Shakespeare popularised the use of the phrase, “Much ado about nothing”. In Ghana, since 1992, it’s been much a-shout about nothing. My God, do we know how to shout!
Don’t blame all the shouters, though. Sometimes the noise is just so the incumbent government doesn’t look good. For most of the time, however, it is because the government failed to communicate.
If you haven’t left Ghana in the last 24 hours, you may have noticed that the voice of civil society organizations (CSOs) has not been as strident as only a week before, relative to the Agyapa deal. Did you listen to Dr. Manteaw of ISODEC on Citi FM on Wednesday? Even if his views about the deal had not changed, his tone had: the belligerence was absent and he sounded more accommodating.
All it took was one sit-down between the Minister of Finance and the CSOs. So why could this not have been done earlier? Lack of consultations lies at the root of most of the street demonstrations and strike actions by aggrieved workers in Ghana.
The NDC Minority in Parliament was justifiably peeved. Why were the documents covering the Agyapa Royalties Limited agreements laid by the Majority side only two hours to decision time in the House? If this attitude is typical in our Parliament, how can a nation expect good, well-thought-through laws?
The Government has itself to blame for the many eyebrows this deal has raised. For everybody who knew that the NPP had a radio station called Asaase FM, the speed with which the name changed from Asaase to Agyapa Royalties Limited was ‘confirmation’ of craftiness. They ask: if it is not some clever vehicle for persons closer to power to create, loot and share, why all the sneakiness, all the stealth?
That said, it will bear knowing what the NDC’s case against Agyapa really is? In the latest campaign soundbites on radio, John Mahama is heard repeating his advance warning to investors that he will scrap the deal if he becomes President.
He and the NDC have a mountain ahead trying to point out the real difference between the Agyapa Royalties of the NPP of today and the Ghana Gold Company (GGC) which the NDC proposed to Parliament in 2011. Making a case to Parliament in that year, the NDC said the GGC, was to “manage Ghana’s gold royalties and also raise private capital for the government in advance against expected royalties.”
The NDC memo, dated October 30, 2011, asked Parliament “to consider the proposal to establish a national vehicle to manage and maximize the financial returns from the country’s interests and royalties from gold companies and mines.”
Its preamble made a case for “the monetization of all or portion of” Ghana’s gold interests “to deliver a significant capital sum to support the nation’s growth and development.” A major benefit would include the “delivery of significant capital sum to the Government raised from private markets.”
So what is new? The only significant difference I see is that the then NDC government’s GGC was to be 100 percent owned by the Government while NPP’s Agyapa will trade 49% of its shares on the Ghana and the London Stock Exchange, with the Government of Ghana holding majority shares. From the little Economics I read, floating shares in Ghana or London does not make any difference. It is inconceivable that family and friends of NPP bigwigs would be able to influence decisions on the London or any other Stock Exchange. The safe-haven argument is only a scare-crow: even the economists in NDC know that financial safe havens are, by themselves, not evil, especially when you have civil society groups which are as awake as we are lucky to have them in Ghana.
Like many Ghanaians without a PhD in Finance, I asked myself in 2011 (under NDC) and I asked again only a fortnight ago why Ghana needs this so-called Special Purpose Vehicle. The answer is one – government needs money.
The argument of the NDC in 2011 is the same argument the NPP is canvassing today, namely that under the Mineral Right (Mining lease) Annual Payments, governments’ inflows come only from Capital allowance (20%), corporate income tax (35%), Mineral royalty (5%) and government equity participation (10%).
The two governments – NDC in 2011 and NPP in 2020 – are saying that the type of heaven they dream for Ghana cannot be built with these limited income streams.
In 2016, a landmark year that witnessed record gold production in Ghana, the mining industry contributed GHc1.6billion ($383million) in taxes. Of this figure, $131.9 million was earned from royalty payments. (Gold constitutes more than 93 percent of the entire mining sector in Ghana).
To build E-Block schools, offer free SHS, pay nursing and teacher training allowances, provide roads, etc, all at breakneck speed; offer Covid 19 stimulus packages and pay the thousands whose investments have been locked up in the failed banks, our governments say these inflows are paltry. They need bigger money and they need it now.
I have one prayer: that corruption does not turn Agyapa, either now in the future, into a personal and private cash cow for our politicians whose appetite for ill-gotten wealth seems insatiable.
I have another prayer: that Tarkwa, Prestea, Obuasi, Darmang, Dunkwa, Bibiani, Amansie, Bogoso, Nkawkaw, Akyem and Ahafo areas will be transformed into Joburg (South Africa), Nevada Colorado in America and Queensland in Australia, so that they too can smell and taste the gold their land has offered to Ghana since the 4th century.
My one discomfort with the Agyapa deal is the involvement of the son of Senior Minister, Osafo Maafo. I heard it argued that he was the best for the role he is playing. How could we so conclude? What was the basis of comparison? How transparently competitive was the process of procuring his services? We may claim that there has been no bias, no nepotistic father-and-son or “Kokofo Ball” arrangement. That may be true, but in a democracy, the operating values include avoiding even the smell of bias.