The interesting politics of bonds in Ghana

BY: Colin Essamuah
Ken Ofori-Atta, Finance Minister
Ken Ofori-Atta, Finance Minister

Today, I will write about things which stick in the mind long after the time they were made by public men and women, and how deeply they have affected us since then.

As I said last week, I was in Cape Coast and Abura Dunkwa on Sunday, August 12, 2018, to attend special services for three gentlemen associated with my church, the Methodist Church of Ghana, two of them were Mr Kofi Esson who brought Tullow Ghana Limited to Ghana and was thus instrumental in our oil discovery in 2007. The other being my own father who was head of the church from 1979 to 1984. But I did not mention the name of the third and very important person whose memorial service coincided with the activities concerning the other two, the late Vice President Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur.

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Concerning our Vice President, the officiating clergyman, the Most Rev. Titus Awotwi-Pratt, now retiring as the Presiding Bishop of the church, said two things which stuck in my mind and still lingers on. Most Rev. Pratt said that the late Vice President Amissah-Arthur was an ‘’icon of decency and discipline’’ as a high-ranking public servant and that the lives and deeds of such exemplary citizens ‘’lubricate our lives today.’’

Last week, I put my views across concerning the presidential idea of this country having a national cathedral for national Christian religious services, and was pleasantly surprised by the vitriol in my inbox the following days.

Apparently, some of us are stuck to the religious society of European states in the early Christian era to the Middle Ages which effectively ended with the Reformation and the emergence of Protestant denominations. I must repeat that I am unfazed by such unctuous religious bigotry.


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Bond

But not a day passes by these days without some headline-commanding news which gets us all animatedly involved discussing, supporting, damning and all else in our politics.

This is normal though it enrages some of us unnecessarily. I do remember clearly last year our President Nana Akufo-Addo reveling in this sort of national attention when he proposed changes to our list and description of national holidays in Ghana to include August 4th as Founders Day, and September 21st to be renamed President Nkrumah’s birthday.
None of these changes have happened yet, more than a year after the proposal and the back and forth in the public square. It is safe to say that no matter the loudness and certainty surrounding some proposals and promises, they would not see the light of day.

I believe that it would be same with the idea of Ghana floating a 100 year bond especially for infrastructural projects. 100 years? That means it is effectively our grandchildren and their children who would retire this proposed gargantuan debt from the national exchequer.

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The economics of this proposal alone are mind-boggling in the extreme and weird. But that is not my interest today. I am interested in the politics surrounding the proposal. First of all President Akufo-Addo in the official news release, was reported as using the word ‘’considering’’, meaning that as at now, the idea is not fully germinated and discussed at the ministerial and cabinet levels to assume the definite form we are all discussing now. The operative word ‘considering’ was repeated by Senior Minister Yaw Osafo-Marfo when he was asked about it early this week and shown on our television sets.

The importance of this observation is in my memory bank. In 1980 during the President Limann regime of the 3rd Republic, a symposium on the first budget of Finance Minister Prof. George Benneh was held at the auditorium of the now School of Business at Legon and among the participating speakers was the late JH Mensah representing the opposition Popular Front Party [PFP]. If my memory serves me right, I think it was Goosie Tanoh, who asked him about the need for long term economic planning in our budgets.

You have to remember this was at the height of the Cold War and this was a loaded question directed at the rightist party in Ghana and predecessor of the current ruling New Patriotic Party of the 4th Republic. JH simply and swiftly responded; ‘’the long term is a series of short terms,’’ to cheers from the audience.

U-turn?

The relevance of these examples is that at the vetting of the Senior Minister early last year, he spent some time debunking the logicality of the 40-year development plan for Ghana as proposed by the outgoing National Planning and Development Commission of Dr Nii Moi Thompson. Mr Osafo-Marfo claimed vigorously that such long term planning ties the hands of succeeding governments and by implication, cannot be acceptable to the New Patriotic Party (NPP)government. What has therefore changed to effect this dramatic volte-face in perspectives regarding the new bond because the Cold War ended long ago?

Obviously, two things come to mind immediately. The need for infrastructure on which alone accelerated development can rest is now an indisputable fact in development thinking and perspectives. Secondly, this acceptance represents an abandonment without apology to Ghanaians of the fervent NPP belief that voters cannot eat infrastructure.

For the wittily wicked, one may point out the considerable commissions paid out to selected actors in any such huge financial engineering that attract the vultures in our politics. Fifty billion dollars is no chicken feed everywhere on this planet so the pickings would be similarly huge.

Thirdly and most importantly, why does President Akufo-Addo and the ruling NPP believe that infrastructure built by them will not and cannot suffer the same electoral reception by Ghanaians?

A bond open to both local and foreign investors is of double certainty a loan contracted by a government which declared on the rooftops that all necessary monies for development could be found in Ghana, and there is therefore no need to seek for outside funds for this. This was absorbed by Ghanaians hence their vote in 2016.

It would be convenient for purposes of analysis to ask how current the plans of government regarding planning would be in 2050, for example, only 32 years hence and a third of the distance. The whole idea sounds so fanciful that detailed analysis may result in ridiculous assertions.

I will only advise the NPP to take the 1980 admonition of JH Mensah, plan very short term, execute successfully, and they will naturally in the passage of time, flow into a development structure that will satisfy voters and improve our livelihoods.

My readers will notice I made no reference to American concerns and Chinese ingenuity because in reality, our development is not about them but us. Our lies will not lubricate any lives.