purse manager

Ghana: 10 things to know about Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta

By Jonas Nyabor

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Posted on May 24, 2023 08:54

 © Ghana’s Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta speaks during a news conference in Accra, Ghana  December 13, 2022. REUTERS/Cooper Inveen.
Ghana’s Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta speaks during a news conference in Accra, Ghana December 13, 2022. REUTERS/Cooper Inveen.

Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta is steering the affairs for Ghana’s long journey towards a $3bn IMF bailout. The investment banker turned politician enjoyed playing a background role as a campaign financier and fundraiser until he was appointed minister in 2017 by his cousin president Akufo-Addo. Six years on, he’s one of the most popular ministers in Akufo-Addo’s government for both good and not so good reasons.

Soft-spoken, highly optimistic, Bible-thumping and reserved are common adjectives attributed to Ofori-Atta.

Considered an economic messiah at the time of his first appointment in 2017, he’s today one of the most criticised ministers in Akufo-Addo’s government, not only by political opponents but also members of his own party.

Here are 10 things to know about Ghana’s purse manager.

1. IMF U-turn

A year ago, Ofori-Atta rejected calls for Ghana to go under an IMF programme when the economy began witnessing a decline.

“I can say we are not going to the IMF. Whatever we do, we are not. [The] consequences are dire, we are a proud nation, we have the resources, we have the capacity. We are not people of short-sight, but we have to move on,” he said at a government town hall meeting in the Northern Regional capital of Tamale in 2022.

He argued in favour of the controversial E-levy and a raft of other homegrown recovery measures but these prompted a major U-turn; Ghana going under its 17th IMF programme. This gotcha moment gave some of his friends and opponents a good basis to question his judgment and competence.

But President Akufo-Addo maintains his trust in him, choosing him to lead the bailout negotiations that concluded last week.

2. Surviving removal

First, the clamour was for Ofori-Atta to resign, then it changed to an appeal to President Akufo-Addo to sack him, and later a parliamentary attempt to remove him from office.

The calls for Ofori-Atta’s removal began in mid-2022. The cost-of-living crisis in the country was beginning to bite hard, triggering a number of protests. The minister’s reason for not heeding the resignation calls was: “[asking me to resign is like] telling a father to resign from his children because he changed his mind [on IMF],” he told Joy News in Accra.

When NPP lawmakers petitioned Akufo-Addo to sack him, the president hesitated. His argument was that terminating the appointment of the minister at the time will disrupt Ghana’s IMF bailout negotiations.

“…The current difficulties are not his fault, so how do I do it [sack him]? What will be the basis? What is the rationale,” Akufo-Addo quizzed in an interview last year.

In December 2022 Ofori-Atta survived the censure motion to remove him from office thanks to a walkout by members of the majority caucus which made it impossible for opposition MPs to meet the constitutional requirement of two-thirds of the vote.

3. Royal elite background

Ofori-Atta comes from a rich background of well-educated Ghanaian royal elites who have for several decades dominated the country’s history in the areas of tradition and governance.

His grandfather, Nana Sir Ofori-Atta I was the Okyenhene between 1912 and 1943 and played various national roles in pre-independence Ghana including the establishment of the prestigious Achimota School. His father, Andrews Jones Ofori-Atta was an economist, a former deputy finance minister and former member of parliament.

…The current difficulties are not his fault, so how do I do it [sack him]? What will be the basis? What is the rationale?

His aunt, Adeline Akufo-Addo (née Adeline Ofori-Atta – President Akufo-Addo’s mother) was a former first lady and queen mother of Ofori Panin Fie of Kyebi. His uncles Kwesi Amoako-Atta, Kofi Asante Ofori-Atta and William Ofori-Atta all served as parliamentarians and ministers in different portfolios.

Another aunt, Susan Barbara Ofori-Atta, was the first Ghanaian woman to earn a university degree and the first female doctor on the Gold Coast.

4. Strong network

Ofori-Atta is surrounded by a host of influential national figures. In government, he is said to be a member of the ‘Akyem mafia’ – an unsolicited term used to refer to powerbrokers and influential persons in government tracing their roots to the Akyem Abuakwa state.

His trusted network in government includes Nana Akufo-Addo, Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, Nana Asante Bedietuo and Yofi Grant. Ofori-Atta is known to have financed President Akufo-Addo’s campaigns.

As a man big on trust and loyalty, he’s kept touch with old confidants like Keli Gadzekpo, immediate former CEO of Enterprise Group; Daniel Ogbarmey Tetteh, director-general of the Securities and Exchanges Commission; and Sampson Akligoh, director of the financial sector division at the Ministry of Finance.

Outside Ghana, one of his major contacts is the former president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The two were identified in leaked documents published in Panama Papers as co-directors of Songhai Financial Holdings, an offshore company registered in Bermuda. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was also elected to the board of Databank before she won her election.

Ken Ofori-Atta’s wife, Angela Lamensdorf Ofori-Atta, was part of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s successful 2005 election campaign.

5. No salary

Ofori-Atta boasts of not taking salaries or per diems for his job as finance minister.

In response to a question during his vetting in 2021 about why key members of his family and close associates work in strategic areas of Ghana’s financial ecosystem, he said it stems from the family’s long history of public service and was not with the intention to amass wealth.

“I suspect you know that the issue of public service is one that really has been with the [Ofori-Atta] family for a long time and I came into it with that aspect. I do not take a salary, I do not take per diem, so those [amassing wealth] are not the objectives that I come with,” he said.

6. Controversies

His life in business has not been free from scandals. Even before he came into mainstream politics, he faced a barrage of allegations of corruption including a claim of fraud in the promotion of a proposed Obotan real estate project that attracted millions of cedis in investment from Ghana’s pension authority SSNIT.

In more recent incidents, there was the awarding of a contract to Enterprise Group, in which he has interests, to provide insurance for health workers who are at the frontline of the country’s efforts to tackle Covid-19. He’s also criticised for the involvement of his Databank as transaction advisor in the controversial Agyapa gold royalties deal.

Fingers were also pointed at the minister by his critics for his role in Ghana’s banking sector clean up which lead to the collapse of major commercial banks including UniBank and UT Bank.

 7. Bible man

Ken Ofori-Atta’s presentations and speeches will always begin or end with Biblical references or Bible quotations. He is very explicit about his Christian faith and it’s common to find his Bible on his desk.

As revealed in an article he authored in the Financial Times at the height of Covid-19 titled, ‘What does an African finance minister do now?’ his daily routine appears to include an early morning meditation and Bible study.

I’m very satisfied with the work that he is doing. He is not there because he is my cousin… he is a very capable man….

His all-white fashion at public events has Biblical connotations as he explains in a Citi TV interview that “I wear white most of the time and this is from Ecclesiastes 9:8-9 which says enjoy life, anoint your head, wear white and love your wife. And I think it is really just to realise the favour God has given you and to be grateful.”

8. Economic magician

Ken Ofori-Atta was heralded by many as an economic messiah when his name began making rounds as a soon-to-be finance minister in December 2016. His achievements in finance in private life were stellar particularly the meteoric rise of Databank.

On several occasions President Akufo-Addo has praised him publicly, describing him as hardworking, highly-patriotic and an “outstanding national treasurer”.

“I’m very satisfied with the work that he is doing. He is not there because he is my cousin… he is a very capable man, the first investment banker in our country, built a very successful business and he is extremely highly regarded in the world of finance and the investment community here in Ghana and across the world. I believe he is doing a Yeoman’s job for this country… As far as I am concerned he is amazingly capable, he has been like a magician,” Akufo-Addo told the journalists in 2019.

 9. Private interests

Before joining mainstream politics, Ken Ofori-Atta was a private businessman with over 25 years of experience in investment banking although he has interests in insurance, real estate and pharmaceuticals.

He founded Databank with two business associates, Keli Gadzekpo and James Akpo (now Togbe Afede XIV) in 1990.

He also has interests in Enterprise Group, where his wife retains a seat as director of the board.

10. Family man

Ken Ofori-Atta, 64, is married to Professor Angela Lamensdorf OforiAtta, a clinical psychologist at the University of Ghana Medical School and daughter of Ghana’s first female pilot. The couple has three biological children and one adopted daughter.

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