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Kwesi Botchwey - PNDCs economic pillar falls

BY: Suleiman Mustapha
Prof. Kwesi Botchwey
Prof. Kwesi Botchwey

He steered the country out of the economic turmoil in the 1980s and was largely credited for the success of the economic recovery programme.

He was the reference point for increases in petroleum products who got people waiting anxiously by their television sets to listen to the measures he would outline to salvage the country from the economic malaise of the early 1980s.

Kwesi Botchwey’s name was on every screen and on every lip, his name featured prominently in every conversation at the time. At the time, he was the main economic craftsman.

As the PNDC Secretary of Finance and Economic Planning since 1982, he was confronted with an economy in deep crisis, and he worked assiduously leading the team to pioneer far-reaching economic reforms. The choice to take the country through the structural adjustment programme promoted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund was a huge challenge to his ideological principles. He was, however, vindicated as the economic reform programme placed the country on the path of growth and worked to provide mitigating schemes that sought to protect the poor.

That was the stuff Dr Kwesi Botchwey was made of.

Kwesi B’ died at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, on Saturday, November 19, 2022, where he was receiving medical care.
A state burial service will be held for Prof. Botchwey at the forecourt of the State House today after which a private burial will be held.

Economic recovery architect

Professor Botchwey was the architect behind the PNDC’s four-year programme of economic austerity and sacrifice that was to be the first phase of an Economic Recovery Programme (ERP).

He felt that if the economy were to improve significantly, there was the need for a large injection of capital— a resource that could only be

obtained from international financial institutions of the West.

But those on the PNDC's ideological left, however rejected consultation with such agencies because those institutions were blamed in part for the nation's predicament.

Precisely because some members of the government also held such views, Professor Botchwey felt the need to justify World Bank assistance to Ghana in 1983:

“It would be naive and unrealistic for certain sections of the Ghanaian society to think that the request for economic assistance from the World Bank and its affiliates means a sell-out of the aims and objectives of the Ghanaian revolution to the international community”.

“. . . . It does not make sense for the country to become a member of the bank and the IMF and continue to pay its dues only to decline to utilise the resources of these two institutions”, he said at the time.

He served in the military era of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) (1982 to 1991) and the constitutional period of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) (1992 to 1995).

He will go down in the history books of the country as the longest serving finance minister. He served in office alongside the longest serving head of state, the late former President, Jerry John Rawlings.

The late economist received his secondary school education at the Presbyterian Boys’ Senior High School in Ghana. Prof Botchwey held an LL.B. from the University of Ghana, LL.M from Yale Law School, and a doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School.

Political engagement

Professor Kwesi Botchwey was a pragmatist and a true democrat. He was at the forefront in deepening democracy in the NDC party and the nation as a whole. He campaigned and won the hearts of many Ghanaians despite the poor showing at the polls in electing the flag bearer for the NDC. He continued to serve the NDC party in different capacities including acting as head of a 13-member committee charged to investigate the causes of the NDC party’s worst electoral defeat in 2016. He was also a member of the Council of Elders and Economic Management Team of the NDC party.

Higher Education

Gaining admission to the University of Ghana, he attained his first degree in law in 1966 and was called to the Ghana bar in 1967. His friends on campus then included His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo, current President of the Republic of Ghana. Due to his exceptional performance in the Law faculty, Legon, he was granted a scholarship to study at Oxford University in the United Kingdom, just like his classmate and friend the late Professor Evans Atta-Mills, ex-President of the Republic of Ghana. At the same time, he also won a scholarship for a Master’s programme at Yale University in the United States of America. He chose the US over the UK and so it was that he set off in 1968 to undertake his graduate studies first obtaining a Yale Law School Master’s degree and reading for the Doctorate of Juridical Sciences (SJD) at the University of Michigan.

It was his formal education and exposure to the sweeping social movements and ideological thoughts in America that expanded his knowledge about Marxism as a tool for social development and justice. He associated himself with the cause of the Black Panther Movement which was a Marxist –Leninist black power political organisation fighting for social justice in America in the 1960s.

As a teacher

He taught at the University of Zambia, the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and the University of Ghana. Other notable previous assignments of Prof Botchwey were advisor to the World Bank on the 1997 World Development Report.

He was, among others, a member and chairman of IMF‘s Group of Independent Experts who conducted the first ever external evaluation of the Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility, an advisor to the UNDP‘s UN Special Initiative on Africa and an advisor to the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM).

The economist, academician and politician was born on September 3, 1944 in the Central Region of Ghana. Botchwey is a Professor of Practice in Development Economics at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University.

The Yale Law School Master's graduate, who also read the Doctorate of Juridical Sciences (SJD) at Michigan University in 1972, has a large number of publications on a wide range of economic, political and developmental issues to his credit.

Among them are "Growth and Poverty Alleviation in Africa," "Globalisation: What has it meant for Africa and what does the future portend," "Mobilising capital flows in support of accelerated development" and "Ownership of National Development programmes," among others.

While serving as Finance and Economic Minister, Dr Botchwey was a development advisor at the Harvard Institute for International Development.

He left for the Harvard Centre for International Development as Director of African Programmes Research, in 1998, where he lectured in "Managing Economic Reform in Low Income Countries" at the Kennedy School at the Harvard University.

Since July 2002, he had been Senior Research Scholar, Centre for Globalisation and Sustainable Development, the Earth Institute and Columbia University (USA).

... Gifted fixer, plain, simple

By John Dramani Mahama

The passing of my elder brother Kwesi ‘B’, as I called him, after a short illness has left me, the hordes of our compatriots and the nation at large numb with deep sadness. We are yet to come to terms with this new reality that for the first time, we will no longer have the benefit of his ever readiness to serve his party, his country and his God.

It is difficult to accept that your party, the NDC, can today no longer draw upon your sharp intellect, profound knowledge and varied expertise that served as a bulwark of stability for our economy, leading to the birthing of our enduring Fourth Republic. It is painful to accept that you would not be physically present to consult when the NDC returns to power to pursue its goal of changing the fortunes of the people of Ghana.

It is sad to accept that we have had our last “buga” dance and our plans to celebrate you in grand style on your 80th birthday will no longer be possible.

Kwesi ‘B’ was a gifted fixer – plain and simple. He was the longest-serving Finance Minister of our republic for a reason. A man of immense intellectual acumen and practical wisdom, his life had been one of selfless service to his country and humanity.

Significantly, his service led to the transformation of lives across the globe. He was a statesman par excellence and a national treasure.

It is a measure of his industry, scholarly credentials and depth of knowledge that he served at various capacities both at home and abroad, including sharing his expertise with global organisations and bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, United Nations (UN), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Commonwealth.

In spite of this incomparable resume, Prof. Kwesi Botchwey never yielded to the temptation of engaging in self-adulation and promotion but preferred to have his work speak for him. This is a vital lesson of servanthood that all of us, especially politicians, must emulate. This is why he was a man I admired greatly.

Former President Mahama in a hearty chat with Prof. Botchwey

Service

He continued to serve in various capacities, the last being member of the Council of Elders of the NDC, until he was finally called to rest. Even after retirement, the statesman that he was, he continued to serve till the very end.

You have served your God, your fellow man, your country and your party faithfully, and you have earned your due rest. But being human, we would have preferred to have you around a bit longer, especially now that your country is going through torrid economic times.

We are reminded, however, by the words of the Priest-Poet John Donne who remarked that: “God himself took a day to rest in, and a good man's grave [or death] is his Sabbath.”

Kwesi ‘B’, the cruel hand of death has only severed our physical connection: it may have ended a life but never the ties, memories and inspiration you left with us that continue to spur us on.

Never to be forgotten

You are gone but will never be forgotten as long as the NDC exists;

You are gone but will never be forgotten as long as the story of the economy of our country is told;

You are gone but will never be forgotten whenever we recall some of the greatest sons and daughters our country has ever produced.

The poet Emile Dickenson was right about you:

“Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves

And Immortality.”

Because you were driven by a desire to improve the livelihood of your people, you never stopped to take a deserved rest. Your friends, comrades, party and nation, with a grateful heart, bid you farewell.

May God Almighty grant you peaceful repose.

... A legend

By Nii Moi Thompson

Like most Ghanaians, I was shocked by the sudden death of Prof. Kwesi Botchwey, Ghana’s longest-serving Finance Minister, and, more recently, Chairman of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), on November 19, 2022 in Accra.

Shocked because only a couple of weeks earlier, I had spoken to him about “the book”, and he had assured me – as he had on previous occasions – that he would soon finish it. “Chairman,” I said, “we need that book more than ever before. It’s taking too long”.

“The book” was his memoir – his life as an academic (at home and abroad), a public servant, as an elder statesman, and of course a family man.

I was the Director-General of the Commission when he chaired it, and so I had a chance to engage him in close quarters on some of the contents of the forthcoming memoir and many of the development changes facing Ghana.

I first heard of Prof. Botchwey in the early 1980s when he became finance minister of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) under Flt Lt Jerry Rawlings, and he had to shoulder the burden of leading Ghana out of a decade-plus of economic rot and social despair.

Interventions

I was a young economics student in America then and naturally took a keen interest in his work and the overall turmoil that was then roiling the country’s economy. There was the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP), funded and supported by donors such as the International Monetary Fund, and the more-targeted Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), funded mainly by the World Bank.

Both appeared to have brought some relief – but at a social cost, with poverty rising as thousands of civil servants were laid off or “redeployed” into other occupations. The ERP, for instance, abolished price controls, long a misguided feature of the economy that had led to shortages of basic commodities like bathing soap and cooking oil. The removal of controls led to an immediate increase in prices but only briefly; soon enough, hoarders began to flood the market with their goods, and prices actually declined.

Mass layoffs

The mass layoffs from a bloated government bureaucracy and the decision to charge “economic rates” for certain social services, however, had the unintended effect of worsening poverty across the country. Prof. Botchwey and his team came up with the Programme of Action to Mitigate the Social Cost of Adjustment (PAMSCAD), which would go on to have a mixed record, at best.

This called for a critical evaluation of Ghana’s development strategy. Instead of fighting fires every few years with IMF and World Bank support, the PNDC concluded that Ghana needed a long-term road map to guide its development, bring about some predictability and stability.

The result was the establishment of the National Development Planning Commission and the preparation of Ghana’s first long-term national development plan, Vision 2020, which, sadly, was abandoned after 2000 partly because it had Mr. Rawlings’s picture in it.

In 2009, I met the legendary Prof. Botchwey for the first time at the inaugural meeting of an economic advisory council that Prof. John Evans Atta Mills had set up upon assuming office as president. We were both members, and we soon forged a close working relationship when he learnt that I had attended primary school at Agona Swedru, next to Agona Asafo, where he was chief.

Appointment

I soon left to take up an appointment as a senior economist with United Nations Development Programme(UNDP) South Africa, although I remained a virtual member of the council. We communicated off and on via email afterwards. Our physical paths crossed again in September 2014 when President John Mahama appointed him chairman of the Commission and I was hired by the Public Services Commission as director-general in the same month.

Together we set out to prepare what is now known colloquially as Ghana’s 40-Year Development Plan. Amidst a hectic schedule of public consultations and Commission meetings, we found time to discuss and debate topical issues of development. I learned a great deal from him in the process.

Once, he said, referring to his time as finance minister, he decided to investigate why government’s capital expenditure was increasing but the country’s infrastructure was not seeing any significant improvement: It turned out that most of the money was going into purchasing vehicles and other luxuries for government officials. When he cracked down, he became even more hated by his colleagues who thought he was too tight-fisted with public money.

One of our most memorable conversations was about the circumstances that led to his resignation as finance minister in 1995, after 13 years at the helm. Prof. Botchwey was a polyglot who, besides English, spoke his native Fante, Hausa, Twi, and, Ga fluently. We communicated almost entirely in Ga. And so I say, “Chairman, yaa wor odzogbann”.