….As Ex-Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo Calls Ofori-Atta’s Debt Exchange Rude, Messy, Wicked Disrespectful & Unlawful
Ghana’s second female Chief Justice, has criticized the government for the current economic situation, saying the Akufo-Addo government, has failed to be transparent and accountable to Ghanaians over the current economic predicament.
Sophia Abena Boafoa Akuffo, 73, described the government’s approach and attitude in the debt restructuring and management programme, as rude, messy, wicked,disrespectful and unlawful.
What makes her stance very uncommon is that, she is a paternal cousin of the President, Nana Akufo-Addo.
The two share the same ancestry from the Akropong, the capital of the Akuapim North District of the Eastern Region. Ken Ofori-Atta, the Finance Minister, hails from Kyebi, also in the Eastern Region, which is the President’s maternal line.
According to her, the move by the government is “sheer wickedness and outright disrespect to the elderly who have sacrificed their lives for the development of the nation.”
She had joined the Pensioner Bondholders Forum heavily made up of pensioners to picket at the Finance Ministry over the inclusion of their investments in the Debt Exchange Programme on Friday, February 10, insisting the move is unacceptable and cannot be forced on investors, especially pensioners.
“The Minister of Finance better go back to the drawing board and come up with a better proposal otherwise nobody is going to agree to it. I am encouraging people not to agree with it. A contract is a contract, and it must be respected and if you want to renegotiate come to the table with humility and come with a ‘yesable’ proposal,” the 73-year-old said.
“Why are we in the mess? Nobody has fully explained to us, yes we took debt, what was it used for? And where is the accountability? Exactly what was it used for? You are not telling us about how you are going to be able to make things better, but just that ‘help me and I help you’, no, you help yourself first, let me see you doing something serious because we have seen these sorts of things too many times.
“I am over 70 years now, I am no longer government employee, my mouth has been ungagged, and I am talking, and I am saying that we have failed, and it is important that the elderly should be respected.”
She carried a placard with the inscription; ‘We depend on our bond yields to pay our rent, medical bills, electricity bills and water bills,’ and described the DDE programme as wicked and unlawful for the Finance Ministry to include pensioners in the debt exchange programme.
“I find it wicked, I find it disrespectful, I find it unlawful, I find it totally wrong, period! Because, you don’t solve your problems by sacrificing your aged. That is the last thing you should do,” she told JoyNews.
The picketing pensioners were later called into a meeting with officials of the Finance Ministry to deliberate on the way forward. The pensioners have been calling on the government to exempt them from the debt exchange programme. This has gathered momentum with the ex-Chief Justice joining in the fight.
“It is very heartbreaking to see people, particularly in my age group, some are older than me, somewhat younger than me, but these are all people who have worked very hard. They could have left the country when others were going. They stayed, they worked for the nation,” she said to GhanaWeb Business in an interview.
“I find this wicked, disrespectful, I find it unlawful. I find it totally wrong, period, because you don’t solve your problems by sacrificing your aged. That’s the last thing you should do especially when you don’t have any services that are actually geared at the comfort and relief of the aged,” she added.
Members of the Pensioner Bondholders Forum on Monday, February 6, began picketing at the Finance Ministry to demand a total exemption of their investments from the Domestic Debt Exchange programme.
Wielding placards that had different inscriptions, including; ‘Don’t you feel our pains?’, Don’t push pensioners to their early graves, among others, these aged people who thronged the Finance Ministry demanding that their investments shouldn’t be touched.
Chief Justice Akuffo, responded to the finance minister’s “help me, I help you” statement saying the Finance Minister must provide accountability for the huge debts that have led the country to its economic crisis.
She noted that the government must provide a solution first before asking Ghanaians to. Her comment came at the back of the Finance Minister’s assertion that failure to have a successful domestic debt exchange programme, the economy might crash.
Asked about what options are available to her as a lawyer, she pointed to the fact that insofar as the government had properties, she could sue to retrieve her entitlements.
She stressed that per the bonds that she has invested in, there was no clause that allowed the government to alter terms because they are bankrupt, adding the DDEP was an unlawful solution the government was pursuing.
“Convince us why this is a lawful solution, in any case, it is not a lawful solution, so they should not even go there because if they change the law today, it will not affect what has already accrued.
“They can take them to court because there is a contract and the contract did not say when the government thinks it has become bankrupt, it will not pay you. So long as the government has properties, I can sue them and claim my entitlements through there,” she hinted, adding that “it should not get there because I am a Ghanaian citizen.”
The former CJ, made headlines on February 10, when she joined pensioners to picket at the finance ministry against the DDEP.
She had strong words for the government, accusing them of running the economy into a ditch and turning around to disturb pensioners, some of whom depend on the profits from their investments to run their lives in retirement.
A retired private medical practitioner, Dr Samuel Armah Quaye, who was among the demonstrators noted that he invested in government bonds for a purpose.
The 81-year-old man, told the media he was diagnosed with a kidney problem and saved towards his treatment.
His investment, which would mature in September this year, is in limbo as the government has rolled out a DDEP, as part of the criteria to meet the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure financial assistance from the Bretton Woods institution.
Dr Quaye, called on the government to rethink its decision to include pensioners in the debt exchange programme, as the move would have dire consequences on them, especially their health.
He bemoaned that his health was deteriorating as there is no money to foot the 4th stage of the kidney problem he is battling with.
“I was a private medical practitioner and I retired in 2017. I decided to invest because I know I had a kidney problem…It is maturing in September 2023 and I need this money to look after myself so actually, I want an exemption because I can’t participate,” he said.
“I’m 81, how can I wait for 5 years more? I can’t…He should think twice and exempt us because now, he is punishing us. He’s killing us softly,” the retired health practitioner stated.
Meanwhile, the government’s three-day window for bondholders to complete tender processes of the DDEP expired on Friday, February 10, 2023.
According to the Finance Ministry, over 50 percent of bondholders, have subscribed to the programme so far.
Ghana’s total public debt stock has shot up to GH¢575.7 billion at the end of November 2022, according to new data released by the Bank of Ghana (BoG).
The new debt figure brings Ghana’s debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio to 93.5percent from 75.9percent in September 2022.
The country is currently facing an economic crisis and the government is seeking a $3 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to enable it to restructure the economy.
Government is thus restructuring its debt in a bid to secure the IMF programme by introducing haircuts on bonds and other investment securities.
This move has been widely resisted by those affected. The deadline for signing up for the programme was extended three times.