Ghana’s Finance Minister Ofori-Atta to face Agyapa critics

By Wilberforce Asare in Accra
Posted on Wednesday, 24 March 2021 14:09

Ghana's Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta speaks during the G-24 news conference at the World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings, in Washington, Thursday, April 19, 2018.
Ghana's Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta speaks during the G-24 news conference at the World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings, in Washington, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The long-postponed vetting of Ghana's finance minister on Thursday 25 March may reveal the dynamics of President Akufo-Addo's second term: a divided parliament, and, perhaps, greater transparency in governance.

Ghana’s Finance Minister for the past four years Ken Ofori-Atta, has been re-nominated by the President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo – his direct cousin – for another term of office.

Ofori-Atta’s long history in investment banking has not stopped opposition to his candidacy, both within his own party as well as from the main opposition party in Ghana, the NDC.

His nomination, like other ministerial appointments in Ghana, requires parliamentary vetting and approval. Already some members of the 26-member parliamentary vetting committee have served notice that they intend to subject his stewardship of the country’s exchequer for the past four years to strict scrutiny.

The vetting of Ofori-Atta has already been postponed several times, pending his full recovery from his post Covid-19 complications, which required a lengthy trip to the US for medical treatment. It is now slated for 25 March.

It may be complicated by the fact that Ghana’s legislative body for the first time is a hung one following the December elections, which removed the parliamentary majority from the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP).

The NPP has 137 MPs… the same number as the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC). One independent candidate who has officially chosen to work with the NPP, would inevitably break that tie.

Strong consensus-building needed

Given the balance of forces in parliament for President Nana Akufo-Addo’s second term, strong consensus building will be required between the ruling party and the largest opposition party. The vetting and approval of the Finance Minister designate, Ken Ofori-Atta, will require the same.

As Bright Simons wrote in The Africa Report just after the December polls, this may have unexpected fiscal consequences.

“Because local elections are increasingly won on the basis of physical projects”, says Simons, “political observers expect heavy demands for projects in Opposition strongholds, undermining fiscal stability unless the Government wishes to risk a failure of having its budgets rejected by the Parliament.”

Budget hawks in the NPP ranks may demand answers on this from Ofori-Atta during the hearing.

So what is the Ofori-Atta balance sheet MPs will be looking at?

In the four years of Ofori-Atta’s oversight he was confronted with a failing banking sector in near collapse in 2017 when he assumed office. In order to save the sector, he had to take drastic steps that resulted in his Ministry spending $3.6bn (21bn Ghana Cedis) to rescue the banking industry.

Another area of his stewardship that generated controversy was his quest to establish a gold royalties company which was to be known as “Agyapa Gold Royalties Limited”, as a “special purpose vehicle” with the aim of listing on the London and Ghana Stock Exchanges, to raise money using the country’s Gold resources as security for same.

The public criticism, over the transactional advisory role played by the premier investment banking and brokerage firm, Databank, a company founded in Ghana by Ofori-Atta, led to a decision by the board of directors of Databank, to withdraw from the transaction completely on 10 December 2020.

“The Board of Directors of Databank has observed with deep concern persistent attempts by some political actors, during the political season leading up to the general elections of December 2020, to tarnish our hard-won reputation painstakingly built over the last 30 years, by unfairly exploiting our participation and involvement in the Transaction as one of the Transaction Advisors. We believe this is principally due to the Minister of Finance’s association with Databank as its co-founder” the withdrawal letter of Databank signed by its group chief executive officer, Kojo Addae-Mensah stated.

Agyapa to dominate

Ghanaian economist Daniel Amarteye Anim thinks the move to securitize the country’s gold deposits will dominate proceedings in parliament.

“They will take him on. They will want to further peruse the deal. They would like to know for instance whether the deal was a very good move and why they couldn’t make certain disclosures and link it to the work done by the Special Prosecutor”, says Anim.

“What this shows is that the hung parliament could be a blessing to Ghana where egregiously problematic government projects and policies are concerned”, says Simons. “It could even contribute directly to enhancing electoral democracy by helping bring greater scrutiny to the conduct of the Electoral Commission itself.”

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