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THE STATE OF GHANA’s ECONOMY– One Year into the current government’s administration…

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The Ghanaian economy has improved remarkably, after a substantial fiscal slippage in 2016. The current government upon its assumption of office on January 07, 2017 promised its citizenries of turning around the fortunes of the economy, which many had described as distressed with huge debts, high fiscal deficit and declining growth rate culminating in rising unemployment levels, into a country of industrialized economy.

On the back of these promises, Ghanaians cast their votes in support of the new government’s economic transformation agenda. One year into its activities, Ghanaian electorates have started to assess its achievements on the back of the promises presented to them during the electioneering period.

The government reportedly started off with an improvement in the first half of 2017. According to the World Bank, the fiscal deficit for the first half of 2017 was 2.7% of GDP— on track to meet its target of 3.5% of GDP.

The country’s total debt was seen to have increased from about GHc 122 billion at the end of 2016 to over GHc 140 billion even though the rate of external debt accumulation reduced from 73.1% of GDP to 68.1% of GDP in 2017.

In an interview with Professor Augustin Fosu of the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) at the University of Ghana on his assessment of the state of the Ghanaian economy, the economic Professor reveals that the economy has now recorded some macroeconomic stability after the impressive performance between 2016 and 2017.

“Certainly, growth has gone up by over 60%. That is more than two thirds– between these 2 years and that is quite impressive. It’s also true that there seems to be macroeconomic stability in the economy by way of reduction in the inflation rate from over 15 % or so down to about 10 %, and improvements in the fiscal and external balances as well as in the economic growth rate”.

A jobless growth?

Many have termed the growth in the economy as a ‘jobless growth’ as they believe that every economic growth must be able to create viable jobs for its citizenries but the current growth states otherwise. According to the latest figures released by the government, the economy has grown from 3.6% to about 8%, budget deficit reduced from 9.3% of GDP to 6.3% whilst international reserves have also increased to over $ 7 billion but has not culminated to job creation.

Professor Fosu however believes it would take more than a year for these to translate into the expected poverty reduction, job opportunities, etc.

“The fact of the matter is that sometimes it takes time for that to happen and from hindsight one would find that Ghana for instance experienced considerable growth since 1983 – but transforming the economy may take much longer and greater efforts. So, sometimes you may not see the results immediately; it takes some time” he noted.

Many also argue that even though these macroeconomic indicators are moving in the right direction, the growth offers limited employment opportunities. This is also mainly because the growth is underpinned by the services sector and the oil sub-sector which are unable to produce as many jobs as the agricultural sector and the manufacturing sector.

According to Professor Fosu, managers of the economy thus need to maximize the economic benefits of the oil sector by boosting the local content in the sector.

Converting the macro-gains into micro-benefits

The ISSER fellow believes the need for the macro-economic stability achieved so far to be translated into micro-economic benefits cannot be overemphasized.

“That can happen through certain policies to support business owners and enterprises in sectors such as the health care and education. So, there could be a number of government programs that can be used to assist those individuals who are not participating sufficiently in the production of the economy, in order to ensure that the average individual benefits,” he emphasized.

Meanwhile, the current government appears to be backing words with action having already emphasized a paradigm shift in the economic management from taxation to production in the 2017 budget. This saw the government review a number of what it deemed nuisance taxes in a bid to create a conducive climate for investment and job creation.

This included, among other initiatives, abolishment of the 1 percent Special Import Levy; the 17.5 percent VAT/NHIL on financial services; duty on the importation of spare parts as well as replacement of the 17.5 VAT/NHIL rate with a flat rate of 3 percent for traders.

With these initiatives from the government, Professor Fosu is optimistic these measures were timely in re-energizing the private sector to the benefit of the economy but wants government to do more by creating the enabling environment for businesses to thrive.

“Reducing taxes for businesses is important but businesses look beyond tax reductions. They look around to see whether indeed they get water for production, whether the electricity is available, sufficient and affordable, and whether transportation is not too expensive. These are important attributes when it comes to business investment.

This is what we call government effectiveness, that is, improvements in the economy to support and make it easier for the private sector to, for instance, also acquire lands for production purposes”.

“It may however take quite some time, certainly more than a year, before the expected impacts of such economic policies may be realized. Obtaining desired results also requires boosting revenues from a variety of sources, whilst reducing expenditures to free revenues for more productive activities,” asserts Professor Fosu.

The job creation agenda 

Unemployment remains a major challenge in the Ghanaian economy. Professor Fosu, like other analysts, blames it largely on the failure of successive governments to develop and implement policies that create sustainable employment opportunities in the economy.

“On the demand side, you reduce the cost of doing business so that investors would invest in the economy and employ people. But government has not done well in this respect.

On the supply side, I also think that there has been some misallocation of resources, that is, in terms of people who graduate from various tertiary institutions and cannot find jobs, and yet we continue to encourage that type of supply of people into the economy without making the appropriate investment on the demand side to absorb them,” he explained.

In a bid to finding a lasting solution to the country’s unemployment challenge, the government has rolled out policies such as One (1) District, One (1) Factory, Planting for Food and Jobs– also towards fulfilling its campaign promises. Even though analysts have generally hailed these initiatives as the panacea to the menace, some have expressed misgivings about the implementation.

Professor Fosu also said even though the initiatives indicate government’s commitment to proactively tackle the problem, the need for private sector participation cannot be over-emphasized if the policies are to yield sustainable results.

“There is no way the government can continue to provide the jobs that the country needs without assisting the private sector to provide the employment in the economy. There should be a lot of private-sector participation.

I don’t think the government, generally speaking, can be trusted to sustain the factories. We look around all over the place and where are the factories that the government began? What happened to them?  So personally, I don’t trust government to be able to sustain these initiatives except to provide favorable conditions for private-sector participation.

In some districts you may have a number of private investors interested in establishing certain factories and the government could assist in that particular process. In other districts, where that may not be the case, the project can thus wait until such basic requirements are met,” he stated.

The Professor, however, cautions against hasty implementation of particularly the One District, One Factory policy.   “If you look at it historically, this is one of the reasons we get into trouble economically. We rush into implementing such industrial policies and programs only for them to fail eventually.  So we have to be cautious this time around,” he cautioned.

Professor Fosu believes government should be given at least one more year to effectively deliver these policies. He is however also advising government to consider rolling out the One District One Factory program by beginning with the districts with viable factories rather than establishing factories across all the districts at the same time.

This, he says, is a better process and government may not even have all the requisite resources to support such projects.

“I don’t think it’s going to be feasible to have a factory for every district because we have about 216 districts. So we should limit it to the progress government is making and expect more down the line. What I’m suggesting is that sometimes it’s not a good idea to expect the government to accomplish everything, because it simply does not have the time and even if it does, the implementation might probably be shallow, which will not make the project last,” Professor Fosu noted.

The Free SHS policy in perspective

The Free Senior High School (SHS) policy which was rolled out in September 2017 is primarily to ensure equal opportunities for all and enhance human capital for the country.

Professor Fosu has hailed the policy which is one of the government’s flagship campaign promises but is impressing on government the need for a review in its implementation. According to him, the program, if not revised, may rather eventually deepen the country’s economic woes.

“First of all, let me salute the government for this policy. I think that is very commendable. But my concern is that, we will probably spend too much money at steady state and that means when the process is complete and we have all the three levels completed and the government is funding them, it will be spending about GHS 3 billion per year.

That’s a huge amount of money, and one may ask the question: what do you get out of it economically and politically? I think it’s good only because it means that those individuals are a little bit more literate so they can participate better in the democratic process, but then economically they are not sufficiently educated to be able to participate productively in the labor market, and that’s where my concern is,” he lamented.

According to him, the resources allocated for this program should have rather been used to improve the quality of the basic education.

“In a number of places around the country you see that the basic education is an eye-sore. The resources could have therefore been utilized in making sure that individuals leaving basic education have some technical skills to go into the job market and not necessarily the university. So, I think that in that sense there’s a misallocation of resources, so there needs to be a change”.

Professor Fosu dreads the unemployment situation could even be worsened by the conversion of the polytechnics into technical universities, as many graduates from these institutions would be expecting employment from government like regular university graduates, rather than participating in other sectors of the economy where there is strong demand for their technical and vocational skills.

Even though the review process for the Free SHS program remains a political decision, he is challenging government to start it as soon as possible.

“Try to understand the kinds of difficulty the program has encountered and begin the process of correcting them.  So, may be over time, as we look at the outcomes and implications of what has already been implemented, government can set up a fund to support the needy students and allow those who can afford to do so.

That way, government can save and utilize the savings made in other sectors that may badly need funding, whilst ensuring that individuals who finish the basic level or high school can also productively participate in the labor market without necessarily going to university,” he added.

The debt situation

Ghana’s debt situation remains a major factor hampering the country’s economic development. The President, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo, stated in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2018 that his government “inherited an economy that was in distress, choked by debt”.  

The country’s debt stock was pegged around GHS 122billion when the government assumed office but one year down the line, it’s over GHS 140 billion and according to the 2018 Budget Statement more borrowing is expected this year.

This notwithstanding, Professor Fosu is rejecting suggestions that the economy could be in a debt trap– spelling doom for the country.

“The causes are related to the extent that government revenues are used to pay interests on debt; then there’s the syphoning of funds that could be utilized more productively in the economy. So in that sense, debt can cause problems for the economy, but debt itself needs not to be a bane. Indeed, one can use additional debts to reduce debt.

It means that you borrow the funds and utilize them productively, and you get enough returns to pay the debt; as far as this government is concerned, it will be a little bit too early to begin to judge whether or not the debt reduction could be sustained,” he noted.

Latest figures by government also indicate that the rate of public debt accumulation has also declined from 36% to 13.6%, after reprofiling of debt stock. Professor Fosu has lauded government’s debt management strategy so far.

“The management strategy, I think, has been quite good and the economy has responded, leading to the reduction in the debt rate.  The government has managed to increase the maturity profile of the debt from short term towards medium term and long term, which I think is a very good idea.

Consequently, we have noticed first of all that the debt as a proportion of GDP has gone down a little bit. Secondly, the short-term interest rates have also come down significantly, from over 20 % to about 13 %, that is, the Treasury bill rates.

So, I think it would be unfortunate to conclude that because we have high debt that the government should not take on more debts. I think so long as we are utilizing the debts incurred productively, it’s probably the right way to go in reducing the debts in the long term,” he noted.

Ghana and the IMF

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2018 also reaffirmed his government’s determination to put in place measures to sustain the macroeconomic stability achieved so far to forestall seeking assistance from the International Monetary Fund, IMF.

Professor Fosu has highlighted the role of the IMF in the Ghanaian economy over the years as largely positive.

“All what one has to do is to go back to the early 1980’s when the economy was in distress. Then, we had the Economic Recovery Program, the ERP in 1983, followed by the structural adjustment programs. Despite the criticisms against the IMF, the programs have largely improved Ghana’s economic situation.

“There’s no doubt that they (IMF and World Bank) have had certain things wrong in certain economies. For example, you know what happened in the latter parts of 1980’s when they instituted the “Cash and Carry” system at the hospitals in Ghana – meaning if you don’t have the cash, you are not receiving health services and so on. There was also the problems with the restructuring such that a number of government workers were laid off – creating distress, but it’s also true that the government sector was over-loaded. So, I think that over all, the IMF can help achieve macroeconomic stability but the short term may cause problems,” he expatiated.

He adds that the possibility of Ghana exiting the program by the end of the year is nearly a reality given the economic progress made so far.

“I think that there’s not much support for continuing in the program so, if indeed, the government can demonstrate that it has instilled enough of discipline in the economy, and the macroeconomic stability is on-going; then there will be no need for the IMF to continue in that process.  But they need to create the discipline; they need to create the confidence in the economy first,” he noted.

Sustaining the economic growth

Ghana’s economy has witnessed considerable growth over the post-1982 period under various administrations. The challenge for the managers of the economy has however always been how to sustain the growth.

Professor Fosu is confident the economic successes chalked under this government’s first year in office can be sustained if it remains focused and ensures more discipline in the management of its finances.

“It is a fact that the budget deficit has been reduced significantly.  The question now becomes whether that can be sustained. And do I have confidence in the government to do so? I don’t know. It depends upon how they operate from now on; if they succeed in reducing corruption sufficiently in the economy, for example, then they can probably do it,” he remarked.

The deficit is largely caused by the perennial phenomenon of unbridled spending or overspending by incumbent governments in election years and this has been a major factor accounting for the country’s huge indebtedness.  The current government however says it’s been able to reduce the deficit from 10% to about 6.3% of the country’s GDP.

Professor Fosu however believes government needs to show more political will beyond passing the Fiscal Responsibility Act to deal with the deficit challenge once and for all.

“One of the things that I like about this government is that they have concluded that they are not going to tolerate corruption, and if they can succeed in reducing the amount of corruption, they could save huge amounts of revenues for the appropriate programs in the economy,” he said.

Many analysts have also argued that the country’s economic woes could be largely addressed if revenue mobilization was significantly improved.

“The migration from manual to electronic operation at the port has generated additional significant revenue for the government. With this policy most of our payments are made electronically and thus reduce, as much as possible, manual handling of payments in turn ensuring that not much is going into people’s pockets. So I think if the government can do these things well, revenues could increase,” Professor Fosu said.

The need to boost revenue has become even more crucial due to the president’s goal of building a Ghana beyond aid – a move Professor Fosu has welcomed as holding good prospects for the economy.

“No country can develop in the long run by relying too much on aid and, in some sense, Ghana has been moving away from that because currently grants that are used to support budgeted programs in Ghana are actually less than 1% of GDP; so, Ghana is already moving in that direction.

There are some things that are being done right now with respect to the control of corruption, such as the Special Prosecutor appointment, which can help instill fiscal discipline in the economy. We could raise a lot of revenues if we were to shut down a number of these corrupt practices, and those revenues would likely be much more than the aid that the country is getting from overseas,” he said.

Lessons from Singapore

The Singapore government has reportedly indicated plans to pay bonus to all citizens after a “surplus budget” according to the Hindustan Times.

According to Professor Fosu, Ghana has a lot to learn from the Asian country’s economic success, especially given that the two countries started off their economic trajectory around the same time.

“I think Singapore engaged the kind of policies that were private sector friendly and market friendly – influencing a lot of their businesses and investments in the country, as opposed to Ghana which rather believed that the government was capable of doing everything.

Instead of providing the public goods to support the private sector, the government of Ghana rather dissuaded private investors from participating in the economy, and that was the major problem.

“Initially, we had a number of very useful industrial productions like Akasanoma, the jute factory and all that.  These were good but not sustainable. There was no private ownership and that did not auger well for the economy.

So the very strong public participation in the economy was the bane of Ghana’s economy, but in the case of Singapore, it was exactly the other way around,” he revealed.

He is however optimistic that Ghana could follow the example of Singapore if and only if private sector participation is prioritized in the implementation of such economic policies whilst maximizing the economic benefits of Ghana’s natural resources.

“If indeed the policy to encourage private sector participation is put in place in the economic process, then it seems to me that we can increase production and then tax sufficiently; that could bring us this particular surplus.  Also, I think that infrastructure is key.

If you use the revenues from the natural resources to improve infrastructure in the economy, then that’s what will encourage the private sector participation and expand the base of the economy; then we can have the appropriate resources to grow the economy”.

He concluded by saying “Ghana is also one of the success stories, believe it or not.  It seems to me that it is about time that we stopped comparing ourselves with the Koreas, the Singapore’s and so on, and instead take account of what we have done since the early 1980’s; that’s a tremendous progress since the early 1980’s and if we can continue to maintain and sustain the policies, we can then sustain the momentum that’s required for us to continue and perhaps be a Korea or Singapore someday”.

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Business Interview

Expertise and investment– grounds for the “year Of return, Ghana 2019”

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Since the abolishment of slavery in 1833, descendants of Africans, who were uprooted from the continent and forced in labour on sugar and cotton plantains, in Europe, North America, the Caribbean and South America have traced their roots back to the continent.

Two African countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone, were actual destinations for ex-slaves from the Americas who wished to come back home to the continent as well as people rescued by the British Navy from slave ships en route to the Americas. 

Today, there are millions of African descendants who have made Europe, North America, the Caribbean and South America their home. Despite that, most of them still seek their roots on the African continent and are becoming more and more aware of their status as members of the African diaspora.

A significant part of the diaspora are also people who emigrated to North America and Europe seeking better lives and education as a result of conflict, poverty, lack of economic activity and political instability. These are emigrants who also do return or seek a return back to their homeland.

Various Governments’ call on the Diaspora

Several presidents of Ghana, from the days of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, a returnee himself who led the fight for independence, have tried to lure the members of the diaspora back to the continent and Ghana. In his maiden independence address, then–Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah sought to frame Africa’s liberation around the concept of Africans all over the world coming back to Africa.

“Nkrumah saw the American Negro as the vanguard of the African people,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., Director of the Hutchins Centre for African and African American Research at Harvard, who first travelled to Ghana when he was 20 and fresh out of Harvard, afire with Nkrumah’s spirit. “He wanted to be able to utilize the services and skills of African-Americans as Ghana made the transition from colonialism to independence.”

Even long before the attainment of independence and Gold Coast becoming Ghana, the political leaders of the Gold Coast reached out to the African Diaspora. There are letters from people like Casely Hayford, who was a major political leader in the 1910s and 1920s, to W.E.B DuBois and to Marcus Garvey.

But for a couple of decades now each president of Ghana has introduced a series of aggressive moves to bring their growing population of the diaspora back home. Even though these moves have been well planned, success has been mixed at best.

In 2000, when John Agyekum Kufuor became the President of the country, he appealed to the members of the diaspora to come back home to help develop the country. Also in 2000, the Parliament of Ghana passed a Citizenship Act in 2000 to make provision for dual citizenship, meaning that people of Ghanaian origin who have acquired citizenships abroad can take up Ghanaian citizenship if they so desire.

That same year the country enacted the Immigration Act, which provides for a “Right of Abode” for any “Person of African descent in the Diaspora” to travel to and from the country “without hindrance.”

At the time, Ghana has undertaken the first transfer of power from one civilian government to another with the ruling party also changing. That significant move positioned Ghana as the beacon of democracy on a continent that was ravaged by wars, poverty, economic paralysis, corruption and mismanagement at the highest levels.

The push to bring back Africans in the diaspora yielded some positives. Some Ghanaians in the diaspora did come home and helped the government undertake and establish some critical governmental and economic institutions.

A quick mention can be made about Nana Osei Bonsu, the current CEO of the Private Enterprise Federation (PEF) who came back to Ghana at the urging of President Kufuor. His expertise was leveraged to create the Venture Capital Trust Fund (VCTF), the first public sector led private equity/venture capital fund in the country.

Also, Rita Marley, the wife of Reggae Legend, Bob Marley, relocated to Ghana and is currently staying in the country. There are also recorded settlements of people from the Caribbean who now reside in Cape Coast in the Central Region and even as far as Techiman, in the newly created Bono East Region.

Then in 2007, the Joseph Project, which was led by the late Jake Obetsebi Lamptey when he was the Minister of Tourism and Diasporan Relations, was launched to mark the 50th year of independence, and to commemorate 200 years since the abolition of slavery and to encourage Africans abroad to return.

Similar to Israel’s policy of reaching out to Jews across Europe and beyond following the Holocaust, the Joseph Project is named for the Biblical Joseph who was sold into slavery in Egypt but would later reunite with his family and rule Egypt. It was seen as a medium to bring together, more closely, people in Ghana and brothers and sisters in the diaspora and establish Ghana as the true gateway to the homeland for Africans in the diaspora.

Since then various presidents have used other means to bring back diasporans back home. President John Dramani Mahama and President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the current president, have granted citizenship to members of the Caribbean community in the country. The current majority owners of Republic Bank come from Trinidad and Tobago, a Carribean country.

These moves are seen as measures to attract more of such personalities and institutions to help contribute significantly to economic growth and development.

Ghana sets the stage for The Year of Return

In September, 2018, when President Akufo-Addo was in the United States, he proclaimed 2019 as the ‘Year of Return’. Officially titled ‘Year of Return, Ghana 2019’, the proclamation was read at a ceremony at the United States National Press Club in Washington DC to formally launch a program of activities marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans from Jamestown, Accra to Jamestown, Virginia in English North America in 1619.

But before that in 2013 the United Nations declared 2015–2024 the International Decade for People of African Descent to “promote respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent.” The theme for the ten-year celebration is “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development.”

The ‘Year of Return, Ghana 2019’ has therefore coincided with the biennial Pan African Historical Theatre Festival (Panafest), which is held in Cape Coast, home of Cape Coast Castle and neighboring Elmina Castle—two notable edifices recognized by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as World Heritage Sites of the slave era.   

The launch, attended by the cream of African American community, including members of the United States Congress, civil rights groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), black clergymen and the business community, was organized by the Ghana Tourism Authority, under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, the Office of Diasporan Affairs at the Office of the President, the PANAFEST Foundation and the Adinkra Group, an event group based in the US.

The Proclamation recognizes Ghana’s unique position as the location for 75 percent of the slave dungeons built on the west coast of Africa and the current President’s policy making it a national priority to extend a hand of welcome back home to Africans in the diaspora.

As well as taking note of the fact that “Ghana has more African Americans living in the country than any other African country,” the proclamation also expressed happiness about Ghana’s Right of Abode immigration law that grants freedom to persons with this right “to live and to come and go into and from the country without let or hindrance”. 

Another factor influencing the Proclamation is the 115th US Congress Resolution (HR 1242) establishing the 400 Years African American History Commission to commemorate the anniversary.

Speaking at the launch, President Akufo-Addo recalled Ghana’s early Pan African leadership role and pledged that “under my leadership, Ghana will continue to ensure that our hard won Pan African reputation is not lost. Making Ghana the focus of activities to commemorate the landing of the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies in North America is, therefore, a huge opportunity to entrench Ghana’s leadership.”

“In the year 2019, we open our arms even wider to welcome home our brothers and sisters in what will become a birthright journey home for the global African family,” he said.

The President eulogized the role played by the late Otanka Obetsebi-Lamptey, who, as Tourism Minister in the Kufuor administration, launched the ‘Joseph Project’, symbolizing an arm of brotherhood inviting back home, descendants of Africans who were enslaved and, therefore, find themselves in North, Central and South America.

Mentioning the late minister’s wish to see the ‘Right of Abode’ immigration program become law and his (Jake’s) determination to grant easy visas to Africans in the diaspora, the President declared: “I pledge the determination of my government to grant these wishes.”

Mission of the new Diaspora Affairs in the wake of events

In an exclusive interview with Akwasi Awua Ababio, the Director of Diaspora Affairs, Office of the President (DAOOP), he noted that the Year of Return seeks to make Ghana the focus for millions of African descendants reacting to their marginalization by tracing their ancestry and identity. By this, he said, Ghana becomes the beacon for African people living on the continent and the diaspora.

“Ghanaians in the Diaspora, serve in building bridges between their country of residence and Ghana by providing market access, sources of expertise, knowledge,” he said, adding that the objective behind establishing the office at the Presidency, emphasizes the importance the government places on the contributions Ghanaians in the Diaspora make to the economy.

Established in February 2017, the Diaspora Affairs office’s mission is to efficiently harness, mobilize, and steer Ghanaian resources in the diaspora for political inclusion, economic and socio-cultural development. “Our mission is achieved through a multi-stakeholder coordination approach, involving government ministries, Ghanaian associations abroad, the private sector, non-profit organizations and international organizations,” he added.

With decades of experience working in the diaspora himself, Mr. Ababio, alongside his colleagues who in total have more than 50 years’ experience in the diaspora, is expected to leverage his expertise to oversee the strategic use of a comprehensive database for diaspora resource mobilization and utilization.

He added that this government has appointed more diasporans to strategic government institutions including regulatory authorities, public companies, ministerial positions, agencies and committees than any other. In business, he noted that hundreds of diasporans are coming back home to set up businesses or take strategic positions in existing businesses and seeking to take these businesses further.

“We are gradually importing the attitudinal changes we have experienced in the diaspora here so that people will change their ways. Most diasporans who have returned are already impacting the small communities in which they live. For those who lived well-organized lives in structured and clean environments, they are doing same here and their neighbours, who are indigenes are following suit,” he said.

Stressing his commitment to the cause, he assured that Ghana fully engages the diaspora and leverages the pool of talents and investment potential for the development of the country while employing policies and comprehensive strategies that will exponentially grow Ghana’s diaspora remittances beyond the currently stated US$3billion.

He pointed out that the office has reviewed the old Diaspora Engagement Policy, and transformed it into a comprehensive document which is currently being reviewed by stakeholders such as diasporan associations in the UK, USA, Europe and other parts of the world, missions and trade unions. The policy document, he said, was aimed at encouraging Ghanaians in the diaspora to bring their technical skills, money and investment opportunities back home to complement growth and development.

“The policy document covers all aspects and concerns by diasporans and will become the guiding principle and the policy that every government will work with relative to diasporans affiliated to Ghana. This document will harness the potential out there as willed, therefore, take this nation forward,” he added.

Stressing government’s recognition of the contributions of Ghanaians in the diaspora, he pointed out that having this policy document is a major shift in the approach to the members of the diaspora. “This time, we are changing a lot of things. Almost every initiative we are undertaking this year in respect of the Year of Return is going to be institutionalized and held either yearly or every two years. For instance, the Homecoming Festival will be held every two years even after 2019.”

Since the launch of the Year of Return, Mr. Ababio added that his office has received well over 100 proposals from individuals and corporate organisations to organize events around the Year of Return. “This means there is a bigger impact we are looking at here when it comes to tourism and business development. Since the announcement by the president, hotels have seen significant bookings with a lot of people coming to Ghana,” he averred.

Impact of The 2019 Homecoming Summit

In July, the Diaspora Affairs office organised Diaspora Celebration and Homecoming Summit to lure investors who will help the state realise the Ghana Beyond Aid vision. Mr. Ababio shared his optimism about the enormous impact the celebration and summit would have on the country’s GDP.

With more than US$3billion remitted to Ghana annually from around the world, Mr. Ababio noted that government intends to reduce the cost of remittances by some 9 percent in the coming years so as to attract more remittances from abroad to fuel economic growth.

The global average cost of sending US$200 remained high, at around 7percent in the first quarter of 2019, according to the World Bank’s Remittance Prices Worldwide database. Reducing remittance costs to 3 percent by 2030 is a global target under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10.7.

He explained that government is working with the African Development Bank and the World Bank to craft measures to make the cost of remittances cheaper for Ghanaians abroad. “When the figure comes down we believe it will encourage more remittances. We want it to come down by 8 to 9 percent. The World Bank, however, have a rate they are working with,” Mr. Awuah-Ababio stated.

The four-day event recognized and celebrated the immense contributions to nation building by the Ghanaian Diaspora. It also highlighted past contributions but focused on present contributions as well, whiles furthering the advocacy for political, economic, and all other systems and policies that would facilitate future contributions by the diaspora.

“This event addressed how economically, we could take advantage of people from the diaspora. A gentleman who attended the meeting approached me afterwards to discuss how to establish a medical facility in Ghana. His dad worked decades as a medical doctor in Europe. This is an example of someone taking advantage.

“When we talk about the diaspora, we are talking about people who can help us move Ghana Beyond Aid. Just look at how much they remit annually. We even have young people who do not remit money but have ideas that can help transform the economy based on their experiences living outside Ghana,” he stressed.

He assured that Ghana has prepared the grounds well enough for the diaspora to come in and make the most of the opportunities here. “We know the diaspora can be helpful because we cannot continue to depend on aid. This year’s PANAFEST comes with an investment forum to attract investors,” he revealed.

Strategic Partnerships to champion the course

The Diaspora Affairs office has formed crucial partnership with other state institutions, regional, district and local assembly institutions, Ghanaian associations abroad, international organisations and NGOs to promote the interest of Ghanaians in the diaspora, explore more meaningful ways the diaspora could contribute to Ghana’s socio-economic development and creating awareness about the negative effects of irregular migration.

Mr. Ababio explained that there is a steering committee that coordinates all activities in relation to the diaspora. This steering committee has him as head or chairperson and well represented by the private sector, tour and tourism representation, CSOs, diasporans and others.

“This committee brings people into meetings for purposes of organising events and summits. Then there is an operational committee which has all government representatives including ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Tourism, Finance and others. This is for purposes of engagement and organisation,” he detailed.

Due to the extensive nature of operations which take planning to the local level, assembly men and women and chiefs are all engaged. “During PANAFEST, we got the active participation of the Chief of Assin Manso. In Cape Coast, the Chief is a key consultant in making sure PANAFEST was a success,” he noted.

World’s traffic soon to be directed to Ghana

Apart from the huge numbers who will be coming through the various entry point, the countless activities will generate significant jobs and revenues for the people of Ghana. “For example, the global pageant, Miss Heritage, was switched to Ghana as host country due to the Year of Return activities. What we want to do is direct the world’s traffic to Ghana so that our black family will have the rebirth and reconnection with the motherland,” he concluded.

In the upcoming months, various events shall be holding to continue The Year of Return celebration and so everyone can join in the festivities after carefully identifying which of the events suit their time.

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