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17.01.2005 General News

Asaga Shocked By Osafo Maafo's Removal

By Public Agenda
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The Minority spokesperson on Finance and Economic Planning and Member of Parliament for Nabdam; Moses Asaga, has expressed shock at the President's decision to replace Osafo Maafo as Minister for Finance and Economic Planning.

"It was my biggest surprise, the change was not necessary. He is an experienced minister, a very good negotiator and has done quiet well as Minister for Finance and Economic Planning and should have continued," he said.

"To change him now, after he has established a lot of contacts with Ghana's development partners; the IMF and World Bank, really did surprise me," Hon. Asaga told Public Agenda last Saturday.

He said most of Ghana's development partners, work as a club, and Osafo- Maafo was more or less accepted as a member of the club. "He did, therefore, enjoy confidence from them and could be given waivers, and confidential documents that a new face may never receive," Asaga added.

Asaga lauded Osafo Maafo's achievements in the macroeconomic front, his poverty reduction programmes and his ability to meet IMF/World Bank conditionalities and said for the first time, Osafo Maafo was able to resolve the cyclical problem of lose fiscal and monetary policies, characteristic of election years. However, he was quick to add that his real test would have been this time around.

"Though his government experienced high crude oil prices, the NPP never suffered any serious external shocks, but rather, it did benefit from favorable returns on cocoa and gold, with the price of gold currently at $450".

According to Asaga, Osafo-Maafo was not really tested, for Ghanaians to know whether his achievements were the result of his personal abilities or as a result of the favorable external economic environment.

When asked whether he thought Baah-Wiredu was fit for the new role, Asaga said, "I think he will be as capable as his predecessor, but he will need strong support in macroeconomics, banking and finance, an area Baah-Wiredu seems weak and fall short of his predecessor."

"I have worked with both before, especially with Baah- Wiredu at the Parliamentary finance committee level, when I was Deputy Minister for Finance. He is a strong figure, a number-cracker, very aggressive, very much concerned with detail and a taxation expert," he explained further.

These, he said, are very good qualities for his post. In spite of this, Asaga insisted that the new Finance Minister designate would need a back up team in pro-poor economics and in banking and finance.

"This is where the support of Nii Noi Ashong, who is knowledgeable in pro-poor economics and poverty reduction strategy programme as well as quite conversant with the Ghana Statistical Living Survey, is needed," Asaga added.

On what changes he expects at the Finance and Economics Ministry with a new minister, Asaga said he does not expect anything much different from the past years. "The status quo will remain, macroeconomic stability will continue to be a priority, they will continue to subsidize petrol, till April-May, when they will begin to introduce price increments and "Baah-Wiredu will, on the main, be auto piloting," he stressed.

He, however, expressed worry that Baah-Wiredu may not be able to put a tap on inflation because one of the main reasons for the removal of Osafo-Marfo from the ministry, was the feeling within his party that he had denied them campaign funds. This, he said, may push the new minister to pursue lax fiscal policies, especially when many people are complaining that there is no money in the system.

Asaga said he would want to see changes in the procurement procedure and that with Baa-Wiredu's thorough knowledge in financial administration law; he will be able to expose corrupt deals and minimize corruption.

The minority spokesperson also expressed disappointment at the replacement of Paa Kwesi Nduom, with Professor Mike Ocquaye at the Ministry of Energy, saying; "to be a competent hand at the Energy ministry, knowledge in energy and finance is paramount, and to replace Dr. Nduom with Professor Ocquaye, a political scientist and a diplomat, who has no grasp of the technical terms in finance and energy, was the worse of all".

He said Professor Ocquaye should have taken up a post at the Education Ministry as he is a distinguished lecturer with Osafo-Maafo going to Energy.

"But as it is now, the deregulation process is likely to slow down".

Nevertheless, Osafo Marfo's achievements as a Finance and Economic Planning Minister cannot be said to have missed the president's eye, and thus his decision to replace him.

In his state of the nation address to parliament, President Kufour acknowledged, with pride, the gains made in the macroeconomic front and mentioned that inflation had dropped dramatically to 12% from around 40% in 2001, and that interest rates are now 26% and still falling.

The president did not also fail to mention the benefits from the HIPC initiative, and how savings from HIPC are being invested in poverty reduction programmes all over the country, stressing, "these gains were made under the leadership of Osafo-Marfo as Finance and Economic Planning minister".

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