Corruption, an act that has pervaded Ghana’s economy, once again came under the spotlight for public discourse, with a view to finding the best antidote to the canker to promote national development.
The issue was a mojor subject for discussion at the inaugural memorial lecture for a man seen by many on different sides of the country’s political divide as an astute chartered accountant who showed so much concern for the prudent management of the national purse, Mr Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu.
True to the character of the man in whose honour the lecture was held on Wednesday, the inaugural Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu Memorial Lecture attracted many known faces in Ghanaian politics from both the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), and academia.
These included former President John Agyekum Kufuor, Mr Kojo Mpiani, Dr Mahamadu Bawumia, Dr Richard Anane, Mr Seth Terkper, Mr Moses Asaga, Ms Elizabeth Ohene, Professor Kwesi Yankah, Mr Kwamena Bartels, Mr Hackman Owusu-Agyemang and Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu.
Mr Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, who is described by many as one of the finest finance ministers Ghana has ever had, died on September 24, 2008 in South Africa while still in active service during the second term of the Kufuor administration.
Titled “Fiscal Policy Accountability and Transparency as Instruments for Effective National Development” and delivered by Professor George Gyan-Baffour, himself a former Deputy Finance Minister in the Kufuor administration, attendance could best be described as overwhelming.
After establishing that the realisation of national development objectives was dependent on transparency in the formulation, implementation and assessment of fiscal policy and the effectiveness of institutions of accountability, Professor Gyan-Baffour, an economist and banker, asked the government to strengthen all fiscal accountability institutions.
“The Government must ensure that the process of the selection, procurement and delivery of services should be transparent enough to minimise rent-seeking and corruption. More importantly, the government should encourage and strengthen the fiscal accountability institutions in the country to ensure that public servants who misappropriate government revenues are properly sanctioned to deter future misuse of the public resource, which is so rampant these days.
“The government should have the capacity to appraise new projects to ensure that fiscal expansions will be used for carefully selected projects that can add more to the growth of the economy.
“The government tax structure should be selected and not to over-tax the sector that are likely to have large effect on GDP growth; or increase employment such as manufacturing, and tourism to enable these sectors to invest more,” he prescribed.
Professor Gyan-Baffour had earlier outlined major institutional constraints faced by the country as the lack of capacity and inequalities of the public financial management (PFM) systems.
“Institutional capacity constraints can result in government’s inability to achieve its development objective,” he said, citing the fact that “while the intended action by the government to redirect resources for the good of society is a noble one, lack of capacity of the institutions for collecting taxes and promoting investment can result in a failure to achieve the intended objective”.
He said the other institutional failure, which included graft, rent-seeking, corruption and waste in government, was poor quality of the public financial management (PFM) system, especially the public investment management (PIM) system that could intervene between fiscal policy and the effective realisation of national development objectives.
Attributing the poor management of the PFM to the lack of transparency in government budget formulation, analysis, implementation and performance monitoring, he said it was also due to the absence of accountability on the part of those who implemented the budget and the absence of effective and credible accountability enforcement mechanism.
“Notwithstanding these damning effects of poor financial management due to rent-seeking and corruption, there are good governance practices that can reverse the negative effects of these institutional failures on the use of public funds. These include strengthening of fiscal transparency and accountability of institutions,” Professor Gyan-Baffour said.
Lead discussant for the lecture, Mr Moses Asaga, who is the Chief Executive of the National Petroleum Authority (NPA) and a former deputy finance minister, said Ghana needed clarity, reliability and timeliness in dealing with its fiscal policy.
Citing the first budget statement presented to Parliament by Mr Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu in 2005, Mr Asaga said Mr Baah-Wiredu held the executive accountable. Re-echoing portions of the lecture presented by Professor Gyan-Baffour, Mr Asaga said there still persisted corruption in the award of contracts, while the national budget and development plan were not aligned.
The chairman for the lecture, Mr Seth Terkper, who is the Minister of Finance, said ensuring fiscal policy accountability was hinged on three main factors – a development plan, a national budget and public accounts.
Eulogising the late finance minister, Mr Terkper said Mr Baah-Wiredu was dedicated to financial accounting and paid particular attention to revenue. He urged all to go back to financial accounting in remembrance of the late minister.
The lecture was jointly promoted by Financial Accountability and Transparency Trust-Africa (FAT-Africa), a think tank spearheaded by Mr Albert Kan Dapaah, a former Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, and the Ghana Institute for Public Policy Options (GIPPO), also a public policy think tank and spearheaded by Dr Charles Wereko Brobby, a former Chief Executive of the Volta River Authority and the [email protected] Secretariat.
Dr Brobby made a passionate appeal to the audience to contribute to the education of the late minister’s children, as the family had indicated it found it difficult to cater for their educational needs.
Sharing her thoughts on the lecture in an interview with the Daily Graphic, the President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Mrs Angela Peasah, said it was gratifying to have the lecture and that comments made about the late Baah-Wiredu were genuine.