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18 June 2014

The True State Of The Economy And A Government In A State Of Denial: The NPP’s Response To The Senchi Consensus, And Connected Matters… June 2014.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for making the time to be at this Press Conference. The NPP has since 2011 sounded alarm bells about the state of Ghana’s economy. Every time these alarm bells have been sounded, we have been met with derisory comments and insults by Government Ministers, NDC communicators, supporters and apologists.  At the outset the language of government was “I care for you” which transformed overnight into a “Better Ghana Agenda.” Subsequently, they shifted gear to, “Unprecedented achievements” and, lately, “working for you”. Today, in the face of a glaring economic crisis, the talk is about “challenges”.

The NPP’s assessment of the Ghanaian economy so far point to an economy with weak and deteriorating fundamentals, including:

1.    Declining Real GDP Growth; 
2.    Increasing Inflation;
3.    Double digit fiscal deficits for two years in a row, and, most likely, three years in a row since the indications are not good for 2014;
4.    Double digit current account deficits for two years in a row, and, most probably, three years in a row, since the pointers are in that direction for 2014;
5.    Huge and increasing central bank financing of government;
6.    Massive increase in the public debt stock;
7.    A weakening currency;
8.    High Interest rates;
9.    Net international reserves at a precarious level, as we speak today, covering less than 2 weeks of import cover;
10.    Government unable to meet its statutory obligations especially, in respect of NHIA, GETfund, Roadfund DACF;
11.    Declining consumer and business confidence;
12.    Ever worsening unemployment situation with significant lay offs occurring in large, medium and small scale enterprises.

In January this year when the NPP Minority Caucus held a press conference and warned of problems that were looming we were labeled as doomsayers. Subsequently, Dr. Bawumia was taken to the cleaners by the usual NDC - inclined commentators and hatemongers for daring to provide a diagnosis to our ailing economy.

Notwithstanding the scathing attacks unleashed on the NPP parliamentary group, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia,  and others who have questioned the direction of our economy, the NPP’s assessment of the state of Ghana’s economy has been subsequently corroborated by the IMF Staff Report dated May 30, 2014, The World Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, Fitch, Standard and Poors, Moody’s and, most recently, by Dr. Kwesi Botchwey, Ghana’s longest serving Minister of Finance.
The proposals to salvage the economy being advocated by the IMF call for more austerity measures – i.e. raising more revenue and cutting back on expenditures. Dr. Botchwey has a different proposal which calls for the restoration of fiscal discipline. A resort to either of these courses would require hard choices. 

We will explain the choices that may have to be made in our next engagement with the good people of this country.
After denying the NPP’s assessment of the state of the economy and even threatening a counter-lecture, the NDC proceeded to organize a National Economic Forum in Senchi. The NPP did not attend the Senchi Forum for reasons that we have already stated. What is clear is that the NPP’s stance on the Senchi Forum was vindicated by the outcome of the Forum as captured in the 22-point summary of the consensus arrived at. Reading that summary, one wonders whether the country needed such a forum to arrive at that consensus organized at a high cost at the expense of the tax-payer.

These conclusions have been the same issues which the NPP Parliamentary group, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia the two-time running mate to Nana Akuffo Addo and many others including Dr. Paa Kwesi Nduom have repeatedly raised but which unfortunately, albeit characteristically, have always aroused negative rapid response, including personal attacks from the attack dogs of government.

 THE SENCHI FORUM has yielded a 22 – point CONSENSUS namely:

1. That the Directive Principles of State Policy (Chapter 6 of the 1992 Constitution) must continue to guide the national development effort, anchored in a long term national development framework with a compelling vision.

2. That long term national interest should supersede all other interests.

3. That the State encourages and promotes indigenous entrepreneurship and continues to execute projects and programmes commenced by the previous Government.

4. Foster a state whose day-to-day management is supported by a professionally competent civil service working in an environment devoid of political victimization and intimidation and where support for the Government is not interpreted as political affiliation.

5. It is imperative to strengthen the Public Accounts and Finance committees of Parliament to play their oversight responsibilities more effectively; and also to develop a mechanism for effective synergy and coordination between the Monitoring Units of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) and the Office of the President.

6. That a mechanism to effectively monitor, evaluate and reform the use of statutory funds transferred to public sector institutions such as the District Assembly Common Fund (DACF), National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFUND) must be established.

7. That government should establish a One-Stop-Shop for investments, electronic templates to simplify business processes, streamline the activities of the Ghana Export Promotion Council (GEPC), Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC) and Free Zones Board, and strengthen the capacity of the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) and other statistical reporting agencies to deliver reliable and timely economic and social statistics for planning, research and development.

8. The Ministry of Finance should as a matter of urgency review the targets set in the 2014 budget. The review must identify likely deviations and make proposals for plugging the resultant financing gap while the Bank of Ghana traces the implications of the revisions for monetary policy.

9. That a mechanism must be established to realign the budget whenever the economy is affected by unanticipated shocks

10. Government must strengthen the regulatory authorities to protect consumers and ensure the enforcement of standards.
11. Further steps must be taken to support Small-Medium Scale Enterprises (SME) in order to protect jobs.

12. That further efforts must be made to improve the efficiency of tax collection as well as broaden the tax base and reduce recourse to the introduction of new taxes. The incidence of discretionary tax exemptions should be reviewed and reduced.

13. Bank of Ghana should expedite work on the assessment of the recently announced foreign exchange measures and take speedy and appropriate action to restore confidence and relieve the unintended consequences of the measures.

14. Consideration should be given to the amendment of the Bank of Ghana Act to set a ceiling on its lending to government that is based on government’s revenue collection in the previous year, rather than the current year as is currently that case. This should be separated from the ceiling on total net domestic borrowing by government.

15. An investment programme to deal with the energy crisis must be put in place as a matter of urgency in order to propel growth, employment, competitiveness, and macroeconomic stability.
16. That government must take steps to revamp the manufacturing and agriculture sectors to encourage domestic production of some agricultural products as well as import substitutable manufactured goods.

17. Ghana needs accelerated implementation of the current plan to develop the interbank foreign exchange and money markets to ensure active primary and secondary trading.
18. For the purposes of encouraging high national productivity, government, labour and the private sector must collaborate to institute a management and labour productivity crusade including the introduction of a Service Charter that ensures that productivity is matched with remuneration.

19. That  steps must be taken to develop long term financing instruments to minimize reliance on short term financing.

20. That a clear and simplified policy framework to help grow and migrate the informal sectors into the formal is urgently required. As such steps must be taken to simplify business registration process, non-mandatory SSNIT contribution up to a minimum number of employees by informal sector operators.

21. We your fellow Ghanaians recognize that socio-economic development is a journey, not a destination. As such, efforts to build a national consensus and long-term plan must also take the mode of a journey. We therefore recommend that the National Economic Forum be institutionalized and that a committee be established to explore various options and model for undertaking this process of institutionalization.

22. Government must take steps to galvanize consensus around other issues of national importance, especially with respect to political governance nation-building matters, and should initiate a process of involving citizens whose experience, insight and expertise will enhance economic policy management and national governance.

Ladies and Gentlemen, with the economy rapidly running out of international reserves, a rising inflation, government unable to meet statutory payments and thus piling up arrears, mounting arrears to contractors and also public sector wages and salaries, a rapidly depreciating currency which is happening on a daily basis, an ongoing  power crisis, a continuing upward adjustment of petroleum prices attributable, primarily, to the daily fall of the cedi, a general increase in the cost of living and the cost of doing business, how is the Senchi consensus going to deal  with these problems?

 It is clear that the Senchi Economic Forum did not restore confidence in the economy and economic management in general. If there is an implementation plan it is not known to the public. The cedi has continued to depreciate and is currently above GHC3.0 to the US dollar with no end in sight.

Fellow Ghanaians it is instructive to note that the discussions at Senchi apparently did not reach any consensus on one of the most important issues bedeviling our economy: the issue of corruption. With corruption having been elevated to the level of a serious hallmark of this NDC government as regards Woyome, Isofoton, Waterville, Construction Pioneers and other Judgment debts, GYEEDA, SADA, SUBAH, the Merchant Bank and Ridge Hospital scandals, STX etc. how could the Senchi Consensus not have had a word about the canker of corruption?

The Government needs to be serious. The New Patriotic Party offers the following policy proposals which should be implemented as soon as possible to deal with the current crisis facing the economy:

1.    The government has to admit that the economy is in crisis so that it can carry the country along and get public support for the tough remedial measures it may have to take. The treatment of an ailment is as good as its diagnosis. The denial must stop. The problem will not go away by refusing to acknowledge it.
2.    There must be policy credibility to assure markets and investors that Ghana is a safe bet. In this regard, the President and government should refrain from making new promises and commitments of expenditure for new programs when it is unable to even meet statutory expenditures. Such promises do signal a lack of appreciation of the current situation and reinforce the loss of confidence in the economy.

3.    Government should restore fiscal discipline by ensuring that we cut our coat according to our size. Measures such as:

a.     ensuring value for money in the award of government contracts, especially by conducting scrupulous due diligence before the award of contracts as well as allowing parliament space and resources to better delve into government contracts before approval is given.
b.    Reducing revenue leakages
c.     Expansion of the tax net through the formalization of the economy. The issue of biometric National ID cards and the implementation of a working street address system are critical to the formalization of the economy.
d.    Dealing effectively with corruption in the management of public finances, especially by bringing to a halt the unbridled resort to restricted tendering and sole sourcing
e.    Undertaking a proper biometric-based payroll audit to eliminate ghost workers as well as implement biometric based payment system for all public sector workers to deal with fraud in government payroll.

4.    While the government must restore fiscal discipline as a matter of urgency,  that alone will not be enough going forward. Restoring the confidence of investors and financial markets requires a policy framework that would provide assurance that the fiscal excesses would not happen in the future. Successive governments have acquired the skill for restoring fiscal discipline for short periods only to engage in the fiscal indiscipline again, especially in election years. Ghana must therefore put in place an EFFECTIVE legal framework to make sure that politicians on all sides are discouraged from wreaking havoc on the poor people of Ghana for their own selfish interests. There must be a price to pay for such fiscal indiscipline. We need a legal framework to anchor fiscal discipline. The existing laws such as the Financial Administration Act are obviously not effective because they were unable to prevent the fiscal excesses of 2008 and 2012. The passage and enforcement of a strong and aggressive Fiscal Responsibility Act that has teeth will be important in this regard if it is supported by political will. A Fiscal Responsibility law will require government to declare and commit to a fiscal policy that can be monitored. It will include fiscal rules (including rules governing election year spending), provisions for transparency and sanctions (including sanctions on the Executive when it breaches the Appropriation Act as was done brazenly in 2012). An announcement to this effect along with actual follow through will boost the confidence of the markets and investors.

5.    In response to the economic difficulties, government has resorted to increasing taxes on virtually every good or service. These higher taxes have served to increase the cost of doing business in Ghana compared with neighboring countries and would reduce economic growth. The plain truth is that import duties in Ghana are too high and discourage production and investment.  In the globally competitive world that we find ourselves today, most countries that manufacture goods for export also import a significant proportion of its raw materials. These countries have come to understand that high import tariffs can increase their cost of production and make them uncompetitive globally and therefore to support higher production and exports, import tariffs are kept relatively low. The philosophy of taxing everything to raise revenue must be re-examined. It is possible for one to actually raise more revenue by reducing taxes to stimulate production.

6.    Government should as a matter of policy and urgency, significantly cut down on borrowing for now. The announced intention to borrow an additional $1billion from the capital market this year should be shelved because it would only be achieved at very high cost which would worsen the fiscal and current account situation and make Ghana’s debt unsustainable. With low net international reserves, a double digit fiscal deficit, double digit current account deficit, and double digit inflation, Ghana may have to pay a very high interest rate, possibly, a double digit interest rate, for any sovereign bond issued this year.

7.    To restore confidence in the banking system and a degree of certainty in the foreign exchange regime, the Bank of Ghana should reverse the new directives relating to the forced conversion into cedis of repatriated export earnings and forced conversion into cedis of withdrawals from Foreign Currency account (FCA) and Foreign Exchange Accounts (FEA). There is no problem with repatriation of export proceeds but there must not be forced conversion of those proceeds into cedis. During the years 2002-2007 and 2010-2011 the cedi was relatively stable even though exporters were allowed to retain their repatriated earnings in dollars and foreign account holders were allowed to withdraw their savings in dollars.  These actions, therefore, were not the commissions that were  responsible for the depreciation of the cedi. However, the new directives are based on the rather wrong view that dollarization is responsible for depreciation of the cedi. International experience shows that regulations such as those issued by the Bank of Ghana tend to be short-lived in effect as market participants find ways to circumvent them.

Ultimately, as the NPP has often stated, only a fundamental transformation of Ghana’s economy from a raw material producing economy into an industrialized economy would bring about the much needed development with quality jobs. We presented this vision for transformation in our 2012 manifesto. In the meantime, the economy has to be managed prudently. The current problems are due to the mismanagement of the economy through fiscal and monetary indiscipline and wanton corruption by this NDC government..

Ladies and Gentlemen, whilst we are at this, we may use this occasion to inform fellow Ghanaians that we are in possession of evidence that shows that the Government with the complicity of the Bank of Ghana, has in fact illegally utilized the Petroleum Stabilization Fund. The first withdrawal of US$177 million was made in May 2014 in violation of the Petroleum Revenue Management Act (Act 815). We hereby strongly urge Parliament to investigate this issue and we ask the government and the Bank of Ghana to come clean on this.

Thank you for your attention



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