At 5p.m. today, Wednesday March 5, 2014, the inaugural Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu Memorial Lecture will be delivered at the British Council Hall, Accra. The event will mark the start of an annual series of lectures dedicated to the life and work of Kwadwo Baah -Wiredu, who died on September 24,2008, in South Africa while serving as Ghana’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning under President John Agyekum-Kufuor.
It is significant that this is coming on the eve of the 57th anniversary of Ghana's trailblazing achievement as Black Africa's first independent state. It also comes a week after the commemoration of the 28th February road shooting, which cost the lives of Sergeant Adjetey, Lance Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey-Lamptey.
Our nation was built on the sweat, dedication and, most importantly, the sacrifice of selfless and visionary leaders. For them, the need to take charge of our own affairs was grounded in increasing the well-being and welfare of the entirety of the people, It was about the Public Good instead of the Private Greed.
For nearly 60 years, we have been stuck in a quagmire of senseless debate about the relative roles played by our founding fathers or it is a founder. Never mind the semantics, I want to suggest that Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu is the first person to have earned and be deserving of the accolade of the first hero of selfless political and public service to Ghana since Independence.
Even as it was set in a partisan political context, Baah-Wiredu's life and works were devoted to improving the life and circumstances of Ghanaians everywhere. It was also imbued with an honesty and astonishing humility that is uncommon in the "do you know who I am? immodesty and self-centered exhibitionism of today's politicians and public overlords.
Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu’s tenure as Finance & Economic Minister was anchored on two irremovable pillars, namely: 1. The Public Finances of Ghana must be managed and accounted for as prescribed by the Constitution of Ghana; and, 2)That Public Service was an honour and recognition which was to be reciprocated through excellence in performance and humility at all times.
In November 2005, Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu was the first Minister of Finance & Economic Planning under the fourth Republic of Ghana to present the Annual Budget at the time prescribed under the Constitution of Ghana. He oversaw the passage of new legislation and effective implementation of existing laws that led to the strengthening and entrenchment of greater transparency and discipline in Ghana’s Public Finances.
As Finance Minister, Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu was not content with the allocation and disbursement of the Consolidated Fund. For him, it was more important to ensure that Ghana’s public funds were used judiciously to achieve the purposes intended, but to do so on time and in a manner that would pass the smell test of honesty, integrity and transparency.
Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu was regarded by all who worked and interacted with him as a true and honest partner; fully committed and ready to roll up his sleeves to ensure the achievement of synergistic outcomes for the country, the creators of our wealth and the well-being of all the people.
I had the privilege and pleasure to work as his Special Adviser on Budget Implementation from 2004-2006. It was the most fascinating and rewarding experience in my public life. Watching the incredible mixture of steeliness, accountability and purposefulness mixed with the 'we are all equal' attitude and work ethic that he showed to all he encountered, was the best show of political leadership I have encountered.
First, to use powerpoint to present the budget; first to make sure that the full Budget Statement would be available online by the time he finished his presentation; first to make sure that the highlights were presented in a language and format understood by the majority of our people; first minister to pay impromptu regular visits to the institutions within and beyond his jurisdiction with no cameras following him.
Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu was a unique politician and public servant whose calibre we have not seen for a very long time. He entered the University of Ghana in 1974 and obtained a B.Sc. in Administration (Accounting option). He went on to the Institute of Chartered Accountants and successfully qualified as a chartered accountant in 1985.
His early professional life included stints with Ghana Airways, the Volta River Authority, and as senior consultant and finance manager of Ananse Systems. Before entering politics, Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu was a founding partner of Asante, Wired and Associates, a firm of chartered accountants.
Kwadwo Baah- Wiredu also held the portfolios of Minister of Local Government & Rural Development (2001 – 2003) and Minister of Education, Youth & Sports (2003 -2005). He was also the Member of Parliament for the Asante-Akim North Constituency from 1997 till his death.
When news about his untimely death broke, the most immediate and generous tributes were paid by those supposedly in political opposition to him.
Then President Prof. John Mills described Baah-Wiredu as humble, respectful and great achiever. “It is a great loss to the nation, Ghana. He was one of the brilliant students and I was not surprised he excelled wherever he found himself”.
Former President Jerry Rawlings said: “Ghana has lost a dedicated son. Throughout his political career, he exhibited an element of humility which is lacking within our current political dispensation and which endeared him to his colleagues and political opponents alike".
Dr Kwabena Adjei, Chairman of the NDC, said: “Ghana has lost a fine hard-working, affable gentleman, who related with people without looking at any political colour.”
As Ghana moves into the middle income bracket and substantial revenues accrue from oil, the management and proper accounting for Ghana’s public funds is coming under severe scrutiny and public unease about pervasive corruption. The problem is exacerbated by the growing and perceptible disintegration of the oneness of purpose and co-operation of our politicians.
We are all agreed that we have serious and worsening problems with the judicious management and honest accounting for our national wealth, except that we now see the problem from fiercely the partisan perspective of “ I do no wrong but the same thing done by the other side is no good”
If we are to stop the rot and make full use of the burgeoning public purse to improve the life and well-being of the people of Ghana, we must recreate, infuse and sustain the two cardinal pillars that guided and sustained Kwadwo.
The Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu Memorial Lectures are being instituted as an annual public lecture on Management & Accounting for Ghana’s Public Finance.
The Inaugural lecture, titled “Fiscal policy, accountability and transparency as instruments for effective national development,” will be delivered by Prof. Gyan-Baffuor, who served as Deputy Minister of Finance & Economic Planning under Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu. The lecture will be chaired by Mr Seth Terkper, the current Minister of Finance & Economic Planning. The discussant will be Mr Moses Asaga, Chief Executive of the National Petroleum Authority (Downstream), and himself a former Deputy Minister of Finance.
The Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu Memorial lectures will be a permanent testament of our nation’s gratitude and a continuing reminder to all that Ghana’s public finances constitute our common wealth which must, and indeed, can always be managed prudently, honestly and transparently.
As Abraham Lincoln said, "Any nation that does not honour its heroes will not long endure,” so it is that as we prepare to celebrate Ghana's Independence Day tomorrow, let us miss tonight's rush hour traffic jam to join in celebrating a modern day national hero who built on the achievements of the founding fathers.
The writer is Chief Policy Analyst, Ghana Institute for Public Policy Options, GIPPO