Ghana: ‘I am not guilty, but I am sorry for the hardship’ says Finance Minister Ofori-Atta

By Kent Mensah

Posted on Tuesday, 22 November 2022 15:28
Ghana's Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta. (photo: Ghana presidency)

Ghana's embattled finance minister Ken Ofori-Atta has apologised to citizens for the unprecedented hardship they are enduring under his watch, but failed to accept responsibility for the economic downturn.

In his trademark all-white outfit with dark framed glasses to match, the soft-spoken minister denied all the charges levelled against him. The Minority in Parliament have accused him of misusing public funds, misreporting economic data, and mismanagement, resulting in the collapse of the Ghanaian economy.

“The truth is [that] considerable progress has been made under my tenure as minister for finance. Since 2017, we have competently managed the economy… Indeed, to appreciate where we are now, we need to look back at where we came from,” Ofori-Atta told the parliamentary committee probing the censure motion for his removal from office.

It was a make-or-break moment for Ofori-Atta as some governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) lawmakers have already urged the president to fire him. As this cousin to President Nana Akufo-Addo sat through the over seven-hour grilling session, he knew the stakes were high. He did not lose sight of the fact that the majority of Ghanaians were unhappy with the state of the economy.

‘I am truly sorry’

“Today, I acknowledge our economy is facing difficulties and the people of Ghana are enduring hardships. As [the] person President Akufo-Addo has put in charge of this economy, I feel the pain personally, professionally and in my soul,” Ofori-Atta said, reading from a 33-page prepared document he later submitted to the eight-member committee as his defence.

The finance minister, who is being urged by the Majority in Parliament to step down, could face an investigation. Anas Aremeyaw Anas, an investigative journalist, has petitioned the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) to look into the minister.

Ken Ofori-Atta must resign. He has done his best. He needs to leave the scene to save his reputation.

With the knowledge that resentment is growing, Ofori-Atta said: “I see and feel the terrible impact of rising prices of goods and services on the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Ghanaians. I feel the stress of running a business, but it is the strength and perseverance of the Ghanaian people that inspire me and my colleagues in government every morning to press on.”

He said: “That is what gives me the strength to press on to find solutions and relief for Ghanaians to the myriad problems that our country and the rest of the world are going through, especially since March 2020.

“Let me use this opportunity to say to the Ghanaian people what I believe with courage every finance minister around the world may want to say to their people now: I am truly sorry,” the finance minister said in a plea to save his job.

Presidential support

President Akufo-Addo is not ready to let go of his head of treasury, having sacrificed a deputy finance minister Charles Adu Boahen last week over an act of impropriety in an undercover documentary by a local investigative journalist.

Ofori-Atta seems to have the backing of some heavyweights at the office of the president despite citizens’ hue and cry. The chief of staff of the Republic of Ghana, Frema Osei-Opare, led a host of ministers to last Friday’s hearing to give the finance minister moral support.

Despite the emotional submission and outright denial of allegations against him, governance experts still believe Ofori-Atta has done more harm than good and needs to take a final bow.

Benjamin Otchere-Ankrah, a governance lecturer at Central University, says the minister should make way for a new face even before the committee completes its work.

“Ken Ofori-Atta must resign. He has done his best. He needs to leave the scene to save his reputation. I believe the introduction of […] fresh blood at the finance ministry will bring back the confidence in Ghanaians and investors in general,” Otchere-Ankrah tells The Africa Report.

“There is a lot of pressure on [Ken Ofori-Atta] and that could let him lose focus. We should not joke [about] how we are managing the economy. Why can’t Ofori-Atta resign in spite of all the criticisms?” he said.

For his part, Kwasi Yirenkyi, a financial analyst says the minister failed to account for himself before the committee, but rather used the platform to campaign for the government.

“The testimony was full of touting the achievements of the Akufo-Addo government without really addressing the allegations against him. We have heard this over and over and this is not a time to read budget statement[s] or engage in political gimmicks. I will score him below average and he must go,” Yirenkyi tells The Africa Report.

Hope in the IMF

Ofori-Atta’s career has come under severe scrutiny at a time Ghana’s inflation is at a record high – 40.4% in October – the Ghanaian cedi has taken a downward spiral and the cost of living as well as fuel prices keep rising, mostly due to the pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine.

However, the investment banker is optimistic that the economy will bounce back after negotiations with the IMF are concluded. Ghana is seeking $3bn from the Fund, an amount that is expected to be incorporated in the 2023 budget statement to be read this month.

“We are nearly through with the IMF negotiations. I am confident that once we conclude our debt sustainability programme and secure a fund programme, the nation will next year see the stability and fiscal space that can spur us back on to a sustainable economic recovery and growth, which should endure considering on the investments we have made in all sectors,” Ofori-Atta said in his concluding remarks.

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