Interview transcript: John Kufuor
Published: October 25 2010 21:18 | Last updated: October 25 2010 21:18
John Kufuor, the Oxford-educated lawyer with nearly half a century’s experience in Ghana politics, left office last year after completing two terms as president – the constitutional limit. A rival party won power, and despite there being only a few thousands votes between the two main political parties, the transition went ahead smoothly. Yet although Mr Kufuor has won plaudits for his democratic record, his management of the country’s economy, which grew rapidly under his rule, has come under sustained attack from some quarters of the new administration. Notably, the criticism has touched on his stewardship of oil discoveries made first under his watch in 2007, and which have the potential to transform Ghana’s economy for better or worse. William Wallis, FT Africa editor caught up with Mr Kufuor in London recently to discuss his legacy and Ghana’s prospects as it awaits first oil on December 1st.
FT: I gather you are not very happy with the way things are going back home?
JK: I feel saddened because in the 8 years I had as president I tried to give all I had to move Ghana forward. And truly when you look at the records, things moved steadily as never before since independence. I ended up very honourably expecting things to carry on smoothly. Unfortunately things haven’t worked out that way.
FT: There is no great personal animosity between yourself and President Mills?
JK: I don’t know of any. My predecessor (Jerry John Rawlings) during my 8 year tenure kept on insulting me throughout. But it was not like that between me and Professor Mills.
FT: But Mills has not gone out of his way to attack you.
JK: It is not with Mills. But the way things are happening, things are not friendly towards Kufuor.
FT: But there are many people who think things were similar when you took over, that you went after President Rawlings, and you did not give him any credit for the progress that did take place during his long tenure?
JK: They are only trying to give a dog a bad name. Did I arrest Rawlings?
FT: No but some of his people were arrested.
JK: Who are those people?
FT: Tsatsu Tsikata (former head of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation) for example.
JK: Please check the records. Let’s talk about happier things.
FT: But is it not rather worrying in terms of the evolution of the political system, that there seems to be this tit for tat evolving between the main parties?
JK: Please. I did not go after people …
FT: Even so, people looking at Ghana, might be worried that the system has become vindictive, that the two main parties are fairly evenly split structurally but venomously opposed to each other not so much on issues but as a result of personalities.
JK: We needn’t be so split. And truly I was hoping my tenure would be like a watershed divide from the earlier politics of coups, vindictiveness and confiscation of assets and detentions without trial. In my time during 8 years none of these things happened. When my term ended, and the votes were declared by the electorate, I obeyed. Even with some of my people questioning. But I said that was the constitution. If anyone felt aggrieved let them go to court.
FT: Some people say this was because you preferred the idea of Professor Mills taking over than your own party candidate, Nana Akuffo Addo?
JK: No. That is far from the truth. I did everything to support my candidate. But at the end of the day the electoral commission declared for Professor Mills so I handed over to Mills. You perhaps don’t want to remember but even before the third round of votes, I felt forced to make a statement that whomever the electoral commissioner would declare winner, I would hand over to in January. Is that a person that would subvert his own candidate? I just wanted the constitution to be respected.
FT: Were you worried during that period? Because some of your own supporters have suggested there was the very real threat of a coup during that period.
JK: The coup would have happened if I had ignored the electoral commission and declared an emergency. The time I made that statement we had only about ten days or so left to the constitutional deadline for transfer of power. We had gone to do that outstanding election that would have been decisive, to canvass for my candidates. Unfortunately I got there and Kofi Busia’s (former Prime minister 1969-72) family had gone to court seeking a restraint order against the electoral commission.
Suppose I had sided with my side going to court to restrain the electoral commission it would have meant frustrating the electoral commission from holding the election and then we couldn’t have met the constitutional deadline of 7th January. So the only way for me to stay on would have been to declare a state of emergency. And on what basis? So I had to consider the whole thing. Then I said 7th of January I will hand over power to whoever the electoral commission announced. Anyone who felt aggrieved could go to court. So I drove back to Accra a distance of some 100 miles. That’s what happened. The implication was that I would be staging a coup.
FT: The implication being that might prompt another kind of coup?
JK: Well if you do it? I just didn’t feel there was justification for me to flout the electoral process.
FT: Given how tight all this was how worrying was it for Ghana?
JK: It was worrying for Ghana because it felt like the whole thing was hanging on a thread. To us before the election we felt by our track record it was clear people would return us. Then we saw this thing. So we were so startled. But what’s happened has happened.
FT: Do you believe the election then was lost because of foul play?
JK: If it was foul play then I would have been duty bound to say no.
FT: But there was a bit of foul play on both sides?
JK: Whatever it is the results did not justify my staying in power beyond January 7th.
FT: Given that the stakes are now in some respects much higher in Ghana politics because of the oil, do you think the electoral system is sufficiently strong?
JK: Before I stepped down as president in my last appearance of parliament, I didn’t think it was right for an electoral commissioner to be given security of tenure to hang on indefinitely. There are three of them who have been there since 1990.
FT: Hasn’t that given them protection from political interference?
JK: There is protection and protection. Can you imagine a match between Chelsea and Arsenal for example, being fixed with a permanent referee year in year out?
FT: But if you compare Mr Afara-Gyan to electoral commissioners in other African countries who can be dismissed by the president …
JK: No. No I am not going that way. I am not for presidents appointing the electoral commission. But I think the system should be ingenuous enough to evolve, so that the electoral commission as an institution should also feel accountable to the polity. Not only that I believe we have come to the stage all over the world where going biometric for voting and for the electoral register will help us a lot. There the fears of impersonation, people coming across borders to swell votes, would be addressed.
FT: But that isn’t happening is it?
JK: Well. We have over two years to go. We can introduce it and the outcomes of elections would be pure and everyone would be happy to live with it whether you won or you lost. It would be fair.
FT: Why do you think your party did lose the election?
JK: Democracy is difficult. And I would say the two main parties have their strongholds which seem equal in strength. My party any day with little effort might command something like 45 percent of the popular vote. The other party might come, if not equal, close to that. The votes in between that each side are playing for would be something like 10 to 15 percent. These people would be influenced by the performance of government and by campaign propaganda.
FT: by real issues?
JK: Well if you remember in our time petroleum prices jumped through the roof. Food prices went up. So the man caught in between will be looking for example at the ex pump price of kerosene. If he would be used to paying 20 cedis and suddenly it jumps to 30 cedis, then woe betide the president of the day. They will say this is an unfriendly government: it doesn’t think of the ordinary man. It will cost you votes. Then there are also the small parties and the swing of these parties which will depend on negotiations, accommodation and that sort of thing. When you look at the votes in 2008 elections. The first round my candidate led, needing only 23,000 votes to win outright in a voter population of 4.9m. The runner up was the current president.
In the second round there was a swing and the smaller parties seemed to have shifted.
FT: Did your party not lose the elections because in the last two or three years of your rule there was a marked deterioration in governance, and even in the last year …
JK: That’s not true. That’s not true. Let me be specific. The last year why, because there was a budget overshoot, a fiscal deficit.
FT: It was massive, unprecedented.
JK: 14.5 percent? What was Britain’s overshoot?
FT: But it was at a time that the gold price was soaring, cocoa prices were soaring
JK: What was the gold price compared to the crude oil price shooting up? We had budgeted $60 a barrel only to find that the price had shot up to $147. The important thing in an election year is to be able to roam with the budget. That’s what my government was trying to do. So we capped when the crude oil price hit beyond $120 against the budgeted $60, we said everything more would be absorbed by the state. That’s where the trouble came. Then with the escalating crude oil prices came food price rises, sugar, rice, wheat and freight costs. So there was this knock on effect.
FT: But you were also in fiscally expansionary mode ahead of the vote …
JK: We didn’t do anything from the budget. This is why even now people refer to Ghana as a beacon of economic stability. Even now, we are very strict with the macro-economy. But that year, 2007, 2008 we were caught in this global thing, and there was no way we could escape except for the government to absorb, subsidizing things. We were very sure it was temporary, and we were also sure we were coming back to power and could correct it within the first year. And what with the credit worthiness, the oil thing had made such a big splash internationally, everyone was looking at Ghana. Investors were coming in.
If you look at the cocoa sector for example we had the two biggest American processors building plants in Ghana, ADM and Cargyll. Cadburys had come back to Ghana. Nestle had moved headquarters from Cote d’Ivoire to Ghana. We were in the ascendancy. So we were very confident that by absorbing the destabilizing effect of the crude oil market, we were doing the right thing for the economy and for our people and also for our government to come back to power.
FT: It is said you blew the proceeds of the $750m Eurobond you issued on absorbing the oil price rise.
JK: That is the biggest, biggest lie. I believe the current government itself wrote to the IMF and World Bank confirming how the Eurobond was disbursed for the energy sector, for roads.
FT: When I asked them they told me that a significant proportion of the proceeds went towards paying off debts at the Tema oil refinery.
JK: Please. Is that not to do with the crude oil we refined? It is energy. Look when you are managing anything flexibility can be a virtue. What not to do is get too fixed and rigid. But I tell you I know that around $500m of the Eurobond was disbursed for the energy sector with all its ramifications. It could be the Tema refinery, it could be electricity with the thermal plants we had to install. And then the roads sector, and this had been ongoing. You know Accra, all the arterial roads leading to Accra have been tackled very seriously.
FT: I have also looked at some of the energy projects from that time, for example the Balkan energy project …
JK: Balkan Energy, are you talking about the barge? Do you know the history? They took a loan of $100m from Japan to build the barge in Italy in the 1990s where after it had been built it remained until we came to power 5 or 6 years later. We had to come and pay the demurrage and ship it to Ghana only to discover that even the pond it was supposed to stay in was plugged up. So we had to leave it at the naval base in Takoradi, for years while we went round doing the whole thing. By which time there was rust in the equipment, we had to deal with that. We do not accuse the people who did this whole thing, pretending irresponsibly that there was gas to fuel this thing when there was none. The propaganda is too much.
FT: They were expecting the West Africa Gas Pipeline to begin supplies.
JK: Who got the West Africa Gas Pipeline going? I did. I took a loan. It was part of my friendship with Obasanjo. The thing was on the drawing board from the 1990s but hadn’t seen the light of day. Why? Because Ghana couldn’t paid its share of the equity. And without Ghana paying the equity of something like $90m the partners just wouldn’t even start.
FT: To go back to the barge. My understanding is that Balkan energy claims to have invested $100m in fixing up the barge. People at the VRA say it doesn’t look like that much has been spent. According to the contract they now pay a $10m annual fee to lease the barge, and bill the government something like $40m in return as a capacity charge.
JK: But is it because they are producing the energy? Definitely this didn’t happen in my time.
FT: But this is the terms of the contract which was concluded in your time. Plus the company gets to set the fuel price on top. By most standards this seems like a pretty ropey deal for Ghana.
JK: I tell you the barge had been done in such a way it locked up capital. The previous government had borrowed on the pretext of having the energy to fuel it and for many years the thing was left in Italy with the interest accruing against Ghana and then demurrage. It was my government that brought it back to Ghana. When we brought it we knew there was no gas to fuel it so we were forced to use diesel, we tried to take it to the pond but the place was silted up.
FT: Could we move onto the subject of Kosmos and EO?
JK: Thank you for that. Because that is where I feel so saddened. For once I am almost tempted to believe it, when people say that oil finds are a curse, that there might be something in it. I don’t want to believe it yet.
FT: Why are you so sad?
JK: Before I came to power, I made a statement and it was captured on the front page of the Graphic. In 1999, 2000. I said I believed my party would win and come to power and in our tenure we will strike oil. I criticized the then government for failing to get oil because of the unfriendly atmosphere for the private sector that prevailed. They didn’t know how to bring the right people in. I made this statement because I had been travelling here and in the US. In the US I went to Houston. The friends of the party gave a big reception for me. It was there that I met some Ghanaians. And I challenged then. I said look here. Everyone says Houston is the oil capital. You are here, you are not helping to get some serious explorers from Ghana. We are coming to power in may time, we must strike oil. So whatever opportunities you have, bring the people for us to strike. And I was so worked up because I couldn’t understand why Nigeria to the east and Cote d’Ivoire to the west all had struck oil. And Ghana sat in between always moaning about poverty. Immediately I came to power I, in a way, restructured the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation.
First I appointed a chairman who immediately set to work. But in ways I thought might not go to the target. So I shifted again and got a new team and it was this new team that made it its policy to promote the blocks. They went to Asia, Europe, American everywhere. They talked to the Chinese, CNOOC, to come.
FT: At the time the oil price was fairly depressed, no?
JK: That might be it. But you don’t take an exploration block today and tomorrow strike. It takes years. We invited the Indian national oil company. They also came and then went away. Before Kosmos was introduced by two Ghanaians. At that time there was no oil. We had come to meet Dana, a British company, which had a block for 5 or 7 years previously, I believe, but which just couldn’t raise the resources. They just couldn’t raise the resources to drill. Their term lapsed but we extended it for a year. Ennex came later. It was made up of the geologists and geophysicists who worked for Dana and Philips and Vanco. They knew the field. They must have felt it was there to find. They were just technical. To explore you needed huge resources and those they couldn’t raise.
Their time was extended but then they gave up. But the people from Kosmos came … with financial resources. They were backed by Blackstone and Warburg Pincus.
The attractive thing was that they were the first people to strike oil for Equatorial Guinea. And at that time I would have given my right arm for Ghana to strike oil. The Ghanaians brought these people with a new name.
FT: These Ghanaians were the chairman of the ruling NPP party in the USA, and a party figure in Houston?
JK: Well. Let me tell you. Before I came to power, I had gone there to Houston. That was I believe the first time I got talking to Owusu. People say Kufuor’s friend.
FT: But Edusei was your friend?
JK: Edusei was my chairman.
FT: But also your friend of long date.
JK: Well not only that. Don’t forget there was no oil. And Edusei I will tell you is a very proud professional running his own clinic in Washington and that sort of thing. He wasn’t a man of straw I picked to go and front. He was the chairman of my party in the whole of North America. When I went before I came to power he accompanied me everywhere. I went to Houston with him. And at this reception where I said I want us to strike oil, and I want them to help get us focussed explorers they were present. So he and Owusu brought Kosmos. I believe that must have been 2003/4. Immediately I came to power 2001…the North American party sent a petition signed by over 100 people that I should make Edusei ambassador in Washington. I turned him down. That is the truth.
FT: But you offered him an ambassadorship in Malaysia?
JK: He turned it down. He said he would rather stay to do his practise. I was embarrassed. Later a year or two later Switzerland became vacant and to assuage the wounded pride and all that I invited him to be Ghana’s ambassador in Switzerland. He was dragging his feet. But I told him of the attractions, Geneva, good schools for children. I sensed that if he wanted to be a diplomat that was the place to prepare him for the job.
FT: But during that period when you appointed him he was already negotiating the Kosmos deal both with the government and the company.
JK: No. It was after I had rejected him. O(wusu) was the commodities manager of Shell. He wasn’t a small man. So the two of them came and that made their presentation. It was all the more convincing because Owusu knew what he was about. In fact I learnt that before I came to power he was one of the people who came with Vanco. That had been a line of business for Owusu. And now with Edusei they came naturally I had to pay attention to them.
FT: But the central allegation in the whole investigation, leaving aside the details, was that it was their connections, Edusei and Owusu, to you that enabled Kosmos to get a deal that is more favourable than others before (and after) them.
JK: Let me show you a table of what transpired before my tenure.
FT: I have looked at research by Wood Mackenzie. They estimate that the terms of the West Cape 3 points block compared to the terms of Deep water Tano will cost Ghana $3.8bn over the lifespan of the Jubilee field.
JK: This is what happened in my tenure. There are 13 companies with blocks … Please, everything is here. Check the tables. The other thing you shouldn’t overlook, where Kosmos got the block there hadn’t been any 3d studies on the block. Unlike Tullow that took over from Dana where the 3d had been done. The GNPC made a point that whilst the royalty or whatever there was a point difference because Dana had done the basic work and Tullow was the beneficiary and for that could not be given the same duty or whatever as Kosmos, that was going to the extra cost of doing 3d.
FT: What has consolidated suspicion in Ghana about that deal is that subsequent little stakes in the oil blocks also went to friends of yours. For example Nick Amartefei with the Aker block. Koffi Esson and Kodjo Alatta who were involved with the Tullow block.
JK: Why are they not being probed?
FT: They have been probed.
JK: Kodjo Alatta is an 80 year old politician starting from Kwame Nkrumah’s time through Busia. We are very personal friends. He brought Kofi Esson and Tullow. Kofi Esson I never knew before. Kodjo Alatta I knew. He could walk to my house. He brought Kofi Esson and said they had British partners.
My overriding concern was to get oil for Ghana. And if people I knew would bring them, why not? Tullow got its block and eventually struck and I then saw Kodjo Alatta didn’t even have a stake. Suppose it was my practise to benefit unduly from people introducing these companies and I did it with E and O. I would do it with Kodjo Alatta and Kofi Esson.
FT: What about EO, there are suspicions that you have shares in EO?
JK: What I am trying to tell you: If Kufuor would ask for shares with EO, he would ask for shares with Kodjo Alatta. Kufuor would ask for shares with Vittol. He would ask for shares with everybody.
FT: The problem though for you now if you look at all these blocks they have people connected with you or your party, and it looks like you divvied up the oil among political cronies. And now that oil has been found, these blocks could deliver hundreds of millions of dollars to people connected with your party. Is it not understandable that the government that came in started having a look at this stuff?
JK: Let them look. Because I perhaps I would also be looking. But I would not go disqualify or abrogate contracts that have been executed under the authority of parliament. I would never violate contracts.
FT: Even if they are not in the interests of the country?
JK: Otherwise you attack contracts and it would be illegal. Take them to court and prove their guilt. So why don’t they take them to court to establish that?
FT: How do you get round this problem of perception that there are all these little stakes that could deliver lots of money … to people connected to you?
JK: Have they delivered lots of money? Let me tell you again talking about whispers and perceptions. Vittol was a trader with the previous regime and was reputed to be one of the biggest oil traders with strong connections to the previous regime. They got a block in my tenure. They are there and I believe they also have struck gas in shallow waters. They are not my friends.
FT: So you spread it around?
JK: What I am trying to say whoever came with a viable plan, because due diligence was always done. We looked out for technical competence and financial capability. If you had these two things, our overriding concern was to get oil for Ghana. I didn’t go out and penalize anyone because of associations or perceptions or whispers which is what is happening now. That is the difference.
FT: But somehow the perception has stuck of a period creeping cronyism.
JK: No matter what. Look. You have heard of the executive jet Sarkozy helped me to get. What are they saying? Right now they are quiet and they have the plane. What about the Jubilee house (presidency building)? Anything that Kufuor did they want to tarnish. But if they had been careful not to use propaganda too much they would know that those things were being done for Ghana, for posterity. Kufuor’s term was up. Kufuor was never going to use that plane. He was never going to live in the Jubilee house. But see the venom with which they attack whatever Kufuor did. And that oil was struck by Kosmos after over 100 years of search. So naturally they thought that if Kufuor and his chairman and friend had got these people it means his party. Is this fair? Can we build a country on this basis?
FT: In terms of perceptions, if you have got a big resource that has been discovered and it looks like people from only one group, ethnic or political, are profiting, it can be destabilising, no?
JK: Who are the Ghanaians involved in Vanco? Are they related to Kufuor?
FT: I believe the current managing director of GNPC was formerly involved with Vanco.
JK: Whose friend is he? I am telling you, did I remove them? Now he is in the saddle does it mean that all the money is going to Tsatsu Tsikata (former head of GNPC) and his friends?
FT: I have no idea. But this is what oil does, it divides people and gets them fighting.
JK: That is why say now I am almost forced to believe that finding this thing might be a curse. As I have told you before I came to power I had told the world I would do everything to get oil for Ghana. Thank God I did and thank god Kosmos came with whatever recommendations and introductions of Owusu and Edusei. These are very serious people in their own right.
FT: But strictly given that he was a party official the fact that he was awarded a stake in the oil block and paid by Kosmos …
JK: Whatever stake Edusei has was from Kosmos, not government.
FT: Can I just go back to that detail, because it is what triggered the investigation and triggered the due diligence done by Anadarko which was given to the Department of Justice in Washington. This raised a number of red flags. One of the reasons was that Dr Edusei was a party official who was named as an ambassador. The FCPA regulations in the US say that any payment or payment in kind to a party or government official (that could influence a contract allocation) constitutes a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practises Act.
JK: Are you sure that there was something like a party official in this?
FT: You told me yourself he was the chairman of the NPP in the USA?
JK: No, but he was a party official not a government official.
FT: Yes but in the FCPA regulations in the USA it says “party official or government official.”
JK: The Department of Justice in Washington has investigated this matter at a cost of $12m over a year and has come out and said there is no substance to this. The DOJ is an American institution. If this body that holds authority to investigate corruption after a 2 year investigation says there is nothing to hold onto, who is anybody to still say now even the FCPA itself should be suspect. Aren’t we shifting the posts?
FT: In terms of what has happened subsequently, this venomous dispute between Kosmos, Ghana and Exxon. Should Ghana have let this Exxon deal go ahead?
JK: Please I haven’t been party to this. I have been saddened because the time that Ghana should have been euphoric and have carried on to attract more good will and investments too, it seems we have wasted this. We have got ourselves entangled in matters outside the shores and jurisdiction of our country. When you are having to tackle huge majors like ExxonMobil, you are a small country, up and coming with good prospects, I don’t think you should have gotten involved with that. We all have to pick our ways in this world. It is very complicated. My wish is that Ghana should have some peace so that the undoubted potentials would be worked on for the benefit of all the people. As it is people talk of surrogate relationships.
FT: You mean geo-strategic battles?
JK: Right now that doesn’t help. If it is not good to treat with one side, how good is it to treat with the other side? And why should this young and beautiful country be drawn in quarters that will be serving only the ends of vested interests?
FT: Speaking about this geostrategic tussle that is happening, it looks like the current government on the rebound from the ExxonMobil dispute has been pinged over to the Beijing camp?
JK: The reality of China is prevalent around the world and I do not know the details of the relationship that are now beginning to show. I am fine with Beijing, with India, with Japan, with America, with everybody. I believe that any government should operate from the base of trying to serve the interests for the benefit of the country it governs. I am not criticizing as I don’t know the details. But I hope it will be based on feasible studies and committed to projects and be transparent and accountable.
FT: What do you think Ghanaians think of all this. Clearly there was some popular hostility to ExxonMobil. But I get the impression the common man in Accra who is seeing some of his business taken away by Chinese traders, and who have seen the collapse of the textile industry, is not necessarily very pro Chinese. In fact many Ghanaians seem pro American.
JK: So what do we do? Going here is not good. Coming there is also difficult. Everything boils down to the government. Government has a duty to convince the people that it is out to serve their best interests whatever they do.
FT: How good a job is the current government doing at that?
JK: I am outside Ghana and I have advised myself not to sound critical of efforts back at home. Secondly, I am a human being and I may be rather biased. So these are things I want to be careful about.
FT: But you said yourself you are saddened. Is this more because a company that came in during your tenure has had all these problems and is having a difficult time recouping its investment and leaving?
JK: When Kosmos announced the find the whole country was jubilant especially when it came out that it was perhaps the single biggest find in the whole of Africa in ten years. So we all thought at long last.
FT: Although you were very cautious at first.
JK: I wouldn’t come out because I was in Busia’s government when there was the first discovery was made by Philips in 1971 and the minister rose showing a small bottle of oil. And we had come to Britain to talk about the debt review. Unfortunately the minister showed the bottle of oil, and immediately the creditors pulled out and said now you are oil rich. Within a few months the soldiers toppled our government and the oil never came.
FT: Do you think there should have been a capital gains tax in place to tax companies such as Kosmos on the way out?
JK: … going for capital gains tax you would be destroying the motivation of the investors. And don’t forget in our time we invited the Commonwealth office to send technocrats to advise us because of our anxiety to find people to explore. They sent people in 2003 and whatever we did was in line with the advice they gave. I believe the state was looking after itself very well in this. We handled the situation far better than all the noise you are hearing.
FT: Do you think this whole dispute could cost the current government the (2012) election?
JK: My overriding concern is that the people should be able to exercise their rights with the least corrupt practises and manipulation, and this is why I have recommended a biometric system.
FT: How do you find the mood in Ghana at the moment? This is should be a hopeful time but in fact it seems rather poisonous?
JK: I don’t know why things are as they are. There are unfounded allegations everywhere. If you put them before court they accuse you of spoiling the party.
FT: Could you play a role in diffusing some of this tension?
JK: If there is anything I could do to bring the tension and self doubt down I would do it. And to make Ghana happy. Because really we are entitled. Everything should be going in the right direction for us. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like that.
FT: Do you think we should be worried then about Ghana?
JK: Since you have declared yourself a friend of Ghana then you should be concerned … Left to the people of Ghana things should come together well to serve the entire community. The social policies, of education for all children at the expense of the state, national health insurance, the laying of the infrastructure, the rail system, all these things should come together to make the people happy.
FT: And that is happening?
JK: In my time we launched all those things and my hope was that the succeeding regime would follow up.
FT: And are they?
JK: I don’t want to talk. The policies seem to be in place. But management and implementation may be different … So these are the things that should be engaging us: spreading the wealth all over to make everybody hopeful. That should be the over riding preoccupation, not nit picking and casting mud all over the place. We should follow due process and the rule of law. That is very necessary.
FT: What about plans under way and that you initiated to manage the revenues from the oil are spent?
JK: We put the bill in. I believe the government withdrew it perhaps to reshape it but we are yet to get the law to set the framework of how to use the revenues dedicating some to social ends, like to support education healthcare infrastructure and grow industry. Because we want petrochemical industries. All these things. You have to also invest some funds for the future like is done in Norway.
FT: It seems you feel rather hard done by President Kufuor, that you haven’t been given sufficient credit for the things you did in office and perhaps you should for example have won the Mo Ibrahim prize (for democratically elected presidents who rule wisely and leave office to elected successors)?
JK: That is for them to decide. I set out from a young age to try to contribute to uplift my nation and I was privileged to have come as far I came to be president of Ghana. From my side of the political divide, you can imagine, since the time our founding father introduced party politics to Ghana in 1947, I was the one privileged to have brought the party to power two consecutive times, to have exited not through a coup d’etat but by constitutional means. My mentor, Busia, had only 2 years 3 months in spite of genuine efforts he made. Soldiers kicked us out. After him we remained in the wilderness from 1972 to 2001. And then the 8 year period we were in power the GDP of Ghana more than quadrupled. We didn’t have to confiscate anyone’s assets. Press freedom was the best the country had known.
FT: Are assets being confiscated now?
JK: I am talking of my time. Now they are grabbing cars! Don’t let me talk too much. People who were given plots of land in Accra to build, now they come and in spite of people having paid, now they come and take the land back. So I wonder what is happening.
In my time. Cocoa for instance. 2001 we produced 370,000 tonnes. By the time I was leaving produce had doubled to over 700,000 tonnes and we were targeting 1m tonnes to compete with Cote d’Ivoire. The cocoa processors before we were exporting beans. Now we have Cargyll, Barry Callebaut, ADM, Cadburys we have all of them now in Ghana. And then the millennium challenge account we got from America, $547m of free money dedicated to modernizing and commercializing agriculture.
FT: Is part of the reason you sound disappointed now, that anyone who has experienced the exhilaration of that office, who stops it will inevitably feel let down.
JK: If where you left off you found whoever came would take it forward you would be a very proud man. But where instead of it being carried on people cast aspersions, and say look there is corruption here and corruption there. That word corruption is the most abused word. They say it, they allege it, you challenge. There is no proof and then they won’t leave you alone.
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