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In Defence of Facts and Reason, Not Ofori-Atta

Ghana’s economy faces several challenges. Our debt level remains elevated, revenues have fallen, and expenditures continue to rise. Good jobs are harder to find, and joblessness is on the rise. These have been recurring problems since the days of yore. But the problems have become intensified in the last two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lately, one other problem has emerged with equally devastating consequences for the economy. And that is, a troll of “economists” supposedly eminent ones aggressively talking down the Ghanaian economy.

From Kwame Pianim, Kofi Amoah to Prof. Bopkin, these “economists” have been consistent in highlighting the problems of the economy from perspectives that are incoherent, soaked in emotions, and laced with hatred for one man – Ken Ofori-Atta. They are so focused on berating the managers of the economy; they provide no solutions. Given the prominent status these guys are accorded in discussions of the economy and economics, their words are doing as much damage to the economy as the pandemic. They are doing their very best to counter efforts to claw back the economy from the jaws of COVID-19.

Kwame Pianim says Ken Ofori-Atta ought to have grown the economy. I wonder, where Mr. Pianim has been since 2017 when Ofori-Atta took over the reins of the economy? In the previous year (2016) economic growth was a mere 3.4%. In 2017 economic growth more than doubled to 8.1%. Economic growth remained above 6% in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, COVID-19 hit. The world economy grew by negative 3.3%. Africa recorded its first economic recession (negative economic growth) in 25 years with negative growth of 1.9%. Ghana bucked the trend. It managed against all the odds to grow by 0.4%. Is Kwame Pianim unware of these growth figures? There must be something wrong somewhere!

Kwame Pianim again says, Ken Ofori-Atta has borrowed too much, and the country isn’t receiving value for money. Yes, Ken Ofori-Atta has borrowed. He has increased Ghana’s public debt nominally by 174%. His immediate predecessor finance minister increased the public debt by staggering 1255% between 2009 and 2016. These are facts, Mr. Pianim might want to check.

Prof. Bokpin, the finance guy at the University of Ghana Business School who has taken on the onerous title of an “economist” says, the fundamentals of the economy is weak (myjoyonline, 14 January 2022 1:59pm). He is right. In 2018, Bokpin “…explained that the fundamentals of the economy have been looking positive…”( ghanaweb: Business News of Wednesday, 11 July 2018). The only plausible and logical difference between 2018 and 2022 is COVID-19 pandemic.

In the same interview at which Prof. Bokpin referred to “weak fundamentals” he pointed out that the Electronic Transaction Levy (E-Levy) is a good tax measure that will rake in revenue, adding “it’ll please investors, then it’ll please you and I because the rising public debt signals some kind of uncertainty and some potential for government to increase taxes in order to reduce the debt.”

On November 18, 2021, a caption on myjoyonline.com read: ‘It is counterproductive, it’s a lazy way of raising revenue’ – Prof Bokpin on E-levy. The good Professor spoke a day after the budget was read. He may not have had time to read and digest the budget before. The lesson in there is our “economists” ought to be slow to talk. The cacophony of voices and messages on social and traditional media do not often present all sides to issues in Ghana.

Kofi Amoah says Ghana is broke and needs a “better and stronger hands to manage the economy”. Sounds like someone looking for a job. For one thing, our “revered economists” ought to know that COVID-19 happened. If we assume without admitting that Ghana is broke, the question is could, or would Kofi Amoah have made this remark in 2019? The economy before COVID-19 was not a trouble-free one. Some of the current challenges were there. COVID has amplified them.

But in 2019, despite all the challenges, no one could have said that Ghana was broke. And no one said so. Ghana exited the IMF Extended Credit Facility Programme. Economic growth was healthy 6.5% compared to 2.9 growth for the world and 3.2 for Sub-Saharan Africa. National debt was 63% of GDP (58% excluding the energy and financial sector bailout costs).

By refusing to recognise that COVID-19 happened and that it has had the most severe impact on the economy, Kofi Amoah and his likes have chosen to blame one man for all the nation’s problems – Ken Ofori. Take it or burry your head in the sand, COVID happened, and it forced the finance minister to literally put aside his 2020 Budget. He was compelled to rasie resources we do not have to fight the pandemic. He spent a fortune on containment and mitigation measures at a time when Accra and Kumasi have shut, airports and land borders closed, and government revenues were not forthcoming.

The government in which he is a finance minister took, the decision to provide free/subsidized electricity and water for nearly a year. Many Ghanaians thought it was the right thing to do. The finance minister had to find the money to pay for that. These naturally will go to increase the public debt. Our “economists” seem to have no idea of the magnitude of bills the finance ministry had to pick up from the energy sector just to keep the lights on. If they care they should find out. It will help the conversation. To single one man – Ken Ofori-Atta – in these difficult circumstances for blame is to be unfair not only to him but also to the facts and reason.

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