Game of economic thrones: Mr. Fix It President?

February 23, 2017
Source: Esther A. Armah/thebftonline.com/Ghana
Game of economic thrones: Mr. Fix It President?

Economic vision. That was my focus for this first state of the nation address by newly elected President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

The president laid out a bleak economic landscape.  He told a nation his economic inheritance had been squandered leaving a trail of debt. He ticked off a series of disasters: failure to make IMF targets, fiscal indiscipline, GHC7 billion in arrears, exploding debt stock of GHcedis122billion.

The NPP laid a wreath at the NDC’s economic door. Heckling and jeering was the response. At times it was so loud; they almost drowned out the president’s voice.

Choice numbers were selected to highlight the depth of the disaster.  The Energy sector was singled out for its dire state. He wryly highlighted the now internationally known term ‘dumsor’. It is associated with our light on, light off shenanigans that plunged millions of Ghanaians into darkness, decimated small businesses, and made private investors skittish as generator needs contributed to soaring electricity costs and made doing business here less attractive.

The economic picture is a sombre one.

After painting it, the president laid out a vision of a party and leader that emerges as an economic phoenix rising from the ashes of fiscal indiscipline, rising debt and an economy near collapse.

President Akufo-Addo has declared economic collapse will not occur under his watch.

The president swept through the sectors his economy will target: Agriculture, Health, Education, the Public Sector, a participatory working democracy.

The competing needs for economic focus give me pause. How do you create an environment that attracts foreign investment without turning your economy over to non-Ghanaians? How do you create an environment in which Ghanaian entrepreneurs thrive, debt is lowered and taxes are dropped?

We know Turkey, the IMF and Canada each want to financially support the 1 district, 1 factory vision. We also know President Akufo-Addo is adamant that we should not descend into economic colonialism.

Can such a financial gap be plugged? Might we face further foreign aid, loans, investment that further erodes an economy that too often feels as though it doesn’t belong to Ghana?

How do you balance these seemingly competing economic visions?

What about the free SHS policy? Free SHS holds so much excitement for millions of Ghanaians, it carries the promise of a better educate nation. What is the economic vision for that? NPP Senior Minister, Osafo Maafo suggested The Heritage Fund could pay for it. That suggestion provoked outrage and criticism. His suggestion was followed by Finance Minister, Ken Ofori Atta’s assertion that The Heritage Fund will categorically not pay for it. This back and forth was hardly assuring. It raised serious questions of economic vision and planning.  How could something so serious lack a clear economic vision or a specific financial plan?

The plans are exciting. Paying for them seems impossible.  Leadership means making the impossible doable.

We were introduced to ‘The Akufo-Addo Way’ in this first State of the Nation. Tough talk about tough financial times ahead for a nation swept up in this 'change has come' presidency. Tighten our belts, pay our debts, lower aid and raise our trade.

Unsurprisingly, after the State of the Nation address, NDC party members headed determinedly to microphones and media houses reporting from Parliament House, to refute the economic record, and angrily pitch their version of events. Frankly, it’s exhausting and unhelpful. The NDC picked up the President’s economic wreath and verbally flung it violently across the room. They duly defended their party. They, as expected, attacked the president’s economic inheritance and highlighted how they believed they had economically served the Ghanaian people.

The Ghanaian people had already politically disagreed when they cast their vote. Litigating the economy, when millions have told stories of hardship, disappeared businesses and stalled education dreams, is unlikely to endear you to the population. Frankly, the NDC should grow up. The NPP has been equally guilty. This petty party politicking is immature. This is not a Game of Economic Thrones. This is about the Ghanaian people, and how to turn around their lives.

Three potential conclusions emerge. The NDC was economically inept;  or it was profoundly corrupt. Or the NPP is not painting a full or honest picture. Perhaps, it is squarely planting economic disaster at the NDC door, so  the kind of fiscal discipline it may introduce that requires Ghanaians to seriously tighten their belts, can be blamed on the NDC.  That potentially prepares a winning political landscape under dire economic circumstances. Party politicking! It is a never ending ‘he said, he said’ exchange.

Mr. Fix it Presidents?

 ‘I John Dramani Mahama pledge to fix this’. Remember those words? Former NDC president made headlines with his pledge to fix dumsor during his February 2015 state of the nation address.  In this first state of the nation address, President Akufo-Addo has pledged to fix the broken economy.

Pledges to fix what is broken become political records played again and again by we the people as a barometer to measure progress.

Is the economy fixed yet? That can become the question that marks this President’s first term.

Manifesto promises have collided with an economic forecast of gloom, financial deficit and deep debt.

Can this president and his party meet and manage the expectations of an expectant populous while transforming such an economic landscape?  

Let’s see with ‘The Akufo-Addo Way’.