IMF deal : Don’t worry; Free SHS, LEAP programmes are safe – Finance Minister

Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta has said that the social intervention programmes that were introduced by the government will not be touched following the coming on board the $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Asked whether the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) and the Free Senior High School (Free SHS) programmes are going to be affected by the IMF bailout, Mr Ofori-Atta said at a joint Ghana-IMF press conference in Washington Thursday, May 18 that “We protecting the vulnerable is very clear in the programme. We are doubling the LEAP programme to ensure the welfare support continues, we should not worry at all.”

He further indicated that there is no rush on the part of the government to return to the international capital market to borrow following the coming on board the $ 3 billion bailout.

When asked a question about Ghana returning to the capital market he said that “In addition to the revenue measures that we saw in the budget that are improving at GRA  and that will give us the resource to move forward, curtailing and managing our expenditures are going to be important.

“There is no rush in going back to the international capital market, our expectation is that in managing our expenditure and increasing our revenue we will have the resources to do it, working towards the capital market is important because we don’t get our ratings up and make the country more attractive for investors, especially FDIs. So n one is rushing to the capital market at this juncture.”

Following the approval of the deal, analysts cautioned the government against borrowing.

For instance, the Director of the Institue of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) of the University of Ghana, Professor Peter Quartey said the government must be slow in borrowing, especially during periods when there are no shocks such as Covid and the Russia-Ukraine war.

Speaking on TV3 while reacting to the approval Prof Quartey indicated that the bailout will provide some respite in the short term but the government must leverage on the immediate benefits to correct the defects in the economy for long-term benefits.

He noted that successive governments overspend in election years as though there is no tomorrow and then try to use the next two or three years after the elections to clean up the system.

This trend, he said, must stop in order to reduce the dependency on external bodies for survival as a country.

“Of course, the unexpected may happen, and shocks may happen or may occur, we have seen Covid come, we have seen Russia Ukraine war, it is not the end of such external shocks any of them can come again. So we need to have some cushion, we don’t have to borrow too much.

“When we are hit with a pandemic or any external shocks then we can borrow to cushion ourselves and get out of the problem but if we borrow to the brim and we are hit with the shock that is where we are found wanting.”

He further told the government to grow the private sector of the economy in order to employ more people after indicating that the $ 3 billion bailout will come with some conditionalities including a freeze on employment in the public sector.

That will mean that more people will be needing jobs in the privets sector.

This, he said, makes a strong case for the government to focus on empowering the private sector players to expand their businesses to employ more people.

Professor Quartey explained that every conditionality that would come along with the programme is something Ghana prepared and agreed to.

He said “The programme will come with certain conditionalities but these are not conditions that have been imposed on us, let us make that point, every conditionality you see is something we agreed to undertake.

“The IMF will sit with you, and discuss with you where you find yourselves and where you want to go, and what measures you want to take to ensure debt sustainability. What are the measures to take to ensure that you enhance your revenue mobilization, to ensure fiscal discipline, you grow your economy, and you ensure stability?

“These are programmes that we prepared as a country and submitted to the IMF so I don’t think you will see anything different from what we had agreed to. If there are harsh conditions it is something that we have agreed to sign onto.”

He added “Of course, there will be a freeze on employment, sometimes they say net freeze on employment depending on what we will find in the programme but that may come with some painful lessons for the labour front.

“But if we are able to grow the private sector, if all these resources, the credibility and all that the IMF programme brings on board, are used to leverage the growth in the private sector, then the private sector can withstand and absorb some of the labour falls that otherwise would have been absorbed by the public sector.  The public sector alone can’t employ everybody, we need to grow the private sector.

“But also what I expect to see going forward; investor confidence coming back. It comes with resources so we are going to get the balance of payment support that can help us service some of our debts, it can help us pay for some necessary imports, whatever we need to import that money can be relied upon.

“That can help shore our reserves and also ensure some exchange rate stability. Lately, we have seen the level of depreciation of the Cedi as reduced and we have seen an even level of appreciation occurring.

“So we have seen signs of that already.  IMF will bring in technical support as well as ensure that we achieve macro stability and fiscal discipline. The hard choices that we are unable to take on our own, the headmaster or the IMF will help us to achieve this fiscal discipline.”

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