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Prof. Edward Solomon Ayensu – (Former Chairman, World Bank Inspection Panel)

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…is an international development advisor on science, technology and economic development and is currently the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) Ghana, and Vice President of the Energy Globe Foundation.

TVM: How will you describe the state of the Ghanaian economy after 60 years of independence considering the preindependence, independence and postindependence events?

PESA: This is a very tall question. Luckily, I’ve lived long enough to have experienced a substantial portion of Ghana’s history. Ghana started with tremendous exuberance. At the time, we had a leader who literally whipped majority of Ghanaians into a frenzy. He believed that Ghana should become an important country; not only in Africa but the rest of the world. If you study his works, devoid of the politics, you will find out that we started off with a man with tremendous vision.

He knew where Ghana should be. As a matter of fact, I think he was 20 – 30 years ahead of most his colleagues on the continent. He managed to allow Ghana to experience something that, in my judgment, was lacking in other African countries. In order to have a country develop, there must be a national agenda, and have a critical mass of people who can turn ideas into something substantial and practical.

TVM: What did Nkrumah do differently?

PESA: When Nkrumah decided to put up the first seven-year development plan, he went outside his political party i.e. to the opposition to ask Mr J. H. Mensah and his team to get the job done. When you read that plan today, you will find out that it is literally the genesis of all the development plans we have encountered on the continent today. If you take the Lagos plan of action, for example, it’s literally a carbon copy of Ghana’s first development plan.

A lot of other African countries managed to take bits and pieces of it to use. Now, fast forward, we went through a period where the soldiers took control and now we’re back into the civilian mode. But in retrospect, I think, if Ghana does not go back to the drawing board where we started to the type of vision that the country was presented; 60 years on, the country may be worse off than it is right now and I have good reasons to speculate from this standpoint.

TVM: Good reasons like?

Prof. Edward Solomon Ayensu

PESA: Discipline is something that is absolutely essential if you want to run a country, an office or a house. You need leaders and people who are ‘damn’ honest to be able to make that happen. Unfortunately, we in Ghana are branded as indiscipline on all fronts in a way that, to be very honest with you, I feel even ashamed sometimes to talk about it.

At the same time, I have a glimmer of hope. The first hope I have is that all the young people I’m meeting of recent date want to be entrepreneurs and not civil servants.

But, they require something to be able to achieve that and that is, the need for the government to create a congenial atmosphere for them to operate in. Government has some very specific duties to perform to grow the economy. Government officials should also stay out of business.

I want to emphasize that, we have to discipline ourselves. I am pleased that at the beginning of his presidency, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo admonished his ministers and other appointees.

TVM: As an International advisor on economic development, what do you suggest Ghana should do to be on track to attain its economic independency?

PESA: To become economically independent requires a lot of work. It requires a programme that is devoid of interest of personalities and political parties. The country as whole must have an agenda. I’m saying this because I’ve tried to study all the manifestos of the political parties and to tell you the truth, apart from a few areas where you see major dichotomies, they are practically almost the same.

What is important is who is running the ship. If we get the correct leader to run the ship then we’ll get somewhere. If not, we wouldn’t and these are the facts. The economy of a country depends upon serious macro-economic discipline and we need people who know the subject areas.

Not all who comment on economics are qualified to do so. Theoretically, there are ways and means of getting the economy of a country going. But theoretical economics is not a strict science. There’s a human element and that element is the one that undermines any theoretical presentation that Ghana’s economy is premised.

There are people in official positions who are systematically looking for ways and means to undermine the systems so that they can take bribes to enrich themselves. To change the mind set of Ghanaians we may need to help form parties such as psychologists, sociologists and so on and not only theoretical economists.

Each government comes in with their own agenda. Unfortunately, because of the way we are structured, we tend to rely only on our party members. But, I would like to see us venture out a little and talk to other people who mean well. I mean people who love Ghana the way we should all love Ghana; instead of our parties only.

TVM: The President recently averred that: “Africans must move beyond aid…” As a renowned advisor on strategy, sustainability and relationship management, what steps would you advice we take as Africans to effect this new narrative?

PESA: I’m so delighted that the President is hopping on this subject. We should have been doing this long ago. I recall I wrote an article in the bulleting of Atomic Scientist, Einstein’s magazine in 1985 and I was talking about this same subject. I said “the greatest contribution the developed world can make for us is to stop giving us aid in its current form”.

The only aid that is worth receiving is, for example, when there’s a disaster or so and Ghana’s friends want to help, that is fine. The rest I have difficulty with. Sometimes, a whole country on the continent starts preparing its national budget and the government starts off by finding out how much aid it is getting from Britain, USA, China, France, Soviet Union etc.

This has been going on continuously decade after decade and I’m so delighted that the President has finally vocalized what has been on our minds for so many years.

TVM: You have worked with various African governments as a result of your position as the Chairman of the Inspection Panel of the World Bank. What were some of the things you noticed, which perhaps, is making Africa lag in its economic development?

PESA: To be very honest with you, I never wanted to deal with my own country when I was the chairman of the Inspection Panel for the World Bank. This is because people could easily misunderstand your criticisms.

But the truth is our own leadership often undermine the national programme. It is our indisciplinary nature that makes it possible to be dictated to by the IMF and other International Financial Institutions. In other parts of the world where I conducted investigations, I noticed that when I make suggestions, people do listen and they don’t take your comments in a negative way.

But, here on this continent, the tendency even for people to hate you when you make suggestions is there.

Banking and the Currency evolution

TVM: In the third chapter of your book, ‘Bank of Ghana:  Commemoration of the Golden Jubilee’, you noted that after Ghana’s independence, the West African pound, circulating in the colonies, was regarded as a vestige of British colonialism that had to be changed. On July 14th, 1958, the Ghana Pound was introduced. Can you shed more light on that evolution and the significance of our currency to our economic growth?

PESA: First of all, formal banking didn’t exist in the then Gold Coast. It was not until 1890 that the Colonial Secretary decided to establish some semblance of banking, called Savings Bank, in the then Post and Telecommunications Department. Fast forward, on 21st November, 1912, the colonial secretary decided that they better get some currency for the whole of the English speaking West Africa: Gold Coast (Ghana), The Gambia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. All these ideas were harnessed by the colonial government because they wanted our cocoa and they realised that in buying the cocoa, they had to pay with something.

They then issued the first West African currency by the West African Currency Board in 1913. This money, which was used in the four former British colonies, was used to pay the farmers. So, what the West African countries are currently trying to do, in establishing a common currency is not a new phenomenon.

TVM: What is your impression of Ghana @60 as a whole with respect to the currency?

PESA: Initially, one could say that during the First Republic, it became obvious that Ghana should have total control over its own currency and the economy. Currency by itself doesn’t mean anything.

What is important is the productivity of the economy. When the first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah got the Central Bank established, it became obvious that other things had to go with it. For example, you just cannot develop if you do not have the underpinning infrastructure needed to make things happen. Right from the beginning, Nkrumah felt the time had come for us to industrialise because without it, we were going nowhere. This was because he realised that capital formation was hard to come by.

Therefore government had to step in. The best way to go about it was for the government to literally start up some industries. You notice that all the countries that have major start-ups are the rapidly developing countries and recently developed countries have well established start-ups.

These then have the potential to mushroom into major companies. Right now the contribution that our industries make to the economy and therefore the GDP is relatively very small. Without the cocoa and our mineral resources and now oil and gas, our GDP will be very low. The reason is that the general productivity in the country is very low. Any economy that depends largely on imports of rice, tomato, onion etc. is not a serious economy. In fact such an economy is vulnerable.

TVM: The Central Bank last year raised the stated capital of banks to GH¢400million and some critics are of the view that local banks cannot meet the new requirement and will be squeezed out of the market. How do we achieve a balance of solid banks to drive economic growth and strong and formidable local representation?

PESA: This idea of recapitalising the banks was initiated by the previous government. With my knowledge of the banking sector I believe and was of the opinion then that if we do not take care we will drive away our local banks to oblivion. These other banks have their mother banks outside and can bring in money to recapitalise if need be. But with the new government articulating clearly why the banks need to recapitalise, my understanding is that if you raise the GH¢400million then you are a fully-fledged bank but if not, then there are other categories including savings and loans to fall on. Generally, I do not want government to take decisions that will drive our local banks under. We need Ghanaian banks and government should be friendlier to local banks so they can help the business community grow. If I had my way, I will protect local banks so they are duly represented in the economy. For example, when the banks in the USA were collapsing, the US government protected the local banks, removed the non-performing assets to one side, and gave them five years to pay back and in less than three years, they all paid back. That is how a Central Bank should behave and not to participate in killing our local banks. If present trends continue we may end up with only foreign banks operating in the country’s economy.

Business

TVM: One of the biggest debates is who drives business within an economy? During the Nkrumah regime, the state was heavily involved in driving growth. Today, there is a lot of private sector leadership. What is the right mix for an economy like ours?

Prof. ESA in his home garding

PESA: I would urge the government to become very proactive in getting the private sector fully involved. I expect the government would help create the requisite environment for the private sector to flourish. We should not forget that during the Nkrumah era capital formation was hard to come by hence the heavy involvement of government to start-up industries. If you look at all the recently developed countries, especially the Asian Tigers, the government encourages certain individuals and back them to get a lot of industries going. They are given all the necessary incentives to operate. One district one factory is a very good start.

TVM: Former American President, Barack Obama, is of the view that there has to be a strong correlation between Main Street and Wall Street for everyone to benefit from economic growth. But in some countries, where there isn’t a powerful Wall Street, the government is the leader in driving growth. What should be the role of a political party in the development of an economy?

PESA: For countries now developing rapidly, and I am referring to countries such as Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore, the common denominator is not the political party in power. It is the business community being the engine of growth that drives economic growth. The political parties just support the people who can help put bread on the table. These people are the ones that government, in my judgement, should really cultivate.

I do not think government’s business is to be running industries. I travel around the world regularly and I can say emphatically that all these countries doing well do not have the governments building factories and industries for the people.

What these governments have done is to use these companies properly by supplying them with the incentives they need such as by way of providing pragmatic tax incentives. When these businesses have good tax breaks, they are then in a position to invest more in their businesses and the ramifications of these include the getting of more people gainfully employed.

When I was with the World Bank, I travelled a lot to many developing countries. I realised that very often there are some Members of Parliament and government officials who have the habit to get involved in private sector activities by using their positions. This has to stop. We will never develop by allowing the private sector practitioners to grow their business if we continue to go this direction. Until we break these habits, we are not going to flourish.

Agriculture

TVM: We are rich with human and natural resources and therefore our success largely depends on how we harness these resources. Do you think that we have failed in harnessing these resources to develop? What should we do?

PESA: I think we have failed and I cannot emphasise this strongly enough. If you look at the natural resource base in this country and the considerable human resource capacity at our command, we shouldn’t be this poor. Our GDP figures are looking nice only because of the mineral resources and cocoa. Apart from that, what contributes to the GDP? Practically nothing to write home about. The state of our agriculture is not very encouraging.

Here is a country with tremendous amount of arable land, I don’t think we are using even 10 percent of our arable land effectively, and yet we are importing everything that we can produce here. For example, a few alligator pumps in the Volta River will help us to produce rice every 90 days. We should not forget that we have some three hundred miles of portable water that is going into the ocean to become sea water.

When we talk about agriculture, we should recognise that the subsistence farming we have relied on cannot sustain this country for long because of the population growth. It is unthinkable that we are practising subsistence farming today when we have all the technologies at our command. Glorifying subsistence farming will take us nowhere. We are in an age where science and technology in agriculture is the norm.

TVM: Why do we have considerable human potential contributing to global development, but such knowledge is not reflecting in the growth of our economy?

PESA: That’s the question we should be asking. It’s all because we have a very bad mind set that does not encourage us to use our highly technical people to participate in our development. This country has vast human capacity and in addition to this, enormous wealth in terms of natural resources, but we are unable to develop because of political polarization.

As stated earlier, when Nkrumah decided that this country needed the first seven-year development plan, he didn’t go to his CPP party folks; he called J. H. Mensah and others in the opposition to put their expertise to work. We should learn to see ourselves, first as Ghanaians. In the USA, a lot of people do not like the blacks and they say so. But when work must be done, they put the race card aside and let the black man do the job because he is good. That doesn’t happen here much because we are consumed with party politics.

We prefer to destroy the person who has the knowledge just because they belong to the other political party. If you do not belong, then you are out. We must change this bad habit immediately and begin to use our very best scientific and technical minds to help develop our nation.

TVM: The new government has introduced several policies in agriculture with the flagship known as “Planting for Food and Jobs” to employ about 750,000. To what extent do these policies help?

PESA: You can have all these policies and strategies on paper and beautifully presented to the country. But the fact of the matter is how do we operationalize what is on paper? You really have to have people who know how to do it. The farmers are the first people to concede that they need help. Also, farmers all over the world are very conservative people. Without a demonstration they have difficulty changing their operations. What needs to be done is an agrarian programme that allows the government to show the farmers the benefits of new and improved technology. Having plenty of people doing agriculture is not the answer, the answer is the injection of science and technology into the field. The Minister of Food and Agriculture, Hon. Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, is pointing to the right direction. Our aim must be the production of most of the basic foods instead of relying on imports.

Education

TVM: The Nana Addo led government has made it very clear that education is paramount in its plan to drive economic growth. That is why it came in and wasted no time in introducing the free SHS policy but critics believe that the challenges will mount to cripple the policy. What are your thoughts on this policy and education as a whole in the country?

PESA: I don’t want to hear anybody talk about the country lacking the financial resources to educate our kids. Nobody, who is being very honest, should say we do not have the money for such a programme.

Regardless of what we are doing, we must have the resources to educate the kids. Education is the best investment we could make. In the First Republic, the President realised that education is a must because if we don’t develop the requisite human capacity to propel the country upwards using our natural resource base, we should consider ourselves poor stewards.

You can sit on gold and diamond and you will be poor all your life because you do not have the knowledge base to know the value of what you are sitting on. The amount of money we have wasted since independence is several times more than what we need to educate our children.

If the government doesn’t put enough money in science, technology, fundamental and applied research, we will fail. I am delighted that since the First Republic, this is the second major wave of serious focus on education; and more power to the government because with prudent management we will have money to do it.

TVM: After educating the people, jobs must be created for them to work and contribute to economic growth. The government, through its One District, One Factory initiative and industrial parks is seeking to aggressively industrialise the economy. Are we on the right track?

Prof. ESA in his factory as he puts it

PESA: I believe we are on the right track but my issue is with operationalization. Take a small country like Israel. A lot of the major multinationals have their research and development centres there. That is what I hope the government is talking about with the industrial parks. With that, your industries will immediately flourish because you get to train the requisite people to help and enhance the productivity of the various industries. Unfortunately, most Ghanaians think they have to go through the university to get a degree.

Look at the unemployed university graduates. Degrees per se do not bring the jobs needed. What is key is technical education; but we tend to look down on it. What makes the developed countries productive is the technical people, not the philosophers and thinkers. Once you develop a critical mass of technical people, they are the ones who will get our industries and infrastructure moving.

TVM: You are the Board Chair for the African Institute of Mathematical Science, Ghana (AIMS Ghana) and in getting the right mind set going and utilising technology, math, science and logic are critical to technology but as a country, we do not seem to be doing very well. How do we get around that?

PESA: For the past five years, the Board and Trustees of the Institute (AIMS Ghana) have been trying to get the government to help us attain a UNESCO Category 2 status, which allows the Institute to benefit from information and resources from UNESCO’s other international centres of excellence. We were unable to get the needed assistance. But the coming in of this government has facilitated all that.

Upon meeting with Minister for Education, Hon. Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, he immediately saw the importance and significance of science and mathematics in our development. In a relatively short time, he managed to get UNESCO to come and inspect our facilities. I am delighted to inform you that we have attained a Category 2 status. You will also be pleased to know that this happened just before Professor F. K. Allotey, President of AIMS Ghana, passed.

We need good quality teachers for our school children. For years, University of Ghana didn’t produce a PhD in Mathematics; for a premier university in our country, this is a disappointment. We need to sharpen our tools in the areas of science, technology and innovation. We do not have to wait a 100 years to do certain things. Technology transfer is here and we know where to go find the knowledge.

Governance

TVM: When there is a change in government in this country, several state institutions see changes at management and board levels. Many analysts are calling for governance to be a continuum and not radical changes when there is a change at the political seat. Should there be a change in that direction?

PESA: I definitely wish we will become very objective in talking about this situation. There is no question that every time a new government comes in, there is the call from party faithfuls to throw everybody out and start afresh.

My experience in discussing this issue for example, is that any country that regularly changes its agriculture minister can never have a sustainable programme. I do not care how brilliant any person is. If you are appointed an agriculture minister, you need to get in, develop through the learning curve before you attain any success. Very often the Minister is thrown out and another person comes in.

We must be mindful of removing dedicated technical staff who are not officially branded as political faithfuls. It is not every institution that you throw everybody out and get a new person in. In the USA, for example, when Barack Obama came into office, he didn’t change the Secretary in charge of Defense. He said something to the effect that you are doing a good job so you are staying on. My observation is that every party has its own people ready to assume power.

Therefore they should be given the opportunity to field their own people. To have institutional memory, you cannot start every four years with new set of people in all institutions. There are certain people who should be rooted out because of their performance but others who are very measured and think about Ghana first should not be changed unceremoniously.

We must however, be realistic. Because we have been changing key personnel with incoming administration, it will take some time before the new administration develops the confidence that the incumbents will not sabotage their plans. My verdict is that the incoming President should have the power to select his/her own trusted people!

TVM: Ghana is 60 years but how do we ensure that we can put Ghana on a very aggressive path of growth so that when the country is 120 years, the future will be proud of us with their economic growth? What are the things we should do to ensure growth?

PESA: Certainly I will not be around but don’t count me out. But seriously what will sadden me is for our grand and great grandchildren to say that we have let them down. I believe that in terms of development, we can leave a great legacy for them and with their superior knowledge in science and technology, they can help continue to make Ghana become the showcase for the African continent.

I think we can do it because I believe the natural resource base we have haven’t been properly exploited. We do not have enough technical know-how but I hope in the next few years we will establish a solid foundation to make sure that we are producing the correct type of persons who can read and write properly, to exploit our resources to ensure that future generations will be proud of what we have done.

PERSONALITY PROFILE

TVM: Who is Professor Edward Solomon Ayensu?

PESA: That’s a very interesting question. I was born in Sekondi, all of my ancestors are from Elmina and Anomabo. I come from a fantastic family with the matriarch, that’s my mother, at the head of it. I wish I had a quarter of her brain power.

I wouldn’t be sitting here; I would have been a very well of entrepreneur. I attended Sekondi Methodist School. From there, I went to Achimota and afterwards to the United States of America (USA). I was also in England where I read for my doctorate at London University.

I was a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University and then from there I went back to the USA where I was probably one of the luckiest persons you could ever find at one of the most prestigious establishment in the US. I was hired by the Smithsonian Institution, which is the largest museum complex in the world, and it was there my career actually took off. Before then, I was very interested in natural history.

I like to learn everything and anything, and I played a lot. Most of my class mates will tell you that I was an athlete but not a scholar. I was the first person to jump 6 feet in the history of Achimota. I was also the centre forward in hockey for the Gold Coast and Ghana and that’s how I was characterised. I have a secret that I can now share. What I really wanted to do was to become a professional boxer; prize fighter. This is what I loved the most. However, in the olden days we use to listen to our parents. I told my mother I wanted to become a prize fighter and in a very nice way she said no; “you can’t be a prize fighter but you have to go to school”.

Of course, we had a good culture in the house because everybody went to school. So, when I left Methodist school Sekondi for Achimota, I didn’t quite kill the spirit I had for boxing. I ended up being the Welter Weight Champion at Achimota.

Those were the days when Roy Ankrah and Attuquaye Clottey and others used to come to the school. So, my spirit in boxing was never really quenched completely. Then later, when Ghanaians were being selected to become pilots, I told my mother that I wanted to be a pilot and again she dismissed that idea very rapidly. But I ended up going to learn how to fly planes. I was flying the Cessnas and pipers – those small planes – in Florida. So, my inbuilt interest have not been destroyed but with the good advice from my old lady, I ended up like this.

TVM: In 1980, the Voice of America interviewed 30 African scientists who have contributed to the building of knowledge in their areas of specialization. You were one of them. The interviewer noted that in 1963, you made a dramatic discovery at London University on a subject that had baffled scientists for over half a century. Can you throw more light on that?

PESA: When I went to London university, the main theme of my research was on something people love to eat all the time; yam. But do you know what that plant is used for? It does contain the chemical diosgenin which is a steroid and that’s part a major of the starting material for making birth control pills for ladies. I was working on it. Scientists in that field for years were trying to clearly delineate the old world yams from the new world yams.

From their research, they knew the new world yams contained more of this chemical than the old world yams. So I, in the course of my research, looked through the various techniques they had used in trying to separate these yams that they couldn’t for donkey’s years. I decided to set up a different set of indices and behold, in a relatively short time, I was able to separate all the old world yams from all the new world yams.

Naturally I was delighted when the Linnaean Society of London, the oldest and prestigious biological scientific organisation in UK appointed me a Fellow. My research work took off from there. Everything that I needed was provided by the Institution because my bosses knew precisely what they wanted out of me.

They didn’t spare any chance to let me travel to wherever I wanted to go. As such, I ended up travelling literally throughout the whole world to do my research work. Such an exploration allows you to think big and become productive.

TVM: You were a major contributor to the book titled “The Timetable of Technology” which provides a chronology of developments in communication, transportation, industry, medicine and agriculture since the turn of the 20th century. From your point of view, has Ghana fit into this timetable well enough?

PESA: No, not quite. We haven’t.

TVM: Why haven’t we?

PESA: Because we are still working in silos. Instead of working laterally so that the experiences we gain from one subject area can cross over to the other does not happen. We are not talking to each other the way we should. Take the Indian planning commission for example, the quality of people you find in that institution, coming from different ministries, assigned to the planning commission, send information back to their own ministries so that all relevant Ministries know what everybody is doing. This will also give you far better idea of how that book works as against our current situation. We do have a lot of Ghanaians who unfortunately may not be very well known as party functionaries hence nobody wants to engage them but they are dedicated to the course of Ghana. We have all the policy documents at our command but at the same time, we are unable to operationalise anything. These are some of the things that I hope 60 years on, we are going to rectify to ensure that the complexion of the country will change for the better.

TVM: What, in your view, can be done to correct this?

PESA: This is a big question. Each government comes in with their own agenda. Unfortunately, because of the way we are structured, we tend to rely only on our party members. But, I would like to see us venture out a little and talk to other people who mean well. I mean people who love Ghana the way we should all love Ghana; instead of our parties only. Luckily all our parties in Ghana, to me, are almost the same. But, the way in which the leadership pushes its agenda is what will help all parties to agree on the way forward for the country. If we will be humble enough to change the way we do things, this country will become fantastic because we have literally everything to give us happiness.

TVM: Who was and is your role model?

PESA: Well, it’s difficult to say because I’ve gone through various stages in my life. At every particular point in life, there’s somebody you will love to emulate; someone that says something and it gets to you.

I can say from that stand point, may be I’ve had about half a dozen of people from home and abroad. Just having discussions with them makes me feel so happy. Happy in the sense that I’ve learnt somethings from them. There are certain things I could consider as a common denominator in those persons I have interacted with. They all have what I have also learnt; to develop “inner peace”. When you are at peace with yourself, you use very little energy to do big things but when you are not at peace with yourself, you waste a lot of energy trying to put things together. I must say, I’ve been very blessed in many ways that I’ve had senior colleagues who clearly made me feel encouraged to do the things I’ve been able to do.

I’m a perpetual student and I’m learning all the time from elderly people as well as younger people. The big problem is anybody who fails to learn becomes intellectually bankrupt.

TVM: At this stage in life, what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning to do what you’re doing?

PESA: A lot of people ask me how I have managed to write so many articles and books. The truth of the matter is, if you don’t discipline yourself and get up in the morning or evening for that matter and sit on your seat you cannot write anything. Years ago, I said to myself when there’s a subject area I don’t know much about, my motivation is to write a book or an article about it so that by the time I finish I would have learnt something. That has been my guiding light throughout. I wake up early in the morning and I write for few hours in the morning before I take my bath and leave the house for my office. I do it religiously because I enjoy it. I think it’s a habit that when my brain is no more I would miss, then I will stop. But, so long as my faculty is in good repair, I would continue to do so. That’s what motivates me, else I would be so bored.

TVM: What are your hobbies?

PESA: I have a hobby that sustains me; Boxing. Would you believe if I told you that I still go to Bukom to watch boxing matches? I go with a cap on and sit to watch. I read a lot. I like to have an understanding of the world we live in and the various issues in it. I love to understand the psyche of a lot of the leaders we have in the world today.

The ability and the capacity to run a country is no easy thing and so people who do this, even if I disagree with their politics, I can tell you I respect them in the sense that not all of us can be presidents of a country or finance or foreign ministers. All those who are saddled with that job I pray for them and wish them well.

TVM: I can sense you are a lover of music

PESA: Absolutely correct.

TVM: What genre of music do you like?

PESA: I have probably one of the largest jazz collections and this goes way back. I have even 78 plates; the old round plates that when it falls down breaks. I had all of them in my office. My doctor once told me that that’s probably why I’m always happy. I listen to music a lot. I have speakers in my home and office and I enjoy them. I love music because it’s the only thing that soothes the nerves of disturbed children. We are all disturbed children and good music can calm us down.

TVM: What is your favourite delicacy?

PESA: I have one of the best cooks in the world and that happens to be my wife. She wrote “The Art of West African Cooking” and other books but she will be the first person to tell you that I hate food. I eat only once a day most of the time. I don’t like eating because when I eat I feel sleepy immediately. The less food I have in my stomach the better for me and my brain works much better. But my favourite is fried plantain.

TVM: And wine?

PESA: I have never drank beer, whiskey, gin, brandy, vodka in my entire life. But don’t tempt me with a very good prosecco or some excellent champagne. Apart from this, I love very good wines. I am, however, a social drinker but alone I’m not good to drink unless I’m in company. An excellent red wine goes with good company.

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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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