Ghana’s Finmin Ken Ofori Atta on translating economic growth to jobs
Ken Ofori Atta
Ghana’s Finance Minister Ken Ofori Atta says investing in education holds the key to equip Africans with the requisite skills needed to create the future jobs on the continent. CNBC Africa’s Kenneth Igbomor caught up with him on the side-lines of the Annual meetings of the African Development Bank and discussed this.
I think that the major issue to confront is the reality of the demographic that we have, and the largeness of the youth and exactly how we are going to deal with it. I think from being here, I know the theme is about industrialisation but what has come out very clearly is the radical educational system that we need that we need to institutionalise, which creates really trained minds and gives skills that will be required for the future.
That will be very evident from what we have seen. Africa is certainly going to be challenged in the next few years as you find means through which we can get the youth into decent jobs. We go away from here very inspired by what Korea has been able to do over the 60 years, and also the acknowledgement that we cannot do without investing in education. It is only through that that we can prepare for the future and ensure that people have jobs that they can be productive in.
Another thing that I take away from here is that it is not necessarily creating jobs that will hire hundreds of thousands of people but giving skills to hundreds of thousands of people who will then create jobs and that makes a difference in terms of bringing entrepreneurship and innovation into our curriculum, into the way that we are going to prepare for the future.
So that’s more or less preparing for the jobs of the future and equipping the young people with the skills that the next wave of businesses that we’re seeing will need.
That has to do with able skills and technology, and also significantly how to create an entrepreneurial culture which I believe we have in the informal sector. Now the challenge is how we formalise it.
How important is it for African countries to prioritise their budgets towards industrialisation?
I think essentially, what the Emir of Kano was saying was guys remove the veil. Don’t sit in your offices checking numbers. Where do you have to intervene as an activist finance minister? It is not really a question of reducing the budget deficit and all of that but actually what are the interventions that will lead to productivity. At the core of it, and at the end of the day, how well your people are doing is the answer that you have to come up with. We go to bed thinking about the things that we can do using these numbers and these resources to ensure there is decency and dignity in private citizens.
What are your thoughts on how good governance and transparency can help the entire process?
For example, we inherited in January of last year when we came into government very difficult circumstances and head winds. That’s in terms of inflation which was at 18.4% and the debt to GDP ratio which was at 73%, growth anaemic at 3.6%. We had to take a pause to tackle that and we also had arrears of about $3 billion. So how does governance come in? We were able to get our auditor general to review these arrears and found out that 47 or 48 per cent of them could not be validated. Immediately it created economic space that could be used for growth and when you see the growth we had, 8.5% it began to make sense. Governance is a key element in the way we had to manage Africa’s resources going forward.