- Speech delivered by Dr. Samuel Sarpong Ankrah Fce, President – Africa Investment Grouat this year’s Annual Economists Conference 2021
May we observe a one minute silence simultaneously for all the people we have lost here at home and abroad over the last two years to the coronavirus outbreak and more recently, the late Professor Emmanuel Quaye Achampong of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital and the University of Ghana Medical School, a national treasure and asset, an Emeritus Professor of Surgery and visiting Professor/Examiner across the world; his death is a great loss to Africa and the wider world. May their gentle souls find rest and perfect peace in the arms of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you.
The first two decades of the twenty-first century ended with a global pandemic we now all know and call COVID-19. It started in Asia in 2019 and has shut down our world since early in 2020; bringing down the curtain on the first 20 years of the New Millennium. Will this be a new century or era and bring new hope opportunities? Or is it just a mix-bag of what everyone makes of it and for that matter a case of “each one for himself God for us all?” In other words, business as usual?
Hold your thoughts for a moment, Mr. Chairman, with your permission may I respectfully request that if there is any Minister of State or High Government official here to grace this occasion and is in our midst right now, may I respectfully request that you kindly indicate by a show of hand so we can rightfully acknowledge your presence? As a professional body, the Institute sees Government as a key partner and stakeholder in what we aspire to do and contribute to make our country great again. In that sense, we must foster a close bond of friendship and collaboration to develop our nation together as one, not as enemies.
Mr. Chairman, the last time I spoke at a public event close to this magnitude was when I was inducted as a Fellow of the Institute, a feat I cherished and hold so dear to my heart. On that occasion, I chose to focus on the national budget and financial statement presented by the Honourable Finance Minister. I found it to be timely and routine purely because that is what economists and financial analysts do; when the national budget is read, we analyse, critique, and put forward recommendations after dissecting it, and fortunately, I had granted interviews to some media houses prior to its presentation to parliament.
To me, that was business as usual, where the incumbent sees you as an antagonist for unearthing weaknesses and threats to the national development agenda. This is because your subject of interest is the national budget which is presented by the government’s representative responsible for managing the national economy. On the other hand, the opposition jumps on the back of pertinent issues raised, totally oblivious to the strengths and opportunities identified in the budget simply, to score political points, because to them the incumbent can do nothing right in their eyes regardless of whether they faced the same or similar challenges with identical outcomes.
A CALL TO DUTY
But, not this time Mr. Chairman! This vicious cycle of dancing chairs must end somewhere and if our economy is to become the engine of growth we so crave for, then it is us economists who must lead and not the other way (not to be led). We must not compromise on quality (in other words we must be intellectually honest), quantity (never get tired of commenting and availing ourselves to be part of the solution to our economic problems) and certainly not take a back seat on implementation by restricting ourselves to the classrooms; radio and television stations, as well newsprints and books. It is time for economists to roll up our sleeves and jump to the frontline and help to execute policies that will bring relief to our peoples in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa.
We are products of the great professors some of whom are in our midst and we all owe them a debt of gratitude for the great work they do. They sacrifice to make us who we are and so we must evolve and nurture a new breed of more productive and creative prodigies with a better chance of success to raise mother Ghana to where it belongs. Now, we must redefine our economic models and create systems that speak to the African experience, resources, and opportunities. It must provide skills that enable a strong tri-partite relationship between academia, industry, and government.
Can we rise to the occasion? The ball is in our court today. For the first time ever in my professional and academic experience, I am going to challenge us all to make a simple decision before we leave this event. To simply answer the question, can we rise up to the occasion? If yes, kindly leave your details and I believe by the end of this speech those of you who will answer yes! We can; will have a full understanding of our accomplishment here today.
ANSWERING THE CALL TO DUTY – WE MUST
Mr. Chairman, distinguished Ladies, and Gentlemen, I must confess that initially, as flattering as the invitation was, I couldn’t say for sure whether my schedule will allow me to be in Ghana and honour it or not so I politely requested that I was given time to think about whether to accept it or not. In our type of business, i.e. Banking, Finance, and Investment; October – November is always critical for closing shop at the end of the year; and therefore it is a period considered to be injury time for Christmas.
However, it was not long before the topic began talking to me; especially, the phrase “……. The Word Becoming Flesh”; it hit me like a thunderbolt! Whilst in conversation with myself, I got a hint of the line-up of speakers I am being asked to headline for this event. This sent shivers down my spine and of course butterflies in my stomach. I happened to know these great and accomplished personalities in their own right, some professionally and others from much closer quarters I would not wish to divulge here, so do not ask me.
GOD IS WATCHING ALL OF US
This is when it dawned on me that the greatest economist of all time, in fact, the Economist-in-Chief and Creator of the Universe, Almighty God Himself is asking us to do something different this time around, and as always He picks the underdog which is me. It was at this juncture that the invite made sense to me and I gladly and boldly accepted to speak to this august gathering. I did so with a clear understanding that today’s speech will require an audience far greater than those assembled here; indeed to speak to our dear nation Ghana, Mother Africa, and the World at large – announcing the African Renaissance. That the time is long overdue for Africa to rise up like the Tiger economies of the Far East and China after the West has dominated global economies for decades.
I hereby crave your indulgence to join me to congratulate the President, Professor Emeritus Peter Tuffuo Asubonteng, and his team for heeding the call of our Maker and doing me such great honour to ask me to speak at this year’s conference. Being the first conference post-COVID-19 and the beginning of a new era makes it all the more so special. I promise to deliver to the best of my human abilities and as led by the spirit of God.
Mr. Chairman, in the press release announcing this event, I was described as a world-renowned economist, so I said, if this means that the whole world would hear of the work we are about to initiate here today and it also means that we are ready, able and willing to shift the economic paradigms of Ghana and the entire continent of Africa by pushing boundaries globally in order to champion the “African Renaissance” then I am in great company. Please permit me to acknowledge all the speakers whom I have absolute respect for, not only for their speeches today but more so for their contributions to the socio-economic advancement of this country, industry, and academia.
Just in case you are wondering whether you are in the wrong gathering and getting ready to find your way out before the offering bowl gets passed around please stay put because you have not lost your way at all. You have come to the right place and no offering will be taken.
BUSINESS AT HAND
For the purposes of this occasion, I have decided to cast the net as far back as the beginning of the institution of the Fourth Republic in 1992; giving a historical perspective of the post-independence outlook of the country’s economy and to do a comparative analysis of the earlier trend with the current performance in the Fourth Republic era.
Mr. Chairman, doing justice to a topic like this in the time we have can be tricky; however, I learnt long ago that paying attention to the instructions is a key determinant of success in any examination, so I do not intend to ask for more time. Dealing with our subject matter “Restoring Ghana’s macroeconomic stability and revitalization: The words “restoring” and “becoming flesh” suggests that we have had some successes in the past and somehow we have lost it, but more importantly, there is hope with strong Divine interest depicted by the religious undertones. Very assuring indeed!
HIT and MISS – THE TOPIC
This assertion by the topic at hand is supported by a huge body of historical evidence from Independence in 1957 to date. Mr. Chairman, the Ghanaian economy has seen an upward trend spanning three decades between the inception of the 1992 Constitution which ushered in the Fourth Republic, and this post-COVID era in 2021. Despite this upward movement, a number of challenges have bedevilled growth, redistribution of income, and sustainability. For example in the year 2013, with an estimated population of 26.6 million Ghana was ranked the 85th largest economy in the world with a total GDP of US$40.7 billion in 2012 figures.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE – A SUMMARY OF THE PROS
Per the Population and Housing Census of 2010, Ghana’s population stood at 24,658,823 with an annual growth rate of 2.5% and a per capita Gross National Income GNI of US$1,550 making the country the 2nd largest economy in the West African sub-region only behind the Federal Republic of Nigeria. With about 10.3% of the total GDP of the Sub-region, the country’s economic performance has been quite strong (at least on paper) over the past three decades during which Ghana pursued:
- Market-led economic policies and programmes with minimal involvement of government indirect economic activities.
- The recovery of the country’s economy from recession in the early 1980s on the back of the economic reform and structural adjustment programme, and the sustained growth since then earned the country a lot of commendations in terms of economic achievement.
- This prompted Leechor (1994) to describe the country’s economy as the frontrunner in the economic reform process.
- Ghana recorded about 5.2% annual average growth between 1984 and 2010 (28 years) and became a lower middle-income country after a rebasing of its national accounts in 2010 with a change in the base year from 1993 to 2006.
- The rebasing pushed the country’s annual average growth to 8.3% between 2007 and 2012.
- In 2011, the country commenced commercial production of oil. This development contributed 5.4 percentage points (oil GDP) to the 15.0% real GDP growth in that year with the country taking an enviable position as one of the six fastest-growing economies in the world that year.
However, concerns have been raised about the quality of the economic growth particularly in terms of employment, inequality, and general improvement in the livelihood of Ghanaians.
Moreover, the growth figures over the years have not been matched with improved livelihoods, raising doubts about the trickle-down effects of growth.
Besides, sustainability of the growth was and still is an issue that keeps lingering in the minds of policymakers; as Aryeetey et al. (2001) argued, the perceived lack of appreciation of Ghana’s sustained growth performance might be linked to the fact that the measured growth figures had little meaning for the livelihood of Ghanaians.
- Employment generation trails economic growth with most jobs created in the informal sector where earnings are very low.
- Indeed, the labour market was and still is characterised by high levels of informal and/or vulnerable employment, coupled with a high incidence of poverty particularly in rural areas and the upper and northern regions of the country in particular.
- The country continued to battle with the problem of maternal, infant, and child mortality as well as high levels of malaria-related deaths, indicating the enormity of the challenge of achieving the health-related goals of the millennium development goals 3, 4, and 5.
- Education was equally affected with enrolment rates at the pre-tertiary levels going up substantially, without corresponding resources to make it successful and worthwhile for both state and citizens.
- The school system still faced problems of the lack of high calibre teachers and teaching aids. At the same time, the higher educational system continued to churn out a large army of unemployable graduates. With the entrance of the private universities, the focus shifted from science and technology education to the mass production of business graduates, given the relatively low opportunity cost involved.
- The emphasis on ‘certificates,’ rather than skills, and the high number of unregulated, poorly staffed, and shoddy fly-by-night higher degree-awarding institutions in the various capitals has become a characteristic feature of the Ghanaian educational system in the last few decades.
As postulated earlier, my main aim here is to review the telling developments in the Ghanaian economy by putting the searchlight on the key areas that should engage the attention of policymakers and relevant stakeholders; especially the general population so as to exercise their franchise in a more responsible manner. I also intend to point out promising areas of future research for the attention of the research community.
The term “macroeconomic stability” refers to a national economy that has managed to minimize its vulnerability to external shocks with proof of practical increases in its prospects for sustained growth. In order to revitalize the national economy and safeguard its stability, the government must promote a budget with poverty reduction as its central theme as well as committing relevant resources i.e. human, technical and financial. These must be disbursed timely into competent institutions both public and private to implement relevant and functional policies that will yield the desired results.
Mr. Chairman, one major indicator of a country’s macroeconomic performance is real GDP growth. Ghana’s growth record was quite erratic prior to the mid-1980s when the country embarked on economic reforms. From a reasonably high GDP growth of 6.2% in 1961, the economy of Ghana began to record a steady slowdown in GDP growth reaching negative 3.0 in 1967 before recovering strongly to record 6.4% the following year. Growth remained stable for a short while and stumbled again in 1972 with a growth rate of negative 2.5%. Indeed, growth was turbulent during much of the period after the mid-1960s and only began to stabilise in 1984.
The country experienced sustained negative growth between 1967 and 1981. Instructively, most of the years of negative growth coincided with a period of intense political instability, and external shocks.
The first negative growth occurred a year after the first military coup d’état in 1966, while the period 1972, 1979, and 1981-1982 coincided with military intervention. The lowest prior to this period was a growth rate of negative 12.9%, which was experienced in 1975 following a poor response to the oil–price shock of 1973 as the country could not access the international capital markets to find the bridging finance for domestic expenditures.
Misguided economic policy in the form of inflationary financing and domestic borrowing was also to blame for the negative growth recorded in the 1970s and early 1980s.
The serious drought experienced in the country in the early 1980s, and what economic historians point to in respect of the return of about one million Ghanaians from Nigeria contributed to most of the shocks in the country’s economy prior to the return to democratic rule in 1992.CURRENT OUTLOOK
REVITALIZING THE NATIONAL ECONOMY
This requires a national vision and a united continent at the cutting edge of global ascendancy socially and economically. The statistics suggest that we have hardly made any progress in over half a century and counting if not retrogressed as in the case of some countries in Africa.
Is Ghana one of those countries in real terms? We need to interrogate our own status further. If so, how have we sought or intend to maintain a stable economy? Traditionally and technically, we have pursued policies to promote stability with the usual textbook approach such as:
Fiscal stabilizers, foreign exchange rates, flexible labour markets, monetary policy, technology policy, human capital development, reducing red-tape, de-regulation; and providing incentives.
Clearly, a commentary that purports to focus on one particular regime, administration, or political party will not do justice to the topic at hand. I hereby make these caveats so as to ensure that this important matter may not be subjected to the usual partisanship which helps no one but is bound to leave us more divided, deprived, and disillusioned. As economists, if we are to make any real impact in this new dispensation of Africa’s renewed energy for transformation; then we must uphold collectively and solemnly, our shared values of honesty, transparency and be accountable to the people we represent. Our technical commentaries and critiques must be constructive and not favour one party’s administration over the other unless it is supported by the facts and figures.
We have a greater responsibility to say and do what is right or say nothing at all if it cannot contribute towards the development of sound and actionable policy interventions to lift our country and people out of the vicious cycle of poverty. We are not politicians, if I need to remind us all, me included, and for that matter this august institution of ours, ICE-GHANA; which I proudly hold a fellowship and must rise up to the occasion.
Mr. Chairman, we have a huge responsibility to ensure that members at all levels are held accountable to a very high standard of professional excellence and good technical conduct. Ours is a call to duty and realising that we must begin to change the way we do things in order to get different results from what we have been getting up until now; must be liberating if not motivating and refreshing. Friends! This is what Ghana needs and this is what Africa needs.
I am here to lay before us all what I believe is what we need to do differently to change our fortunes as Ghanaians and GHANA; but more importantly, as Africans and Africa. If this is what the world must wake up to on December 1st, 2021, and recognize the work we collectively initiated then it would have been a worthwhile exercise.
This new path is being channeled through its economists operating within the private sector with its distinct interest and without any strings attached. This is the template we must promote and collaborate with all stakeholders to ensure that with our expanded regions, the role of the economists must be decentralised enough to all regions with the vision to establish and sustain vibrant local economic development initiatives.
Ghana achieved major development results, progressing on economic and social fronts with the endorsement of the country’s participation in the Millennium Challenge Fund. Following completion of the demanding process of becoming one of the first African countries to access that Fund, however, the 2008 global crisis revealed weaknesses of many countries across the world including Ghana. The country’s growth model was exposed and this triggered a local recession, for example, remittances from Ghanaians resident abroad were hit significantly, undoing many of the previous economic and social achievements. By 2011, the public debt doubled and has ballooned to over 85% of GDP by 2020 as did unemployment reaching over 30% of the active labour force.
The modest growth prospects, unless complemented with wide-ranging reforms, will not be enough to undo the effects of the local recession, high debt dependency culture and put Ghana back on the road to sustainable recovery.
To support the government or successive governments with the reform and revitalization agenda, our community of Economists and other related technical minds must change our modus operandi by evolving a new non-partisan professional relationship with the economic managers of our national resources. A system where regardless of one’s political leanings, we will be involved in the unearthing, analysing, promoting, and executing policy options in the following interrelated areas.
FOSTERING PRODUCTIVITY AND COMPETITIVENESS TO CREATE JOBS;
These are key to restoring macroeconomic stability, competitiveness, and inclusion. As a professional community, we must evolve and champion a new way of doing things, we must also provide policy and reform implementation options in areas where traditionally, the World Bank and its affiliates, often have experience in supporting countries with their own reform programs and personnel thereby taking the job space. These are described in a series of more in-depth Policy Notes on individual areas in my upcoming publication based on the very inspiring topic “The Word Becoming Flesh,” to be launched in the first quarter of 2022. I encourage all of us here today to register our interest with my team and provide personal contact details for an advance order. This will help us allocate scarce resources in the most efficient, effective, and economical way.
Ghana’s immediate economic challenge is to restore macroeconomic stability, while promoting private sector productivity and competitiveness to create jobs and growth. Restoring macroeconomic stability will help provide a more stable basis for investment while freeing the private sector from constraints. This will help promote the productive capacity of private businesses, create avenues to absorb our large pool of human capital, and ease the burden of high rates of unemployment.
Mr. Chairman, not as immediate but as equally important is Ghana’s projected population growth and the predominantly youthful population. Both present significant opportunities for growth and better living standards, as well as for fiscal sustainability. Here, we must advocate policy responses that need to focus on investing in raising skills and promoting healthy youth to prepare Ghanaians for longer and more productive working lives, while modernizing and rationalizing the social protection and health systems for the “New Ghana” that our call for nation building promises.
There is also a need to continue to upgrade public services, key institutions like the judiciary and the governance of state-owned institutions, and infrastructure to better support the needs of people and firms.
Implementation of the kinds of policies and reforms proposed on this platform under the auspices of the Institute of Chartered Economists (ICE) – Ghana, can help the authorities lead the country back to the road of economic and social prosperity. This can only be possible and successful if politicians commit to working with Academia and Industry in a newly defined technically minded tripartite relationship where role adequacy and ownership of responsibility becomes the collective mantra for all parties. I intend to shed more light on this initiative in the upcoming book referenced earlier so do well to book your copy.
Here, what my team and I are saying is that there should be a new policy or legislation if currently there is none to actualize this such that it would generate a non-partisan spirit to fill in the execution gaps in our quest for national development. After 63 years of independence and over half a century of abandoning colonization why should Ghana and Africa for that matter be dictated to as to what, when, how, and why we should feed, clothe and house our people in a way and manner, the advisors themselves never experienced.
Writing in his famous book “Why Africa is poor”, Greg Mills daringly and authoritatively declares that “Poverty is Now Optional.” If indeed it is true, then who is making those choices for all of us? He went on to propose what he believes to be the solution by adding to the title of his book ….. and what Africans can do about it. Very profound you might think… wait till you see what I think about his assertions in my book.
Chairman, as economists, if what we do is not about the noble pursuit of providing leadership in finding solutions to our human problems so as to ensure that we all live as fellow citizens with equal opportunities, rights, and meaningful co-existence then we are but most miserable. If our work does not promote improvement in the social and economic lives to ensure that our people live successful lives, realise their full God-given potential, and contribute their quota to the advancement of the human family then we are in the wrong business.
Mr. Chairman, if I am breaking with tradition by not presenting theory today it is because it is no more business as usual. It will be as dangerous as it is irresponsible for us not to change our ways of doing things in order to get different results. Our people expect us to do that, our families expect us, and we owe it to ourselves to do what is right.
Mr. Chairman, in answering his own question, an answer for the over one billion Africans, Greg Mills did not mince his words “The main reason why Africa’s people are poor is because their leaders have made the choice.” According to him, good development examples abound in East Asia and further afield in other parts of Asia, and Central America. But why then has Africa failed to realise its potential in half a century of independence? He believes that Africa is poor:
- Not because the world has denied the continent the market and financial means to compete, far from it.
- It has not been because of aid per se.
- Nor is African poverty solely a consequence of poor infrastructure or trade access, or because the necessary development and technical expertise are unavailable internationally.
Mr. Chairman, he went on to raise another question which I pose to all of us today; why then has the continent lagged behind other developing areas when its people work hard and the continent is blessed with abundant natural resources?
“Stomping across the continent and the developing world in search of answers Greg Mills controversially shows that the main reason why Africa’s people are poor is because their leaders have made this choice.”
So who are our leaders? Is it the political establishment in these countries or the individual politicians? Are they acting alone or with the complicity of others? And who are the others? Are they accountable and to whom?
These are questions that Ghana and Ghanaians, you and I; and every African country and African must begin to find answers to before it is too late.
Mr. Chairman, this is the reason why this year’s conference ought to be different. My key message for our country and any other country to succeed in Africa or elsewhere, economists must provide leadership in charting a new economic paradigm which will enable Africa to take its destiny into its own hands. China did it, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, etc; the list goes on. Ghana must rise up and shine once more, and; my clarion call to all today is that we must commit to understanding and embracing the new dynamics needed to move this country and Africa forward.
Mr. Chairman, two great African examples should inspire us to greater heights than our forefathers. Firstly, our departed father and brother John Magufuli of Tanzania managed to overcome the national debt issue through effective domestic revenue mobilization, discipline, and effective leadership; and currently, President Paul Kagame, an example of a leader who has made a choice to develop his country and its people. This is the time for Ghana to once again show leadership on the continental stage by taking control of its economy and providing hope to its citizens. If we say we are waiting for politicians to take the mantle and provide the needed technical leadership to solve an over 60-year old economic problem; we will be waiting for another 60 years and there will be no solution in sight.
This might sound harsh but true, the odds are stuck against most politicians in Ghana, and knowing the situation in other countries, I can say that for the majority of the Ghanaian politicians I have had the privilege of meeting and who represent our people in the various constituencies, they do genuinely want to achieve meaningful results for their constituents, some also work very hard; unfortunately, meaning or wanting to achieve is not enough to get the work done and that’s what accounts for the persistent failure to get results on the ground.
The democratic structures and processes actually help our political representatives and public office holders to fail once they are in the hot seat. We the general population also, inadvertently contribute to the problem by being spectators instead of citizens. As economists, we have stayed on the fence for far too long and I am proposing a number of initiatives that will activate our huge potential to unlock the door to our socio-economic development before handing over the baton to the next generation. If we fail to seize this opportunity posterity will judge us harshly.
Mr. Chairman, the evidence shows that Ghana, like many African countries, can grow its economy and develop faster if we stand together with our political representatives as economists, accountants, built environment professionals, etc. to make sound decisions in the national interest instead of partisanship, personal or party interest.
Mr. Chairman, globalization has thrown up enormous amounts of opportunities as we experience the best period in our long history for business in a borderless world market accessible to Africans. We are enjoying the easy movement of people, capital, services, technology, and goods – emerging economies like ours have unprecedented opportunities for growth and development. This is the time for Africa and the clock is ticking. It has been for over two decades so it’s now or never. Gain socio-economic independence or be re-colonized, by whom you may ask?
WHAT WE NEED TO DO TO REVITALIZE THE GHANAIAN ECONOMY
FOSTERING GROWTH AND COMPETITIVENESS
Ghana is in a transition phase, specializing in existing markets but showing little growth in new products and markets. The contribution of old products in old markets to export growth is higher than the contribution of old products in new markets, new products in old markets, and, vitally, new products in new markets. Ghana’s business environment remains a priority area for reform. In order to foster such development, it is key to tackle factors holding back entrepreneurship, including an unfriendly business environment, limited competition in product markets, lack of early-stage financing, and skills deficits.
STRENGTHENING PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
Mr. Chairman it is common knowledge that the public sector wage bill is needlessly huge and not matched by productivity. This is clearly a drain on the national resource base and if not checked will continue to stifle growth and development. It is, therefore, necessary to reduce it significantly to a more sustainable level while delivering quality and modern services to the populace. This requires measures to improve efficiency and effectiveness of public institutions and build institutional capacity to manage and coordinate increasingly complex issues particularly, now that Ghana is reputed to be flying the beacon of hope for democracy in Sub-saharan Africa. And so desperately need to show the socio-economic rewards from its political activities.
Mr. Chairman, very important key decisions ought to be taken in order to protect the public purse which has a direct correlation with the macroeconomic stability of the country.
There is a need to review how functions are allocated across the public administration and identify measures to rationalize ministerial structures, agencies, regulators, and local government authorities. Implementation will require the adoption of firm commitments and a time-bound action plan, monitored by a central unit to provide an impetus for reform. Mr. Chairman, comparatively Ghana continues to carry a large number of Ministerial portfolios that can easily be halved and still get the job done.
Human resource and management systems ought to be strengthened across the civil service by (i) Professionalizing public institutions by introducing performance-based systems of recruitment, promotion, and discipline for civil servants, completing the harmonization of pay scales by ensuring the single-spine salary regime is fully operational nationally. It is necessary to encourage and facilitate mobility across institutions and (ii) Reducing the number of political appointees in central and local administrations, and SOEs, and professionalizing leading positions in state administration bodies and professional services, including the management of the majority state-owned and public companies.
Mr. Chairman, our managers of the economy must promote strategic planning and stronger performance orientation in public institutions through the strengthening of monitoring, evaluation, and reporting systems. Building on the earlier digitization initiatives and programmes there are more opportunities to offer more responsive services. Indeed, I will expand in more detail some of the new ways by which the public sector can be reformed to provide value-for-money services and promote growth and stability in the economy.
TAX POLICY AND TAX ADMINISTRATION
Mr. Chairman, Ghana’s tax system raises less than 50% of the potential total revenue due thereby making it difficult to enact basic public administration and budget and fiscal management.
A significant number of informal sector workers in Ghana are trapped in poverty as they do not earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
And, it has never been a good policy anywhere in the world for policymakers to enact laws to tax poor people unfairly.
Tax stabilization normally directly correlates with economic growth, thus without education and digitisation we will never actualize employment beyond the informality that persists.
The new e-tax has short term benefits, however, medium to long term, it would have dire consequences on the economy.
Apart from erasing all the efforts and hard work to cultivate a financially inclusive economic ecosystem and help in reducing the informal sector, it will also destroy most economic gains.
The key area to be affected is foreign remittances from Ghanaians resident abroad as it is the third highest foreign exchange earner after Cocoa and gold.
Taxing outward or inward remittance flows is a bad idea since remittances are usually sent to poor families of migrants, the tax would be born ultimately by them and therefore it is likely to be highly regressive.
- A tax on remittances will raise the cost of remittances, in direct contravention to the G20 commitments and the Sustainable Development Goal of reducing remittance costs and increasing financial inclusion.
- Poor migrant workers tend to be highly sensitive to the costs of remittances. A tax on remittances will drive these flows to unregulated, informal channels. That is likely to reduce the tax revenue, increase the cost of tax administration, and encourage informal channels of money flows, raising security risks.
- Estimates suggest that the revenue raised from a tax on remittances will be small relative to the revenue base of the country. For example, the IMF estimates that a remittance tax of 5% would result in revenue of around $4 billion or 0.3% of the GDP of the GCC countries.
In the past, many developing countries have been tempted to tax inward flows of remittances, but in the end, very few countries actually did. In the past, such taxes have not worked. In Gabon (in 2008) and Palau (in 2013), tax collections were found to be insignificant. Taxes can drive remittances to informal channels, making tax collection difficult and costly. They also impact poor families disproportionately.
So instead of a lazy approach in implementing such a policy why not dig deeper and address the following?
Why not review CIT. Why is MTN paying CIT of 25% the same as Joe Blogs spare parts enterprise at Aboso Okai. When Energy companies are on a 35% threshold?
Why not digitize revenue mobilization and curb under-declaration and contraband goods?
Why is Coca-Cola and other breweries telling the Ghana government they are producing the same can and bottles of Coca-Cola and other products they were producing 20 years ago?
Why do importers import champagne and pay sparkling water taxes?
Has anyone researched to know the amount of gold leaving our shores without the necessary taxes being paid? What are the systems in place to curb this instead of taxing poor people?
Can someone advise me why we are singing songs about digitisation and yet the only system put in place to curb corruption at our ports was scrapped a few weeks after implementation?
Are we aware of how much money we lose in a day at our ports?
Why are we using banderole (tax stamps) when most of the stickers can be copied because it is visible? Who is and was responsible for this? Whose idea is that in this 21st century?
Who said the real road toll collection is the meagre amount quoted by the Minister of Finance? When it’s public information…. courtesy of Ken Adjapong that 60% of the funds collected go into private pockets.
This confirms most exercises conducted by researchers on the Tema motorway. By the way, who uses manpower and empty paper tickets at toll booths in this 21st century?
The following key actions ought to form part of any considerations to ensure we have a more robust, equitable, and modern tax system capable of raising the much-needed revenue to finance development projects:
Introduce modern property taxation (generating revenues of up to 1.5% of GDP) while abolishing outdated local real estate-related taxes and fees.
Eliminate a large number of tax exemptions given to foreign companies and businesses (saving up to 1.1% of GDP)
Shift the tax burden from labour to indirect taxes to help support growth (revenue neutral).
Introduce tax policy and tax administration measures to incorporate the shadow economy and strengthen and modernize tax administration to protect and expand the revenue base, including the implementation of a modern compliance risk management system
STRENGTHENING PUBLIC INVESTMENT AND REDUCING EXTERNAL BORROWING
Strengthening Public Investment Management (PIM) can improve the growth impact and efficiency of public infrastructure and unlock more of the substantial committed resources from the various funding agencies of the World Bank, IMF, and other external borrowing sources and means. Strengthening PIM planning, contracting, and implementation capacity, along with improvements to the strategic planning and medium-term budgetary framework should therefore be a key component of Ghana’s growth reviving strategy
Create fiscal space to support the various streams of funding inflows absorption through expenditure switching and substitution policies
Strengthen capital budgeting processes, including the link between investment planning and the medium-term budgetary framework, and between national priorities and regional priorities.
Introduce a broader Public Investment Management -decree, with a comprehensive set of underlying regulations and guidelines, and a PIM information system to enhance the planning, selection, procurement, and monitoring of public investment projects.
Strengthen individual and organizational PIM capacities, including project management capacity in line ministries and State Enterprises, and their governance arrangements
MAKING A BUSINESS FRIENDLY GHANA
There has been a steady improvement in the business environment in Ghana no doubt with copious amounts of success in the digitization and e-commerce championed by the private sector. The government needs to commit to full-scale digital economic reforms which will see waste and corruption controlled, managed and reduced significantly.
Any macroeconomic gains towards a sustained improvement must be matched by an ending appetite for job creation. The political cycle that persists in this country and all the democracies in Africa present manifestos that promises so much and deliver little it has to be said; and to forestall this going forward, relevant policy and legislation must make it mandatory for a technical component devoid of political influence to ensure that execution is achieved for the benefit of the national economy and more importantly for our people. This is one of the key areas where we come in, Invited or not. Despite some earlier gains and the current initiative in the Budget presented a couple of weeks ago.
Mr. Chairman, inculcating an entrepreneurial culture in our youth is a must but we should be able to point them to the corresponding support systems in place in terms of financing, technical and managerial support. Despite this vision and momentum for reforms Ghana still suffers from a number of shortcomings that entrepreneurs experience in the day-to-day running of their business operations.
Ghana is also part of leading African nations blessed with all-natural resources and has access to a huge potential market of over one billion but the main focus of its economic activities is for the export market whilst importing most of our staple foods. It does not make sense and therefore as someone said recently “this nonsense” must stop.
Mr. Chairman, if we want to revitalize our economies at the national level our focus must first be on the primary market and therefore our vision and effort must be Africa-wide.
There is room for improvement particularly, in the areas of land registry, business registration, resolving insolvency, construction permits, and creating business incubation programmes that work closely with the banks and other financial institutions to support start-ups.
Incorporate a more consultative process with the private sector on existing barriers as well as while initiating reforms. This is where we come in and the third member of a tri-partite think tank is to ensure that when the economic managers present a financial statement and economic policy to the nation it would have merit and not be shot down on political grounds and thereby erasing any confidence in the market. This technical or third consultative partner will not be limited to just economists but for all relevant technical fields depending on what the subject is.
Mr. Chairman, e-government would enable the public sector to play a more facilitative role to businesses and achieve value-for-money for all.
STRENGTHENING RULE OF LAW AND JUDICIAL EFFICIENCY
Mr. Chairman, despite progress in recent years, inefficiencies and the unpredictability of the courts is one of the largest barriers to business, investment, and growth. Improving user trust and confidence in the court system requires further improvements in the quality and speed of judgements to signal change to the general public and businesses, with reforms led by the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court of Ghana.
Harness technology and intensify modernization and automation to increase the court’s online services and boost two-way electronic exchange with both users and the government systems. Modernization could utilize available structural funds for capital investments.
Make reform an integral part of the new court network and reduce costs by consolidating management functions (finance, procurement, maintenance, statistics, etc.) at the hubs in the network.
Equalize caseloads by transferring judges and staff between courts with the heaviest workloads or by transferring cases across courts. Prioritize reducing the case backlog with targets and incentives at the court level. Intensify training for consolidated court Registrars as key agents of change and harmonizing case law through improved dialogue among heads of departments and the training of judges on new laws.
Gradually adjust the resource mix across the sector to raise productivity. Reduce the number of judges and staff by attrition and use the savings to finance greater investments in infrastructure, ICT, and specialist roles that drive innovation and productivity.
CREATING A MORE SUBNATIONAL GOVERNMENT
Decision-making, financing, and public service delivery are still highly centralized. Despite legislative improvements after the creation of additional six regions during the first term of the current administration, the degree of decentralization remains low.
With the current unemployment levels so high in the country, the increase in the number of regions should serve as an opportunity for job creation on a wider scale.
PROMOTING A NATIONWIDE HOUSING AND REGENERATION PROGRAMME
Mr. Chairman, ineffective real estate registration is limiting Ghana’s economic development, in part due to weaknesses in the current governance framework, which hinders the delivery of public services, increases the workload for courts, and undermines the development of a modern property tax. The effect of all this is highly predictable and certain. In most of the advanced economies, real estate registration agencies have been transformed through the adoption of best practices and management within a single, self-financed agency.
Mr. Chairman, what we need right now as a nation still grappling with the vision to cast the inclusiveness net wider and improve the socio-economic lives of the majority of our people, is to invest in the built environment but without effective land administration and management, it would be an impossible task.
Our real estate foundation is needed to pursue effective public sector housing. All over the world housing investment is central to government social and economic intervention. However, Ghana has been bedeviled by a public sector that frowns upon technical expertise and the lack of proper collaboration with tertiary institutions means that we currently import finance, technical expertise and technology, and quite recently management for all our major housing projects. This cannot be a serious nation that wants to create jobs for its youth.
It is not too late to revisit the First Republic’s Social Housing vision to spark the nation-building that is so needed to not just house our people but create sustainable jobs for a lifetime. This should be an Africa-wide agenda that I believe Ghana should be ready to champion.
Create a new independent real estate registration agency or revamp an existing entity and make it more dynamic to respond to the times. For this to be effective and efficient there has to be a collaboration between the Land Commission and the Judiciary at the operational level and with the digitization of the two outfits, there will be harmony and peace in land administration and management.
Provide a self-financing business model for the agency to collect the majority of its income from registration fees and electronic services – with the necessary safeguards.
Implement a two-tier board system: a supervisory board of non-executive members appointed on the basis of their professional competence by a non-partisan entity or authority and a management board of agency executives appointed by a responsible line minister.
ADDRESSING ENERGY AFFORDABILITY
Mr. Chairman, Energy sector reforms are well advanced globally and from lessons learnt internationally, and elsewhere in Africa; addressing affordability concerns will always have at the heart of it the need to tackle and reduce the high volumes of default by the government as well as private businesses; and finalize the design and implementation of effective compensatory measures for vulnerable groups – making this a top priority will go a long way to ensure success for the entire economy.
In addition to the above, is the highly decentralized system that is dependent on local resources, with no accountability mechanisms to ensure reforms are delivered; and the lack of financial resources available for a compensation scheme. The economic impact of these leakages ought to be reversed if any gains are to be made on a national scale.
Ghana needs to make a clear stand on renewable energy by creating a national pilot which will see the public sector move away completely from the consumption of fossil fuels to either solar or wind.
Tailored policy responses to help vulnerable households to cope with energy price increases to include:
Reaching poor and vulnerable households with means-tested social assistance, as part of central social assistance;
Promoting energy efficiency investment and other efforts to help consumers manage energy demand for all income levels; and
Communication and transparency to enhance consumers’ acceptance of market liberalization.
Mr. Chairman, in the nutshell, I have agreed with the import of the topic under consideration this morning and I believe the fraternity and any reasonable person will have to agree with all of us that indeed there is more room for improvement. However, if the expectation has been or was to see the normal conference speech that ends up on the shelves as many before me then I apologize for disappointing those who graced this occasion for that reason. However, if it is the case that we as economists and professional people can sing with one voice and send the numerous messages echoed in my presentation to all and sundry that business cannot be as usual then we have accomplished our objectives here this morning. The evidence suggests that we are sitting on a time bomb capable of obliterating all of us if steps are not taken to rectify them.
Talking of the youth and next-generation, Mr. Chairman I take this opportunity to announce that in the coming days the AIG Foundation for Jobs will complete some formalities to commence various collaborations with ICEG and other stakeholders including the government to extend programmes to benefit unemployed graduates who declare themselves RAW, an acronym for ready, able and willing to work.
Mr. Chairman, entrepreneurial spirit means one is willing to try whatever is available and committing to making it work and worthwhile. The vision of this initiative is to ensure that we raise, mentor and equip young and energetic Ghanaians to serve as the foundation for our national decentralisation programme that will see every region strive towards local economic development. My team is ready to write down details of individuals willing to sponsor graduates for the programme as well as those booking for advance copies of the “The Word Becoming Flesh” slated for launch in the first quarter of 2022.
Mr. Chairman, we can restore our macroeconomic stability but only if we get the “fundamentals” in real terms, when the statistics can be evidenced on the ground and the people can testify to that. This is the test and challenge we must overcome. And for that matter, the Word is not enough unless it has become flesh and real people feel it. Otherwise, there would have been no need for Jesus to assume humanity before believing in him. For more, book your copies for the book.
Mr. Chairman, distinguished ladies, and gentlemen, we have what it takes as individuals, nations, and continents to effect the necessary change to ensure the majority of people are lifted from abject poverty and that generations to come can dream of a better future. I am excited about the prospects, I think we should be and Africa must stand with us to champion the new era of African Renaissance. God bless our homeland Ghana and God bless you.