INTERVIEW: GhanaDecides: Current economic model in Ghana not working

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Ivor Greenstreet is the presidential candidate of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), a party founded by the first leader of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. The lawyer and politician, who uses a wheelchair as a result of a car accident in 1997, ran in the 2016 presidential election under the same platform but says he is out this time to shock everyone at the polls.

In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES‘ Managing Editor Idris Akinbajo, political reporter QueenEsther Iroanusi and Dubawa’s senior researcher, Maxine Danso, he explains how he plans to make Ghana better if elected president.

The interview is part of a series with Ghana’s presidential candidates ahead of the December 7 election.

Read the full interview below:

PT: What strategy do you have for the post-pandemic era of the economy?

Greenstreet: There are a number of critical issues facing the Ghanaian economy in a similar way to the regional and world economy. First of all, based on the level of debt – about $240 billion – that should, if you are a responsible government, inform how you propose to go about managing the economy.

From my perspective, we will not take on any new debt if that debt is going to be used to finance or refinance existing debts or if the debt will be used to finance recurrent expenditure. Obviously, you may take on new debts to finance long-term capital interest.

However, because of the emasculation of the fiscal space, we are going to be more focused on not starting new capital projects but continuing with existing ones. We will be focused on trying to identify areas where there is a significant loss of revenue. In our public financial management system, we have a payroll system that is working but is not connected to the human resources personnel system that is working.

So we still continue to use over five hundred million to one billion a year alone in payment of ghost names. We need to tighten that gap by completely restructuring the public service – in a data acquisition way, in an information systems way, in a way of facilities and equipment – to try and make that system more efficient.

At the same time, economically, we believe in greater state directions and control in the affairs of the economy. That means controlling more capital inflows and a more intentional development policy. That means greater mobilisation of internal resources. It means the state being the driver of growth.

If you look at the economy as a whole, many believe that economics is some special area that has been settled and there is only one way to go about economics and that is deregulation, retrenchment. I don’t have a problem with that if it works. And what is the evidence? If you have over 50 per cent of your youthful population unemployed, it can’t be working. If you have vast numbers of people who move to the urban areas who don’t have access to housing, (in Ghana’s instance, almost more than 50 per cent of the urban people do not) clearly, the module for the economy is not working, because the way you determine whether an economy is working is by its effect on the people’s daily circumstances, not what your GDP figure states.

That is why, for instance, when you think of Singapore, you think of private sector, but 90 per cent of the land is owned by the state, 85 per cent of housing is provided by government-owned housing corporations, 25 per cent of GDP come from state-owned enterprises of which Singapore airlines is one.

We have to have an intentional, detailed, scientifically-based national plan that will have determined that this is what we are going to do as a nation to take us into greater economic sovereignty, which transfers to benefit for the ordinary citizens, which we are not doing at the moment.

Key amongst our core principles is self-determination which is greater self-reliance, pan-Africanism, collaboration with sister countries and also social justice – using the collective wealth of the nation for the benefit of the people.

That is how our approach on the economy will work – long term productivity, looking at areas where we can have comparative advantage, generating employment through social housing activities, looking at areas like salt which could lead to a petrochemical industry and so many other sectors, looking at giving a definite market price and a definite agreement to purchase all agricultural produce from our farmers rather that allowing them to grow things and find no market to sell their goods.

To encapsulate, it is greater state intervention, state direction; not because of the lack of belief in the private sector, but we believe it can’t just be left purely like that, it needs greater involvement and that is how you get long-term development. I’d say a more patriotic, a more naturalistic, a more Ghana-first economy, a more disciplined and visionary leadership.

How would you grow the agricultural sector and what plans do you have to create revenue from Ghana’s natural resources?

Greenstreet: The specifics is that, within a short period of time, we wish to give a direct market to our farmers for the produce they deliver which cuts across different crops, vegetables and so on. It has to be based on data and research and rigorous scientific analysis of how much they are producing, which products they will grow, based on improvement of storage and other vertical or horizontal leakages in terms of where to grow. But the key is, the farmers get revenue for their crops. It may be less than what they are getting now but it is guaranteed, so if something is guaranteed, then you have a form of assurance that you will not suffer.

We will also ensure that there is assurance that they will not suffer from pests. We will have some special kind of farming insurance for all their products. We believe agriculture can be a very attractive area, not just for existing farmers and not just for the elderly. The young people can get involved in it because there are so many sectors to it – whether transportation or logistics. Vast landmass will be made accessible to people who might want to go into agric business.

It is a key area that we will be focusing on and therefore that requires us targeting a greater amount of national revenue towards agriculture.

On our policies on resources, we feel many of the contracts are questionable and a reflection of poor negotiation either by previous governments or by the imposition of multinational corporations who not only ensure that we get terms that don’t favour us but also are part of the capital flight problems. Yes, we know we don’t have oil lying on the ground like Saudi Arabia. We know we have to be fair in terms of our negotiations and expectations, but we don’t feel that what we have now is a sufficient reflection. There are different methods of doing that. Currently, with the oil sector, there is this hybrid royalties taxation system. I believe Nigeria and other countries in the past have had production sharing formulas and statistics show that if we had been adopting the formula, we would have earned billions more in terms of revenue. Same with the gold mining sector.

We would also insist on collecting from whatever gold produced at ten per cent of the actual physical gold and increasing the amount of our gold reserves as a nation. Germany, China, Russia are doing it. It is another way you can back your currencies and prevent depreciation.

PT: There have been some controversial deals, like the Bauxite deal signed by the current government. Would you reverse or modify it if elected president?

Greenstreet: I certainly would review all the transactions which we feel compromises the capacity of the state to maximise its revenue in a very key sector. Because apart from Bauxite, we also have iron ore deposits and other things that we can be attempting to monetise for the benefits of the people.

Although, there is a witness to the amounts that will be coming in from China, what are we really getting out of a deal like this as a nation? And how do the details of the arrangements benefit the people? Many stories of African countries that have taken similar deals are not good stories in terms of what is to be achieved, particularly even in our capacity to regulate what they (China) are even delivering to us. That is something we will look at. Our decisions have to be very patriotic and favourable to the people and not some select few.

PT: One controversial economic decision by this current government is the Agyapa royalty deal, which would mean Ghana signing off a significant portion of its future gold-mining reserve. Would you continue with such a deal?

Greenstreet: Nobody would say that an attempt to monetise future revenues is not better than borrowing. But if you look at it in more detail, it is almost as though it is in perpetuity – not knowing how long it will go for or the structure of how it is meant to be implemented. I think they need to be further interrogated on issues like that. Also, the areas that it covers in the country itself. It seems to even cover places where there are not even leases or where there is no mining. It is quite strange in some aspects.

Whilst one will not be opposed to the principle of doing something like that, their modalities and the approach and how it was even not openly discussed…it asks more questions to determine whether it is in the national interest.

It also comes on the basis that we are not happy with what we are earning at the moment from our existing agreements with these same companies that we talked about and it is both of the (political) parties that are guilty of that. Under President Kuffor in 2006, 2007, they had simply rushed through the Certificate of Emergency with new multi-mining corporations whereby they introduced “stability provisions” which basically meant out of that arrangement, we merely earned 1.7 per cent of royalties of our gold.

And in the Mahama government, we also rushed, this time with Gold Fields Ghana, also stability arrangement, also rushed through the Certificate of Emergency, also contrary to advice given by a body of experts and technical specialists. And once again, 1.7 per cent – when we could earn more. We need to do back to the principle of controlling the economic destiny of the nation. That forms part of our ideas – which determines the policies to be implemented.

PT: How do you plan to address corruption? And how will you deal with the perception of Ghana as a corrupt state internationally?

Greenstreet: There are very important plans but in stating those plans, you need to let your people know that there is always a desire for external forces to make you fight among each other and make you to have a low impression of each other and your leaders. Because actually, some of these mining or oil agreements are even worse than corruption if you look at them critically, and worse than someone being accused of stealing money. That is the real bad governance. But they won’t tell you that one, they will shroud it under the cloak of respectability and all that.

That does not excuse the fact that we have vast problems with our institutions, executive and public financial management system. And so, most of these things occur at the interception of procurement or recruitment and that is where there has to be far more intentions and prosecutions. And then re-fencing some areas where those things can never occur; whether it is the financial, energy or political sector. I think we are falling far too short in those areas and politicians are seen as a group of individuals who are only solving their own selfish interest, their families’ or parties’.

They come with words of hope and visions every few years and because they have accumulated the wealth of the state while they are there, and kept the people down in terms of subjugation and understanding, they try to buy them off every few years. And this is the democratic system that we are practicing, which doesn’t benefit anybody except themselves and a few crumbs for the people.

PT: Infrastructure seems to be a major campaign issue. What infrastructure project would you consider a priority, according to the average Ghanaian needs and how soon will you implement this?

Greenstreet: For us, this is something else that we believe is another fundamental human right. Same with access to education and work in developing countries. If you look at the extent of urbanisation now, we have more than 50 per cent of our population now residing in urban areas and a vast majority of them don’t have access to proper infrastructure, many are living in kiosks.

Social housing is one of the key areas that we will invest in – affordable housing. That means there will be different forms of making them available. That means payment of subsidised rent or mortgages. In a place like Singapore, it is a system that brought all the ethnic groups together. It is also the area of vast job creation and also the utilisation of our natural resources.

It is a reflection of market failure. Therefore, the state has to intervene. The motive is not about profit but about social profit. In other words, you want to make these things actually affordable. And those affordable materials are available but it is the same corruption in the past that has been the problem – a funny scheme that it has to be bought in a particular place and so on.

PT: Critics will say your political party is not a strong enough opposition. How would you respond to that?

Greenstreet: I think there are some elements of truth to that. You know, we are supposed to be in a multi-party democracy but as the years have gone by, they have tried to dualise it. But the research out there continues to suggest that a party which is well-organised with a good message, especially in this social media dispensation, that it is possible to inflict some shocks and damages on the status quo which research shows that people are really tired of. So, as we have been saying, we intend to give electric shocks. So, prepare for electric shock.

PT: What are your plans for the women in terms of appointments and reducing maternal and child mortality as well as child labour?

Greenstreet: We have made it clear that we are in favour of affirmative action. And that should be reflected at all strata of appointments in the government and the private sector and also in the participation especially in politics.

It is something that we have our own record of having done so as far back as the First Republic when the founder of this party, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, had very strong views of the participation of women in politics. It is part of our thought process as a party which also brought free education. We try to do that to the most rural of areas to enhance opportunities for people and have also made the kind of policies and programmes which we still have today, that deals with child labour, opportunities for children at the work place and skills development, education and also the kind of lifestyle that rural women have to endure and the opportunities that have to be made available to them to gain access to finance.

So, we have some strong policies in the social sector and I believe we will increase maternity leave to six months and even the men will get a month. We also sought for increase in the amount that will be made available, what’s known as a “district assembly’s common fund” for persons with disability, and increasing it from three per cent to four per cent. And also the total amount that goes to the district assembly, we also intend to increase it significantly.

Pt: You appear to be promoting socialist policies. But the current government also appears to be moving in that direction in terms of the free SHS. Talking about the educational sector, is there anything you will do differently?

Greenstreet: I think whenever you start a policy, particularly a large one like this, they are always going to give problems and difficulties. Our issues come with the kind of skills that students are coming out with and the quality of the product that was given to them. Because it is not just about the access to education but the quality as well.

If you look at the quality, there is a large percentage of those who can’t read or write and do basic mathematics and so on. So you wonder what quality of material is going in and out of the free SHS. Are they employable? These days, without additional digital skills, a person cannot fit into any work environment. There is also the reward for teachers and the kind of remuneration they receive for the hard work and service they do as well as the number of teacher-pupil ratio.

The journey is an initial step. It takes time. Education forms part of human capital development and how we can build our population to be able to readily exist and contribute to national development.

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