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Hon. Dr. Nii Kotei Dzani – A member of Council of State in the republic of Ghana

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“THE UNDERLYING PRINCIPLE IN MY BUSINESS LIFE IS ONE WORD: INTEGRITY! TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS, YOU NEED INTEGRITY,”

reveals Hon. Dr. Nii Kotei Dzani, one of Ghana’s leading and successful entrepreneurs and a member of Council of State in the Republic of Ghana. A man who upholds great reverence for God in all facets, he recounts the story of his life in an enthralling interview with The Vaultz.

GHANA’S ECONOMY @60

TVM: Ghana is 60 years. What’s your general assessment of the economy?

NKD: At 60, we have indeed come far as a nation. A nation that does not acknowledge its struggles will not appreciate its achievements. First and foremost, we have a lot to be thankful for. God has been faithful to us as a country. The foremost reason to celebrate this anniversary, it should be because of the PEACE we are enjoying as a nation.

Despite the prevailing peace and tranquility, I think we could have been better, economically. Our economy at 60 years can be easily compared to a 20 year old natural resource deprived nation looking to strategize without any resource to fall on.Despite the decades of digging the earth and the seas for gold, cocoa, bauxite, diamond and oil, we have been unable to improve lives appreciably- our education, health and agricultural systems can best be described as stagnated. But I have hope. Hope in the sense that things will change for the better.

As an optimist, even though I cringe at where we are now when compared to other countries with whom we attained political independence, I am a believer that everything will fall into place at the right time for our dear mother Ghana.

TVM: At 60, If you are to rate the economy, how would you score its performance and why?

Dr. Nii Kotei Dzani

NKD: I cannot rate the economy. I am not in a position to score its performance.

TVM: Can we, as a nation, claim to have achieved a Ghanaian owned economy after 60 years of independence? If not, how can we achieve a Ghanaian owned economy going forward?

NKD: No! Not at any point or anywhere or any sector in this country can we claim to have achieved a Ghanaian owned economy after 60 years of independence. I am an entrepreneur with varying interests in finance, oil and gas, trade, media, and several others. Let us take banking as an example. Of the 35 banks and counting in this country, half of that number are foreign.

What is more worrying is that the local players are mostly tier three and four banks: very small banks that control a minority share of the market. More than 60percent of the banking market share are in the hands of foreigners. Let’s not talk of mining, oil and gas, and even retail trade, where by law, foreigners are not supposed to operate in.

Our markets are being taken over by foreigners who import cheaper products with capital borrowed at cheaper rates from their originating countries. The six telecom companies in the country are all foreign owned: not even a single one is majority owned by the government or any local institution or individual. Clearly, we have failed! This failure is as a result of a lack of direction in terms of government policy.

This has led to individuals, businesses and even sometimes government itself sponsoring foreigners to compete with our locals. So, until government desists from such acts, our economy will continue to be in the hands of foreigners. We have a local content law that can easily be tossed out of the window for political and personal gain.

For me, until we support indigenous businesses to compete effectively with the foreign counterparts and above all go beyond the shores of the country to compete with other businesses and bring in the profit, the economy has no future. When the trend is reversed then we can be confident of achieving a Ghanaian-owned economy.

TVM: “Our economic transformation as a country is more certain than before” you professed. How certain is this compared to previous economic transformation agenda embarked upon by previous governments?

NKD: I strongly believe that our economic transformation is more certain than ever. Like I said earlier, I am an optimistic entrepreneur.

Traveling the length and breadth of this country ignites a sense of hope- hope in the youth who are seeing things differently and they are the ones I am referring to, not government policies. These are young, passionate and energetic men and women ready to tackle the challenge of economic transformation. That’s what I’m referring to.

Dr. N. K. Dzani in a native attire

TVM: What pragmatic steps would you suggest the government should take to reduce the country’s debt stock?

NKD: One thing we are missing out on the subject of debt is the perception that debt is the worst thing that can happen to an economy. That is wrong, absolutely wrong. Debt is good, only if you use it wisely. I was privileged to engage the Finance Minister and he did reveal some strategic measures he is deploying to reduce the debt stock.

But one critical factor to note is that, reducing the debt stock cannot happen out of thin air. Debt reduction must go hand in hand with increased local productivity. We need to understand that these debts are cumulative whereby each and every day, they are accruing interests. Continuous borrowing to service the debt, whether long term borrowing to reduce short term debt, still amounts to debt.

But, if we are able to increase our productivity as a nation, we can indeed go a long way to reducing the debt stock in a short while. What is causing government to borrow? Lack of revenues, i.e., taxes, duties, levies, and income from interest in institutions forces government to borrow to bridge the gap. It is that simple. An increase in productivity across all sectors will see more revenue accrue to government, thereby reducing its dependence on debt.

For example, if State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are functional and generate substantial revenue government will earn enough income from the profits they make. Secondly, if state institutions effect their services as expected then things will be better. Furthermore, some of these SOEs, I suggest, should be made independent.

This means that these institutions, though fully owned by the government, do not have to rely on government to pay salaries of their workers, as well as administrative and operational expenses. This is a drain on scarce national resources.

It also stifles development and undermines prudent government spending. Imagine how much government can save if all state enterprises that can be autonomous are made so and empowered with the right business models so they even pay dividends to government. Consider institutions like the Forestry Commission, Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), Volta River Authority (VRA) and Ghana Water Company.

They depend on the government for payment of salaries of workers. No, that should not be encouraged. They should be able to generate their own revenue and make profit in order to pay dividend to government. The Ghana National Petroleum Corporation is a leading example; it borrows on its own balance sheet to undertake projects. That is where we should be heading as a nation.

Another subject that needs to be looked at when borrowing is utilizing the money borrowed in such a way that it works to pay back that loan. For example, if you borrow money and use it in the construction of a road, that road must lead to increased productivity and bring valuable returns to the economy, so that with an increased activity on that road, the revenue can be used to out rightly pay off the debt.

So, there are various means we can employ to reduce our debt stock but that notwithstanding, I have confidence in the Finance Minister and his ministry to salvage the situation.

TVM: Carl Pope, the co-author of “Climate of Hope” in an interview on CNN said “we don’t plan an economy around presidential campaign but in 20 to 30 years”.

Ghana, under the previous government sought to implement such an act by implementing a 40-year developmental plan and this government is seeking to implement its own. Beyond the rhetoric, how can the nation achieve such act without partisan politics infiltrating?

NKD: This is simple and straight to the point. Unfortunately, we tend to see things differently in our side of the world. To speak to subjects of national development, one must look, think and speak through the lens of politics.

Dr. N. K. Dzani with his GUBA Award: Influencial Economist

The politicization of every subject, person or idea is what has stagnated, and sometime retrogressed development. Despite the gradual change in approach by some young and energetic men and women, we are still at a stage where only an abrupt and radical change can change our attitude to development.

There can never be any issue in this country without it being partisan twist either NDC or NPP. This is rather so unfortunate. It’s a very dicey situation but for those of us who believe in God, we know God will show us the way out of this conundrum.

TVM: After 60 years of independence, how can the nation shift from just mere economic policy formulation to productivity?

NKD: It is difficult for people to speak to issues and policies from government due to the fear of political party tagging. When you think you are contributing objectively to a discourse, others are busy tagging you to a particular political party.

So this makes it difficult for well-meaning thinkers in the country to comment on government policies. We should consider issues of national concern holistically and not on the lines of partisan politics.

The merits and demerits of issues should be looked at objectively without being biased. When this is done, government policies will be carefully analyzed holistically and when a consensual framework is created the whole nation will rally around to expedite its implementation. There are general issues which everyone can contribute to such as the tax regime, which we keep saying is not good, government not supporting indigenous businesses to thrive etc.

But for specific government policies, people abstain from them in order not to be labeled as a party loyalist. I prefer to be a patriot and that’s what I am. I prefer to talk about issues I think will promote national consensus rather than issues that tend to divide us on party lines.

I’m inclined to believe that this country will be great if we become honest with ourselves and not read politics into every move.

TVM: You asserted “Ghana has suddenly become a nation of talkers. We pay lip-service to challenges bedeviling the economy instead of adopting rigorous measures to put our economy on a sound footing”. What in your view can be done to reverse this situation of talkers to doers?

NKD: I do my part and you do your part! Entrepreneurship and Job Creation in Ghana

TVM: You are one of Africa’s ‘fast-rising entrepreneurs’ who is breaking new grounds in the various sectors of the economy in Ghana. How would you describe the country’s overall business enclave?

NKD: The local economy is bedeviled with countless challenges; but these are challenges that can easily be resolved with a resolute government in charge. The primary goal of transforming this nation dictates that we should not deviate from getting the economic fundamentals right. It is not easy to do business in this country. We live in a country that foreigners are sponsored by government to compete to do business with indigenes.

That’s sad! One of the most difficult things to do in this country is doing business as a Ghanaian. But the businessmen and entrepreneurs in the country have done so well to have risen up to the challenge. We are hard at work to position ourselves to compete with any business concerns anywhere in the world.

To recount why we are in this mess, Ghana, after independence, didn’t have Ghanaians with the capacity to establish businesses to support the government from the private sector. So government had to open its doors to foreigners and this is done in every country. So, the foreigners came in and took over all the major sectors of the economy.

From telecoms to the mines, the banking sector, and the oil and gas, we didn’t have Ghanaians at the top realm of businesses. But when Ghanaians started establishing such businesses, it became evident that it’s extremely difficult to compete with the foreign counterparts because they were and are still government sponsored.

These foreign counterparts receive two aspects of sponsorship– one from their country of origin and the other from the government of Ghana. The one from the Ghanaian government was meant to attract them to invest, meanwhile, the government was not offering the same support to growing local business and leaders.

This made it and still makes it extremely difficult for Ghanaian businesses to compete with their foreign counterparts. Until the late 1980s that government realized the trend and started moves to reverse it, this was the hard realities of the economy of Ghana.

Despite several moves to undo this trend, it is becoming increasingly difficult in an ever increasing global world to just take a drastic step to reverse the trend. What we need as a country is bold and courageous leadership to reversing the trend. If not, our economy has no future.

TVM: You are currently adjudged the “Overall Best Entrepreneur of the Year 2016” for your exceptional contributions towards the country’s socio-economic development. Considering your experience, how can the nation breed successful entrepreneurs who would contribute to the country’s socio-economic development as well?

NKD: This country only needs good economic fundamentals and a strong economic base. Entrepreneurship is talent! This is a Godgiven talent and so people have to take advantage of it. But if the environment doesn’t support it, you cannot do much.

So, what we should do as a country is to create the enabling environment so that people, either technocrats, academics or sports men and women will be able to unearth their God-given talents. That’s all that’s needed from government.

TVM: You averred you began your entrepreneurial journey with an amount of GHc 27, 000 and currently accrued it into an asset of almost GHc1billion. But you also stated “You don’t need capital to start a business. What you need is integrity”. How do you align these two statements?

NKD: Saying that I started my business with so little capital is very true. So does everyone start their businesses. No one start with GHc100million. Even the current President of the United States, Donald Trump did not start with a billion dollars, not to talk about the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets.

When I first said this most listeners misconstrued it but I still stand by it that “you don’t need capital to start business but integrity”. What it simply means is that no matter how much capital you have, if you lack simple integrity, your capital can’t make you succeed.

Of course, everyone needs money to start business because it doesn’t make sense to start business on an empty pocket. But with the minimum capital, coupled with integrity and the grace of God, you will succeed. I started my business at the same time with some friends and colleagues who had huge sums of monies as start-up capital but today, their businesses are not even up to 1 or 2percent of my business.

This may be because they failed to exercise and exhibit any integrity in their business dispensation. Through your integrity, you are able to prove to your customers, investors and other stakeholders, who later help build your business because of your integrity. That assertion was to disabuse a perception that without huge capital, you cannot start business.

So, what I meant was one does not need a huge capital to start business but with a little capital and integrity, one will succeed and not that one can start a business with no money at all. Capital itself can never translate into successful business; never!

TVM: The new government, as part of its campaign message, assured Ghanaians the establishment of one district, one factory. Is the establishment of this one district, one factory a sustainable agenda considering past experiences such as Komenda Sugar factory, etc.?

NKD: Every government has a vision and this particular one is to expand our economic base. This is a matter of truth and it must be done. Whether it is done rightly or wrongly, posterity will determine. When such an ideology is implemented the economic base becomes broadened to curb the high urban migration from the rural settlements.

Through this initiative, jobs will be taken to the door steps of the people and so they don’t need to come and over populate the urban settlements. Our urban areas are growing at such an alarming rate. Current studies show that the urban and rural population, which used to tilt in favor of rural areas, is now getting even. By 2030, it is estimated that there will be more people in urban areas than rural areas.

Do not forget that the more people flock to the urban areas, the more there is pressure on facilities such as roads, electricity and water. The one district, one factory model is a good initiative and it’s up to every Ghanaian to take advantage of this government policy and be able to improve their lives.

If a factory in a district can employ a 100 people, with each one of them having a wife and three children, that will be 500 people kept away from an already-choked urban area.

Personality Profile

TVM: There have been a lot of blabs as to who Dr. Nii Kotei Dzani is. How would you describe yourself?

NKD: I am Nii Kotei Dzani as you rightly said. I don’t see myself as a businessman but as an entrepreneur and an economist. I must state that there’s a clear difference between who an entrepreneur is and who a businessman is. Everyone can call himself an entrepreneur and a businessman as well but there’s a clear difference between the two. I see myself as an entrepreneur and not a businessman.

TVM: Why do you see yourself as that?

NKD: Take a tuber of cassava. A businessman will buy it for a cedi and sell it to you for a cedi and a half or two cedis, make money and walk away. But an entrepreneur will ask him or herself, what do I do with this cassava to not just make money but impact society in diverse ways? He or she takes that cassava, does a little research and proceeds to process it into gari, cassava chips, or any other product in order to derive more value.

Do not forget that while he or she is processing it, he or she has to seek the help of others, thereby creating jobs in the process. Entrepreneurs, therefore, are not necessarily profit minded people but create opportunities and businesses.

Entrepreneurs actually create businesses for businessmen and women. Entrepreneurs are more interested in expanding growth, creating jobs, improving lives and transforming societies while a businessman is more interested in the returns on his/ her investments.

TVM: So, did you always aspire to be an entrepreneur?

NKD: I think that the Lord directs our path and guides our steps. At every point in time in life, God directs you on what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. For instance, I wanted to be a footballer but… I believe God directed my path and planted me where I find myself today.

TVM: How was growing up as a child like? Do you think your growing up and the training you had contributed to what you are today?

NKD: I come from a very humble background and I never had the opportunity to be brought up by my father. I lost my father when I was just 10 years old. My mother was also not staying with us. I stayed with my late aunt who was close to 70years at the time. I think my whole life is a mystery. I think God in His own wisdom directs my path and I meet the right people at the right time and all those people contribute significantly to what I am.

TVM: Your success in business has been evident through the multiples of businesses established. What enduring principle(s) guide you in all facets of your business life?

NKD: The underlying principle in my business life is one word: integrity. To succeed in business, you need integrity. To earn integrity, you have to work it out. You have to purge yourself because every human has a negative side in him or her so the need to purge oneself.

You need to identify your strengths and weaknesses and fear God because once you have the fear of God all other things follow. For instance, on one occasion, during my usual audit of the books, I realized that we overcharged a particular client to the tune of GHc36, 000, even though he had finished paying the facility more than six year ago.

 

It was direction from the Holy Spirit and we tried all means to locate the client and offered him his money with interest to the tune of GHc50, 000.00. This act surprised the client so much that today he is one of our biggest clients and a prominent ambassador to the firm, bringing other clients on board. Integrity is important but that move is done through the fear of God. For God gives riches and adds no sorrow to them.

When you love your staff and your customers, you’ll do the right thing. I think that these are the basic principles in business and then the rest will add up. I don’t believe, with all humility, that your knowledge alone can take you far in business.

This is because there are thousands of people out there who are more knowledgeable than you. Your staff, majority of them are more knowledgeable than you are. It is just a thin line that separates you from them– the grace of God.

TVM: What is your business management philosophy and motivation?

NKD: My motivation is seeing thousands of peoples’ lives being impacted positively. There are times I wake up in the morning and it’s difficult to go out because I am exhausted or worn out. Suddenly, I remember that there’s someone out there who is looking up to me for his or her life to be impacted and that gives me the energy to forge ahead. My philosophy is: I do my bit and God does the rest!

TVM: How will you describe your leadership style?

NKD: I have an open door policy. I do a lot of consultations. I want to emphasize that I was quite an autocratic leader. I always wanted things to be done my way. But I realized that I cannot succeed with that. So, I employ broad consultation before making a decision and this aids my decision making. At Groupe Ideal, there are no classes of employees; from the security to the Groupe President, we are all the same and we respect one another.

I make them understand that everyone is important. It’s rather unfortunate in this life that the most important people in society earn less than those at the top. That is divine formula and there’s nothing I can do about it neither can anyone else.

TVM: What do you do in your leisure time?

NKD: Well, I don’t have enough leisure time for now but hope to create some in the near future. But, the slightest time available, I try to spend with my family; both nuclear and extended. I love spending time with my children even though I feel guilty I don’t spend enough time with them.

Also, I attend to a lot of visitors at the slightest time available outside of work schedule to address the needs of people and I use this to comfort myself.

TVM: What sporting activities or hobbies do you love most and engage in?

NKD: I love jet skiing. I love cruising with my speed boat. I love driving at top speed and I enjoy it a lot as a hobby.

TVM: What kinds of movies and books do you watch and read respectively?

NKD: I like to watch documentaries when it comes to motion pictures. I enjoy reading autobiographies of successful personalities. I also like the Pan African writers a lot, but above all, I also read the Bible every day. There are two things I do every night before I go to bed: I read the Bible and I listen to a Pan African fighter’s speech.

TVM: Is there any particular book(s) that has significantly influenced your life?

NKD: The Bible is the most influential book in my life. When you read the Bible you get the solution to everything in this life. It is the book of all wisdom and knowledge. I will encourage everyone to read the Bible.

TVM: What genre of music do you listen to?

NKD: I love classical music.

TVM: You are a car enthusiast and have acquired fleet of them. Which is your most favorite and why?

NKD: Well, Hyundai i30 is my favorite car. I love that car.

TVM: What kind of a husband/ father are you?

NKD: This question should rather be directed to my wife but what I can say is I do my part as a husband and God does the rest. For my children, they appreciate the little time I spend with them. They look up to me as a leader. They appreciate my efforts a lot and that puts a lot of smiles on their faces and urges me to spend more time with them.

TVM: Due to your wealth of experience in life and business, do you intend to document it in a book (autobiography / biography) to benefit the younger generations?

NKD: Yes. I am currently working on that and hope to launch it soon. May be that’s what is influencing my consumption of autobiographies from which I gain a lot of knowledge.

TVM: If you had the opportunity to rewrite a wrong. What would it be?

NKD: Well, there is one or two of them that I’ll want to keep confidential. Perhaps, joining my colleagues to take the Cape Coast University to court when I was a student is something I wish I could rewrite. I think I was the first person to take the university to court and challenged authorities and that’s something if I had an opportunity, I’ll rewrite. But why I wish I could rewrite this is very personal.

TVM: What should Ghanaians be looking forward to next from your table?

NKD: Each and every day of my life I do my best and God does the rest. For now, I don’t know what God has in stock for me. My whole life is directed by God. I have never planned anything for my life. So, if God calls me for another service tomorrow; Why Not! I don’t have any plan for anything.

TVM: How’s a day in your life like?

NKD: I wake in the morning, read the Bible and then pray to God. Then I dress and move out to the office to work and then come back home and receive visitors and then read the Bible again before I retire to bed.

TVM: You’ve received numerous awards this year. What significance do these awards portray to you?

NKD: It humbles me! When people and organizations are recognizing you, you need to respect them and accept their recognitions. But, this does not excite me at all. This portrays to me that a lot of expectations are demanded from me so I can’t afford to fail and disappoint them. It is rather a very highly uncomfortable situation one can find himself/ herself. But, notwithstanding, we depend on God for His unfailing love and protection.

TVM: Do you have any intention of running for presidency in the Republic of Ghana in the near future?

NKD: Recall I said initially that my whole life is a mystery and that there has never been any point in time I have decided on what I want to do. At every point in time God directs my path and gives me the opportunity to serve or to do something. For now, I don’t know what God will give to me to do tomorrow or next. Of course, if God wants me to be the next president of Ghana, why not! I will thank Him and embrace it with all my heart but I have no intentions for now. To be honest with you, I have no such intentions. But wherever God wants me to serve, if even as the governor of the Bank of Ghana, why not! For me, it’s not about ambition. It is about doing what is right, touching lives and transforming society.

TVM: In all your submission, you exhibited a great reverence for God. What accounts for this demonstrative attitude you’ve portrayed?

NKD: I mentioned earlier that my whole life is full of mysteries. It was only by God’s grace that I experienced a second cycle education. Then proceeded to the university on that same grace before graduating and started working with Barclays Bank Ghana Ltd.

My journey in life to date has witnessed God’s involvement in all stages including meeting and marrying my wife, so why will I not hold God in high esteem. This is my tale as Paul clearly accounts in the Bible; “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” – Phil 1:21.

TVM: What advice would you give to the following?

– The Government

NKD: As a member of Council of State, my advice to government is private and not public and so when the need be I’ll effect as expected.

– Businesses

NKD: Businesses need to be focused. If you want to succeed in business, then you need to be focused and not be distracted. They must have God at the center of their lives. Once they have God, they’ll have integrity.

– Aspiring entrepreneurs& youths

NKD: The principles of the businesses are simply applicable to them.

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“In order to bring about a fundamental transformation of our economy …” – Dr. Kwesi Botchwey, Former Minister of Finance, Ghana

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“Rethinking Ghana’s Economic Development after 62years of Independence”

Ghana marks its 62nd independence and many still wonder if the number truly reflects its developmental achievements. The questions boggling many include: where have we gone wrong, what did we not get right, how did we get here? Some even go to the extent of comparing our development with countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and the likes. In this all enthralling and thought-provoking edition of the Personality Profile, Team Vaultz meets Dr Kwesi Botchwey to discuss the most crucial topics on the minds of Ghanaians and find ways of rethinking the country’s economic development after 62years of independence. Dr Kwesi Botchwey is termed the longest serving finance minister in Ghana who led a team to restructure the failing economy between 1982 and 1995. The Professor of Practice in Development Economics at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University in this interview offers some suggestions that can help to rebuild the Ghanaian economy after 62year of independence.

 

TVM: Thirteen years as a finance minister in charge of Ghana’s economy. How did that feel?

Dr. Botchwey: It was very demanding, challenging, and mostly stressful but yet fulfilling. At the end of it all, when I look back, I feel a sense of some gratification

 

TVM: Ghana is 62 years this year. You have been at the front and have understood how our evolution has been. Give us your understanding of how the Ghanaian economy has felt like, studying through the literature; pre-independence, independence and post-independence.

Dr. Botchwey: Well, the story of Ghana’s economic development, according to some, is a very simple one. The most familiar one is “The grace to grass’ narrative that simply says Ghana was a sort of model colony, a country of tremendous natural resources, a good civil service, and a cushion of reserves of about £200million, equivalent to about three years import cover at independence, a legacy that we somehow squandered.

That is the familiar narrative that then goes with our comparison to the Koreas and the others who have done so much better, to drive home the point.

The real story though, is a trifle more complex. To begin with, yes, we were a country of tremendous natural resources at independence and had a very good and committed civil service and all that. But the country was still your typical under-developed country; agriculture was still basically cutlass and hoe activity and we were very dependent on cocoa production and had very little in the way of an industrial base. Indeed we lacked the skill sets for rapid industrial development.

So, Yes and No. We were not exactly the model colony suggested by some in the literature, but were better off than most. In the 50’s when Kwame Nkrumah and the CPP were managing affairs in the transition to independence, the country followed pretty much the path that the colonialists had charted: a stable exchange rate regime, and a cautious monetary policy.

And in the first five years of independence, at least, until 1961, when he launched what was, at least by self-assertion, a socialist path characterized by state – led industrialization and development and a whole host of industries, in just about every aspect of the national economy. It’s important to bear in mind that it’s not as if Nkrumah inherited this bountiful legacy and just squandered it.

This was a time when state participation in the economy was more or less the norm for developing countries. So, Nkrumah’s strategy of state – led industrialization was by no means reckless, although it is not to say that the strategy did not meet challenges.

 

TVM: Was it more tactical than strategic?

Dr. Botchwey: It was more in the implementation of the strategy and in the challenges of governance and good management of the infrastructure and large public investments that were made. The strategy continued till the coup in 1966. President Busia, in his short reign, signaled a change to a more-private sector driven development and all that; but nothing really happened.

We muddled through our economic development for a long time till the onset of the 80s. By the 80s the economy had become shackled by controls – exchange controls, price controls, trade controls, import licensing etc. The exchange rate was fixed and  stayed at GH¢2.75 to a dollar for a very long time although nobody in his right mind who had dollars would surrender them to the bank voluntarily to exchange at this official rate  when on the black market, it sold for GH¢ 10 or GH¢15. Successive governments avoided taking any corrective action to avoid any political upheavals and maintained the peg to the ruin of the economy.

As the exchange rate got hugely overvalued, the export sector including our main export cocoa collapsed, as many cocoa farmers left their cocoa to rot in the bush. They reckoned correctly that that the price they got at the official exchange rate for their cocoa barely even covered their cost of production.

 

TVM: Really?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, which is why with Rawlings’ first coming, many students were actually deployed to the countryside to help with the collection and carting of cocoa from the hinterland to the ports. There were widespread shortages of basic commodities and inputs for agriculture and industry. There were shortages of virtually everything. The country was literally on brink of total national disintegration. Even so nothing really changed till the mid – 80’s.

It was a very challenging conjunction. We had suffered three successive years of drought accompanied by bush fires that raged all over the country and caused the loss of a substantial acreage of food and tree crops. Then in the mist of all this, many of our country men and women, the relatively better trained and skilled segments of the labor force who had fled to neighboring countries in search of a better life were sent back. Suddenly, we saw a 10% increase in population amid the famine and economic collapse.

That was the setting in which I became, first, the Chairman of what was called the National Economic Review Committee (NERC) and then subsequently, after a few months, was appointed the first PNDC Secretary for Financial and Economic Planning. I must hasten to add that it was a team that was put in place.

I only happened to be the leader of the team but the work was done by the team including Dr. Joe Abbey, one of our leading macro economists and a former Minister of Finance himself; the late Dr. Gobind Nankani who was working with the World Bank but would come and help with macro-economic analysis and programming; Mr. Ato Ahwoi; Dr. Assibi Abudu, Dr. Kobinah Erbynn and Nrkrumah’s last Minister of Finance, Mr. Kwesi Amoako Atta.  Our task was to war to fashion a radical program of economic and social transformation, open up the economy and just make things work.

 

TVM: Move it from the controls?

Dr. Botchwey: Well yes. The controls were not working to start with. People would get import licenses at GH¢2.75 to a dollar and would not even bother to import anything. They would just sell them to willing buyers. The reality was that the cedi was grossly overvalued. Even the State Gold Mining Corporation could hardly pay its workers.

Whatever gold they were producing was dwindling because they had no resources to bring in spare parts, and auxiliary products. They were coming to the budget for support to pay their workers. Not only were they not paying any tax to government, they were taking from government. Our studies revealed that it cost the corporation more to produce a dollar’s worth of exports than they received at the prevailing exchange rate.

We eventually freed the exchange rate and made it market determined. It was not a popular decision. It caused fissures and cracks within the ranks especially of the progressives with some taking the position that this was a neo liberal solution that the revolution wasn’t meant to pursue.

But we forged ahead and launched a phase and integrated exchange reform plans that combined adjustments in the exchange rate and trade reform, thereby bringing about a gradual and to some extent dramatic recovery in exports and output. Long story! But we did.

 

TVM: Could that be based on the confidence in the economy?

Dr. Botchwey: Absolutely. Many African countries were suffering the same ills but were deterred by the prospect of social and political opposition to corrective measures, preferring instead to live with stagnation.

We bucked the trend. But the Program of Reconstruction and Development, as we called it, wasn’t just about exchange rate policy and trade reforms. It was also about a massive program of social and economic infrastructure rehabilitation, better expenditure management and discipline, better public expenditure programming generally, improvement in fiscal policy and social welfare, and civil service reforms to improve efficiency and compensation levels. Indeed social welfare spending went up steeply as a percentage of government expenditure over the program period.

We set up all these institutions that we now take for granted: the forex bureaus, stock exchange, among others. Importantly, we instituted wide ranging reforms of the financial and banking sector which had been badly affected by the general economic crisis and had suffered a major loss of public confidence. We recognized that the crisis facing the banking sector was that they were weighed down by huge non-performing loans of state owned enterprises (some of it guaranteed by Government) and that of the private sector.

Essentially, we removed from the banks’ portfolios all non- performing loans to state enterprises and the private sector, and either offset or replaced them with Bank of Ghana bonds. The banks were thus able to meet the new Capital adequacy requirements within the stated period. All this was accomplished totally transparently, with the full participation of stakeholders and without the uncertainty, the politics, turbulence and angst. The non-performing loans were then vested in a newly created Non Performing Assets Trust (NPART) which was charged with recovering as much as was possible.

 

TVM: That was quite of bit of work!

Dr. Botchwey: that’s an understatement!

 

TVM: You did some privatization as well?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes we did. It was an important part of the reform program and perhaps the most difficult from the political economy point of view. We still had a large number of state enterprises about 200 of them, covering mining, transportation, agriculture, services and the utility sectors. Only a handful of them were operating profitably. The rest mostly had huge financial and structural issues.

We privatized about 50 of them in my time, and those that remained in state ownership, were put through reforms aimed at improving performance. They were made to sign performance agreements with government and legal mechanisms were put in place for the improvement of the financial accounting and the institution of a better framework for assuring the accountability and operational autonomy.

 

TVM: These must not have been easy decisions.

Dr. Botchwey: Of course not. For me personally, some of these measures were rather awkward. In fact, even the turn to the IMF, was awkward given my well known criticism, at that time, of the role of the IMF in low income countries.

 

TVM: I saw an article online that said Kwesi Botchwey, the socialist. So you have obviously taken decisions like these that went against your socio-political thinking?

Dr. Botchwey: Oh Yes. Yes I took many knocks from both the left and the right. The left from those who preferred that we went the way of the Paris communards during the French revolution and the right from those who thought that even my elan and dress code on the job was somehow incompatible with socialism or what you call my socio-political thinking.

This is not the time and place to respond to these criticisms, there will be such a time and place sometime. Suffice it to say that I take Marxism very seriously to this day, and see it as the foundation of social science. I never forgot that Marxism, required a concrete analysis of the concrete situation when faced with any situation. So when I was confronted with the economic crisis that we faced, with state enterprises that we couldn’t run, with workers taking over state enterprises as they did then notably with GTP and running to the budget for financial and other support, and with the prospects of legal action by previous owners of these factories staring us in the face , and so on, I knew that I couldn’t say that in the name of Marx’s theory, I was simply going to find money that wasn’t there to give to the workers. Then I knew we needed some sustainable policies even if as a transition to whatever else we wanted to do rather than stick to the dogma of an ideology and other people’s idea of ideological purity or…

 

TVM: Stay true to your principles.

Dr. Botchwey: Yes. I often remind my friends, sometimes to their irritation of Marx’s observation that we make our history not in circumstances that we wish, but in circumstances that we confront. I couldn’t wish into existence a stable and prosperous economy in which money was just plentiful in the budget and we could deploy money any way we wanted. So there was some pragmatism. Anyhow, the result is pretty much what we see today.

 

TVM: Listening to you, I heard you talk about the exchange rate. Let’s do some ‘juxtaposition’. The exchange rate is still a problem today. So, are you really seeing a difference between the economy then and the economy now?

Dr. Botchwey: I have over the past few years often asked myself whether we are going back to the brink of the crisis of the 80’s. I think not. Yes, we have an exchange rate problem, between December 2018 and February 2019, the exchange lost about 13% of its value against the dollar, compared to a modest appreciation in the same two months period in 2018. The President himself is on record as saying he is not happy with the slide.

The consternation is understandable. When the cedi’s value drops, especially steeply, it does have consequences that are destabilizing for businesses, and consumers alike, it doesn’t make planning easy. It is something that must be moderated and kept within a band that is sustainable.

I see two problems, one is that the public’s perception of the magnitude and causes of the problem is in part a function of the narrative from some policy makers that suggests that the stability of the cedi is just a function of the sheer brilliance and competence of economic managers and that, by sheer dint of such competence the cedi can be somehow immunized from the vagaries of the market.

The other problem is that the public discourse on exchange rate issues is so ridden with partisanship, arrogance and even insult that a principled discussion becomes impossible. The truth is that nobody is omniscient and I mean nobody! Among economists there’s always room for disagreement. It is not for nothing that George Bernard Shaw the Irish playwright, polemicist and social activist, famously said that “if all economist were laid end-to-end they’d never reach a conclusion”. We must foster an environment in which principled and dispassionate debate is possible.

 

TVM: What’s more important? If it is possible to separate them, what should I deal with first? Do I deal with the exchange rate hoping that all other things will work or I need to deal with all other things hoping that it will influence the exchange rate? What do you go for?

Dr. Botchwey: Well the two factors are rather dialectical but if you had to make a choice on pain of death I would have to say the latter. You deal with the factors affecting a particular episode (such as this recent one or the one we had in 2014). First, you identify and deal with the proximate causes such as seasonal and other short term factors and hope that the particular episode subsides.

And then you deal with the longer term structural issues in the economy that affect foreign exchange demand and supply. Trust me there is no magic bullet. We’ve been here before this latest episode and it won’t be the last.

 

TVM: There are those who argue that there was a strong call that was made at independence that the Ghanaian was capable of managing his own affairs. 62years down the line. Are we really capable of doing just that; what’s your assessment?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, we are capable of running our own affairs and we have by and large been managing (and mismanaging) our own affairs. But it is interesting you ask: are we capable?

Of course, we are capable. If you are asking whether we are really in charge of our national economy, do we have ownership of our national development policy, well, that is a bit complex.

As Ghanaians we own the Ghanaian economy at least nominally. A good chunk of it is owned by those who provide the funding and investments, some of it is also influenced by those who give us support. But not only are we capable, we can also be the ones who decide what our developing policies shall be. I recall in 2014 when we were going through a similar exchange rate crisis as it is today.

The cedi had lost over 30 percent of its value dropping off about GHc 10billion of our nominal GDP at the time. A number of measures were introduced by the central bank, and some attempts were made to introduce new revenue models and some were condemned as “nuisance taxes” and all that. That was the very activity to deal with the crisis that beset the issue. The government actually then called a forum, The National Forum, that met in Senchi. I had the good fortune to chair the committee that was to look into macroeconomic policy issues.

And it would be interesting for you to know that, I chaired that committee and it had people like Sydney Casely-Hayford and Franklin Cudjoe on it and we discussed the matters openly and frankly. The NPP boycotted the forum as a party but there were some NPP delegates there. So we discussed a lot of things. It doesn’t matter what we say, nobody knows everything.

So we had to pull together and a number of good decisions were made. We noted that we had lost policy credibility as a country so inward flows of investments were being affected, donors were more reluctant because we had set ourselves policy targets that were achievable but we had missed them for three successive years. So, the market did not believe whatever we were saying. It was a good forum. Unfortunately, the follow up wasn’t as good as we had hoped and so the body of consensus that had been built somehow got dissipated.

 

TVM: In 2019, Ghana is expected to exit the IMF program. What are your thoughts on this entry and exit to the program? Are we ready to exit based on the experience you’ve had? And how do we ensure never to get back onto the program anymore?

Dr. Botchwey: Interesting! It is important to understand that we are a sovereign country. Nobody can force us to go to the fund even in crises. It is always our choice.

We go to the fund when we need to. With the International Monetary Fund, all the countries join it to get some funds except for those that the US won’t grant membership. Developed economies, when they get into trouble even go there. The IMF was set up after the Second World War as a body that will help countries in Balance of Payment crisis and provide them support in other to dissuade them from resorting to policies that are destructive for international trade. So, the IMF and the World Bank were set up to provide the multilateral institutions that would provide members with support. And we are members. It is for us to decide if we want to go there or not. We did in 2014 but we’re sovereign. We can leave when we want.

Now if we say, we don’t want to ever go to the Fund, it is fine! That’s our prerogative, provided we pursue policies that gives us the credibility that the market wants. This program was supposed to have ended in 2017 but was extended for another year. Now it is coming to an end. Should we decide that when the program comes to an end we won’t renew it, fine! It is all very fine provided that, as a country, we have internalized the discipline of living within our means, subjecting ourselves to fiscal discipline that we need in order not to create the conditions that will take us back to the fund or make the return to the fund necessary.

Secondly, people talk as if the IMF rains conditions on our heads; insist we keep a low deficit, insist our other macroeconomic indicators are fine– low inflation, growth, employment, generating growth and above all, keep our fiscal situation stable.

People forget that even without the IMF, the market today will subject every country pretty much the same conditions. If we choose to go to the bond market, they will look at our budget, look at our ability to pay back the debt etc. In 2014, we went to the Fund because we wanted policy credibility plus resources of about US$1billion, plus a crowding in of private sector investments and donor assistance.

 

TVM: So, it’s not even an issue of going to the IMF but an issue of discipline?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, it’s an issue of discipline which the market will compel you to demonstrate anyway with or without the Fund. We should not be under any illusion that when the fund is not here we can do whatever we want. Sure we can but we shall bear the consequences.

 

TVM: And five years down the line we will be back.

Dr. Botchwey: Yes. Quite possibly. If you look at our history, I have heard some narrative that suggests that one party, is a better manager of the economy than the other. The facts don’t bear out that kind of narrative. If you look at our history well, you’ll find that we spend years messing up, especially election time, then we wake up to the realization that there is a problem and so we spend three years sorting ourselves out till another election comes then we mess up, then we come back, do fiscal consolidation, get things back on track and sail through until elections come again and we overspend again.

This has been happening quite consistently in our multi-party experience more or less and that has to stop. In order to bring about a fundamental transformation of our economy and make a real dent in poverty which still afflicts our people, we need to be growing at about 8-9% per annum for a generation. One of my biggest worries in my moments of sober reflection is that, at the rate we are going, even when we think we are doing better compared to previous regimes, I fear that very little is going to change and our children in 30yrs will be facing some of these same issues, there wouldn’t have been a really fundamental change in their condition.

 

TVM: So from your estimation, we must be doing around upwards of 8% consistently for almost about a generation?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, consistently for about a generation. We need to have policy continuity in its essentials. China has done something no other country in history has done. They have brought over 700 million people out of poverty. I mean, out of poverty! Their lives have changed fundamentally just in a generation. We need to be looking at what China has done a lot more carefully.

 

TVM: Once we cut ourselves off the IMF, would there be an impact on the already stretched foreign exchange?

Dr. Botchwey: It depends. If we wean ourselves off the Fund and demonstrate that even without the external restraints that come with an IMF program we will continue to act responsibly in the management of our economy (and politics), that we’ve internalized the discipline of prudent fiscal policy and demonstrate this for an extended period straddling election cycles and political transitions, we will be fine.

But let not get ahead of ourselves. Even developed countries do have recourse to IMF supported programs, even if infrequently. The so-called East Asian Tigers, among them Thailand, Indonesia and Korea with which Ghana has been compared frequently, have had recourse to IMF supported programs in billions when they needed to, During its boom years, Korea made huge investments mainly financed by external short – term borrowing, and when the economy and export growth especially slowed, these large loans caused huge problems for enterprises, in unutilized capacity low profits and severe cash flow difficulties for enterprises and for banks, large non-performing loans.

Korea actually nationalized KIA after Banks refused to lend it money and when traditional policy responses failed, Korea turned to the IMF as the best and perhaps in the circumstances only feasible option. But sure we can say good bye to the Fund and survive, even thrive. Let’s just remember it’s not like eating a piece of cake.

 

TVM: Control our borrowing, drive up our revenues and spend wisely?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes. But you see, all these require something that a lot of politicians do not like to hear. We need both fiscal space and political space. When an incumbent government is in the trenches and must take actions and policy decisions, that are hugely difficult and unpopular and challenging, it needs to create some sort of national consensus, across parties so that it doesn’t look over its shoulders and worry about other parties taking political advantage. There must be a sufficiently large body of national consensus around the basic direction of our national economy. We must live within our means, borrow prudently making sure that the monies we borrow don’t cost more than they should and that they’re invested prudently.

Above all, we can’t transform this economy in just a few years, nobody can. It is not a matter of genius. Nobody on this earth has the kind of genius that can bring an end to poverty and youth unemployment in two years. If that were possible, why would any country be poor? Find the geniuses, bring them to a country, give them two years and, bingo! Nobody can do that.  It can’t be done.

 

TVM: “Ghana: A country of wealth, a people of poverty.” Ghana is a resource-rich country yet with people who are embedded in poverty. ‘Good Growth and Governance in Africa: Rethinking Developmental strategies’ is a book you co-authored with noble prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. In your view, what accounts for this situation in the case of Ghana? What are we missing?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, we are a country of enormous wealth. We often tell ourselves Ghana is a rich country. We need to qualify that. We are a potentially rich country. The natural resources we have make us only potentially rich. The most frustrating thing for any economist or manager of the economy is to see the macroeconomic indicators moving in the right direction and still hear people saying, as they are doing now, and rightly, that times are hard, that they can’t see the improvements in their pockets.

It is on one hand a commentary on the fact that we don’t have all the answers to many of the challenges we face in our development- which is why a dose of humility is needed among the protagonists in this enterprise called ‘development’ and what it will take to assure the long – term welfare of our growing population and their basic quest for food, decent housing and leisure – that we’re not growing at a high enough level, and that the growth is not employment generating.

 

TVM: So you’re saying the growth must lead to a good employment generation

Dr. Botchwey:  It must be transformational and employment generating and no transformation can ever take place except on a long term basis; it takes sustained effort and continuity in development policy.

 

TVM: There are some who’ve argued that government in government out, there seems to be some degree of political biasism when you talk about corruption. So the left is corrupt when the right is in power and then the right is corrupt when the left is in power and we don’t seem to be addressing it. What is your take on this and how can we attempt to deal with it?

Dr. Botchwey: Ah Biasism! I like that. I’ll take that to my lexicon of evolving Ghanaian inventions! The greatest harm that we can do to our country is to jeopardize or compromise the integrity, competence and independence of the key institutions for our democracy including those that are charged with fighting corruption.

When we compromise them by politicizing them, what happens is, we reduce the fight against corruption to just jailing people, especially political opponents through an interesting law on our statute books, a law of ‘strict liability’, more or less, tantalizingly called ‘causing financial loss’ in our popular parlance, which has become a ready-made hatchet that incumbent governments can and often do wield to prosecute their political agendas. That is not fighting corruption. The discourse on corruption is rather confusing.

Apart from the incidence of what you call political biasism which is unfortunate because it undermines the credibility of the fight against corruption and makes the populace cynical – they are not fooled –  except perhaps the growing legion of so –  called ‘party communicators’ who are fired by blind loyalty and other activists often masquerading as journalists!

We have institutions that are meant to address corruption including the Public Procurement Authority and statutes – the Public Procurement Act, Act 663 of 2003 and its subsequent amendments, that are meant to provide the legal framework for preventing and punishing corruption in public procurement where we know value for money considerations in large public investments can be compromised to the detriment of the nation.

The integrity of this legal framework so that it doesn’t get used selectively and worse, as a hatchet for intimidating political opposition, but to prevent, curtail and sanction violations, especially egregious violations that hurt the common good. It is as simple as that. And the fight and public discourse on corruption must also be broadened to include ‘petty corruption’ which is what the average person struggling to make a living confronts daily in getting paid public officials to do their duty, whether it be issuing driving licenses, or passports or clearing goods at the ports or registering title to land. Ever tried to register title to land? It is a monumental scandal!

 

TVM: To smoothen the process?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes ‘smoothening the process “is a convenient euphemism that soothes our senses and curbs our indignation. It must be abandoned in favor of the naked truth; it is bribery! So yes corruption is still a big issue, I think that we are making some progress in dealing with it but I fear there’s too much of what you call political biasism in the fight against corruption.

 

TVM: Let’s talk about Ghana beyond 62years. There are those who are pushing for us to change the dialogue or the discourse in the country, pushing for much more intellectual based discussion, changing the narrative. How can we see this pan out? How do we ensure that we are changing the dragging regressive politics of needles comparison? How do we change the entire narrative to make us more progressive?

Dr. Botchwey: it is a responsibility for all of us i.e. shared responsibility for all of us including the likes of you.

 

TVM: Who?

Dr. Botchwey:  Civil society. Unfortunately, journalists are just worsening the process. We’ve made tremendous progress in our journalism but it is often mired in the same political biasm even in reporting and conducting public debate.

 

TVM: How can we capitalize on the late start advantage to develop as a country? How do we get around that? What is the concept of the late start advantage?

Dr. Botchwey: It’s an interestingly question. We live in a globalized world. Enterprises are able to source and locate anywhere they have the best advantages but unfortunately it is a trend that is under threat now, with the eerie re-emergence of the same tensions that marked the inter-war years and a US led bilateralism which has put the world economy in rather uncharted waters unfortunately. Nevertheless we need to position ourselves to take advantage of globalization. We need to decide as a nation where our comparative advantage really lies in.

If we are going to leap frog- and we can, we must train our work force and equip them with the skill sets required in today’s world. Unfortunately, this is not quite happening. Although, we have a proliferation of universities now, there has been relatively little diversification in course offerings. If you ask any young man or woman who has finished secondary school and is looking to enter the University for a degree, what career they have in mind, the most likely response will be: HR, or Marketing. We cannot leap frog unless we harness the force of technology and technical innovation.

 

TVM: We need good skill sets?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes. To take advantage of globalization, we need that. We need planning as I mentioned earlier. Just study what China has done. Now, they are not just assembling things for the world, they are actually manufacturing things from the scratch and are spawning new products. They are going to space. They have just landed on the part of the moon that nobody has gone to before.

They are building their own aircraft carriers but above all, they have internalized those skills and have developed programs for developing even more skills. So in order to be able to take advantage of the late-start advantage, we can’t insulate ourselves from globalization. We must identify what we are good at and how do we prepare ourselves to deliver what we are good at? We sought to address these issues at the NDPC in the 40 Year Plan which is currently under review.

 

 

TVM: In your experience, in just some few seconds, if I ask you to pick two or three things that you think the Ghanaian is good at, as a collective, which should be an area of focus that we could dial up on, what would you pick?

Dr. Botchwey: Not easy. Broadly, labor intensive light manufacturing, and agricultural and horticultural products come to mind. Much work was done at the NDPC in the context of the preparation of the 40 year Plan which is currently under review.

 

PERSONALITY PROFILE

TVM: Many Ghanaians think of you as a man of deep insight. Quickly tell us about your growing up. How was your upbringing like?

Dr. Botchwey: People are very gracious to me, for the most part. I was born in Tamale. My dad was a civil servant and my mother a trader. I didn’t exactly grow up in the same environment with my mum. I went to school mostly in the North: Bawku, Yendi, and Wa. By the time we got back to the south from all these voyages, I could hardly speak any Akan. I mainly communicated in English and was often laughed at by my friends.

I won scholarships and went to PRESEC, St Augustine’s and so on and finally to Legon where I did my first degree. I won a scholarship to Oxford and just a day before I traveled to Oxford, I got admission also to Yale with a fatter scholarship so I ended up going to Yale. But in between, as I was reading my Masters degree something awakened in me a certain revolutionary fervor, a compelling yearning for social activism to do something about what I saw as pervasive injustice especially against the African person.

 

TVM: That’s where the passion started from?

Dr. Botchwey: It started from my days in America and saw its maturation in my days at the University of Dar es Salaam in Nyerere’s Tanzania, and my association with a cluster of progressive academics including Walter Rodney of ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’ fame, Clive Thomas, John Saul, Reginald Green, Forster Carter, Dan Nabudere, Mahmoud Mamdani, Horace Campbell, among others.

 

TVM: What is your fondest childhood memory?

Dr. Botchwey:  Ah! you know? It had to be childhood liking for ‘boflot’, later to be replaced by koose and kurikuri! Going to school in Bawku, we would  walk past loads of it by the road side and far enough from the adjacent houses. We would slip one or two into our pockets and then call someone to come and sell us whatever our daily stipends (few pennies) could buy, and  I’ll tell myself, when I grew up, I would try to make lots of money so that I could eat all the boflot I wanted! Unknown to me, the lady boflot maker had noticed our pranks and reported me to doting mother who not only spared me the cane, but made boflot a steady part of my breakfast! To this day my food preferences if I can get them are Northern delicacies. I’ve long given up my craving for artery clogging Fante doughnuts!

 

TVM: Your journey from the young man who liked ‘boflot’, to a statesman and political economist today, was it born out of reading? Or was there a mentor?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, it was born out of reading. At Yale, if you wanted to do a master’s degree in Law, you needed more than a passing acquaintance with political economy especially in the areas that I was interested in– Corporate Law Finance. But I acquired my revolutionary fervor, from reading Marx as we all did then.

 

TVM: So the Marxism was what drove you as a people’s person?

Dr. Botchwey: Absolutely!

 

TVM: Interesting. What struck you most about Karl Marx?

Dr. Botchwey: Well, his passion for fighting injustice in the work place for the downtrodden. It was right in the 19th century when injustice was at its worst; with child labor and dreadful working conditions in the mines, coal mines, and his determination to mobilize working people to participate in development and the fruits of development to change their lives. That really informed me and kept me reading mostly radical socialist literature.

 

TVM: In 1982, just fast forwarding to when President Jerry John Rawlings reached out to you to assist in stabilizing the Ghanaian economy. It is on record that you achieved some very strong results out there. What mechanisms do you remember deploying with your team to get the change that we saw?

Dr. Botchwey: Well, the most difficult one was to adjust the exchange rate. Let’s not forget, everybody who had tried it was overthrown. So we had to do it in mechanisms and language that people understood.

 

TVM: If you were in office today, and seeing what we’re seeing now in terms of cedi depreciation, the rise in public debt etc., would you have done the same? Or the antidote for now is different?

Dr. Botchwey: The situation now is different because we have a market determined exchange rate. We just need to make sure that our fiscal policies, our matching policies are sound so that we can have a stable macroeconomic environment.

 

TVM: You did talk about having a fiscal space but also having the political space. There are those who argue that you stormed out of the NDC in 1995 after you were overruled, so to speak on the plan for a spending splurge to win the 1996 election. Does that fall part of the political space that you were looking for? And what’s your take first on this allegation?

Dr. Botchwey: Idle speculation. Fake news, in today’s parlance.

 

TVM: There are those who argue that the Party needed you most during that period.

Dr. Botchwey: I didn’t think so. I had been in office for 13 years; I thought it was time to move on and return to the relative quietude and intellectual rigor of academic work.

 

TVM:  There is a quote attributed to you in the political window and it goes like this “If elected flagbearer, I would elaborate a clear plan to build on Ghana’s potential to take advantage of the global economy and the network of globally influential individuals and organization I have worked with to the benefit of the party and the people”. How could this have translated into the Ghana we wanted?

Dr. Botchwey: I had the good fortune of network on International Development when I was at Harvard and at the Fletcher School. I worked on the Millennium Development Goals, the UNDP’s Human Development Report  (HDR) and was a member of the UN Committee on Development Policy. So I had a good network and I was saying then when I was seeking flagbereship of the Party that I would reach out to people I knew in this network to help in fashioning the right policies if I were elected. In the event, I didn’t win.

 

TVM: There are those who say a strong team is important and I also believe that a strong leadership is important. So if you were the president, tell me two or three things that you will you do differently?

Dr. Botchwey: I am what you will call a yesterday’s man. My career reached its peak and has ended. I am humble enough to recognize that. I still have those networks. Hypothetically, if the good Lord should somehow change the laws of biology and return me to my 40s and I got elected as president, I would reach out to all talents and expertise of Ghanaians wherever they may be and whichever party they may belong to. I will end this bout of vengefulness and recrimination. I believe in inclusivity and ethicality in governance and temperance in the public discourse on matters that affect our common good. That is what would move the country forward. I think that is what presidents should do.

 

TVM: The 2020 flagbearership race of the NDC, did you intend to run for the flag-bearership?

Dr. Botchwey: No. If I did intend to, I would have run

 

TVM: The last flagbearership election and the aftermath of it, is it a reflection of what you saw going round?

Dr. Botchwey: To some extent, yes.

 

TVM: What does Kwesi do at his leisure time?

Dr. Botchwey: Reading and Jazz, especially smooth jazz.

 

TVM: Favorite sport and why?

Dr. Botchwey: Tennis, on clay courts when I can– they are gentler on the knees. Not golf. It is much too laid back for me. I reckon that what I can get from a game of tennis will take me two days of golf or something. My friends think the contrary.

 

TVM: If I put economic books aside, what others do you read?

Dr. Botchwey: Thrillers, crime and investigation– that’s series. It kind of tells me the working of the human mind. And cartoons.

 

TVM: Is it because you are inquisitive?

Dr. Botchwey: It is part but I like to understand how people’s minds work and the kind of mischief they are up to.

 

TVM: Will I be right in saying that the Dr. Kwesi Botchwey we are seeing today has been largely influenced by the Marxist theory or are there other books that may have influenced you?

Dr. Botchwey: Yes, it has defined my world outlook.  A lot of my friends laugh at me when I say that. They tell “You are Marxist but you wear nice clothes and nice things”. But I laugh it off. I have sort of gotten used to these taunts. But of course I have been influenced by philosophy generally, from the Greeks through the Enlightenment to E.O. Wilson’s work on Consilience, and, yes, the wisdom I learnt at my mother’s knee. Enough!

 

TVM: On Friday, if team Vaultz decides to organize an amazing meal for you, a delicacy, what should it be?

Dr. Botchwey: Interesting. For me, food is basically for restitution and livelihood so I don’t really have any favorite foods. No. That’s not true. I love French cuisine! But I’m a fish man. So if you decide to do any such thing, any old array, anything with fish would be just fine.

 

TVM: You have betrayed your ‘boflot’?

Dr. Botchwey:  Haha. You forget it got displaced long ago by kurikuri and koose long ago!

 

TVM: If you had the opportunity to rewrite a wrong. What would it be?

Dr. Botchwey: I’m sure I committed some wrongs in my long period of public service. Can’t remember any that stand out like a sore thumb. But there must be some – I have been all too human all my life – I will enthusiastically correct them if I am duly reminded.

 

TVM: On the Vaultz interview, we try and always have guests speak to their peers. The current minister of finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, what advice would you give him as somebody who sat in his chair before?

Dr. Botchwey: That’s an interesting one. Nothing really comes to mind. But, it will be nice if he could bring us all former finance ministers who are around, together sometime and have a chat and share a bottle of Barolo or Amarone!

 

TVM: What is your advice to the youth?

Dr. Botchwey: The youth are for me both worry and a tremendous source of inspiration. My heart bleeds when I see throngs of them roaming the streets trying to make a living. As a nation they represent our greatest asset and yet our greatest challenge. Their increasing anger and desperation should remind us that we are sitting on a time bomb. Providing them with the skills and training for to cope and flourish in a fast changing world, with advances in technology robotry and Artificial Intelligence that portend unimaginable changes human employment opportunities must be our topmost priority.

To the youth and especially to our young graduates, my advice is: don’t put your faith in government or public sector jobs all the time. There will never be enough to go round. Entrepreneurship and self- employment, doing anything or providing any service the market needs or wants can be an alternative. And finally, I do hope that the younger generations don’t repeat the ‘sins’ of the older generation and that they spawn a political culture that is less polarizing and partisan, more unifying. I do hope that we don’t see another generation that is just like us in that regard. It will be a huge tragedy for Ghana.

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