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“I believe manufacturing is one area that can push the country…” – Dr Ernest Ofori Sarpong, CEO, Special Ice Ltd

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He exudes the calm confidence of a truly accomplished man without the desperation for money seen in others. He loves to share whatever he has with people. He’s built for himself an amazing business career that has led to the establishment of his footprints in the real estates, manufacturing, mining, media and finance sectors.

He is one of the Ghana’s illustrious entrepreneurs with credible track record. He started his business career from the humble beginnings of trading and moved to imports and currently operates as an industrialist. His God fearing attitude has led him to the current height he finds himself.

He is always grateful to God for how far He has brought him. A man of few words but great accomplishments. He is the current CEO of Special Ice Ltd. In an in-depth conversation with the Vaultz Magazine, Dr Ernest Ofori Sarpong tells his story.

ECONOMIC/ INDUSTRY FOCUS

TVM: As somebody who has played a lot within the Ghanaian industrial sector, what’s your initial assessment of the industry so far?

EOS: Unfortunately, Ghana’s industrial sector hasn’t lived up to expectation. We could have done better as a nation when it comes to industrialization. We still have a long way to go when it comes to industrializing the economy.

TVM: It’s being said that industry contributes about 25% to Ghana’s GPD but we are pushing for more. We’ve seen the current government having a lot of conversation around one district one factory hoping that many of these initiatives will tilt the scale and get us doing more. What’s your assessment of that and how do you see all playing out?

EOS: It’s a nice idea the government has come up with; it’s a good policy. But, what government needs to do is to make sure it materializes and also get the right people to manage and run these businesses, other than that, if it becomes politicized and fails, then we will have a long way to go as a country.

TVM: Is it feasible?

EOS: It’s very feasible if given the needed attention.

TVM: There are those who compare Ghana’s industrial growth to countries like South Korea, hoping to grow quicker. What kind of acceleration do we need to go through? You’ve built amazing businesses. What kind of lessons can we draw from you?

EOS: It’s a matter of time. With time everything is possible. What we also need to do is to be very determined as a nation to understand the fact that the nation needs industries; the nation needs these industries as its backbone. We need to grow more than the 25% we have; we need to grow above that. It’s a matter of us being more determined than we are now. I think then the country will improve.

TVM: The Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Hon. Robert Ahomka-Lindsay at the 2nd edition of the Ghana Manufacturing Awards did indicate that Manufacturing is the hope for Ghana and it’s quite critical to our advancement as a country. A lot has been said about building Ghana into an industrial hub to ensure manufacturing is put on a full scale. How do you see it play out? Is it just talk or you see a lot of actions? What kind actions do we need to put in place as country?

EOS: We are seeing signs of actions. It is something we can’t run away from. After independence, our first President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, established a lot of industries but mismanagement of those industries led to their collapse. That has obviously made Ghana a more import-based economy and it’s about time we change that trend. We’ve seen some signs of actions but we need to do more.

TVM: Over the past decade you’ve moved from trading to import and probably may have been affected by the dollar at some point. Are there any specific lessons you want the government to pick, maybe one or two that we need to take a look at critically?

EOS: Until we move away from imports and build for ourselves a more industrial-based economy, we will always suffer in the hands of the USD or foreign currencies which is a big issue for any businessman or the country Ghana. I, for instance, started off as a trader and moved into import. I learnt my own lessons as an importer because of the fluctuating rate of the dollar. So, I had to cut down drastically on imports. Currently, I hardly do any imports. You’ll realize that most of the industries that I’ve ventured into are not import-based industries. So, anytime I want to engage in a particular business I try to ensure that, even if it’s an industry, the raw materials needed to be used are mainly obtained from the local market rather than importing them. I’ve had my own fair share of what the dollar can do to a businessman.

TVM: Talking about ‘local’ takes my attention to local content and local participation. In other jurisdictions, let me say Nigeria for example, partnership with locals become a prerequisite for foreign investors in the country. How do you see it play out in Ghana; is local participation or the local partnership working? Is it important; is it working; what should we do?

EOS: It is not working here because government has not made it a policy that every investor has to partner with a Ghanaian. Ghanaians naturally are very honest people and so making it a policy will help the country. What we’re seeing is: most of these investors who are foreigners repatriate their funds back to their countries and all that. This is how come they’ve taken over the economy because the government hasn’t established any policy that stipulates that foreign investors must partner with the ‘locals’.

 

TVM: There are those who have argued that maybe, just maybe, the locals are not stepping up in terms of capital mobilizations needed in key areas; the telecom sector, for instance, is one area; the banking sector as we look at it now is struggling from a low capitalization point of view. Do you agree with this assertion?

EOS: Not really. I think government should make it a policy that investors should partner with Ghanaians and it will help the country.

TVM: It seems as if the State favors more foreign investors than locals because of the kind of treatments foreign businesses get with the Free Zones Board. Do you think it’s an avenue which favors more foreign businesses? Is it working to our advantage or disadvantage as a country?

EOS: For us the local businessmen, it’s working to our disadvantage. Free Zones is a good idea. The incentives that businesses get there; the whole idea is to create employment. It is designed to get this foreigners to set up, invest and create employment. That aside, they are expected to export most of these products to other countries. But, inappropriately most of these companies end up selling their products on the market and make it a bit difficult for local investors to compete because they don’t get a level playing field to compete with these companies. This is because Free Zones’ companies don’t pay certain taxes. So, they import the raw materials, manufacture them and then end up selling probably all of the products manufactured on the market. It’s a big problem and must be checked.

TVM: If you had one advice to give to the government in terms of the operations of the Free Zones’ companies, what would it be?

EOS: Free Zones’ companies must be properly regulated. Not necessarily sanctioning them after they default but making sure they do the right thing first. I wouldn’t say we should deal with them but I think they must see the need to do the right thing. It holds a lot of employment for Ghanaians and that is a plus when it comes to economic development. Aside that, they must be made to do the right thing so they don’t compete with the locals on the local market. Free Zones’ companies have added advantages of not paying certain taxes. They have a lot of incentives and a lot of advantages when it comes to their operations. Unfortunately, Ghanaians have not taken too much advantage of this. Rather, it’s the foreigners who have taken advantage of this with the aim of trying to export most of their products. That’s okay only if they export to bring foreign exchange into the country. But the question is: are they really exporting these products? Government has to do a lot more monitoring to ensure the right thing is done but not just necessarily sanctioning them upon default.

TVM: The government upon assumption of office sought to move the country from a tax-based economy to a productive-based economy. Considering the tax rebate given to foreign companies, some estimates put it that the country loses about $2 billion annually because of the concessions given to foreign businesses. Are these ideas becoming a reality or they are still fantasies because when you cut down the taxes and it’s not leading to the productivity envisaged then it’s like cutting off the nose to spite the face?

EOS: If the essence of cutting down these taxes are genuine, that is fine. But, I believe most of the rules are not being adhered to. Cutting down taxes are to encourage businessmen but we shouldn’t give foreigners a lot of incentives so they don’t overshadow the local players. It won’t help us as a nation. We need to encourage our people to grow because they are here; they won’t repatriate funds to anywhere as foreign investors do! Local players should be given equal incentives and the focus should not be too much on foreigners. Some of us are even better than them. We should also be treated as investors rather than we being seen as locals and as such not deserving certain incentives when it comes to tax rebates.

TVM: As a local business investor, you are obviously looking for a level playing field to have an equitable benefit same with the foreign companies. What one or two things would you request from the government?

EOS: Some of our taxes have to be looked at especially with the introduction of the special tax issues and all that. Special Tax that is fine, Tax too that is fine. But special tax has to be placed on luxury items and not items like mineral water that is a necessity for us humans. What do we categorize as luxury items? Luxury items are, for example, if I decide to take a bottle of beer, I chose to for my pleasure. These are some of the things that we can categorize as luxury items, but not, for instance, I have to drink water that is a necessity. Air is free, also God created water. Water should have even been free if not for the cost of manufacturing. When there is a lot of taxes on water, a daily necessity, what are we trying to do as a nation; are we trying to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor; are we trying to expand or create a gap that will forever not even make the poor drink something like bottled water? In certain countries you don’t even see something like sachet water but in Ghana bottle water is so expensive; the tariff on it is too high. So, government should reconsider certain things; things that are daily needs and reduce the taxes on them.

BUSINESS FOCUS

TVM: ‘Special Investments’ has become a household name in Ghana’s business environment. What is special about ‘Special’?

EOS: There is nothing special about ‘Special’. However, Special Investments is a parent company; it’s a real estate company which was formed some years ago. So, when I decided to venture into mineral water I didn’t want to veer off the brand and so went for ‘Special’. So, as for ‘Special’, it is special!

TVM: Why that brand identity?

EOS: I have no particular reason. I just love the word “special”. I wanted everything of mine to be special; I wanted to do some form of special investments. So, when it came to the mineral water, I said to myself let me stick to the name ‘Special’.

TVM: Have you been able to achieve something special?

EOS: Yes, I would say so. I’ve had special patronage from the public on the products. So, at least I have been able to achieve something.

TVM: Is Special Ice doing very well on the market?

EOS: Yes, it’s doing pretty well on the market.

TVM: How would you define the business climate in Ghana? What does the concept of “ease of doing business in Ghana” mean to you; is it working?

EOS: To a certain extent it’s working especially when it comes to power. Some few years ago, we had lots of problems with power. But currently power is quite stable. The problem we manufacturers have now is that the cost of power in Ghana is very high. If you go to certain countries, power is being subsidized for industries. But, in Ghana there is the domestic rate and the commercial rate. The question is: why domestic rate and commercial rate? If government is not even subsidizing the power; why should they make it twice the price when we use it to produce something? This is unfair and it’s not in the right direction. Government should rather be encouraging people to set up industries by giving them constant power and also better rates when it comes to power tariffs. If I have to pay twice the rate for industry consumption and pay less at home, it’s difficult to appreciate. I don’t personally welcome this.

TVM: Under the same heading of “ease of doing business,” there are those who complain about the cost of borrowing in Ghana. They’ve categorized it as “uneasiness of doing business in Ghana”. What’s your thought on this?

EOS: That is very true. The cost of borrowing is very high in Ghana. I believe that is the economic trend of events. We can’t run away from it as far as that is concerned. But I know probably with time, if government continues a lot of what they’re doing now, interest rates may probably come down. We saw a sign in the recent past but quite recently the cedi to dollar has plunged, and we know it will surely affect interest rates.

TVM: What are some of the biggest challenges confronting industrialists aside the cost of power, forex fluctuations and interest rates which you’ve mentioned?

EOS: These are mostly the issues but we also have labor challenges where the normal Ghanaian attitude towards work is sometimes appalling. I think Ghanaians at a point complain there’s no employment but when given the opportunity don’t live up to expectations. The general Ghanaian attitude towards work has to be looked at. People, especially factory hands, need to improve their attitude. People sit at home for years because of lack of jobs and all of a sudden get employed but still fail to live up to expectation. It bothers a lot because it disturbs employers on what to do. You can’t keep firing them all the time. Sometimes you need to be tolerant a little bit and then maintain them.

TVM: How are you dealing with each of the challenges enumerated starting with forex fluctuations?

EOS: Forex does affect me. Sometimes, as individuals we can’t even control it and that’s why I always try to avoid the dollar or foreign currencies’ complications. It’s not the best for industrialists, especially for those who import raw materials into the country for production. The economy can only be controlled by the government and sometimes there are also external factors that even the government may not have control over. So, controlling the forex is quite a difficult one.

TVM: So, your basic approach to dealing with it is to focus more on businesses which probably enable you to avoid the complications of the forex?

EOS: Yes. Businesses that are not foreign exchange inclined.

TVM: What about the interest rate; that you cannot dodge?

EOS: Yes. That I can’t dodge. But, I try to avoid borrowing as much as possible. My team and I always try to work within our own means.

TVM: So does that mean your capital mobilization has always been internal and borrowing less?

EOS: Yes. I can’t say we haven’t borrowed before but we borrow less.

TVM: Any other challenge you want to share?

EOS: Well, these are the four main challenges.

TVM: You’ve touched manufacturing, media, real estate, mining and finance. What should Ghanaian be looking up to next from you in the line of business?

EOS: For now it could be anything. I don’t have anything in mind currently. Moreover, some of our businesses are quite young and have the potentials to expand to full blown companies. For example, BestPoint Savings and Loans can become a full-fledged bank. Also, the insurance company which currently is engaging in General insurance operations can be expanded. We still have other areas we haven’t explored, for instance, life insurance and all that. We would be looking at exploring all these areas before moving into other areas. I haven’t explored fully everything that I have touched my hands on.

TVM: Do you follow opportunities and take advantages?

EOS: Yes. That’s what business is all about.

PERSONALITY PROFILE

TVM: When the name Ernest Ofori Sarpong is mentioned across the globe, what comes to mind is “the philanthropist”. Does this have anything to do with your upbringing?

EOS: Probably, let me put it that way. I just happen to have that power of sharing. Such that when I happen to have something I always want to share with people. So yes, it’s part of my upbringing; the Presbyterian upbringing I got from my parents.

TVM: By the way, who is Ernest Ofori Sarpong?

EOS: As you rightly said: Ernest Ofori Sarpong is my name. I am the CEO of Special Ice Mineral Water as well as Special Investments Company. I also happen to be a partner in BestPoint Savings and Loans, Best Assurance, Best Ventures, UTV, U2 Salt and a few others. The only person I have had partnership with is my senior brother, Osei Kwame Despite. We’ve had a very cordially relationship so far.

TVM: Currently you have maneuvered, survived, existed and now a ‘power house’. How has that worked?

EOS: It’s just by dint of hard work.

TVM: Does that mean you’re less of a theory and more of practical? What lessons can be learnt?

EOS: I believe as a businessman you should have your own goals and should strive to attain those goals. With determination heaven favors everyman. Along the way you may have some failures but when you’re determined, success will be yours.

TVM: What ignited the spark in you to undertake this journey of entrepreneurship?

EOS: Maybe because I was determined to be a successful man in life. That’s what sparked all this. Also, my relationship with my mom may have contributed because she made me realize I could do well if I kept at it and that’s what has driven me to where I am today. Nonetheless, hard work has been key.

TVM: How have you sourced for ideas?

EOS: I used to read a lot especially books that have been authored by some of the successful personalities and I took a lot of inspiration from them. So, I knew that once I had that entrepreneurial skill, I could make it in life. I relied on it very strongly and at least for where I am, I’ve been able to achieve something.

TVM: Have you been a Presbyterian all your life?

EOS: Well, ever since I grew up.

TVM: Can you tell us how your Christian faith has shaped your business and personal life and the correlation between the two?

EOS: In every business, one should just remember that the key owner of the business is God Almighty. You can’t do business without remembering who has brought you to where you are. I have always been grateful to God for what He has done for me. That’s one of my keys to success.  I always remember that God has been kind to me. I don’t do anything without praying about it and I pray a lot and I think that is one of the things that has made me successful. We should all remember that our successes depend on the Almighty God, once we forget about Him anything can happen to us.

TVM: Is that the discipline that runs through your businesses and employees? Is that something you try to instill in them?

EOS: Yes, I try to but as to whether they take it or not, I don’t know.

TVM: What drives you or keeps you going in business?

EOS: Well, it’s not just venturing into any business because I feel it’s a good venture; no, not at all. I consider certain areas– areas that can support the businesses I’m already engaged in. For instance, when I looked at banking I realized it will support what I’m doing; also when I looked at insurance I realized it will support what am doing; when I looked at the media I realized it will support advertising of my products. So, it’s not just venturing into any business but as to whether it will be beneficial to the operations of the other businesses.

TVM: Does it mean your business model is an ecosystem that reinforces one another?

EOS: That is perfectly right.

TVM: Your hard work has paid off through the numerous laurels you’ve received both locally and internationally. How do they make you feel?

EOS: They make me work harder; they inspire me. It’s not every award that I even accept. I’ve had a number of them come my way but I try to be as selective as possible. When I receive these awards, right from the very first one that I was given, they have inspired me to whatever level I am today. It makes me work harder and harder by the day.

TVM: What will make you say no to an award?

EOS: It depends on where it’s coming from.

TVM: You are described as “absolutely a man of his word, seeing through every single promise that he makes during an entire transaction, all his documents are legitimate, intact and well-kept and he exudes the calm confidence of a truly accomplished man without the desperation for money seen in others.” Is this true; do you concur to these descriptions?

EOS: Well, I think it’s true and I do

TVM: With the afore-mentioned description, what are your ideals in life?

EOS: To be honest as possible. Honesty, that’s the key word that I would use.

TVM: In the very distant future when all is said and done, how would you want to be remembered?

EOS: Well, probably to be remembered as someone who helped a few others to come up to certain levels in life.

TVM: If you had the chance to start your life over again, what would you have done differently?

EOS:  Nothing much. Because I don’t think I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. Probably, I will go through the same process.

TVM: If you had a chance to rewrite a wrong, what will it be; is there any you can pinpoint?

EOS:  Not necessarily. For instance, look at the number of businesses that I own, some are doing better than others but I wouldn’t necessarily say, I wouldn’t have gone for those ones. Almost everything that I’m doing is for a purpose. I wouldn’t write any of them off; I would go through the same thing.

TVM: You sure there’s nothing you wish you could make right?

EOS: I would have corrected a few things and probably done certain things better than I did them when I didn’t know too much about those things. I would have corrected myself, if I had the chance to go back. But I wouldn’t run away from the things that I have done. I would have made a lot of corrections then vary it a little bit better.

TVM: Who has been your greatest inspiration both in business and in personal life?

EOS: Probably, I would say Osei Kwame. My wife also inspires me a lot and above all the biographies of other accomplished personalities.

TVM: What is your hobby?

EOS: My business has become my hobby.

TVM: Aside your business, what else?

EOS: I will prefer to be on the football field. Football is my hobby, both watching and playing it.

TVM: Any favorite team?

EOS: Non in particular. But on a good day, I’ll support Barcelona in the Spanish La Liga and Chelsea in the English Premier League.

TVM: It is on record that you are an ardent auto fanatic. Which is your favorite?

EOS: My favorite car is Bentley, and a second choice would be Mercedes Benz.

TVM: What’s your favorite delicacy and wine?

EOS: My favorite delicacy is rice; all sorts. While a red wine is good. My favorite wine will probably be Chateau.

TVM: What genre of music do you love and listen to most?

EOS: I like to listen to old school. But if it’s Ghanaian music I’ll possibly go for Daddy Lumba. But, I like to listen more to old school.

TVM: What is your advice to the government?

EOS: Government should make the atmosphere a bit more conducive for manufacturers. I believe manufacturing is one area that can push the country forward and so government should focus critically on that area to develop the economy.

TVM: What is your advice to the youth?

EOS: To the youth, I would say they should set their own goals and strive hard to achieve those goals and work towards them.

TVM: What is your advice to your peers; industry players and business community?

EOS: To my peers, I would say everyone should work hard. They shouldn’t let peer pressure have an effect on them. They should just work hard and try to move according to their own pace.

 

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  • Sir i salute your thought that manufacturing is bones of any country who is growing

Profiles

“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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