John Mahama: Our mid-term story is very good

With a history of political pluralism and economic reform, Ghana is set to host the launch of The Africa Report Debates



The dispensers of economic and political accolades can be a fickle bunch, as Ghana's President John Mahama well knows. When he came to power in 2011, after the sudden death of his predecessor John Atta Mills, Ghana was one of the world's fastest-growing economies, propelled by the launching of its oil and gas industry.



Today, the accolades are scarcer as President Mahama's government grapples with some awkward economic realities. The oil price crashed last year, cutting revenue. Poor rains hit both the cocoa harvest and power output, and the stronger dollar sharply pushed up borrowing costs.


Growth is due to slow to 3.5% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – half the level of three years ago.


The economic climate complicates Mahama's agenda, as he conceded on a trip to France on 5-6 October, when he met with President François Hollande and addressed the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).


"The challenges facing Ghana's economy affect a broad category of emerging markets," said Mahama at the OECD. "The agenda for transformation that we submitted to parliament is to change the structure of the Ghanaian economy, diversify it and make it more export-driven with more value-added processing."


For the short term, Mahama insists his government "is putting in place measures to stabilise the economy. We have gone into an extended credit facility with the IMF and we had a very successful first review."


Certainly, the IMF and World Bank backing has bolstered Ghana's economic position: the IMF lent $920m over the past three years and the World Bank has offered a $700m guarantee to help the country raise a stonking $7.9bn for the Sankofa gas project.


In October, Ghana floated another $1bn eurobond at a coupon rate of 10.75% – some 2% higher than the bond it floated a year ago.


Tax reforms

That prompted a little optimism from Mahama: "I believe the mid-term story is good. We are seeing fiscal consolidation. Expenditure has been held in check, so we do think we are going to see a decrease in the deficit and a decline in inflation."


Having signed up Ghana as the 50th member of the OECD's Development Centre, Mahama said his government would be getting technical support for wide-ranging tax reforms from the organisation.


But unreliable electricity remains a major gripe. "If there's one most irritating thing to Ghanaians, it's the power shortage," said Mahama. "But two decades of positive growth means that there is a huge increase in the demand for power. We estimate between 10% and 12% annual growth in power demand, so we must expand generation to stay ahead of demand." He reiterated the resolve of energy minister Emmanuel Armah Kofi Buah to tackle the crisis: "There are three projects nearing completion that give our minister the confidence to say we can fix it by the end of the year."


Asked about the massive public interest in investigative journalist AnasAremayawAnas's late September release of a video in which 12 high court judges appear to be receiving bribes, Mahama said the country's institutions have taken the right steps to address the situation.


Acting on advice from the judicial council and chief justice, the government suspended seven judges immediately. However, all 12 judges deny wrong-doing, and the bribery claims are already the subject of court actions.


A bigger test still looms for Charlotte Osei, the chairwoman of the electoral commission appointed by Mahama in June. She has to decide whether to commission a new electoral register as demanded by a new pressure group, the Let My Vote Count Alliance.


Mahama would not be drawn on the subject: "I have no right to interfere in that list. Ghana has an electoral commission that is independent and does not consult the president to do anything. It is a relatively young register because we have only used it for one election, and it was biometrically compiled."


As the country prepares for another tight election against a backdrop of tough economic conditions, the credibility of voting and registration will be hugely important.


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