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“Integrity in whatever religion, tribe, gender, stands tall” – Mrs.Patience Akyianu

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Ghana’s banking industry is beginning to experience a new sigh of relief of the male dominance and this jinx was broken when the first female CEO appointed in Ghana was a foreigner. Ghanaians started questioning, when will our female executives demonstrate their leadership prowess? All of a sudden, the quake began and the country’s female leaders began to assume their positions.

She rose through the ranks of the industry, garnered experience and became the first female Ghanaian CEO of an international bank. Mrs. Patience Akyianu, who currently heads the team at Barclays Bank Ghana as the Managing Director robs shoulders with the men in the men’s world.

Patience Akyianu, is one of the torchbearers in bringing change to this strategic sector and through her open, firm, fair, decisive judgements, she’s led the bank to regain its position as the number one bank in both revenue and profitability in the 2017 accounting period.

In this revealing, more insightful and captivating engagement, the Vaultz Magazine tells her story.

The Business of Banking in Ghana

TVM: How would you describe the business of Banking in Ghana currently?

MPA: The banking industry, is an intensely competitive sector and remains exciting. In recent times we’ve had a few challenges and the regulator has responded by instituting measures like the increase in the minimum capital requirement. You may be aware a few banks have been taken over by the central bank but, the regulator has assured all of us that the worse is over and the public shouldn’t be unduly worried. As a bank, our focus is on exploring the new innovative opportunities that are emerging with non-conventional players like the Telecommunications companies and FinTechs coming into the game.

TVM: Ghana’s banking landscape has, for some time, been experiencing various reforms including new capital requirement, stricter governance policies etc. What impact(s) do you think these have on the industry in the near term as well as the long term as a whole?

MPA: There is a lot that the banking industry can do to drive economic growth in our country. So, you will understand the importance of having well capitalized and highly liquid banks. What the regulator is seeking to do is to strengthen the environment and setting a higher capital requirement is one of the ways that would lead to having stronger banks in our country. I think the regulator is in the right direction and it’s to the benefit of the banking sector and the country at large if we end up having stronger banks. The new corporate governance guidelines recently issued by the central bank and the Deposit Protection Bill which was passed into law by Parliament in July 2016 to protect depositors from unforeseen circumstances that may result in loss of funds, should all contribute to creating a more robust banking sector and restoring confidence.

TVM: Lending to SMEs and Corporate organizations is a big part of banks’ duties. So, why is it difficult for these institutions to access loans from these banks to boost their operations?

MPA: Interestingly, a lot of people when they think about looking for finance just think of banks. But there are alternate sources of finance and, for me, if debt which banks do is not suitable for them, businesses must go out there and look for other solutions. For us banks, we take into consideration the repayment ability of the entity we are considering lending money to. We are very much sensitive to the high risk of most startups because we take depositors money and need to ensure we use it wisely.

For instance, assuming you entrust your money to me and I take a risky decision and gave your money out and lose it, will you be happy? You would not be happy right! So, we need to be careful. Many of these SMEs are startups and it’s very difficult for them to convince the banks to lend them money. In addition to that, those that are not startups may not have the kind of structures that give banks comfort to lend to them. A lot of these SMEs don’t have the right governance structures in place. Also, most of them have one man making all the decisions and banks look at key man risk.

For example, if the owner or the CEO were not to be around, what would happen to the business? The bank needs that kind of comfort. The more SMEs invest in building the right structures in their organizations and putting the right governance in place, the better it will be for all of us. We would then, as banks, have confidence in them and their businesses will also grow in a sustainable manner.

TVM: The Capital Market is becoming attractive to debt issuers as a channel for raising debt capital due to pricing and repayment terms. Do you think the introduction of the Ghana Reference Rate positions the banks to provide competitive pricing to corporate debt issuers?

MPA: I think it’s a step in the right direction. Yes, we all understood the parameters that we had to consider in deriving the base rates in the previous system. But, how are you able to explain one bank’s base rate being 17 and another one being 24. Except that probably the one with the higher base rate may have sourced their funds at a higher cost and they have higher operating expenses. This means that sometimes you price your inefficiencies into the lending rate at which customers borrow.

With the introduction of a reference rate, which is uniform across board, banks just have to add on a risk premium which will have a range. This will ensure more transparency as banks will clearly spell out how they came up with the bands. For example, if you started with a Ghana reference rate of currently 16.74% and added 5% as the risk premium, the regulator will need to understand why you added 5 percent. This kind of transparency is bound to lead to a very developed market for banks, lenders and borrowers altogether. This is definitely the way to go.

TVM: Does Barclays Bank Ghana participate in the Ghana Reference Rate?

MPA: Oh yes. It’s the regulator’s policy directive and we as players need to conform as well as collaborate with them to help further develop the sector.

TVM: Does Barclays Bank Ghana participate in purchasing corporate debt on the Capital Market?

MPA: It’s a question of whether we want to take the credit risk on the particular corporate in question. Depending on our view of the corporate, we will participate. We are committed to developing the capital market and in various ways we’ve played our part in driving market development. For instance, we took part in the recently issued ESLA Bond (the energy sector bond) even though we were not the ones that led the transaction. When the bond came onto the market, we bought our fair share. Depending on the credit worthiness of the corporate in question, we will participate in corporate bonds.

TVM: The advent of Technological innovations and financial disruptions has become more of a complement than a bother in the activities of the financial sector. How do you see the future of banking as a business entity in the wake of these disruptions?

MPA: It’s exciting if you ask me. I hear lots of conversations around telecommunications companies (telecoms) coming to eat the cake of banks and the questions of who should be afraid; telecoms or banks? I see an opportunity. Banks traditionally, do not invest heavily in technology in the same magnitude as telecommunications companies. If a bank doesn’t have the funds to do that, you can always partner with telecoms or fintechs to tap into the vast, currently untapped opportunity.

Ghana’s unbanked is actually about 60% of the population. That is opportunity starring at us and that’s where the telecoms come in, bringing into the formal sector what hitherto banks did not have the capacity to tap into. For us, as banks, cost to serve is very important. We’ve talked about financial inclusion, mass market etc. but if it doesn’t make financial sense it becomes a difficult task. Partnering with telecoms and fintechs would actually bring down the cost of doing business with the masses and it becomes a win-win for the industry.

TVM: How well positioned are banks?

MPA: We at Barclays are very well positioned to partner Telecoms and Fintech companies to explore the growing opportunities to deliver innovative services to our customers beyond what we are already doing in the area. It will be unfortunate for some banks to feel telecoms are taking away their business because the data and the trend that we see don’t support that kind of feeling. We need to understand that the regulator has not given banking licenses to the telecoms. Some even argue that a telecom can form a bank.

Of course, to the extent that they can meet the minimum capital requirement and the regulator gives a license, nobody can stop any telecom that wants to set up a bank from doing so. But, there’s more than enough scope to partner with telecoms in the current environment in which we are in.

Barclays Bank changing to ABSA Bank

TVM: Barclays Africa Group is transitioning to ABSA Group and shall reflect in all regions of operations including Ghana. Your aspiration as a bank, by 2020, was to see about 70% of your banking activities digital. What happens to this aspiration in the wake of this change?

MPA: It’s even become more real. Currently, we have three priorities as unveiled in our new strategy. On the 1st of March, our Chief Executive released to the market, information about what our new brand was going to be and also a bold new strategy. This strategy includes three key priorities: we aim to build a thriving organization, regain leadership in core businesses and to be digitally led. So you can imagine the amount of investment currently going on to make us more innovative into the future. The focus is to make doing business with our clients very easy.

TVM: Currently, Barclays Africa Group is rebranding to ABSA Group. Also, there’s an ABSA Bank that operates as an entity in South Africa. What is the correlation between the two?

MPA: ABSA is the brand name that the Barclays Africa Group business in South Africa uses. ABSA and Barclays have been in the same family, since 2013 when Barclays PLC combined its business operations in Africa through a special transaction to form Barclays Africa Group Limited, which is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. ABSA together with our operations in 11 other markets – Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, including representative offices in Namibia and Nigeria, therefore, form the Barclays Africa Group. The formation of the Barclays Africa Group gave Barclays Plc a 62.3% shareholding in the group.

In the recent sell down, the shareholding for Barclays Plc in Barclays Africa Group Limited is now 14.9% and as a result of that there is a need to rebrand or change our brand. Effective, 11 July 2018, Barclays Africa Group Limited will be rebranded to Absa Group Limited. The rest of us outside South Africa, have up to June 2020 to rebrand to Absa. Being a strong brand that is already part of the Barclays Africa Group family, it makes sense to leverage on this existing brand, given the eminent brand change.

The change in shareholding has therefore given us the opportunity to roll out a brand that reflects our identity in Africa and unites all our operations on the continent behind one name. But this is not just about a name change. It is about building a banking group that all of Africa can be proud of; a forward-looking African business, rooted in Africa and recognizing our African heritage.

TVM: How, as a bank, do you intend to address the challenges this change comes with, especially with those who are ‘obsessed’ with the previous brand name “Barclays Bank”?

MPA: Barclays is a well-respected brand. It is well loved by many and we understand just how attached our customers, clients, colleagues and other stakeholders are to the Barclays brand. It is a brand that has been in the hearts of Ghanaians for over 100 years. However, changing to ABSA provides a great opportunity for us to do things differently; a truly pan-African Bank with our destiny in our own hands. What this means is we are now better positioned to pursue opportunities that make us more relevant to Ghana and the continent at large.

We have a rich heritage in Africa as Barclays across the region and we actually have a strong network with over 42,000 employees, 10,000 ATMs and about a 1200 branches across Africa. We are going to leverage our strengths and even become more daring because our purpose currently is ‘bringing your possibility to life’. So, we will stretch ourselves and challenge each other to bring our customers, clients and stakeholders possibilities to life.

TVM: Banking business is currently facing a number of challenges such as new technology, changing demographics, and tighter regulations such as we’re experiencing in Ghana. How does the new brand intend to position itself to continue the legacy Barclays Bank Ghana was known for in terms of its technology-savvy?

MPA: With the unveiling of our bold new strategy, we intend to go out there in the market and take it by storm. We are investing very heavily in technological innovations and we will be digitally led. This is a space to watch as we partner with telecoms, fintechs and technology companies to make our service offering even better and our brand even stronger.

TVM: In a recent interview, you stated that “… a new brand for a new banking group”. What new experiences does the new brand bring in the wake of its change?

MPA: Although we have been doing some great things in the digital space I’m sure there is much more we can do. Our new brand is closely associated with innovation, digitization and customer-centricity. Our customers should be ready for new experiences as we build a thriving digitally led business and introduce pioneering propositions.

TVM: Barclays Bank Ghana currently posted a strong financial performance in the 2017 financial year results – raking in GHc 550m of profit before Tax. What can you say accounted for such an immense performance?

MPA: This is due to our ability to spot opportunity and go for it, and that’s why opportunities excite me. We did a number of big trades; some with the government, some with our customers and that culminated in that impressive performance. Our impressive financial performance was also driven by a strong revenue growth and an operating cost which reflected our commitment to pursue efficient banking operations that deliver value for our customers. We also kept our strategy simple and concrete whilst focusing on executing the agenda to be the bank of choice for our chosen customer segment.

TVM: Your vision in the next five years after rebranding in 2020 is to double your share of banking revenues on the continent. How do you intend to achieve this considering the rather highly homogeneous and very competitive industry you find yourself?

MPA: By becoming more relevant in the markets in which we operate. We are going to build a thriving and commercially driven entrepreneurial organization. Our goal is to lead in our core businesses: retail, corporate and market. Our plan is to deploy the right solutions to our customers and lead in our core businesses.

Personality Profile

TVM: Undoubtedly, you are the first Ghanaian female CEO in Ghana’s banking industry. So, we would like to know; who is Patience Akyianu and how was growing up as a child like?

MPA: I’m the first of three girls. I lost my mother quite young so I was raised by my father. Actually growing up I never thought that, as a lady, I should do less or I should think of myself as inferior to men. My father just expected the best from us. He never encouraged any thought of us being softer because our standards were lower and all that. So when I grew up and interacted with other people, I realized that not everyone had it the same way we did, I was surprised. I thought everyone had equal opportunities to be the best that they could be. Unfortunately, my father is no longer alive; I wish he were so I could show my appreciation to him.

TVM: What is your earliest memory as a child?

MPA: I was actually very competitive from day one in school. I really liked being among the top three if not the number one. Any time that didn’t happen, I was pretty miserable. I recall a time in my lower primary days, after working very hard to be the number one, the teacher whilst calling the high performers, for some reason, rather called me for the third position. I was quite upset and I have never really forgotten this incident.

TVM: It has been observed that while growing up you went through most difficult times as a child. What influence did this path have on your early development?

MPA: Having lost my mother at the age of eight, I was the de-facto mother of the house and was expected to look after my two younger sisters. Without knowing, this placed in me a position to take up responsibilities and it developed in me a sense of ownership. So naturally, wherever I go and whatever I do, I actually feel responsible for whatever has been entrusted to me. I therefore usually step up as the leader and take up the responsibility wherever I am.

TVM: You currently operate in an area formerly seen to be the preserve of men. You mentioned in an interview that your “entry into banking was not a premeditated one”. What was your initial aspiration while growing up?

MPA: To be the best at whatever I did. By some twist of faith or divine guidance, it ended up being banking. I say it was divinely guided because I trained as an accountant with the Coopers and Lybrand. I did an MBA and then joined Ernst and Young. Then I got an opportunity in Lincoln School. While there as Finance Manager, I realized that there was more to me than just finance. I wanted more; there was a hunger for more.

So, after the expiry of my contract with the school I informed them that I was not renewing it. This came as a shock to them because they were very happy to have me. Through my network, one of my colleagues at Coopers and Lybrand informed me of an opportunity in Standard Chartered in the Finance department and suggested I put my Curricular Vitae (C.V) through which I did. We had a conversation and one thing led to the other. I worked there for a couple of years and became the Financial Controller. Later I moved on into the business functions and here I am today.

TVM: If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?

MPA: Not much frankly! Because I think the finance path that I took played a huge role in getting me to where I am today. Well, I know that not every accountant has an aspiration to become a Managing Director or will be a Managing Director. But what this did for me was to give me the skills, the experience, the education and helped me build the competencies that got me where I am.

TVM: You defied all odds to rise to where you are today. Can you narrate how the journey to the top of your career has been?

MPA: Hard work has been very key. In addition to that, is having the right networks and striving to be outstanding in your given task most importantly. Hard work needs to be combined with other important variables and that’s what people call providence. But when opportunity and being prepared collide it gets you where you aim to be.

TVM: You strongly believe that being committed to an idea or a company enhances the prospects of success. What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?

MPA: I think the greatest is what we’ve been able to achieve as a team, bringing Barclays Bank Ghana to number one in profitability once again. I recall those days when I was at Standard Chartered, looking at Barclays and wondering, what do they do to earn so much revenue. Barclays Bank was known as the number one bank, then we went through some difficult patches and we dropped in both our revenue and profitability position. Now, I feel a sense of pride in the fact that we’ve led this business together with our committed staff to regain our past glory in the market.

TVM: How will you describe your leadership style?

MPA: Open, Firm, Fair, Decisive!

TVM: What are your ideals in life?

MPA: My ideals include having “a sense of ownership”. It surprises me how many people lack ownership. Once you’re given a task, know that everyone is looking up to you to bring it to completion. However, you often find people expecting somebody else to take it up or to do some bit of it. No! Just understand that you’re the only one responsible from start to finish. With that kind of attitude and mindset, people are bound to choose you because you know how to execute.

The second thing is integrity. Maintaining integrity irrespective of one’s religion, tribe or gender is important and that’s what makes success. People will want to work with those they can trust, people whose word they can rely on, and people who will do the right thing whether you’re looking at them or not. Respect! There are certain times you have to make hard decisions. There are certain times that people will not like your style but the foundation of every human relationship, is respect. Showing respect whether the person is younger than you, older, senior, more junior than you, is the key to successful relationships.

In addition to that is Humility. There’s nothing that we have that we’re not given. The Bible accounts that “what do you have that you were not given”. So, what’s the reason for being proud? Reflect on it. In every relationship if humility undergirds your actions and interactions, you’ll have a successful relationship. Next is excellence. Whatever you do, put in your best and do it well. Standout! If there are five people standing here, you should be the best and the one that’s chosen because of your excellence. So, these are a few of my ideals in life.

TVM: Sitting at the top of affairs of an international brand like this simply connotes busy work-life. Describe how your typical day looks like?

MPA: Normally, it’s interesting and a mix of many things. I do a lot of travelling as part of my role, especially to our Group office in South Africa, to give account, participate in strategic sessions and also request for some support to help drive our strategy. Being part of a group also means there are a number of group decisions that can impact local operations; therefore, there are some networks that I’ve had to develop internally as well to be able to get things done easily.

However, when I am in Ghana, I’m the face of the bank so I represent the bank at a number of stakeholder functions, events and engagements. This also enhances the brand and makes it more visible. My roles also include dealing with customers, clients, the regulator and other important stakeholders like the government. Together with my colleagues, I go on customer visits and attend business meeting with our strategic partners to build and deepen our relationship and sometimes negotiate business deals.

The big part of what I do also is engaging with staff and working together with colleagues to create the kind of environment that’s conducive for the growth, development and progress of employees as well as the business. We create that together with unions, staff representations etc. I also engage with colleagues from Head office, branches, and across the entire business sharing our vision and strategy with focus on driving performance because our license for doing business is to remain sustainably profitable.

Lastly, being in charge of the business, I chair and attend several committee and adhoc meetings to understand the direction our business is taking and give a strategic guidance to keep it on track. So, I cannot predict completely what the day will bring except I have meetings lined up. Apart from scheduled appointments, I engage in all these things that will move the business forward; which maybe either planned or ad hoc to occupy my day.

TVM: What skill or expertise do you feel you’re still missing despite your position?

“Once you’re given a task, know that everyone is looking up to you to bring it to completion.”

MPA: Well, I’ve grown a lot in the role as the Managing Director. When I took over the role, to be honest, I was surprised at the reservoir of skills, strengths, competencies that I had acquired overtime. Therefore, from Finance Director to Managing Director, it almost felt as if that was what I was being prepared and groomed for all along. I just fitted in naturally and started running much to my surprise. I was a typical finance person and “cost, cost” was all people thought I knew and so they thought I’ll struggle with the engagement that comes with the breadth of interactions with being in a role as the Managing Director. But, I rose to the occasion and hit the ground running. The only thing that came as a bit of a surprise to me was how much media attention it came with. But, I’ve come a long way in my engagements with the media.

TVM: You averred your husband is your greatest cheerleader which is interesting to know. So, who is your role model, and why?

MPA: Yes, of course! He is my greatest cheerleader. In terms of role model, one of the things that a lot of us, growing up as ambitious females, missed was having the right role model. I recall my next door neighbor being Mrs. Sylvia Boye, who was the Head of Examination Council, inspiring me very early on in my life. Maybe, through my interactions with her, seeing her to be a strong female leader and being one of the few in those days, I probably unknowingly acquired from her the desire to standout and lead. It was an indirect and an unplanned sought of relationship. In retrospect, I can say she influenced my path towards female leadership and where I am today. Apart from her, I haven’t intentionally picked out anyone as a role model but broadly I see people doing great things and I aspire to be where they are.

TVM: What do you do in your leisure time?

MPA: I like spending time with my family a lot. By the nature of my work I spend a lot of hours outside home. I have a lot of engagements outside the office like accepting invitations to business events and other important functions. Travels, also take me away from home quite often. So when I have time on my hands I like to spend it with my family at home doing anything you can think of that mothers do, because I’m a wife and mother first before anything else. I’m concerned about their academics so I go through their school work with them. I travel with my kids, I shop with them, eat together and all the other things that families do. I’m also a very active person in church. So, I do a lot of church work as well.

TVM: Do you have hobbies or sport you engage or love most?

MPA: Not really. But I’ve tried golf couple of times, nevertheless, I cannot say I’m an avid golfer.

TVM: What genre of music do you listen to?

MPA: I like gospel music a lot. I also like inspirational things; things that uplift the spirit. So if the music is positive, inspirational then I like it.

TVM: What kind of a wife/ mother are you?

MPA: I love my family to the extent that I try to spend all the time that I have available with them. I’m the first they all call on when they are in some form of trouble. I think they value me as a mother or as a wife. I don’t want to mark myself and say I’m a good mother so I leave it at that. I know I’m not perfect but I try my best.

TVM: What advice and message would you give to Young Female Executives as well as aspiring female executives?

MPA: They should just focus on delivery and excellence and the rest will follow. In my personal experience, I have not felt that I’ve been discriminated against in my work place on the basis of my gender. If you ask many managers, heads of organizations or leaders, they will tell you that the most important thing is excellent delivery. And whether you are a woman or a man, once they can count on you to come to the table with the values you bring and contribute significantly to the performance of the organization, you will rise. So for my female colleagues out there, I think we are too consumed with being female. If you want to progress in any organization, go for delivery and show them how good you are and your being female will not matter!

TVM: What message would you give to Customers of the bank?

MPA: These are exciting times and we are on a growth trajectory. They should watch out as the story unfolds …we are bringing possibilities to life!

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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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