Walking the Talk

Nana Yaa Ofori-Atta

Headline news.  Ghana’s big push to attract investment from Asia – Japan, Singapore and China – is well underway.

At a breakfast meeting held in Accra on Friday, December 15th, 2017, the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, announced that “we are today examining the possibilities of arranging for a total of US$300 – 500 million Ghanaian debt issuance on Asian capital markets.”

The second ambition he said, is to structure partnerships between state owned enterprises and the private sector in Ghana with counterparts in the Asia to invest in targeted industries and sectors – oil and gas, agriculture, mining and infrastructure including energy, railways, ports, financial services, technology and innovation.

This Minister is seeking also to improve “financial market connectivity through correspondent banking relationships and capital markets.”  We should expect soon, moves towards a bilateral currency swap between the GHc and the Japanese Yen and a potential $2 billion bond in the next 3 years.

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Lofty ambitions, doable and it will require our business community and policy makers getting to grips, quickly with the business ecosystem of each of these economies.  There is also the small matter of aligning our institutional and investment policies to encourage banking, insurance, facilities and services between our financial sectors.

The guiding principles for the Asia roadshow should be to make haste, slowly.  With good reason. 

Together with 6 other African countries, Ghana accounts for more than 75% of sovereign debt issued thus far for the continent.  Directly, since 2007, we have issued 5 sovereign bonds worth more than $4.5 billion.  Our cousins in the elite sovereign club are Cote d’Ivoire next door, Nigeria, up the road and further afield, Zambia, South Africa, Angola and Kenya.

Growth is forecast on the back of increased oil and gas production in Ghana and caution is required.  The Ministry of Finance (MoF) is intent it says on reprofiling our national debt to seek longer tenures of maturing.  While our current credit rating by Fitch has been revised from negative to stable, the B category still puts us in the amber, caution light for skittish investors.  Our fundamentals, particularly in macro economic stability and fiscal prudence must be religiously monitored and addressed.

In Asia, the Government of Ghana (GoG) will likely be seeking to avoid funding sources that require and incur further sovereign debt and liabilities.  One analyst said, it would be wise if the preferred approach is to seek flexible revolving or facility based funding and not the project specific loans that have not always served us well in the past.

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Coordinating the dance

In 2012, Japan virtually doubled its targeted investments in Africa to more than $6 billion, almost a $billion if this wend its way to South Africa.

The World Bank Group’s Global Investment Competitiveness Report 2017/2018 provides the obvious reasons why beyond the headlines, the MoF, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ghana Investment Promotion Center (GIPC), our Embassies and High Commissions abroad must be joined up.  A-Z, in delivering a tangible measurable investment experience, both inwards and outwards.

In order of importance, the critical markers for an economy to attract foreign direct investment remain locked in the hands of government. Investment Promotion Guarantees, transparency and predictability in the conduct of public agencies; investment incentives, a bilateral investment treaty and a preferential trade agreement bring up the rear.

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According to the Report, individual investors tend to respond to the political economy.  Stability and security first, then the legal and regulatory environment, followed by the size of the domestic market, macroeconomic stability and bringing up the rear of the top 5, is a pool of available and talented labor.

A recent Ecobank Research forecast is of an uptick in the top 10 fastest growing Sub Saharan African economies.  In 2017, we were 5th placed, behind Ethiopia, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Guinea.  In 2018, we must make good on the threat of being #2. 

That Asia road trip must deliver.  After all, it was Mr. Ofori-Atta who in Berlin, on the announcement that Ghana will be one of the only 3 countries to benefit from a Euro 100 million compact from Germany to improve investments in the private sector said – “We are also not chickens… we are eagles and, as such we should fly”.  He quoted Dr. Kwegir Aggrey.

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Japan has without fanfare established a quiet solid presence in Ghana.  It has on its resume, 90 years of investing in and supporting our scientific and medical facilities in yellow fever and other tropical diseases via the Noguchi Memorial Institute.  For more than 40 years, Japan has provided volunteers with technical to Ghana, in what is reported to be their largest program in Africa.

On matters investment and more recent, in July of 2017, the GIPC held a Business Forum in Tokyo.  Japan does not appear in the top 10 sources of FDI to Ghana in the 3rd quarter report of the GIPC.  China does, at position #9.  Singapore doesn’t feature at all.

The positive spin, is there are opportunities yet to pursue with the Asian road trip?

The Minister of Finance is of a certain dark type, Presbyterian modest and monogamous.  A suggestion.  It helps in matters nation building these days in the developing world, to be an ambidextrous polyglot, who is financially, at least, open to polygamy within an open marriage.

There is, besides the flirtation with Asia, an ongoing relationship with our ‘traditional’ investment partners that he and others should continue to nurture and harvest.

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The Master Plan to upgrade and construct a railway network of 4,000 kilometers across Ghana was drawn up in 2013.  It was envisaged that a modern rail based system would cost an estimated $12.5 billion.  The GoG set out 6 distinct phases evolving sedately over 30 years.

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Last week, following surely what must have been the purely coincidental flying visits, of first the French and then the German Presidents to Accra, came the announcement by the German-French Railway Consortium (GFRC), that it is they, who will build the critical link between Accra, our national capital and Kumasi, the country’s second largest city.

The statement issued from the purposely formed consortium of ALSTOM S.A. of France and LINDE AG of Germany, revealed much.  First, that the construction of the double track network would take 4 years; secondly, they would also build a single track rail system from Kumasi to the port city of Takoradi, in the oil rich Western region and thirdly; service roads will be built alongside the tracks to enable maintenance as well as access by emergency vehicles in the event of accidents.

We are in a hurry to industrialise Ghana, other countries have done this faster and better with lessons learnt on matters quality, return on investments with particular regard to governance, cost, community and environmental impact.

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The Europeans have form when it comes to swallowing national pride and ganging up.  There is a context to the Franco-German railway win in Ghana.  In September 2017, came the announcement of a merger between France’s Alston, a manufacturer of high speed trains with the technological know how of Siemens, Germany.

A report published by CNN Money stated then ‘The deal aims to counter China’s  growing clout in global rail markets.  Beijing stepped up its efforts in 2015 by merging two local companies into state-backed giant CRCC, which describes itself as “the world’s largest supplier of rail transit equipment.”

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We will have arrived, when a Ghanaian company, assured enough, in finance, expertise, quality and ambition, partners with a Nigerian company to take on projects in East Africa for instance, or challenges the droit de seigneur approach of Europe and the new might of Asia by winning large contracts in the Middle and Far East.

Uncomfortable and true.  In Ghana, when it comes to our instinctive definition of ‘quality’ brands, few are ‘Made in Ghana’, almost all are invariably European or American.

Yet the deep pockets and increasingly global reach of Asia beckons.  In 2016, CRCC’s reported sales of more than $33 billion. Uncomfortable and also true, is that amongst the 3 countries slated for the Asian roadshow, China and Ghana will likely have to work harder on the trust thing. 

 

The writing is on the wall.  In English, French, German, Chinese (at least 5 main dialects), Dutch, Japanese ….

The Business and Financial Times, will be back.  Management of the paper insists on taking much needed time off between December 22, 2017 – January 8, 2018.  My column will return, published and available via online circulation.

Afrehyia Pa.

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