Business News of Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Source: Economic Tribune

Election 2012: Who’s best for business?

The presidential candidate, who wins this year’s elections, will be the one who best articulates his ideological position on the role of the private sector in development, as well as his proven credentials and personal interest in business, a survey has revealed.

Even though, eight candidates are vying for the presidency, the race actually is between President John Dramani Mahama of National Democratic Congress (NDC) and Nana Akufo-Addo of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP).

President Mahama, who until recently was the Head of the Economic Management Team and opposition leader Nana Akufo-Addo, who also has an extensive business experience, both have good and interesting backgrounds to help promote the interests of the business and financial sectors when given the nod.

Currently, the two candidates are engaged in a hearts-and-minds battle to convince Ghanaians for their votes on December 7, 2012.

Majority of Ghanaians interviewed across the nation by Economic Tribune were of the view that the NDC Government, which turned on Ghana's oil taps, should ordinarily have cruised to a comfortable victory in presidential and parliamentary elections due to the significant economic growth recorded by the country since taking over power in 2009.

Last year, the economy grew at a record-breaking of 14 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and is set for about 10 percent growth over the next five years, thanks to new oil and gas revenue, and more productive farms and mines.

The London based Overseas Development Institute judged Ghana's farming sector to be one of the five most productive in the world over the past 30 years alongside those of Vietnam and Thailand. Furthermore, a stream of international visitors, development gurus and business luminaries continue to snake through Accra to pour accolades on Ghana's economic performance.

Yet these songs of praise do not convince Ghanaians. For many voters, the real measure is how world-class oil, gas and power projects will change living standards. This is partly because the revenue and projects of the oil and gas era are yet to materialise for most Ghanaians.

There are isolated bright spots. Cities such as Sekondi-Takoradi are booming, as there are activities of local suppliers to international oil companies. For the rest of the country, heightened expectations about future wealth are mixed with recurring frustrations.

The arguments about socialism, state capitalism and market economics playing out across much of the developing world now are of long standing in Ghana. For President Mahama and many of his party colleagues in the NDC, Ghana's founding President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah's ideas of using the "political kingdom" to reshape the national economy and to break dependence on western markets are still relevant.

Akufo-Addo and the NPP, who hail from the Danquah-Busia tradition, are in strong opposition to Nkrumahism. For them, the idea of a developmental state is abomination. According to the local opinion polls, voters remain almost evenly split between the NDC and the NPP.

Neither party has held a commanding lead in the polls since the last elections, in which Mills won by fewer than 40,000 votes. For now, Akufo-Addo is slightly ahead by most estimates.

Akufo-Addo, has stepped up his campaign's attacks on the NDC Government, capitalising on the higher prices of items and criticising the government for being too slow.

Ghanaians started the year facing a steep decline in the exchange rate of the cedi to the US dollar, a 30 percent increase in the price of liquefied petroleum gas and a 15 percent rise in the cost of petrol and diesel.

Transport costs jumped immediately by 10 percent. The NDC Government has been trying to raise revenue and cut spending over the past, but now faces popular opposition from its predecessor NPP and organised labour. Trying to balance the books in this election year has been a critical test for the government's economic management.

Mahama and Akufo-Addo are polar opposites psychologically. President Mahama is patient and donnish but credibly presents himself as understanding the problems of average Ghanaians; Akufo-Addo comes across as a fiery orator and a man in a hurry, eager to change Ghana according to his own prescriptions but aloof from the realities faced by most people.

For the NDC to win this election, much will depend on how convincing President Mahama proves to be in defence of his government – its economic policy and its handling of corruption scandals such as Woyome’s case and payment of judgement debts, as well as the scandal involving the CEO of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, where he is purported to have used the Centre’s money to fund an NDC campaign group.

In the remaining days leading to elections, Akufo-Addo and the NPP will lose no opportunity to attack the NDC Government on its weaknesses, in order to win power.