Mid-year review: debt, energy, food security and education take centre-stage

The 2023 budget and economic policy must prioritise economic stability and recovery, with local solutions at the centre, says the Ghana National Chamber of Commerce and Industry GNCCI and the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI).
File photo: Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta going to present a budget in parliament

In anticipation of the mid-year budget review, several experts from different sectors agree that while it will be within the framework of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme, government must not miss a critical opportunity to tackle lingering issues within the economy.

These experts shared their views during a roundtable session organised by the Economic Governance Platform. The session focused on the theme ‘The 17th IMF bailout: What did Ghana sign up for? Considerations for the 2023 mid-year budget review’.

There, they strongly argued that neglecting domestic concerns will only exacerbate negative sentiments and prolong the recovery process.

External debt restructuring in the footsteps of Zambia

Dr. Theo Acheampong, a petroleum economist and political risk analyst, pointed out that Ghana can learn from Zambia’s recent external debt negotiation success as deliberations continue with bilateral and private creditors.

Despite their debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio not significantly decreasing in nominal terms as a result of the deal, Zambia obtained a three-year grace period for principal repayment, and negotiated reduced interest rates of between 1 – 2.5 percent compared to an average of 9 percent – and this will be sustained until 2037.

Additionally, a novel conditional clause in Zambia’s deal – wherein interest rates can rise to 4 percent if the economy outperforms projections and debt-carrying capacity improves – was also highlighted as an approach that Ghana should consider.

Dr. Acheampong urged local authorities to initiate negotiations with bilateral and private creditors promptly, and potentially conclude such arrangements before the 2024 budget presentation.

“The substance of the deal that Zambia has negotiated is what Ghana can look to emulate. I think we should do the same, and in the next 6 months it is possible for us to put forward and conclude some of these things ahead of the budget for 2024,” he noted.

Energy sector challenges and the delayed energy sector recovery programme

Benjamin Boakye, an energy governance expert and Executive Director at the Africa Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP), expressed concerns over the seeming lack of urgency in presenting the Energy Sector Recovery Programme (ESRP II) second phase, which should have been delivered by the end of June – describing it as “alarming”.

This comes as the potential revenue contributions from energy exports, estimated at approximately US$1.4 billion which could have alleviated the budget deficit, seem unlikely due to the falling prices of oil globally.

“It baffles me that we have not been aggressive in putting out the programme to improve under-recoveries. Even though government has pledged to address the challenges, there have been no engagements with local stakeholders… Our initial estimate of generating US$1.4billion from energy exports might not be met due to the expected price of US$88/barrel not materialising. As a result, we may face a deficit of approximately US$500million considering our half-year revenue receipts amount to around US$500million,” he elaborated.

Furthermore, imposition of the 1 percent Growth and Sustainability Levy on the gross production of companies in the extractives industry has caused consternation, as government failed to engage in good faith negotiations with the companies who have stability agreements in place, he added.

“It would have been expected that there’d be some good faith negotiations to establish a reasonable timeframe for their support in the recovery effort. Unfortunately, the power-play involved seems to have hindered progress,” he said, stating that he expects positive developments in this regard.

He also expects much-needed clarity on the ‘gold for oil’ programme. Previously, revenues were generated through the purchase of gold with a 1.5 percent tax applied.

However, this tax has been waived since the Bank of Ghana (BoG) started purchasing gold from the Precious Minerals Marketing Company (PMMC). This move has resulted in a loss of much-needed revenue, Mr. Boakye noted.

“If we are not careful, we risk institutionalising a process that makes it difficult for us to accurately track the quantity of gold produced. In the past, disparities have been observed between our export data and the import data from other countries involved in gold-buying. It is crucial to address this issue in order to ensure transparency and effective revenue management,” he added.

Food security and inflation concerns

Dr. Charles Kwowe Nyaaba, Executive Director-Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG), for his part, called for a strong message in the interim budget to address food insecurity.

He said this is pertinent with as much as 5.2 percent of the population facing severe food insecurity, and 6.5 percent experiencing moderate food insecurity.

This comes as consumer inflation rose to 42.50 percent in June 2023 from 42.2 percent the previous month, driven primarily by food inflation which accounted for 54.2 percent of the headline inflation figure – further increasing from 51.8 percent in May.

Education disbursement regime, provision of desks and textbooks

Kofi Asare, Executive Director of Education Watch (Eduwatch), stressed the need for clarity in the disbursement regime for education grants; saying stakeholders need assurance of a clear disbursement roadmap to address accountability issues. Additionally, accumulated arrears in the education sector need urgent attention as many school administrators face financial challenges due to unpaid loans.

Mr. Asare highlighted the severe shortage of desks in the basic education sector, affecting over two million children.

One of the most significant challenges in the basic education sector is a lack of desks, affecting over 2 million children. We urgently require approximately 1 million dual desks to address this issue adequately.

He explained that the allocated budget for desks approved by parliament is only GH¢15million, which is insufficient to procure the required number of desks. With this funding, we can purchase a maximum of 35,000 desk – leaving a substantial gap in meeting the students’ needs.

Mr. Asare noted stated that despite being four years into the current basic school curriculum, we only have textbooks available for 3 out of 10 subjects; and even then, they are in limited quantities.

“However, a more pressing concern arises at the junior high school level. As we enter year 3, students who are currently in JHS 2 and moving to JHS 3 at the end of this year began their education 2 years ago, yet they have not been provided with any textbooks. It is crucial to address this situation promptly as they will be writing their BECE next year,” he said, adding that the budget must address the “unrealistic” school feeding allocation.

Campaign funding

Although not directly within the IMF programme’s purview – and probably not to be mentioned in the upcoming interim budget presentation – Dr. Kojo Asante, Director of Advocacy and Policy Engagement-Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), emphasised the importance of addressing the issue of campaign financing; particularly with the approaching elections next year, saying leaving the space unregulated continues to breed corruption and impede economic growth.FIN


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