Ghana, a Bible thumping Finance Minister and a junk economy

Ken Ofori-Atta – Finance Minister

Ghana is a classic case of a country – has a great history, ancestry and an undisputed place among the comity of nations. Ghana was at a point the shining star of Africa and all struggling peoples waking up to demand freedom from colonialism. But Ghana has always been a country steeped in conundrums, contradictions and complexities.

In recent times the country’s economy has been on see-saw. One time fastest growing in the world and then the next moment it is high risk of debt distress.

However, at the helms of this somewhat a country vacillating between hope and despair, is a Bible thumping Minister of Finance and Economic Planning.

It’s hard to remember if the Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta has ever cited authorities in economics in his public statements, while he probably might have done so more than once, the possibility is higher that he would only be remembered often for quoting the Bible.

Not only does he quote the Bible in his speeches and presentations to Ghanaians and in Ghana, he does so at international meetings discussing the global and African economies where he is invited to make presentations on Ghana.

This year at the opening of the Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank in Accra, attended by Finance Ministers, development partners and other professionals, including economists, Mr Ofori-Atta gleefully quoted the Bible in his remarks.

His posture on handling the sinking economy which his government has plunged the country into due to a combination of factors such as bad governance, impulsive borrowing, mismanagement, profligacy (the president seems to have developed a penchant for flying on luxury private jets junketing around the world), unbridled corruption, cronyism and a tone-deaf attitude to sound criticisms and advice has always been that ‘God would save the situation.’ However it has gotten worse.

Appearing on a TV show, he was asked: “Will Jesus be happy with the way you have handled the economy?”

Skirting around, he said: “I think it’s an issue of wellness and obedience to what Christ would like us to do. With the good job done over the period, yes. With the holy spirit guiding us with the things we do, yes. Am I confident that he is leading us in the right direction? Unequivocally, I think in difficult times his power will emanate, and I am very confident about where he will take us.”

In March 2019, he led a party at the grounds of the Ministry to celebrate the successful end of an IMF programme, the appreciation of the cedi against the US dollar and a successful floating of Eurobonds – to accumulate more debt.

But everyone looking closely at the economy would easily be able to tell that the economy is in tatters. The inflation rate for the month of June is officially almost 30 per cent, driven by the cost of transportation, fuel, housing and food. The standard of living of many Ghanaians has dropped.

In December 2016 Ghana’s public debt was GH¢122.6 billion which was 73.3 per cent of GDP.

Ofori-Atta was appointed Minister in January 2017, and by November 2017 the country’s total public debt had hit GH¢138.8 billion, which is 68.7 per cent of GDP.

Currently, as at June 2022 the country’s public debt according to the Bank of Ghana has increased to GH¢393.4 billion, almost 80 per cent of GDP.

With the country saddled with debts it’s unable to pay, with Eurobond redemptions hanging in the balance and fiscal environments in bad shape, the ratings agency, S&P has downgraded the country to junk status with a negative outlook.

An S&P C downgrade means currently the country is vulnerable to nonpayment and dependent on favorable business, financial and economic conditions. In other words, the country can’t access commercial loans, and it’s unable to pay its debts, making its economy a high risk for investments, and largely speculative.

While the COVID-19 pandemic and Ukraine-Russia war have affected economies around the world, it does appear that even without these circumstances, Ghana’s economy was already being poorly managed and would have been in crisis.

It won’t be out of place to liken his attitude to that of Nero, who played the fiddle while Rome burned. Ghana’s Finance Minister is thumping his Bible while the economy tanks.

By Emmanuel K Dogbevi

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