Will his budget show he had a hard year?

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
Mr Kenneth Ofori-Atta, Finance Minister
Mr Kenneth Ofori-Atta, Finance Minister

This past Sunday, the man known as Ken, our Finance Minister, Kenneth Ofori-Atta, turned 63 years old.

He is working with his team on the 2022 Budget to present to Parliament next Monday.

Considering that a year ago, he was in hospital with COVID-19, in February, social media was announcing his death and a few weeks ago, social media was back speculating on how much longer he had to live, we are likely to be hearing more about the wonders of the Almighty even more enthusiastically.

This investment banker turned politician “does God” on a big scale.

He announces it as he presents himself with his default white clothes, as recommended by the book of Ecclesiastics.

He does not need to tell you that he reads the Bible; he peppers his conversation, his speeches, his life and his writings with quotations from the Bible.

But it is important to make the point that his occupation from when he left school until he resigned in 2012 from Databank was to make money for himself and help others make as much money as possible.

If you wonder about how the Bible and Christianity bit fit into making money, he is unapologetic about being a Christian and he is ready to use his knowledge of the Bible to get himself out of tricky situations.

There he was, on his feet in Parliament reading the Budget three years ago and the opposition bench was in full flow heckling as best they could and the chant went up: “4-1-9”, which to the uninitiated, means fraud. In other words, they were suggesting the Finance Minister could not be believed, he was a “4-1-9”.

Without missing a breath, he asked them to turn to Philippians chapter 4, verse 19, in other words, not only was he not a killjoy, he could give as much as he could take.

There was a 419 in the Bible which says: “And my God will meet all your needs, according to the riches of his glory”.

That gave them pause and while they digested it, he went on to deliver his speech.

Popular

Ministers of Finance are usually not the most popular members of any government. No minister can get as much money as he wants and when money is short as it has been in this government, the Minister of Finance stands in danger of becoming the hate figure or the easiest one to blame when things don’t go right.

Kenneth Nana Yaw Kuntunkununku Ofori-Atta is not an easy person to hate, there is nothing extreme about him.

He looks, sounds and acts as though he couldn’t hurt a fly, even if he wanted to.

He is a small man even with what looks like the beginnings of a protruding stomach in the past few months as a result of the treatments for his post-COVID complications.

He is calm and never raises his voice, a terribly deceptive cover for a most unshakable man who it is almost impossible to move, once he has made up his mind.

He came for the Finance Minister job very well prepared.

His story as a financial service man is well known. After Columbia and Yale, he worked with Stanley Morgan and Salomon Brothers on Wall Street for 10 years.

Then he came back home to Ghana and with Keli Gadzekpo and James Akpo (Togbe Afede XIV), founded Databank, and the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

By the time in 2012 that he resigned from Databank and all his commercial commitments to join the campaign of Candidate Akufo-Addo as fund-raiser and strategist, you could safely say that he was a financially stable man.

Indeed, rich enough to be able to donate his salary as Minister of Finance to charity and confident enough to drive a locally assembled saloon car.

Twice he had left well-paid positions to undertake adventures that could so very easily have ended in tears.

He left Wall Street to come back home to try something that was completely new and thirty years later, he left Databank to join a campaign team of a man in opposition.

He offers what he says is one of his favourite Bible verses to explain what drives him, or would it be what props him up?

2 Timothy 1:7: ‘The Lord gave us a spirit, not of timidity but of courage, love, and self-discipline’

His first decision certainly ended up much better than he could have dared imagined; Databank and all the other enterprises remain flourishing businesses.

First three years

The first three years as Minister of Finance certainly went as well as he could have wished for, the deficit and debt shrunk, growth returned and the World Bank named him “Africa Finance Minister of the Year” for 2018 and appointed him chairman of the bank’s Development Committee.

He is the first person to have been appointed to continue in the position of Minister for Finance in the second term of a Government under the 4th Republic.

But before then, COVID had intervened dramatically on the job front and personally.

The pandemic caused havoc to the economy and his carefully nurtured and managed figures went awry and he has been thrown into totally unchartered territory.

As if the economy being battered wasn’t enough, he got COVID himself and got very ill, spending time in hospital and then getting post-COVID complications that have required him going to spend time in hospital in the USA twice this year.

It is obvious that his two main anchors, Christian faith and solid knowledge of how the financial world works, are going to be tested and stretched to the full.

He sounds like he is prepared for the worst that can be thrown at him.

He comes from a famous and sometimes notorious family and it is worth keeping in mind that his favourite among the plethora of Ofori-Attas is Paa Willie, aka, William Ofori-Atta, which is probably where the love of Christianity and Bible quotations come from.

There wasn’t very much that wasn’t thrown at Paa Willie in his many years in public life and he Vsurvived with dignity.

On Monday when Ken Ofori-Atta stands up in Parliament, there will be lots of curious minds following his performance.

Some will be asking is it going to be another of those marathon budget speeches and will his health hold out?

It is bound to be a hard budget, what Bible verses will he find to spice the complicated figures?

He will be buoyed by the knowledge that the President of the Republic, whose budget he is reading, has more than political interest in him and would be cheering him on. Prof. Angie his wife, Ohemaa, Okatakyie, Yirenkyi, Lillian and Abyna Madame would be leading the cheers that would drown out the heckles.

The rest of Ghana will be holding its breath, there is a lot hanging on these figures coming from a man with renewed reasons to be grateful to God.