Bernard Avle: Why Ghana needs more than IMF fiscal discipline

Bernard Avle Why Ghana needs more than IMF fiscal discipline

Bernard Avle, the General Manager of Citi FM and Citi TV, believes that Ghana and other countries in the global South have more profound issues than just following the fiscal discipline imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He said that “There are ideological, cultural, philosophical, and historical factors at play that require comprehensive analysis”.

He argued that IMF programmes, which are usually short-term and based on analytical tools and policy prescriptions that are not suitable for post-colonial economies, do not address the fundamental structural challenges faced by these countries.

Mr. Avle made these remarks as the keynote speaker at the 14th Congregation of the Accra Business School.

He spoke on the theme, “Breaking the 17; Alternatives To IMF Conditionalities for Economic Development In Ghana.”

He observed that the recent IMF programmes in 2003, 2009, and 2015 have failed to transform the economy into a dynamic and resilient one that can withstand various shocks, including pandemics, external conflicts, or currency fluctuations.

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He noted that although the stated objectives of the latest programme may differ in form, they were essentially aimed at achieving macroeconomic stability.

Avle said that Ghana’s frequent reliance on the IMF is not an isolated case pointing to several other African nations, including Zambia, Ethiopia, Chad, and Egypt, that have also sought debt relief through the Group of 20’s (G20) Common Framework mechanism.

According to the IMF’s Regional Economic Outlook Report, as of March 2023, the IMF had lending arrangements with 21 nations in sub-Saharan Africa, highlighting the increased borrowing costs for these countries. “One of the fundamental issues is the burden of dollar dependency. Many of these countries, including Ghana, heavily rely on imported food and fuel, which puts pressure on their currencies and increases their vulnerability to external debts,” he stated.

He pointed to the nation’s focus on the export of cash crops like cocoa, as recommended by the World Bank during the structural adjustment programmes, as having a significant impact on annual expenditure on food imports, contributing to trade deficits.

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Similarly, Avle noted that the country’s energy mix relies on imported fossil fuels, further exacerbating its petrodollar dependence. Therefore, to break the cycle of dependence, he suggested that Ghana needs to prioritize economic sovereignty.

These include taking steps to reduce vulnerability to external debts, enhancing agricultural productivity, harnessing renewable energy sources, and developing value-added manufacturing.

He cited countries like Israel and Costa Rica as examples of how these approaches can lead to economic benefits, reduced imports, and increased job creation. Additionally, he suggested that investment in high-quality education, especially in business schools, is crucial for developing a skilled workforce and fostering economic development.

He stated: “Institutions like the Accra Business School play a vital role in equipping future business leaders with the necessary knowledge and skills to drive industrialization and global competitiveness.” Ghana’s recurring reliance on the IMF highlights deeper structural issues that require a comprehensive approach.

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“Achieving economic sovereignty through food security, renewable energy, value-added manufacturing, and quality education will pave the way for sustainable economic transformation and job creation,” he concluded.

Ghana has been struggling with recurring fiscal and external imbalances for 65 years since gaining independence in 1957.

These imbalances have resulted in high inflation, declining reserves, a depreciating currency (the Cedi), and high-interest rates. To address these challenges, Ghana has repeatedly turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for financial assistance with its latest approach being its 17th since independence.

Over time Ghana has experienced periods of large fiscal deficits significant debt build-ups high debt service costs low public investment with servicing its debts now one of its biggest challenges for its current government leading to painful domestic debt restructuring.

This restructuring was a prerequisite for its latest IMF programme which was initiated in July 2022 and approved on May 17 2023. Breaking its cycle of seeking IMF support has become a pressing task for Ghana.

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