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‘What does an African finance minister do now?’


In a candid diary, the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta in an posting initially published by the Money Instances, draws on Dante and the Reserve of Daniel to demonstrate how he is tackling the coronavirus crisis.

It’s 5am and I stir. My belly feels cramped. I have slept no extra than 4 hours. My head races. The challenges cascade by. I hear the birds and do my meditation. My spouse Angie and I are in the middle of an Easter study on the E book of Daniel, and I can not enable but believe of the producing on the wall: “mene mene tekel upharsin.” Have we been weighed and located wanting? But I am optimistic there will be a number of who will stand up and turn into modern-day-working day martyrs, not only to defeat this pandemic but to produce a new period. On our minds is the query of surgical and N95 masks for health care gurus.

I make two calls to China to talk to our ambassador about ventilators, and a further to Israel to a fellow from the Aspen Worldwide Leadership Community about confront masks, gloves and other forms of defense, and discuss a constitution of a airplane to convey these items to Ghana. Then a abide by-up simply call to Vera Songwe, head of the UN Economic Fee for Africa, and Tito Mboweni, South Africa’s finance minister, to formulate our system for debt relief and commiserate on the downgrading of South Africa’s sovereign rating.

Are the score organizations beginning to tip our world into the to start with circle of Dante’s Inferno? It is time to go to operate and I seize my designed-in-Ghana face mask. Initially, though, we call Father and Auntie Ellen. They are in their eighties and we can not go to them. I drive into Accra, which is in lockdown — a peculiar and eerie feeling of apocalypse. Where are the schoolchildren, the girls frying doughnuts, the newspaper sellers, the beggars? Where are our youth selling every thing from pet chains to gum? The avenue supermarket is long gone, replaced by police and armed forces officers making sure men and women keep at home.

Our economic system is over 90 for each cent informal, and the casual current market is in lockdown. Advancement in GDP, which was projected at 6.8 per cent, could tumble to 1.5 for each cent, according to our projections. How extensive can we maintain this? I arrive at the business, park my car or truck, clean my hands less than jogging h2o in entrance of the ministry. My temperature is checked: 35.6C. It will have to be a excellent working day. I am provided hand sanitiser and go upstairs to my office environment.

We are concentrating on three priorities: presenting to parliament on the alleviation programme a publish-Covid-19 system for a a lot more resilient economic climate and a co-ordinated African hard work to get assist for international financial debt reduction.  I appear at the schedule for the working day with Michael, my exclusive assistant, and it is almost surreal.

A personnel member unloads Chinese clinical supplies from an airplane at the Kotota Worldwide Airport in Accra, Ghana, April 6 2020 © Xinhua/Shutterstock

We had had such a good get started to the year with a landmark $3bn eurobond problem (whew! A lifesaver, as the marketplaces are now shut). In the earlier a few several years, we had properly done an IMF programme, brought inflation down and acted to make sure fiscal self-control. Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck, perhaps wiping out 10-15 for each cent of our GDP.

The president was swift and decisive: requesting a $100m preparedness approach, buying the borders shut, quarantining all airline travellers for at minimum 14 times and purchasing mandatory tests. We also released social distancing, and shut educational facilities, churches, mosques and spots of leisure. The race was on for contact tracing, tests and procedure.

Financial activity has been massively disrupted inns are closing, sector is tottering, airways are grounded, and our toast-of-the-region airport lies asleep. The Bank of Ghana slice costs by 150 foundation factors and decreased the reserve specifications by 2 per cent, enabling banks to maximize their lending to the private sector by some $500m — a very good hard work, but an underwhelming reaction to what really should be completed. I want answers.  A U-shaped restoration is touted, but ours will possible be a steep drop, then a two- to 3-12 months downward slide before a recovery a trapezoid-formed restoration! Back to finishing our schedule for the day. [Bank of Ghana] governor [Ernest] Addison and I end Ghana’s software for the IMF’s rapid credit history facility.

On the other hand, Ghana and Africa desperately require fresh cash. We will work with the Globe Financial institution for a renewed technique. (I marvel what past bank heads this sort of as [Robert] McNamara and [James] Wolfensohn would have been pondering at this time.) We are interrupted by a get in touch with. A person of our significant companions in the vitality sector from Europe has brought on a letter of credit rating facility for $200m.

I am outraged at these types of callousness. I am reminded of the parable in Matthew the place a man’s credit card debt is forgiven, but he then finds the fellow servant who owes him and has him thrown in jail. I am now even extra convinced that the African finance ministers’ proposal for a credit card debt standstill and issuance and/or mobilisation of particular drawing legal rights ought to be extended for two a long time and not be confined to lower-cash flow nations around the world only.

A protection guard retains a thermometer, as Ghana enforces partial lockdown in the cities of Accra and Kumasi to slow the distribute of Covid-19 © Reuters

So, what is the globe coming to? Remarkable occasions, sobering moments. Ghana, at the very last count, experienced 636 instances and 8 fatalities. Investigation by the College of Ghana’s Noguchi Memorial Institute for Healthcare Study suggests that about 4-fifths of the to start with 300 cases were direct imports the virus’s genetic sequencing displays its origins are from Wuhan by way of Norway, the Uk, Saudi Arabia, Hungary and India. What does an African finance minister do now?

How can we restore 10-15 per cent of GDP over a two- to a few-12 months interval? This is not a passing blizzard, as a friend reported additional like a lengthy winter, even a mini ice age. But there are some structural elements that have to have correcting our well being sector, digitalisation of the continent to formalise our economies and Africa’s personal debt — the most controversial element and the subject matter of considerably dialogue. Africa’s exterior personal debt stock is much more than $700bn. Africa wants to pay $44bn to services our credit card debt this year.

The entire world is altering. The German chancellor doesn’t want to listen to about financial debt-to-GDP ratios. Unthinkable stimulus packages are becoming introduced, trumping orthodoxies and with no speak of a moral hazard: the G20 packages may possibly conclude up close to $8tn. Their generous device kits are not offered to us.  I am inexperienced with envy. To be truthful, there is a lump in my throat as I consider of Africa’s predicament. I concern the unbalanced nature of the world-wide architecture.

I have, in 1 fell swoop, shed additional than $1bn of income as domestic taxes proceed to shrink, compounded by shed efficiency and job losses. We still have an obligation to services our financial debt portfolio. These are grave instances, surpassing the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918. Where by is the management and world-wide job force that would mirror the 1944 Bretton Woods financial convention?

This unprecedented crisis has brought capitalism “to a juddering halt”, as Arundhati Roy wrote in FT Weekend. I consider of Ben Okri’s poem [with the line] “Will you be at the harvest?” where by he evokes us to remake the globe for a new era via our human genius, so our upcoming turns into larger than our past. It is 1am. We have had a prolonged working day. We experienced to launch a sanitation campaign we experienced movie and teleconferences with [former UK prime minister] Gordon Brown, African finance ministers, the Planet Bank’s David Malpass and Kristalina Georgieva of the IMF, the Center for World Advancement and the religion-dependent organisations — our associates in distributing food. I have also been examined for Covid-19 and am anxiously awaiting the final results. I am sleepy. I murmur by means of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd . . .” 

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