Danquah Institute founder Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko has called for a national debate on what he calls the “tough” economic decisions that “confront” Ghana currently.
In a tweet, Mr Otchere-Darko said: “2022 began without the usual $3 billion injection of Eurobond cash”.
Also, he said the government’s post-COVID recovery programme, GhanaCARES, “hinged, partly on an E-levy” which, he surmises, “Parliament may not even OK”.
“There should be a national debate: do we want IMF or E-Levy or both or none? Tough decisions confront Ghana”, President Nana Akufo-Addo’s cousin said.
A couple of weeks ago, international rating agency Fitch said Ghana can gain access to the international capital market again if the country opts for a programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Asked about the prospects for new sources of external financing and the medium-term fiscal consolidation in a podcast series in which Mr Toby Iles, Head of Middle East and Africa Sovereign Ratings featured Mr Jermaine Leonard, the Director at Fitch Sovereign and Lead Analyst for Ghana and Zambia, the latter said: “Along with the drawing down of international reserves and the use of IMF SDRs, we do expect that the government will be able to find some additional external financing; this could come from private loans from international commercial banks, or, perhaps, an additional lending from official lenders – an IMF programme is a possibility. This would, also, likely open international capital markets to Ghana again. Ghana completed an IMF programme in 2019 but has been reluctant to return to a programme. That said, Fitch believes that it would be the most likely outcome if the government were to experience some real financing stress”.
Importantly, he added, “I would note that we do not expect that this would be like Zambia, where IMF negotiations dragged on over the course of close to two years and only brought to fruition by a default event and a change in government”.
“Regarding fiscal consolidation, we do expect to see a narrowing in the fiscal deficit but the problem of low government revenue and rigid fiscal structure will remain. Ghana’s 2020 budget forecast a reduction of the deficit to 7 per cent in 2022 and to 5.3 per cent of GDP by 2023. We believe that it is optimistic, our forecasts are for a narrowing in the fiscal deficit to around 8 per cent of GDP by 2023”.
“Now, this should be a significant consolidation, as the overall fiscal deficit was 15 per cent of GDP in 2020”.
Further, he said “we think that a good deal of the deficit reduction will come from COVID-related spending falling out of the budget and that the government will continue to face low domestic revenue mobilisation and that will present some challenges, as interest costs remain high and as the government continues to realise contingent liabilities from the energy sector”.
In conclusion, he noted, “we do expect some fiscal consolidation but at a lower pace than what’s in the government’s medium-term fiscal framework and there are some notable risks that could materialise over that period”.
A few days ago, Ghana’s Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta said the country’s access to the international market to borrow has been restricted.
Speaking at a town hall meeting on the e-levy in the Volta Region on Friday, 4 March 2022, Mr Ofori-Atta confessed: “I am telling you that because of what we are doing, now, our access to the international market is being curtailed to a certain degree”.
“Now, even when we go, we are going to pay US$500 million over 10 years if I were to issue a billion cedi paper and that is significant and cannot be allowed”, he explained.
Fitch downgraded Ghana’s Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to ‘B- ‘from ‘B’ with a negative outlook in January 2022.
The downgrade of Ghana’s IDRs and negative outlook, the rating agency said, reflected the sovereign’s loss of access to international capital markets in the second half of 2021, following a pandemic-related surge in government debt.
Fitch, in a report, said, “This comes in the context of uncertainty about the government’s ability to stabilise debt and against a backdrop of tightening global financing conditions. In our view, Ghana’s ability to deliver on planned fiscal consolidation efforts could be hindered by the heavier reliance on domestic debt issuance with higher interest costs, in the context of an already exceptionally high interest expenditure to revenue ratio.”
Talking about the drivers of the downgrade of Ghana’s ratings and the negative outlook, Mr Leonard said: “The key rating driver for the downgrade to B- and the negative outlook is the sovereign’s loss of access to international bond markets”.
“We believe that not being able to issue Eurobond debt elevates some concerns regarding Ghana’s external liquidity, especially as we expect global financing conditions to remain tight for some time and it also exacerbates the existing weaknesses of Ghana’s public finances”.
According to him, “Ghana is not in a situation where the government needs to constantly roll over hard currency debt or whose debt market is wholly reliant on non-resident investors”.
In fact, Mr Leonard added, “Ghana ended 2022 with an international reserves position that we estimate at $7.9 billion and that is just above three months of current external payments and that is an improvement for Ghana”.
“Ghana’s reserves averaged about two-and-a-half months of coverage over the previous ten years, so, that improved reserves position will allow Ghana to meet its external debt servicing payments in 2022”.
“That said, Ghana’s international reserves position has become quite reliant on Eurobond issuance for replacement”, he pointed out.
Continuing, he noted: “If you were to look at a historical chart of monthly reserves levels, you would notice the peaks and valleys that correspond to regular Eurobond issuance followed by the gradual drawdown on reserves until the next bond issuance”.
“Also, non-residents do hold about 20 per cent of Ghana’s domestic government debt and that comes to just under US$6 billion. This is all medium- and long-term issuance, which limits the risk of capital flight but our concern is the slow and steady draining of reserves but then there is also a risk of foreign investors selling what they hold and taking their dollars out of Ghana, which would put further pressure on reserves”.
The other concern, Mr Leonard mentioned, “is specifically about the public finances”, explaining: “Ghana has a medium-term debt sustainability issue that will necessitate a strong fiscal consolidation to get debt levels on a downward path but beyond just the level of debt, there are debt affordability issues; Ghana’s debt is more than five times its annual government revenue and yearly interest costs take up a little less than half of government revenue, so, few external financing options will mean an increased reliance on more expensive domestic debt and that will keep the interest burden high, making consolidation more difficult”.
On what could influence a stable rating and positive outlook for the country, Mr Leonard said: “On the positive side, that is what things could lead to a stabilisation of the rating? A resumption of access to international capital markets would be a big one and that could come from an IMF programme, or from a change in investor sentiments. Over the medium term, we will be paying attention to the international reserves position and whether Ghana can see a rise in non-debt creating flows like FDIs and we’ll also be paying attention to whether the government can implement its fiscal consolidation plan and put public sector debt on a downward path”.
“In terms of negative rating sensitivities, here again, the reserves levels will be important as a measure of external liquidity and we’ll also be watching the government’s ability to source new external financing with which to meet its debt servicing obligations. Also, we will be paying attention to the level of fiscal consolidation that the government can achieve along with any signs of stress in the domestic debt market”.