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An open letter to the NDC Flag-bearer on suggestions for Finance Minister

Mon, 13 Jul 2020 Source: Cadman Atta Mills

Dear Mr. John Dramani Mahama, Former President of the Republic of Ghana and the NDC Flagbearer for 2020,

I know we have not communicated (directly or indirectly) for the last six years. However, we HAD an excellent relationship that was both jovial and respectful when you were Vice President of the Republic of Ghana.

I took the first step in an attempt to resume this relationship by posting my assessment of your choice of Prof. Naana Opoku Agyeman on your twitter handle. To restate what I said there, I truly believe that she is an excellent choice. Aside from the fact that she is intelligent and accomplished (which is too self-evident and was repetitively affirmed by everyone), I pointed out that (1) she brings to the position a squeaky-clean image, (2) provides a much-needed gender balance to the ticket and, most important of all, (3) her choice presents Ghanaians with a ticket which is characterized by perfect compatibility between the presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

I would like to push my luck further in the resumption of our past relationship by offering my (very unsolicited) advice on the subject at hand. I do not do this for partisan political purposes. Indeed, I would have offered the same recommendations to President Nana Addo Dankua Akufo Addo but for the fact that it could be misconstrued.

I will not beat about the bush. I would plead with you to NOT make the fatal mistake of appointing a “good economist” to the position of minister of finance. These creatures, if they exist, would serve Ghana better in the backroom somewhere as directors of research playing with new crazes (not to say crazies) in economics (such as Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium models) rather than to bring them anywhere near the management of the public purse. Moreover, the only thing worse would be to appoint a non-economist who feels he/she must throw around economic jargon in order to merit respect as minister of finance. Economists (and especially staff of the international financial institutions) are particularly adept at ferreting out imposters.

I emphasize the management of the public purse because the position of a finance minister is a managerial position and involves managing government expenditures and payments system, balancing budgets, and ensuring the adequacy of public resources to cover the government’s current and anticipated obligations. Additionally, a good finance minister has to be a good manager of talent and staff as well as relationships with the executive, parliament, various stakeholders, including the creditors and debtors of the government. In this regard, economists have no special advantage and economic theory has nothing to offer.

Few people know that the longest serving finance minister in Ghana (and arguably the best) Dr. Kwesi Botchwey is a not an economist but a distinguished law professor who taught law at the Faculty of law in Legon for many years. His strengths were a capacity to listen to debates riddled with obtuse economic jargon, separate the wheat from the chaff, and to reduce all that noise into a set of actionable policies. But above all Kwesi Botch (as I call him) was a master at nurturing and managing relationships (in Ghana and with key staff in the international financial institutions) that he would call on to the benefit of Ghana. Other notable and accomplished finance ministers who were not economists are Messrs. Yaw Osafo maafo and Kwame Peprah

I know I am on record for singling out Dr. Kwabena Duffuor as an excellent finance minister. True that Dr. Duffuor is an economist but the qualities that made him so outstanding as a finance minister had nothing to do with economics. Rather his main skills involved managing irate contractors and civil servants owed many months of salary arrears, a jittery president worried about where Dr. Duffuor was going to find resources to meet payroll, a very skeptical economic advisory council that doubted that the single spine salary adjustment obligations could be met, and his skills at ensuring that “everything is under control” as he was fond of saying. Dr. Duffuor is joined by Dr. Akoto Osei who is an exception to my rule because, in my books, he is a world class economist who excelled as (interim) finance minister.

This then brings me to my recommendations for the finance ministry. I single out two people in particular (and I am sure there are many more) because I know them and they exhibit additional qualities that would make them exceptional finance ministers.

Prominent on my list would be Ms. Hannah Tetteh. She is very smart (but suffers fools badly), quick to grasp concepts and arguments, is exceptionally articulate, has managed a “core economic” ministry of trade and industry, and has had considerable international exposure as foreign minister and UN ambassador. Handling IMF and World Bank missions would be a cinch for her. She is self -confident, courageous, and fearless (to the point of being sometimes abrasive) and would insist that the Bretton Woods institutions align their policy recommendations to our economic and social development priorities or she would send them packing.

I would also make a “surprising” recommendation: Ms. Valarie Sawyer. Like Ms. Tetteh, she is brilliant, analytical (I love the way she writes!) passionate, and courageous (she has balls!). She has practical managerial experience as Deputy Chief of Staff. She is clear-thinking. She is self-confident and would not pretend to be “an economist” a qualification she does not need to be a good manager of talent (especially the best economists in the ministry), of relationships, and of the public purse.

Sincerely and respectfully,

Cadman Atta Mills

Columnist: Cadman Atta Mills