Hon Fritz Baffour, Ghanaian Minister of Information and Member of Parliament representing Ablekuma South, Greater Accra Region on the banner of the ruling National Democratic Congress, NDC, spoke to a team of Vanguard editors during a courtesy visit to the Lagos Corporate Headquarters of the newspaper on Monday.
He spoke on a wide range of issues including alleged hostility against Nigerian businessmen in Ghana, how to boost regional integration in West Africa, why Ghana is desirous of partnering with Nigeria, which he said is now Ghana's second biggest investor after China and lessons Ghana has learnt from Nigeria on oil exploration. Excerpts:
On allegations that the Ghanaian government is hostile to Nigerians' business interests in Ghana and whether it is revenge for the Ghana-must-go incident of the 1980s
We have gone a long way beyond that. Now we have gone to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Ghana has signed most of the ECOWAS protocols.
Nigeria is a very close friend of Ghana. The word 'friend' is even an understatement because the relationship between Nigeria and Ghana in terms of social and economic interaction is very important.
Nigeria is the second biggest investor in Ghana after China. I am talking about present day investments not traditional investment nations like Great Britain and the United States of America. So, it will be illogical for us to be hostile to Nigerians.
But we have laws, which protect our petty traders and that is what has caused the problem of thinking that we are being hostile. Petty trading has been left to Ghanaians. Foreigners are not allowed to participate anywhere in our market places, the store holders should be Ghanaians.
We have been trying to enforce that law and that is what brought about the problem. We have been lax in ensuring it is only Ghanaians that are in those particular areas. Foreigners are allowed in commercial areas, not in markets.
Those are our rules and regulations. I think along the line, it goes against the grain a little bit with ECOWAS protocol. The problem arose not because of Nigerians but the Chinese, who we found to be encroaching into those areas. You cannot really tell the difference between a Nigerian and a Ghanaian in the market unless in the matter of accent. It was really difficult to enforce the law. So, in enforcing the law, the blanket was spread out and that naturally created a problem.
Through our investment laws, we like to ensure that only genuine investors are allowed. So, there is a certain amount of money, which must be invested or lodged into Ghanaian accounts in order for that person to be declared as an official investor. This is within the ambit of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, which came to my ministry and we held a press conference on this matter to allay the fears of Nigerians, it wasn't a pogrom against them.
On reported evictions of Nigerians from the markets
I did not come across any major evictions. I don't think we had evictions. What we did was we gave a period for people, who were not within the regulations to leave. I don't think anybody went out with arms or guns to evict anyone.
Secondly, we have also local unions like Ghana Union of Traders, GUTA, who may have been a little bit more aggressive. I don't think there was actual evidence of eviction at any time.
On $150,000 minimum requirement for business registration
There are investment laws. You have to register your business as a foreigner in Ghana under the Ghana Investment Promotion Laws. You also have to register with the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre.
To do that, there are certain sums you have to put in and you have to employ Ghanaians. In order to get tax breaks, you must register and regularize your investment in Ghana.
How Ghanaian economy is coping with the revaluation of the Cedi and whether overvaluation of the currency is not affecting trade
I don't think the Ghanaian currency is over-valued. The revaluation is that we decided to delete some zeros. Instead of 1000 Cedi, it became 1Cedi. We put it in parity with the Dollar. Even at that, it has lost value since then, which was in 2008. Now the Cedi is almost 2:1 to a dollar. Naturally, if the currency is stronger than the dollar, exports are affected and imports become a problem.
Impact of Cedi revaluation on inflation
One of the strong points of our government is that we have kept inflation at a single digit since we came into power. Now, our inflation rate is 8 to 9 per cent in the last four years.
On lessons Ghana has learnt from Nigeria's oil experience since she too has started exploring oil
We have learnt great lessons from Nigeria. We have learnt a lot from Nigeria. I, as a student of geo-politics, will not blame Nigerians too much for the problems they had with oil.
Basically, you did not have the infrastructure to assimilate the amount of money coming from the oil boom of the 1970s after the Yuki Po war in Israel, when there was an embargo on oil and the price of oil shot up from $3 to $23 a barrel and that created a problem.
What we have done in Ghana is that over the years, we have created an infrastructure that can absorb the revenue coming in from oil. We have a Revenue Management Committee that handles oil revenue and makes sure that the revenues are not misused.
We also have a heritage fund. It went through Parliament and the government had a hectic time passing it through the Parliament. The Committee members are from all shades of political opinion and different areas in Ghana. It is representative and is not a government thing. So, for the management of our oil revenue, we have insisted that it should be open, transparent and accountable.
Unlike Nigeria, most of our oil is offshore. Now, we have very few Ghanaians about 840 working on the offshore rigs. We are not ready to utilize the gas coming from the field so we asked that the gas should be re-injected until we could build a gas pipeline.
What we are doing now is we are getting gas from the West Africa Gas Pipeline, WAGP, which comes from Nigeria. We had serious problems with supply. Recently, a ship anchor broke the pipeline, so right now we are going through load management because most of our power stations are being fueled by the gas from the WAGP.
To avoid the problem, we are now building a gas pipeline from offshore fields for gas to come downstream. We are going to use that to fuel our power needs and increase power generation in the country, which is key to rapid industrial development.
We have accessed a loan from China to build infrastructure to cope with the oil and gas coming downstream -oil refinery, gas plant, electricity stations, fuel stations, ports, etc.
Another lesson we learnt from Nigeria is that we should not be too reliant on oil; we should look at other means of revenue and focus on them.
One of the reasons we have single digit inflation is because the cost of our food basket has remained almost the same. Yet, food is more expensive in Ghana than in Nigeria even though Nigeria has not invested much in her agricultural production as she should have and that is what we are trying to avoid. We want to improve our agricultural production and ensure that our agricultural base is not eroded.
Agricultural production is not only about producing the food, it is also about storage and transportation. So, infrastructure like good road, rail and storage systems have to be in place to ensure that our foods are not wasted.
On the unemployment situation in Ghana
The situation is not as good as we would like it to be. There is high unemployment among the youths and that is why we are insisting on the gas coming downstream to fuel the industries.
We have also come with certain interventions like skills training for the youths. Another intervention is called the Next Step, which trains people to be entrepreneurial.
We have set up a youth entrepreneurial fund for graduates to access so that they can actually go into entrepreneurship. We want the youths to go into entrepreneurship and business and employ others.
We want to avoid a situation where the reliance is on oil. We have a very strong agricultural basin. We are the second largest producer of cocoa and cocoa employs a lot of Ghanaians. We also have very large stripes of arable land.
Therefore, we are upping our investment in mechanized agriculture, irrigation, etc so that we are not reliant the way we are now on rain-fed agriculture.
We also have another intervention called the Savanna Accelerated Development Fund, to help propel development of northern part of Ghana, which for years had been neglected as a result of the policies of the Colonial government. It was only Kwameh Nkrumah, who tried his best to accelerate development in the North.
On how far Ghana is pushing for single currency for ECOWAS sub-region
Yes we are pushing. It is about time West Africans went 10 steps further in our integration process but unfortunately, the political will is not there because people are protecting their various terms. I think that is where the Non-governmental pressure groups have to come in. We really wished for a single currency.
I lived in Nigeria at a certain time in my life. I have strong antecedents in Nigeria. My father's sisters and siblings were born and brought up in Nigeria at a certain age. There is that interaction; it is about time we started doing things together properly. When I go out and meet my Nigerian friends, all of them have strong Ghanaian connections either economic or social yet we have not formalized it in a way that it can be effective and impact on our societies in the best possible way. So, if we have a common currency, it will break down trade barriers.
We lose $3.5 billion to trade barriers
The World Bank came out recently with a report that we are losing about $3.5 billion because of the trade barriers that we have. It does not make sense, it is not rocket science that we should try and integrate. But we have a problem: we have Anglophone West Africa and Francophone West Africa and that is a problem because certain policies are being tele-guided by people who don't want that integration because the integration will impact negatively on their countries, which are outside Africa.
It is something we have to sit down and discuss and actually make a commitment. How many West African countries have signed the ECOWAS Protocol in full? None! These are things we have to consider.
On how Ghana is combating graft
Corruption is endemic in Africa because it is associated with poverty. When you have poverty that is almost part and parcel of society, you are going to have problems with access to resources and misuse of resources.
What we are doing is strengthening the institutions. Once you strengthen the institutions of governance, make them open, transparent and accountable, you are working towards the reduction of corruption. That is what we have done. We have a fraud office that is working hard to ensure that we reduce corruption in government. We have an institution that does due diligence for banking. The Bank of Ghana is doing its work. The Electoral Commission is also making sure that our elections are free and fair. We have a national commission for civic education to educate people on their duties and responsibilities. The Parliament is also there. All these institutions are independent of government.
On whether he foresees Ghana overtaking Nigeria with discovery of oil
I am not interested in that at all. We are supposed to be brothers and we are supposed to work hand-in-hand. So it is not a question of over-taking, it is a question of strengthening ourselves to work together as partners, not competitors.
On large tracks of tobacco fields in Ghana in spite of global campaign against tobacco smoking
That one I will leave to the activists. Tobacco brings in a lot of revenue. I will be quite honest with you; I have lost a lot of friends, who died at early age because of smoking. That is my personal view. But in terms of governance, we get a lot of revenue from tobacco not as much as we used to get before. I think we have to have an interaction among the government, stakeholders and tobacco industry.
Our tobacco farmers are also complaining that 'if you push this thing too much a lot of us will be out of work and it will affect our livelihoods.' It is something that peter out as we go along the way.
On readiness of Ghanaians for the December 7 Presidential and Parliamentary elections
In Ghana, we have the hybrid system, where majority of the cabinet comes from the Parliament. My party, NDC is the party of the government. I am standing for election. We intend to win the election with the support of the people. We want to ensure that there is free and fair and above all peaceful election.
We are working with all stakeholders and concerned institutions to ensure credible and peaceful election. We have that tradition. We have done so well in the last four elections and have not had any major negative event. We want to ensure that this one is better than previous elections. The President, John Dramani Mahama, is the flag bearer of the NDC.
On chances of NDC after President Attah Mills' death
The death of Professor John Evans Attah Mills was tragic but his death also brought to light the magnificent achievements he made in governance in Ghana.
He was a man of conciliation and peace. He was someone who did not react despite the fact that he was vilified by a lot of elements in the political process.
After he died, people realized the things he had done and it brought home to people the need for us to be peaceful and respect our leaders and politicians. So, it is warm turn in certain respect
On whether NDC's alleged maltreatment of Mrs. Nana Rawlings, whose husband JJ Rawlings founded the party, would not hurt the party's chances
Elections are won because people vote. I think we have done enough and proven enough to people that we merit their vote.
Influence of ethnicity in Ghana politics
There are no hard ethnic lines in our country. For instance, I belong to six ethnic groups cutting across the northern, middle belt and southern parts of the country. So ethnicity is not a big thing in Ghana. Even the Ashantis are not really a tribe but a conglomeration of various clans. So we do not really have strong ethnic bond that will make you hate anybody.
On why Ghana has a degree of influence at a time of Boko Haram in Nigeria and other insurgents in Mali and unrest in Cote d'Ivoire
One of the reasons we have a certain degree of peace in Ghana is that our armed forces have been involved in UN peace-keeping since 1960. As peace-keeping gets sophisticated so do our troops. After seeing the horrors of wars in Liberia, Rwanda, etc, which I covered as a journalist, they came back feeling, 'no, this should never happen in Ghana.'
Again, Ghanaians by quest of our existence, we like to consult. We are not aggressive. Even the Ashanti, a warrior nation will actually parley. It is when there isn't a solution that they will attack.
It is also because of our borders because the Akans spill over into Ivory Coast; the Ebe spill over into Togo and Benin; the Dagomba and Mola Dagbani people spill over into Burkina Faso.
It is also as a result of the efforts of Dr Kwameh Nkrumah, who believed so much in one nation and fought for it to be so.
On Boko Haram, I would say that Nigeria had various caliphate and sultanates since the time of Othman Dan Fodio and before that. You clearly had defined lines. We don't really have that.
In Mali, it is about resources. If you are dealing with the Tauregs and other movements that Mali is very much their home, if you are sending troops that do not know much about the environment, it is a matter of resources. You really have to get the right kind of resources to cope.
Africa doesn't have that kind of resources. We are battling with economic problems. What we have to do is to try to ensure that it is not about war, we have to sit down on a table and see how best we can solve it. With civil unrest in African countries, it is about ensuring that institutions of government are strengthened as we go along.
It is like what President Barack Obama said. It is not about strong men anymore, it is about strong institutions. If we can help as ECOWAS in meeting at ECOWAS Parliament, it will be better. We really have to focus more on interactions among the stakeholders in the various nations in order to have a peaceful sub-region.