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Feature Article of Monday, 25 June 2012

Columnist: Owusu, Atta Oseikrom

Ghana: The Borrowing Syndrome In the Midst Of Plenty

As a Ghanaian citizen and for a long time concerned about the economic affairs of the country, I wonder why a country like Ghana should always go begging for money from International Organisations like the World Bank (WB), International Monetary Fund (IMF)

Apart from these international financial institutions, Ghana also attracts loans and grants from the European Union, some individual European Union countries, and from Commonwealth countries.

Ghana also borrows from private international banks and governments in America, Europe and Asia to undertake projects. I do not want to go through how some of these loans are negotiated. Neither do I want to argue the (negative or positive) effects of such loans to the recipient. In any case the effects are mostly negative to the country. In the long run, the country has to pay back, especially loans attracted from private international banks.

Occasionally, international banks like the World Bank and IMF give debt relief to countries that have borrowed from it. This means that the loans are written off in some way. Sometimes, the relief is on the cash premium or principal money borrowed which is written off. But the interest accrued on the loan may still have to be paid. Private international banks do not have such relief programs. The country has to pay both principal and interest no matter what. These are usually individual or private investor banks and corporations which do not have any mercy for the country's troubles and do not care either. In such circumstances, generations upon generations of Ghanaian citizens continue to suffer since they have to service and pay off those debts.

Before Gen. Kutu Acheampong came to power in a military coup in 1972, the previous governments had contracted huge amounts of loans from both private and public International Banks. But little or no development was seen. When Kutu Acheampong came to power, it became evident that he would not able to operate successfully whilst the country was paying huge interests on loans which did nothing for the country in concrete terms. Therefore his idea of "Yentua policy"-'we won't pay'- was widely popular with Ghanaians. Kutu Acheampong brought in "Operation Feed Yourself". Often, people contrast Kutu Acheampong's “Yentua policy" with Busia; who begged the creditor nations for a renegotiation under his "Kafo didi" policy. This attitude gave Acheampong room to operate for the first three years of his rule before things started getting out of hand.

The fact of the matter is that, every country goes for loans in its history. No country on earth has survived without loans. Even rich countries in the developed world have loans to fill their treasuries or budgetary requirements. The USA is one of the most indebted nations in the world. Developing countries, apart from taking loans from the developed countries may also ask grants from friendly countries. The problem, and my concern for Ghana, is the frequency with which we, as a country, attract or contract these loans. A country like Finland has gone for almost six years without loans. And what has Finland got? Almost nothing except tax revenues and their own internal market structure. Ghana should be self sufficient enough in its internal market to withstand any external pressure and for that matter be able to stay for say 5-10 years without loans from abroad.

Loans, Credits and Grants have become an international political game and economic dependency games that the rich countries use very effectively for gains in other spheres. It creates such dependency scenerio between the taker and the giver. Rich countries, multinational banks, corporations and international financial institutions use loans as manoeuvres in directly or indirectly influencing the political and economic decision-making process of these poor countries.

Let's look at the situation of, say, a country like Ghana taking a developmental loan from another country like China, South Korea, or India to develop infrastructure. The condition of such a loan may require that the recipient country takes the construction company building the infrastructure from the donor country; more so including most, if not all the materials, logistics, and technical staff from the donor country. So, in a sense, most of the money, if not all the money, never even leaves the donor country. But then the recipient is required to pay all the money back - PRINCIPAL + INTEREST

Countries like Argentina, India, Brazil, China and Angola do not borrow anymore, from the World Bank, or from international private banks. And what has Argentina got in terms of resources? Nothing, except their beef production, and EDUCATION. What has India got? Nothing much, except population in numbers and again education. China is now competing with the United States. It does not borrow from anywhere. As a matter of fact, it has even agreed to lend money to the United States of America. China is said to have the highest foreign reserves in American banks. Brazil is growing so fast, it even promised to lend money to European Union or individual European countries during the global financial crisis. This shows the stage and maturity in which these countries are at the moment. Even a country like Angola refuses to borrow, because it has been able to manage its resources well enough for some time now.

Ghana should be self sufficient enough to withstand the pressures of borrowing for a decade or more at a time. Ghana has been blessed with abundant amount of natural resources; gold, diamond, bauxite, enough land mass for cultivation and lately oil reserves. Ghana is drilling oil which is estimated to fetch the country over one billion dollars a year. So the question, therefore, is why does the country continue to borrow?.

Ghana's borrowing power has been increased by international financial organisations. Why?. Because they claim, Ghana has the paying power - the power to pay. Why?. Because Ghana is now an oil producing/exporting country. And Ghana, for the past 4-5 years, has fallen into the trap of the 'borrow cycle'. Borrowing money at a very high interest rate and putting more pressure on the Ghanaian economy and on generations of Ghanaians citizens. In the end, Ghana becomes entangled in a debt cycle. And in so doing, the donor country draws on the recipient country for support whenever they desire to satisfy their political, economic or military needs.

In the book, "Confessions Of An Economic Hit Man", the author John Perkins writes about how institutions and countries work to convince poorer countries to accept enormous development loans and make sure that such projects were contracted to American companies. Once these countries are burdened with huge debts, the companies or donor countries or governments will request their commitment in favours, including access to natural resources, military and economic cooperation and political support both in idealism (capitalist country) and realism (vote on our side in international forums).

There are two schools of thought that have given reasons on this 'borrowing cycle' subject. The first school of thought reasons that Ghana, or the recipient countries, are pressured to borrow and therefore over-burdened so as to be able to control their natural resources and decision-making processes. The second school of thought also reasons that the international lending agencies and banks are business entities that run on profits. They will, therefore, lend to any country that has the paying power. Idealism (paying power and power politics) for the lenders is more important than the reality (ability not to pay). The debt burden placed on the country, such as Ghana, deprives the citizens of health care, good education, clean water, housing, adequate security, and other services.

The problem for Ghana, and for that matter any developing country, is not the loan in itself, but, first, the conditions attached to the loans. Some of the conditions attached to, for instance, international development assistance loans, are specifically meant to bankrupt the recipient countries. It derives from the donor countries’ aim to have a hold on the economic aspects of the recipient country. Second is the part played by corruption on the part of the government and power-brokers of the recipient countries. For instance in Ghana, most of the money the government in power takes is diverted from the purpose for which they are meant.

Ghana must tackle its economy both at the micro as well as the macro levels in other to stem the tide of continuous borrowing. At the micro level, first it must concentrate on increasing production and decreasing the level consumption of foreign goods. We are too much dependent on foreign imports thereby stifling the local economy. In this way, Ghana should restrict foreign imports and concentrate on the domestic market. Ghana should increase tariffs on foreign goods that will make them too expensive in the country. Ghana must also organise and improve the maintenance and supervision of its tax code. In that way the government can raise money for the national treasury (State).

All I want to say is that, these lenders and banks don't care as long as they have something of yours to exploit, (and exploit) they will always, if we give them the chance.

Written by: Atta Oseikrom Owusu

Email: Owujo@hotmail.com

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