Ghana was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The government response helped contain the pandemic and support the economy, but at the cost of a record fiscal deficit. The economic outlook is improving, even though risks remain, including from the evolution of the pandemic and rising debt vulnerabilities.
The pandemic had a severe impact on economic activity. Growth slowed to 0.4 per cent in 2020 from 6.5 per cent in 2019, food prices spiked, and poverty increased. The fiscal deficit including energy and financial sector costs worsened to 15.2 per cent of GDP, with a further 2.1 per cent of GDP in additional spending financed through the accumulation of domestic arrears. Public debt rose to 79 per cent of GDP. The current account deficit widened slightly to 3.1 per cent of GDP as the decline in oil exports was partially offset by higher gold prices, resilient remittances, and weaker imports. The Ghanaian Cedi remained stable against the US dollar, partly due to central bank intervention, and gross international reserves remained at 3.2 months of imports. External and domestic financing conditions tightened considerably at the start of the pandemic, but have improved since, and Ghana successfully returned to international capital markets for a US$3 billion Eurobond issuance in March 2021.
An economic recovery is underway. Growth is expected to rebound to 4.7 per cent in 2021, supported by a strong cocoa season and mining and services activity, and inflation remaining within the Bank of Ghana target. The current account deficit is projected to improve to 2.2 per cent of GDP, supported by a pickup in oil prices, and gross international reserves are expected to remain stable. The 2021 budget envisages a fiscal deficit of 13.9 per cent of GDP in 2021, including energy and financial sector costs, and a gradual medium-term fiscal adjustment which would support a decline in public debt starting in 2024. However, this outlook is subject to significant uncertainty, including from new pandemic waves and risks associated with large financing needs and increasing public debt.
IMF Executive Board Assessment
Executive Directors agreed with the thrust of the staff appraisal. They noted that the pandemic had a severe impact on Ghana’s economy, with slower growth, higher food prices, and increased poverty. Directors commended the Ghanaian authorities for their proactive response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which mitigated its economic impact, but contributed to a record fiscal deficit and increased public debt vulnerabilities. While there are encouraging signs of an economic recovery, they noted that it remains uneven across sectors. In this context, Directors stressed the importance of entrenching prudent macroeconomic policies, ensuring debt sustainability, and pressing ahead with structural reforms to deliver a sustainable, inclusive, and green economic recovery.
While noting that risks to Ghana’s capacity to repay have increased, Directors concurred that they are still manageable and that Ghana’s capacity to repay the Fund remains adequate.
Directors welcomed the fiscal adjustment envisaged in the 2021 budget. They stressed that fiscal consolidation is needed to address debt sustainability and rollover risks, as Ghana continues to be classified at high risk of debt distress. To protect the most vulnerable, considerations could be given to more progressive revenue measures and a faster return to the pre-pandemic level of spending, with a shift towards social, health, and development spending. Directors also encouraged the timely completion of the planned audit of COVID‑19 emergency spending and new expenditure arrears.
Directors agreed that the monetary policy stance remains broadly appropriate, while noting that tighter policy would be needed if inflationary pressures materialise. Although gross international reserves are relatively high, Directors stressed the need to guard against erosion of external buffers and remain committed to a flexible exchange rate regime. Directors also encouraged the authorities to limit monetary financing of the deficit.
Directors noted that the financial sector clean-up had made the sector more resilient but stressed that banks’ growing holdings of sovereign debt creates risks and crowds out private sector credit. In this regard, they took positive note of ongoing supervisory and regulatory reforms, which are important steps to protect financial stability. Directors also welcomed the improvements in the AML/CFT framework that allowed Ghana to exit the FATF “grey list”.
Directors emphasised that the authorities’ structural transformation and digitalisation agendas are critical to support the recovery. They noted that the structural transformation can be complemented by the ongoing energy sector review, diversification in tourism, and the digital transition, which has the potential to reduce corruption, boost tax revenues, and improve service delivery. Directors supported continued capacity development efforts in these areas.
It is expected that the next Article IV consultation with Ghana will be held on the standard 12-month cycle.
Learn More: Ghana and the IMF