The Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) have supported calls for a national dialogue to solicit ideas and build consensus for the measures needed to revive the economy.
The two bodies, which played key roles in similar dialogues in the past, said the scars of the COVID-19 pandemic made it ripe for a dialogue to chart a united and non-partisan course towards confronting the challenges.
The Secretary General of the TUC, Dr Anthony Yaw Baah, and the Chief Executive Officer of the AGI, Mr Seth Twum Akwaboah, told the Daily Graphic in separate interviews last Sunday that their respective institutions would support efforts to make a national dialogue successful.
Their position was amplified by a veteran economist, Mr Kwame Pianim, who said in another interview that a dialogue should be held "as soon as possible" and in a non-partisan manner, during which Ghanaians should be made to understand that the country "is in crisis and everybody is needed on board".
"We have challenges and history has shown that people talking about an issue is the beginning of a solution. So let us host the dialogue, bring the key stakeholders on board and let's start talking," the statesman said.
He cited the economic dialogue of 2014, which he said produced the blueprint for the country to seek support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to extricate itself from its woes, as an example to follow.
The three executives in labour, industry and the economy were reacting to earlier calls by another statesman, Sir Sam E. Jonah, in February this year and the IMF last month for a national dialogue to chart a united front against the scars of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 general election.
While Sir Sam, who is the Chancellor of the University of Cape Coast (UCC), said a dialogue was crucial to mobilise talents and resources to confront the challenges, the Resident Representative of the IMF in Ghana, Dr Albert Touna Mama, said it would help find an equitable way to share the economic burden arising from the pandemic, as well as secure ownership for the government’s fiscal consolidation programme.
Earlier in December last year, a Ghanaian international public servant, Dr Y. K. Amoako, had made a similar call, citing the need for a non-partisan approach to dealing with the emerging challenges.
It's in order
Advancing his position, Dr Baah, who is a labour economist, said a national dialogue was in order, and that the TUC would help make it a reality.
The TUC Secretary General recalled that the union supported similar dialogues in 2001 and 2014 meant to gather ideas and secure the buy-in of the citizenry for national development.
He said the union would do same when the government decided to hold a dialogue under the current circumstances.
For his part, the AGI boss said he expected a dialogue to seek consensus for tough but necessary policies to advance the fortunes of the private sector and the country at large.
He cited the need to reduce electricity tariffs for industries as one of the tough decisions for which a national dialogue could help secure consensus.
He said Ghana's push for industry, in the face of the effects of the pandemic, risked being derailed by the current electricity tariff regime that allowed industries to subsidise the consumption of residential consumers.
"We need to reverse that, but when you do that, power tariffs will go up and it will make the government unpopular. But if there is a dialogue and these are discussed and well understood, there will be support when it is implemented," he said.
While describing the push for a national dialogue as welcoming, Mr Twum-Akwaboah said the government must also commit itself to implementing the outcomes, even before the forum was held.
He said evidence suggested that government agencies were reluctant to implement the recommendations of such fora mainly because the proposals conflicted with those of the agencies or the state lacked resources to finance the implementation.
Who to lead
On how the dialogue should be initiated, the three executives said President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo could initiate and lead it.
"The President should lead it. He is our Commander-in-Chief and this is a battle. He should lead it, so that the rest of us can follow," Mr Pianim, who is a founder member of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), said.
The call for a national economic dialogue comes at a time when public finances have come under pressure after enduring enormous strain from the COVID-19 pandemic, while the country is emerging from a fiercely fought general election whose outcome was settled by the Supreme Court.
On the economic front, public expenditure has suffered strong growth at a time when revenues have stunted; the debt stock has peaked at GH¢296.1 billion, equivalent to 76.1 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and the fiscal deficit ended last year at 15.6 per cent of GDP if the cost of the financial sector clean-up and the energy sector debts are added.
In the 2021 budget, the government estimated that three expenditure lines — interest payments, compensation of workers and transfers to statutory funds — would consume more than 101 per cent of total revenue and grants.
National economic dialogues are not new in the country, having featured prominently in the Fourth Republic for the purposes of soliciting ideas on national development and canvassing the support of the citizenry for government programmes.
In June 2001, the government hosted a two-day national economic dialogue to solicit ideas on how to accelerate growth and ensure prosperity for all.
Held on the theme: “Consensus building for a solid foundation to accelerate national economic growth and development”, it was attended by representatives of political parties, civil society, the private sector, the TUC and other identifiable groups.
Its recommendations later formed the bases for most of the programmes that the government executed between 2001 and January 2005.
In 2014, a similar dialogue was held at Senchi in the Eastern Region, where key actors of the economy converged to flesh out ideas on how to move the country out of the challenges in which it was submerged at the time.
The forum culminated in what was christened the ‘Senchi Consensus’, an array of policy recommendations and suggestions described as the home-grown policies that were later used as the foundation for securing the extended credit facility (ECF) programme with the IMF to stabilise the economy and revert to the path of growth.
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