Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo sacked junior finance minister Charles Adu Boahen last Monday. The presidency announced this after allegations of impropriety were circulated by a well-known Ghanaian investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas. Mr Akufo-Addo made the decision after being “made aware of the allegations” against Mr Boahen in the documentary “Galamsey Economy” produced by prominent Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas.
Anas has broken several corruption scandals in the past, including the Ghana football association and the judiciary. In the documentary, Adu Boahen is said to have been caught on tape telling undercover investigators that Mahamudu Bawumia, Ghana’s vice president, needs $200,000 as an appearance fee before meeting with supposed investors. Bawumia denied the allegations and accused Adu Boahen of using his name to peddle influence and collect money from supposed investors. The government has announced an investigation by the Special Prosecutor.
Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta is also facing calls for dismissal from members of parliament who accuse him of corruption and economic mismanagement as the country faces its worst economic crisis in a generation. The allegations against Adu Boahen did not appear to be related to those previously raised against Ofori-Atta.
A short historical detour would help explain some of the implications of recent developments in Ghana.
France in the 1780s faced mass social unrest due to its support for the Americans during that country’s war of independence and general overspending, which saddled the state with huge debts. An increasingly insatiable population demanded an end to the absolute monarchy of Louis XVI. Negotiations towards forming a new government–led by popular finance minister Jacques Necker – dragged on. On 11 July 1789, a tenuous effort at a compromise was stymied when Louis XVI dismissed Necker. This was widely seen as confirmation that the king wished to rule as an absolute monarch like his predecessors. Three days later, crowds would storm the Bastille, stripping royal forces of their aura of invincibility, and the rest is history.
The events of 18th Century France bear some similarities with Ghana’s present quagmire. It has certainly been a terrible week for the finance ministry. Minister of State at the Finance Ministry, Charles Adu Boahen, has been fired over corruption allegations while his senior colleague Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta is before the parliament’s ad hoc committee over a censure motion filed by the minority caucus. While it might be considered a bold step to sack Adu Boahen, the reality is that the two main political exposes in the Nana Akufo-Addo years, ‘Number 12’ and ‘Galamsey Economy’ seem to insinuate that the government can be influenced by moneyed interests willing to pay for the pleasure.
By regional standards, Ghana has earned a reputation for mostly clean and effective governance. That image is beginning to show some cracks. In a ranking of fiscal recklessness of the 29 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) within the Ghanaian government between 2015 and 2020, the think tank IMANI Centre for Policy and Education rated the finance ministry (and subsidiary agencies) as the most fiscally reckless MDA on an annual basis. For example, the ministry was responsible for 99.63% (9.10 billion Cedis) of the 9.12 billion Cedis in tax irregularities recorded within the period. Likewise, the ministry accounted for 80.1% (2.35 billion Cedis) of the combined 2.93 billion Cedis in cash irregularities over the same time.
Barely a month ago, a businessman tried to bribe 95 majority caucus members of parliament with bags of cash to prevent them from voting out Ofori-Atta. Extraordinarily, Majority Leader Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu confirmed the development, but MPs have refused to name the businessman or have him arrested. The MPs breached the law by not reporting this development immediately and providing political cover instead; the good folks in Accra seem to be acting very much like their cousins across the region. It is, therefore, not surprising that a survey conducted by an Afrobarometer and Ghana Centre for Democratic Development rated the Presidency (55 percent) as the second most-corrupt institution in the country, only outclassed by the police (65 percent).
The worst economic crisis in three decades – inflation currently sits at multi-decade highs – has got the government looking for a scapegoat. In the matchup between Nekker and Adu Boahen, the latter looks guilty by the government’s indictment. However, as the sack of Nekker did not improve France’s economic or political fortunes or save Louis’ head which eventually rolled down the guillotine, Adu Boahen’s sack will not do the magic. Still, it might buy the government some time in a strategy that looks like a deflection. Furthermore, the sack of finance ministers during periods of an economic downturn is often one of the quick resorts of governments facing a short life span.
Ghana, widely regarded as West Africa’s most stable democracy, risks precipitating social unrest occasioned by tone-deaf politics and looming austerity. This development is likely to further elevate risk levels in a region given how many of Ghana’s neighbours are already grappling with insurgency, food insecurity and economic malaise. The danger is that Ghana may be sliding slowly into the fray.