion to consumers if tariffs were rationalized.
This, he said, could result in 20 million new jobs and substantial lowering of consumer costs, saying “We will be happy to do a similar study for the ECOWAS region, where we have many research partners.
Mr Mehta said through establishing its centre in Accra, CUTS aims to strengthen its approach of promoting South-South Cooperation in the whole of Sub Saharan Africa, other than sharing our knowledge and skills in Ghana and the West Africa region.