Politics of Poverty

A New IMF?

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Break out group discussion at the “2nd National Civil Society Forum on Ghana’s International Monetary Fund (IMF) Programme”, Organized by the CS Platform in Accra on June 16, 2015. Picture: Godson Aloryito.

Will Ghana’s IMF Program exemplify how the New Fund is embracing transparency and citizen participation?

Omar Ortez is the Senior Policy Advisor on Active Citizenship at Oxfam US. You can follow him on Twitter @omarortez1.

Last year, Ghana turned to the IMF for economic support to confront a raising fiscal crisis. For insights on Ghana’s financial imbalances and their root causes read two of my previous blog posts: here and here. As program talks between Ghana and IMF negotiators advanced, Ghanaian civil society groups organized a Civil Society Platform to make their views about underlying causes of the crisis –and the measures needed to address them– known. The IMF program was approved this April after months of intense negotiations.

This May, in Washington DC, I moderated a discussion between founding leaders of Ghana’s Civil Society Platform Albert Kan-Dapaah, Executive Director of Financial Transparency and Accountability (FAT) Africa and former Public Accounts Committee Chair at Ghana’s Parliament; Mohammed Amin Adam, Executive Director of the African Center for Energy Policy (ACEP); and Wendell Daal, Senior Economist at the IMF Africa Department. The three panelists addressed the following questions: (1) How did the negotiation process work and how citizens engaged the process through a “local-to-global” advocacy approach? (2) Which contents of the agreement will enhance citizens’ transparency, participation and inclusion? (3) What are the implications in terms of follow up and monitoring? (4) How can this experience serve as an example about ways in which this type of international agreements can help improve accountable fiscal governance in countries?

You can view and listen to the conversation here. It should prove to be useful as civil society in Ghana gets ready to monitor the IMF agreement, and as citizens in other countries deal with similar negotiations on international agreements with global financial institutions. Here are a couple of highlights from the discussion:

  • Administrative transparency is limited and could be reversed: Should the Ghana-IMF program be more ambitious in seeking to institutionalize transparency and accountability as is implemented? Was this a missed opportunity during negotiations? Although the IMF program includes provisions that will improve disclosure of budget and expenditure information –which CSOs appreciate and plan to use for monitoring program implementation, these are administrative provisions that could be reversed or abandoned once the 3-year program ends (or even during the program). Transparency can be more strongly institutionalized by passing new legal frameworks such as the Right to Information Act, or the Fiscal Responsibility Act; fast-tracking the approval of these two pieces of legislation –a public promise yet to be delivered by the Government of Ghana, should be incorporated into the intermediate revisions to the IMF program in the next three years.
  • Discussions underscored systemic weakness of parliamentary oversight on public finances: Who keeps the president in check? If not parliament then who? Parliament’s oversight role to ensure fiscal discipline in Ghana is deeply undermined by excessive political and financial decision making power in the hands of the executive –a problem that new Oxfam research is revealing across several countries. Elected officials experience plenty of disincentives to go against the president’s wishes –or that of the head of their party, when upward mobility of political careers (e.g. from parliamentarian to minister) and disbursements to their agency’s budget (e.g. Auditor General) depends on the executive. Ghana’s constitution has entrusted much power into the executive branch, dramatically reducing parliament’s role. New laws emanate only from the presidency and eventually get approved by majority party members in parliament –which are always of the ruling party. This is inconsistent with the checks and balances required by a democracy. Strengthening parliament’s political independence is directly linked to its ability to hold the executive branch accountable. But such changes are unlikely to come from within the political class on its own because the current “winner takes all” status quo benefits both main parties. Active citizens may have better chances of creating momentum for reforms to strengthen parliament’s independence.

There is more to dig out from this rich panel discussion. Check it out and hope you can join us for the next one.

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