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Discipline in Economic Management: The Key to Sustainable Growth and Prosperity - The Economy: 2009-2013


Mr. Chairman, the elections of 2008 brought in a government of the NDC under the leadership of Prof. J.E.A. Mills. The NDC inherited an economy growing at 8.4% without the benefit of oil production. With crude oil coming on stream, the economy grew by some 15% in 2011 as a result of oil production. The non-oil sectors of the economy, in particular agriculture, industry and services are still growing slower than they did in 2008. In 2012, real GDP growth was 7.9 percent (including oil). It is clear therefore that notwithstanding the production of oil, the non-oil sectors are experiencing declining growth. There is a noticeable slowdown in economic activity and both business and consumer confidence have weakened. The economic slowdown has meant that unemployment is getting worse. We all know of school leavers and graduates who are having great difficulty finding a job in this economy. Youth unemployment remains high and increasing and there has been no better Ghana for our youth in the last five years. Mr. Chairman, this is worrying because we seek fiscal and monetary discipline not for their own sake but to create an enabling environment for job creation.

Mr. Chairman, at the end of 2012, Ghana’s budget deficit was a gargantuan GH¢8.7 billion, amounting to 12.0% of GDP using the rebased GDP numbers. This is the highest recorded budget deficit in Ghana’s history. The GH¢8.7 billion deficit would have been able to finance seven years of free secondary school education.

From Nkrumah through Acheampong, Rawlings and Kufuor, no government has incurred this level of budget deficit. The crux of the problem is that government spending in 2012 increased astronomically to 34.5% of GDP even though government revenues amounted to 16.1% of GDP (a gap of over 100%) for the year. The government abandoned all fiscal discipline in an attempt to win the 2012 elections.

Mr. Chairman, this NDC government is the first government in the history of Ghana to have access to oil revenues and yet is finding it difficult to pay its bills because of the indiscipline in its management of our public finances. Even meeting statutory payments like GETFUND, NHIS, DACF as well as salary payments to workers has become problematic. The cost of doing business has increased and confidence in the Ghanaian economy has waned with high interest rates, a weakening currency and increased utility prices. The Free maternal care, school feeding and national health insurance programs to protect the poor and vulnerable inherited by the NDC government are having major challenges, to put it mildly.

What is remarkable about this state of the economy is that it is occurring at a time when the government has had access to more financial resources in terms of tax and non-tax revenues as well as borrowing more than any other government in Ghana’s history.

Mr. Chairman, the rate of growth of public debt is a matter of concern. Ghana’s total public debt has increased from GHC 9.5bn in 2008 to GHC43.9 billion as at August 2013 (an increase of 357% in less than 5 years)! Mr. Chairman, the NDC government has borrowed the equivalent of $20 billion in just the last five years! What is worrying is that they tell us that this is only the first gear! Can you see or feel that $20 billion dollars has been pumped into this economy in the last five years? Where are the projects to show for the $20 billion? Just imagine the transformational effect if every region were given $2 billion for development projects.

Mr. Chairman, what is sad about this situation is that the government appears to have misunderstood its own capacity to borrow by blindly looking at the debt to GDP ratio without taking into account the fact the GDP was rebased (i.e. statistically increased by 60% from 2007) without an attendant increase in foreign exchange liquidity.

In this situation, taking comfort from a debt/GDP ratio of less than 60% would be misleading. For prudence, the government should be applying an adjustment factor to the traditional debt/GDP measure to take account of the rebasing that took place. Despite warnings in this regard, the government proceeded to borrow at an alarming rate. Today it is obvious that the indiscipline of its borrowing is taking a toll on the economy.

With such large scale borrowing, government is crowding out the private sector which is unable to borrow to grow their business. Risk free Treasury bill rates are around 23% and bank lending rates are on the rise because of excessive government borrowing. Lending rates are now some 30 percent. Electricity and water supply have been erratic and inadequate, shooting up the cost of doing business. It is therefore not surprising that businesses are having a hard time in Ghana right now.

After being in denial for the last couple of years, the true state of the economy is now obvious for all to see “fiili fiili”, as they say in my neck of the woods. The propaganda has finally given way to reality and it is not a pretty sight.

How did we get here? Ladies and Gentlemen, with regards to government finances, we recall that at the end of 2008, the government budget deficit to GDP ratio stood at 6.5% (after the rebasing of GDP). This outcome was described by the NDC as bad fiscal management. By the end of the election year 2012, the budget deficit had reached some 12% of GDP (after rebasing of GDP). This is double the deficit in 2008 which the NDC described as reckless! Interestingly, Mr. Chairman, today the NDC government’s objective in the medium term is to get to a budget deficit to GDP ratio of 6.5%, the same as was the case in 2008, which they called reckless! This is what is called reverse gear, not first gear.

Single Spine Salary Implementation and the Economy

Mr. Chairman, the NDC government, in the face of growing labour unrest, has tried to blame the economic meltdown being experienced on the implementation of the Single Spine Salary System.

The refrain from Government is that wages and salaries of government workers account for over 70% of government revenue so workers should endure economic hardships or pick the next available flight out of the country. What are the facts?

At the end of 2008, the Government wage bill amounted to GHC1.98 billion, representing 41.3 percent of total domestic revenue of GHC 4.8 billion and 46% of tax revenue. By the end of 2012, after 99% implementation of the single spine salary system, the government wage bill jumped by some GHC4.6 billion to GHC6.6 billion. While the government wage bill increased by some GHC4.6 billion between 2008 and 2012, total government revenue also increased from GHC4.8 billion to GHC15.5 billion over the same period. The increase in domestic revenue by GHC10.7 billion was more than twice the increase in the government wage bill. Indeed, by the end of 2012, the government wage bill following the implementation of the single spine salary system was 42.9% of total domestic revenues. This is not significantly different from the 41.3% in 2008. Furthermore, the 2013 budget forecast that the wage bill in 2013 would represent 35% of total domestic revenue by the close of the year. The current economic difficulties can therefore not be attributed to the single spine salary system which had been 99% implement at the end of 2012. In fact, this government was touting its “unprecedented” economic achievements, including the implementation of the single spine salary system only last year.

So when did the problem arise? The acute fiscal difficulties the government is facing is directly related to the massive deficit of GHC8.7 billion (12% of GDP) incurred in 2012.

This massive over expenditure has left the government cash strapped and unable to even finance statutory expenditures. Some workers have not been paid for 22 months! Mr. Chairman, I also understand five years after you and Alhaji Aliu Mahama left office, the government has still not paid you your entitlements.

Mr. Chairman, the data available therefore shows quite clearly that the blame for the current economic difficulties lies squarely in the area of government economic mismanagement and should not be blamed on the wages of workers. After all, workers did not decide to distribute V8 land cruisers and other goodies to try to win the 2012 elections, neither did workers decide on an unsustainable path of accumulation of public debt. Workers did also not make the decisions on GYEEDA, SUBAH, SADA, ISOTOFON, WAYOME, AAL, etc. In trying to reign in the fiscal deficit, government has imposed taxes on almost everything, including condoms and cutlasses and I am sure more taxes are coming in the budget to be read next week. Government has also increased utility tariffs, water tariffs, petroleum prices etc. Unfortunately, when as a result of poor economic management workers demand higher salaries, some politicians conveniently turn around to accuse them of being unpatriotic or greedy. After the government does the “kukrukukru” with the economy they do not want the workers to do the “kekrekekre” to protect their standard of living!


Mr. Chairman, what has been the cost of this persistent fiscal and monetary indiscipline by successive governments since independence? We can think of this in terms of the impact on economic growth, employment, interest rates, inflation, etc. I will however focus on its impact on the exchange rate of the cedi over the years. Mr. Chairman, my concern looking at the developments in the cedi exchange rate since independence is that the cedi has been on a continuous one direction slide. The only question is how fast the depreciation is for different governments! Let’s look at some numbers. At independence, Ghana was part of the West African Currency Board using British Pounds, shillings and pence. The exchange rate was the equivalent of 73 pesewas to the US dollar. By 1965, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah introduced the Cedi. The exchange rate at this time was ¢1.04/$. By 1983, the exchange rate was ¢52.6/$. By 1992, the exchange rate was ¢520.8/$.By 2000, the exchange rate was ¢7047/$. By 2008, the exchange rate was GH¢1.19/$ (¢11,900/$) in 2008. By October 2013, the exchange rate was GH¢2.20/$ (¢22,000/$) with all indications that it could decline further by the end of the year. At this rate, the exchange rate could be GH¢4.4/$ in another 4 years.

Table 1. Cedi-US Dollar Exchange Rates (1965-2013)

Year Exchange Rate ¢/$

1957 0.73

1965 1.04

1983 52.6

1992 520.8

2000 7047

2008 11,900(GH¢1.19)

2013 (October) 22,000 (GH¢ 2.20)

Mr. Chairman, the price of fiscal and monetary indiscipline by successive governments since independence is that cumulatively, between 1965 when the cedi traded at ¢1.04/$ and October 2013 when it is trading at GH¢2.2 (¢22,000)/$, the U.S. dollar has appreciated relative to the cedi by some 2,000,000%! . The value of the cedi has been decimated in the process, losing 99.9999% of its value relative to the US dollar. For a small open economy like Ghana, this trend is worrying and should be worrying for all Ghanaians. Our economy is highly import dependent and these massive these massive depreciations in the currency end up piling more hardships on Ghanaians as the cost of living increases.

Mr. Chairman, going forward, government would be applying automatic price adjustment formulae for pricing utilities and petroleum products. However, the exchange rate is a significant component of the pricing of these products and services. It means that other things equal, if the exchange rate depreciates, we can all expect to pay more for utilities and petroleum products. These in turn impact the overall standard of living and the cost of doing business. Workers under these circumstances would continue demanding wage increases to maintain their standard of living. What is worrying is that if we continue with the way the economy is being managed, we can expect even more depreciation of the cedi and higher commodity, utility and petroleum prices in the future. Can we continue this way? Can we ever industrialize and create jobs with these levels of continued depreciation of the cedi?

Mr. Chairman, this persistent rate of depreciation of the cedi must be looked at against what is happening to other currencies in the global economy. Take for example, the US dollar and the British Pound during the same period. At the end of 1965 the dollar- pound exchange rate was $1.590/GBP and by the end of 2012 it was $1.614/GBP, a cumulative pound appreciation of some 1.5% over a 48 year period. This compares with a 2,000,000% appreciation of the dollar against the cedi over the same period. Between 1983 and 2013, the Hong Kong dollar exchange rate under the currency board arrangements of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority has remained constant at HK$7.80/US$. The question we must ask ourselves is how come these economies with fixed and floating exchange rate systems are able to maintain such durable stability of their exchange rates? Are we willing as a country to do what it takes to attain and maintain such exchange rate stability?

Mr. Chairman, technically, having a stable exchange rate is not difficult to do. In the case of Ghana, no matter what exchange rate regime is adopted, there is a critical requirement by governments of a commitment to fiscal discipline beyond the electoral cycle. Are the politicians willing to abide by this discipline regardless of the impact on our electoral fortunes? More importantly, are the voters going to demand this discipline from politicians? The passage and enforcement of a Fiscal Responsibility Act will be important in this regard if it is supported by political will. A Fiscal Responsibility law will require governments to declare and commit to a fiscal policy that can be monitored. It will include fiscal rules (including rules governing election year spending), provisions for transparency and sanctions ( including sanctions on the Executive). It would mean for example that governments cannot by law spend above a certain limit relative to revenues. Fiscal indiscipline and the resulting fiscal excesses are ultimately paid for by ordinary citizens who have no place at the decision making table of the politicians. It is therefore important that labour, civil society and all other stakeholders make a push for the passage of a fiscal responsibility law as soon as possible. In this context stakeholders can also debate whether the exchange rate regime that we are operating is optimal or whether we should move towards a currency board arrangement like Hong Kong and live with the discipline that would entail.

Discipline to Implement the Vision

Mr. Chairman, discipline as the key to economic growth and development also entails a discipline to pursue a clear vision and the discipline needed to manage the already inadequate resources honestly. What is interesting is that all the political parties in Ghana have laid claim to commitments to protecting the poor and vulnerable as part of their ideologies. To what extent have these commitments been honoured? It is instructive to examine the record of some democratically elected governments and their ideologies.

Nkrumah was for example was a socialist. This meant government led development strategy. Nkrumah’s development plan left a legacy including -

• free education,

• free medical care,

• State-owned enterprises like Ghana airways, Tema Food Complex, GIHOC, GNTC, State Hotels, State farms etc.

• Workers Brigade

The record shows that there is no doubt about the CPP’s socialist credentials.

Mr. Chairman, Ideologically Busia was a believer in market capitalism but wanted to build a democratic welfare state where each is his brother’s keeper.

To realize this vision, a number of initiatives were undertaken by the Busia government.

• A new ministry of Social and Rural Development was created to seek the welfare, training and employment of youth. The National Service Corps, Youth in Action and a Voluntary Work Camps Association were formed.

• A new Ministry of Housing was established to facilitate access to housing by workers. The Bank of Ghana set up a loan scheme from which workers could borrow to build their own houses. Contributions of 2.5 percent were made from salaries of between N¢4,000 and N¢6,000 and 5 percent from salaries above N¢6,000 to a Social Security Fund for the construction of low cost houses for people with housing problems. Low-cost houses were built in all the nine regions in Ghana.

• To encourage rural development, the government established a Rural Development Fund. This was funded through a levy of 40 new pesewas from the salary of every worker whose salary was ¢34.00 and above paid into the fund. This fund was used to provide the rural areas with good drinking water, through the Ghana Water and Sewerage Corporation, Latrine pits, markets and health posts.

• ¢6 million worth of underground sewerage pipes project was laid in Accra towards the proper disposal of sewerage.

• Under the Department of Rural Water Development, three major city supply plants for water were established for Accra, Kumasi, and Sekondi.

• secondary schools and clinics were built across the length and breadth of the country and the administration introduced Experimental Schools on pilot basis, which is now called Junior High School

• free text books in all the schools in the country.

• free ‘Achimota’ sandals to pupils in middle schools.

All this was done in 27 months!

Mr. Chairman, The NPP government just like Busia’s PP government believed that there is the constant need in a nation like ours to cushion segments of the society and ensure that they are carried along in the country’s quest to develop. As a result of the many interventions and programmes, poverty declined from some 40% of the population in 2000 to 28% by 2008 along with significant increases in access to healthcare and education enrollment.

The 2001-2008 period also saw a significant increase in social spending aimed at protecting the poor and vulnerable in society. This was reflected in initiatives such as the:

• National Youth Employment Programme

• The School Feeding Programme to provide food to pupils in basic schools

• Capitation Grant to make education affordable and accessible

• The National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to provide accessible healthcare to the population.

• Free maternal care for all pregnant women under the NHIS.

• Introduction of a Metro Mass Transit transport service for urban areas to provide subsidized transport for commuters and a free bus ride for basic school pupils in Ghana.

• Introduction of the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) programme under which welfare grants are paid to the extreme poor.

Mr. Chairman, the NPP inherited a HIPC economy but after 8 years in office it has all of these concrete accomplishments to show. One cannot help but also notice the irony of the “free-market” oriented NPP government implementing policies that were to some extent more social democratic than the NDC government.

The NDC reinvented itself as a Social Democratic Party in 2003 seeking to “marry the efficiency of the market with the compassion of the state with all efforts geared towards protecting and supporting the vulnerable, the disadvantaged, and the marginalized and have-nots in society. Consistent with this philosophy, the NDC promised a Better Ghana with policies such as:

• One-time health insurance premium

• Pay licensed teachers a professional allowance of 15% of basic salary

• Pay technical-vocational teachers a professional allowance of 10% of basic salary

• Pay teachers in deprived areas an additional allowance of 20% of basic salary

• Assume water and electricity bills of second cycle schools

• Double TOR’s capacity toward processing Ghana’s oil

To what extent has the NDC’s covenant with Ghanaians to deliver on its social democratic vision been realized over the last five years? Has the NDC had the discipline to implement its manifesto promises?

The NDC is supposed to be a Social Democratic Party. But what type of socialism is this that imposes such hardships on workers and ordinary Ghanaians. What type of socialism is it that oversees the weakening of social safety nets such as the National Health Insurance Scheme, Free Maternal care, School Feeding, and National Youth Employment Programme? At least in Nkrumah’s socialism one saw a vision that he was committed to and attempted to implement with free education, healthcare, industries, workers brigade, state farms etc.

Mr. Chairman, the socialism being practiced by the NDC is more in words than in action. In action, it can best be described as “Akonfem Socialism”. Akonfem socialism” is this new brand of socialism where the government officials engage in “chopping” the meat to the bone. Rather than focusing on serving the people, our Akonfem socialists focus on coming up with schemes to steal money from the people. This is why we have the creation of schemes such as GYEEDA, SADA, SUBAH, WAYOME, WATERVILLE, ISOTOFON, AAL, where the state has been defrauded of billions of Ghana cedis which could otherwise have been used for productive development expenditure. This is only what we know about. This is not what Ghanaians expect from the party of “Probity and Accountability”!

The Subah Infosolutions contract where the government is literally giving away hard earned taxpayers money under very dubious circumstances may just be the tip of the iceberg. With this level of corruption, the economy will not move and it is not surprising that after inheriting a legacy of a much stronger economy, the government says it is still in first gear after five years!

Mr. Chairman, the challenge we face today as a country is how to deal with corruption in the public sector. As a country we have vetted people by CVCs, tried people by public tribunals, jailed people, shot people at the firing squad etc. The situation has become so dire that a “citizen vigilante” like Martin Amidu and journalists like Manasseh Azure and Anas Aremeyaw taking up the fight against corruption rather than government. We appear to be losing the battle against very powerful forces. So what should we do?

Mr. Chairman, if you look at the canker of corruption, it is clear the over 95% of corruption takes place in the areas of award of contracts and the procurement of goods and services by the public sector. In my humble opinion the surest way to deal with this problem is to take the responsibility to award contracts and undertake procurement out of the hands of the public sector and politicians and rather give it to an independent body with a value for money secretariat (under parliamentary oversight). The independent body should be made up of reputable professional local and international procurement institutions and experts (and representatives from civil society). This is the model that was used in the execution of projects under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) such as the N1 Highway. The MDAs or even the Presidency had no role in the award of contracts for MCC projects. Once this type of model is put in place, public officials and politicians will focus on policies and service and not on their ability to make millions of dollars through dubious contracts and procurement. This is an idea that we can discuss on its merits on a multi-partisan basis and come up with a workable solution.

Mr. Chairman, in conclusion, the author H. Jackson Brown jnr. has stated that “Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There is plenty of movement but you never know if it is going to be forward backward or sideways”. This is essentially the story of Ghana’s economic development. We have been moving like an octopus on roller skates because of the lack of discipline in our economic management.

As H.E. Alhaji Aliu Mahama would say, “It is all about whether we are ready to submit to discipline or not”.

Mr. Chairman, I submit that it is time for us together to do the right thing for our economy.

May the soul of H.E. Alhaji Aliu Mahama rest in peace.

Assalamu Alaikum

Source: Dr Bawumia



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