Dear Madam IMF,

I am nowhere close to the seat of government and do not have any chance of meeting you during the discussions that will lead to your 18th bailout program for our country.

I am therefore using this letter to sound you up on areas of interest which if tackled properly, will make this 18th attempt deliver far more than what the previous 17 were able to do.  

The first area I would like your program to focus on is the presidency. The president has shown that he knows what to do. He just needs help how to do it. Many Ghanaians are still looking up to him to fulfil the vow he made in January 2017 to protect the public purse. Ironically, he also made other vows and has also acquired tastes that are not necessarily in alignment with protecting the public purse. The one thing that we thus expect from you is to insist on conditions that will keep the presidency on the tight and narrow path which leads to the sanctuary of public purse protection.  

This you can do by imposing controls that are targeted at circumscribing the wide latitude which our constitution gives the presidency in the use of the country’s resources. This latitude is a bane which the country’s parliament has not mustered the bite to deal with. The Fund must necessarily develop a public purse protection litmus test which all public expenditures must pass before they see the light of day. Your program will succeed if it does nothing else other than instilling a new culture of thriftiness in the Jubilee House.

If you have to do anything else, then it should be taking a pragmatic look at the Free SHS program. Many of us do not believe that we need a wholesale Free SHS program in order to ensure that every child who qualifies for SHS does go to school. I don’t know your definition of witchcraft but you will scratch your head when you see a poverty stricken country paying school fees on behalf of rich parents. Your 18th foray into Ghana will mean nothing if it doesn’t ensure that the current Free SHS program is reviewed to benefit only the poor. This can be done by limiting state sponsorship to only students who enter SHS from public Junior High Schools (JHS) popularly known as “syto”. It will be a great disappointment if you leave the free SHS policy in its current populist form.

It may not obvious at first glance how a poorly funded Free SHS program unwittingly brings the rich down to the level of the poor but that is what it is. Inadequate funding forces it to do so by bringing the school system onto its knees to deliver inferior education to both the rich and poor. However, when the rich pay for their wards and government pays only for the poor, the educational system will end up being better funded. This will translate into higher standards that benefit both the rich and the poor and in so doing, help to lift the poor to the level of the rich. That is why those who can afford must pay!

If you really want your program to deliver the country from its current economic crisis, then the other area you must not miss is the government’s Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) program. The country has clear absolute and comparative advantages in Agriculture which your program must help us exploit to the full.  The PFJ, as it is now, is a big joke.

The savings from a restructured Free SHS can be used to subsidize the Agricultural value chain. This will not be enough though. Although Balance of Payment support is your traditional scope, you may have to consider breaking tradition to extend your financial intervention to touch the country’s Agriculture. If you cannot do so, then you have to help us by getting those who trust you to provide us with the required financial and technical support to revolutionize our Agriculture. It will also be good for you to get our Central Bank to lead the investment drive in Agriculture instead of untargeted deficit financing of government profligacy. These interventions will deliver levels of success that your programs are not normally known for.

This is not all Madam IMF. Have you heard of the Nation Builders Corps (NABCO)? It is a government youth employment program which nobody knows what they have built so far. You can let us create value from NABCO by getting it redesigned into a two-module program that provides entrepreneurial support for the youth in the areas of Agriculture and ICT. These are two low hanging fruits that will no doubt have desirable catalytic effects on the Ghanaian economy. The current NABCO design makes it a disguised unemployment benefit scheme which is unfortunately limited to only a few. Let NABCO be made a bedfellow of a well-funded and well-designed PFJ that is supported by a transparent and competitive selection of beneficiaries, and it will no doubt become a game changer. 

We have other suggestions but my letter is becoming too long. We can however not leave without touching on the Finance Ministry’s lamentations about the country’s dubious reputation of having the lowest tax-revenue to GDP ratio in West Africa. All the lamentations have so far centered on the numerator of this ratio. It will be good for the Fund to establish if an over-bloated denominator is not contributing to the low ratio.

After the denominator is validated, the Fund should insist on sending the four Finance Ministers and senior GRA officials on attachment to the Revenue Agencies of Togo, Benin, Liberia, Nigeria, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire which are reported to be running better ratios than us. I don’t think the ECOWAS’ coup-related sanctions on Mali, Guinea and Burkina will affect the attachment in these countries. We need to learn from them how they are able to generate the higher ratios without imposing such a crippling tax as e-levy on their citizens. If they did it without an e-levy, let us also learn how to do it. We have the men but it looks like our neighbors have the women!  Let us learn from them!

I think it is also just fair for me at this point to clarify some misconceptions that social media might have polluted your mind with. It may be true that our economy has run into a more perilous state than it was when we last came to you in 2015. We however came to you the last time with men and women whose names you cannot remember. Trust me, we now have men whose pedigree in economic management can never be lost on you. Wait until you hear our vice president’s sound bites and you will see what a solid team we have!  

One last clarification before I sign off. That we are among the first West African countries to be seeking your bailout is just another show of our trailblazing hallmark. Remember that we were the first to gain independence in Sub-Saharan Africa. We were also the first to win the African Cup of Nations four times, winning the fourth and last one forty years ago in 1982. I am sure you have also not forgotten how our president made international headlines with sound bites from his COVID-19 lock down speech in 2020.  No other African leader was as globally acknowledged as he was. It is thus no surprise that we are once again at the forefront of seeking relief from your Fund. It has nothing to do with the severe underlying conditions the Ghanaian economy had developed before COVID struck nor what some see as an election-motivated populist and profligate response to the pandemic.    

We wish you a successful program as we hope that Ghana will become the first country to graduate from an IMF bailout program never to return again. It will be a first we shall all be proud of as it may be a first for the IMF too. But Remember, we have the men!

Sincerely yours

Mathias Dorfe

mdorfe@hotmail.com