Ghana President Vows to Revive Economy, Cut Fiscal Deficit

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  • President Akufo-Addo repeats promises to industrialize economy
  • Tax revenue for 2016 fell short of target, president says

Nana Akufo-Addo

Photographer: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP via Getty Images

Ghana’s newly elected President Nana Akufo-Addo said he will cut a budget deficit that spiraled under his predecessor and reduce wasteful expenditure as the West African nation seeks to revive a slowing economy.

Delivering his first address to lawmakers after winning December’s vote against former President John Mahama, Akufo-Addo repeated campaign promises that he will industrialize the world’s second-biggest cocoa producer and implement business-friendly policies to foster growth. Ghana’s public deficit in 2016 widened to 10.2 percent while growth slowed to 3.6 percent, Akufo-Addo said in parliament in the capital, Accra. The rate of expansion will be the slowest in 26 years, according to World Bank data.

“There is practically no fiscal space left,” Akufo-Addo said Tuesday. “We have no choice but to cut the budget deficit and cut waste in all spheres of public life. We cannot continue this way with our public finances.”

The budget shortfall was exacerbated by revenue collections of 33.2 billion cedis ($7.3 billion) in 2016 that fell 12 percent short of the target, Akufo-Addo said. The revival of the economy would be pinned on investments in agriculture and policies to grow manufacturing, he said.

The cedi declined as much as 0.4 percent to a new intraday low of 4.565 against the dollar and traded 0.2 percent weaker at 4.555 per dollar at 2:04 p.m. in Accra.

Treading Balance

The ruling New Patriotic Party government will have to tread a balance between spending commitments and pledges to reduce the deficit, which was compounded by the discovery earlier this month of 7 billion cedis in previously unannounced expenditures. Akufo-Addo’s assurances on fiscal prudence come even as he reiterated plans to cut taxes and renewed promises such as the provisioning of free secondary schooling and investments in infrastructure projects.

Improving fiscal discipline is a key requirement under a three-year debt bailout program that the country agreed on with the International Monetary Fund in 2015. Ghana missed all the targets for December under the IMF program, said Akufo-Addo.

While Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta will present more details on the country’s spending plans when he presents this year’s budget on March 2, the government’s targets are achievable, Akufo-Addo said.

“We’ll set up on the path to build a Ghana that is not dependent on charity,” he said. “This requires a forward-looking vision for our country, enabling us to confront our challenges and embrace our opportunities.”

Energy Debts

The government will consider a listing of power utilities Volta River Authority and Ghana Grid Co., Akufo-Addo said. Mounting energy sector debts prohibited fuel purchases, causing rolling blackouts of as long as 24 hours from 2013 to 2015. The sector’s debts were $2.4 billion at the end of December, of which $880 million was owed to local banks.