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Opinions of Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Columnist: Owusu, Joseph

Ghana At IMF: Economists Turned Celebrity Chefs

By Joseph Owusu (jowusu@gmail.com)

The world had never heard of top chefs from Ghana until this past week. And the new chefs decided to showcase their splendid talents on the world stage at no less conspicuous venue than at the International Monetary Fund Headquarters in Washington DC, a stone throw from the White House. And lo and behold, this debut showcase couldn’t have caught the world's attention better as the Ghana celebrity cooking saga hit the world media.

And boy they can cook - not food but numbers – massaging financial figures to deceive and defraud the public. The institution needed honest and most up-to-date data on Ghana’s ailing economy. Rather than presenting a truthful, verifiable report on an economy in need of urgent financial bailout, the inefficient and brazenly corrupt President John Mahama and his economic team, led by Dr. Kwesi Botchwey, Dr. Kofi Wampah and Seth Terkper, chose to cook the books.

In the minds of these economists turned celebrity chefs, they were cooking to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the Fund’s top executives for constructive economic data. With seemingly low sense of integrity, the Ghana team appeared needlessly intent on securing as much bailout funds as they could from the IMF under the most favorable terms by fair or foul means. The ramification of their actions is beyond measure.

First, they have shamed our nation. The Ghana brand has been badly damaged in ways it has never been so far this century. The self-professed star of Africa with an image of being one of few stable, democratic and relatively better-managed republics in a hitherto chaotic and grossly misruled region is now showing the same chronic malaise afflicting the entire African continent: brazen disregard for truth and integrity. The news of the cooked figures presented to the IMF made major headlines. What is supposed to be a debt burden of close to 70% of GDP had been massaged to look like 55% of GDP.

Second, it is disheartening to see an elite finance team showing no sense of moral obligation to Ghana and the world. The usual games of whitewashing the truth and never being held responsible for fraud in Ghana were evident in this “scandal” though they could not get away with this one. The misrepresentation of economic data that was uncovered by the IMF has exposed the extent of widespread corruption in Ghana at the highest level.

Finally, this case demonstrates an immensely poor sense of judgment by Ghana’s top economists for attempting to deceive IMF economists, known to be massively attentive to detail and too experienced to miss the most subtle discrepancy in the presentation of data in the most comprehensive national economic reports. This begs the question - what were the Ghanaian officials thinking?

The case of Ghana, like most African countries, is a tragedy of infinite proportions. A nation blessed with so much wealth (gold, diamond, oil, cocoa, etc.) and human capital (with its population among the best educated in Africa) has been mired in perennial poverty due, in part, to wanton corruption and gross mismanagement by a small group of shamelessly myopic elite. Sadly and naively, these leaders fail to realize that ultimately, they also, directly or indirectly, become victims of the misery they help to create. We have seen prominent government officials perish due to Ghana’s atrocious health infrastructure. As the old Ashanti proverb adage, you cheat Ananse, you cheat yourself.

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