The Ghana Civil Society Platform is formed from local civil society organizations working on social accountability, anti-corruption and governance 2014 to influence the design, implementation and monitoring of the International Monetary Fund's extended credit arrangement.
Problems and Purpose
The Platform brings together diverse civil society organizations (CSOs) to influence and engage the government and IMF to ensure that citizens’ concerns are reflected in the agreement and then to monitor that the government sticks to it. The Platform is structured around forums that bring CSOs, academics and other non-state actors together to agree demands, which are then communicated via the secretariat.
The Platform’s aim was to advocate for civil society inclusiveness in major public financial management issues and, in particular, the IMF program design, implementation and monitoring in Ghana by creating dialogue spaces between CSOs, government and the IMF as well as other development partners. Specifically, the Platform pushed to:
- Make broad consultation with Ghanaian citizens an integral part of the program negotiation process and implementation;
- Set transparency and accountability measures that address underlying causes that fuel indiscipline in public spending, including key legal and structural reforms;
- Protect strategic pro-poor and pro-development spending;
- Improve revenue collection, especially from large economic actors and plug the loopholes in revenue collection and administration.
From the outset, the Platform has identified fiscal indiscipline in the management of public resources as being responsible for the country’s economic woes and rising inequality. The Platform holds the conviction that effective implementation of the current arrangement with the IMF will strengthen the country’s own institutions of fiscal restraint and regain policy credibility as well as chart new sustainable pathways so that Ghana, hopefully, will no longer revert to the IMF for another Fund-supported stabilization program.
Background History and Context
Ghana has been practising multi-party democracy since the commencement of the fourth republic in 1992. However, after the turn of the millennium the country has been saddled with election year fiscal slippages, i.e. the phenomenon where the incumbent government spends outside the budget in a bid to win an election with its adverse consequences for the price of goods and services (inflation), budget deficits and the need for more debt to finance such unplanned outlays. The country has undergone this election cycle every four years since 2000. Each time, it leaves the elected government the task of working to restore macro stability in its first year in office; it then spends the next two years pursuing its own policies and programs, and in the remaining year the cycle is repeated.
Following a repeat of the election year profligacy in 2012, Ghana’s economic environment became very unstable in 2014, with a fast depreciating currency, high debt burden, and rising inflation that hit ordinary household pockets the hardest – as well as loss of policy credibility and investor confidence. Government coffers dried up such that disbursements to Ghana’s District Assemblies’ Common Fund (DACF), known as the ‘Common Fund’ – which is intended to ensure equitable development of local government agencies across the country as well as other social protection programs – were either never released or were under-delivered or suffered severe delays. This was a clear indication that the economy had this time round failed to recover from the election overhang. The situation was further complicated by electricity supply shortages that also worsened the health of the economy.
Facing the deteriorating economic climate, the Government of Ghana sought non-partisan homegrown solutions to the teething challenges that had confronted the economy at a three-day national economic forum held 12–15 May 2014. The forum brought together over 140 Ghanaians drawn from organized labor, the private sector, professional associations, financial institutions, security services, traditional leaders, political parties, parliamentarians, the clergy, policy think-tanks, academia, civil society, and government ministries.
Nonetheless, the challenges persisted and in August 2014, the Government of Ghana requested a bailout programme from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). On 3 April 2015, the IMF Board approved a three-year Extended Credit Facility (2015–17, extended to year-end 2018) of about US$918m or 180 per cent of Ghana’s quota at the IMF; this was the country’s sixteenth stabilization program with the IMF since independence (1957). The approved program aimed to restore debt sustainability and macroeconomic stability to foster a return to high growth and job creation while protecting social spending.
It is noteworthy that in the 15 earlier stabilization programs with the IMF, there was very little citizen buy-in due mainly to the lack of space for citizens to share their views on such important fiscal agreements – even though citizens are the ultimate bearers of the impact of agreements reached between the Government of Ghana and the IMF. Hence, 11 civil society organizations (CSOs), think-tanks and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on social accountability, transparency and anti-corruption issues, all based in Accra, came together and formed the Civil Society Platform on the IMF Programme.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Civil Society Organisation Platform on the IMF Programme has a secretariat operated by the Coordinator and overseen by a Steering Committee made up of representatives of 11 member organizations. The Steering Committee usually meets quarterly to approve and appraise the work of the secretariat. Decision-making by the Steering Committee is largely by consensus.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Platform’s secretariat usually sends invitations three weeks ahead of an event directly via email and/or courier services, and places advertisements in newspapers, on social media and other online platforms to target forum participants in civil society. These include national and subnational NGOs, think-tanks, trade unions, etc. (70 per cent of total participants), academics and research institutions (5 per cent), government agencies and development partners (5 per cent), the media (10 per cent), and individual citizens constitute about 10 per cent of total participants. Follow-up emails and phone calls are made a week before the event to get a sense of confirmed participants in order to plan for logistics.
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Through global-to-local advocacy, five national civil society fora have been organized so far. The first forum was held in November 2014 for citizens’ inputs to the IMF stabilization program design. The Platform’s asks were submitted to the country’s president and leaders of the negotiation teams from Ghana (in Accra) and the IMF (both in Accra and Washington DC) with support from Oxfam.
The approved IMF program granted many of the Platform’s asks including provision on:
- Improving fiscal discipline;
- Deepening accountability and transparency;
- Linking stabilization to transformation;
- Safeguarding 15 pro-poor and social protection spending with resulting fiscal space.
Examples of pro-poor and social protection spending that was safeguarded include the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) program that delivers a monthly cash transfer to the underprivileged in society; a fertilizer subsidy; and the provision of a feeding grant to special schools for disabled children.
The second national civil society forum undertook a review and dissemination of the eventual program in June 2015. This was followed by three yearly assessments intended to strengthen program implementation and performance, which took place in March 2016, July 2017 and June 2018. These were done in addition to the Platform’s regular interactions with the IMF mission team during program review missions in Accra.
Yearly national forums to review and provide on-the-ground feedback to strengthen program implementation have been key to providing spaces for CSOs and ordinary citizens to share their views on the management of the economy. At the end of each forum the overarching themes are issued in a communiqué with a call for action by the IMF and the Government of Ghana, both of which are usually represented at the forum. The forums, held in Accra, bring together 60–100 participants from existing networks of CSOs, think-tanks, academia, media, government agencies, the IMF and other development partners with an interest in public finance and economy-wide issues and the general populace.
The Platform often relies on the expertise of academics to prepare position papers and independent assessments and key resource persons to help translate/explain the implications of macro figures to participants. Member organizations that undertake budget tracking are sometimes given the space to share their findings. A diverse panel is constituted to further distill the outcome of the presentations. The deliberations are concluded with the open forum sessions moderated by the event facilitator and the issuance of communiqués. Usually, the secretariat appoints two rapporteurs to document the proceedings. The secretariat later summarizes the key themes and emails them to participants for their comments before the communiqués are issued – usually after about three or four days to allow time to get responses from a good number of participants.
The Platform has also organized press conferences and workshops, and representatives have appeared on radio and television to highlight the factors that have led Ghana to seek bailout on 16 occasions from the IMF given the reservations most Ghanaians have with the Bretton Woods Institutions. These actions were taken because citizens blame the World Bank and IMF for their country’s austerity, even though the problem lies with government overspending: Ghana cannot continue to live beyond its means with its rising debt burden costing 42 per cent of domestic revenue.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Gaining the trust of the IMF to engage with citizens and CSOs in Ghana is a big achievement given that initially the Platform did not agree with IMF staff on a number of issues. The Platform saw the IMF as the problem and solution at the same time, while IMF staff saw civil society as key to the solutions of Ghana’s problems. Both parties grew and understood each other with time and have built an enviable relationship. The IMF valued the quality of the Platform’s analysis as it provided a reality check for the IMF’s own prescriptions as well as government’s account of events. Also, critical to building this relationship was that civil society spoke with one voice in spite of their individual differences and diverse backgrounds. This helped the IMF to take the Platform seriously. Similarly, the Platform treasured the dialogue spaces with IMF staff and was discreet regarding delicate and sometimes market-sensitive information that was shared with it in confidence.
Interfacing between government and the public is an area the Platform has done quite well: it has articulated the views of ordinary citizens in language that policymakers can relate to. The Platform has acquired a niche for transforming grass-roots ideas into a kind of policy dialogue that competed favorably with ideas coming from other angles. For instance, over the past decade Ghanaians have clamored for the Right to Information Bill to be enacted to no avail. The Platform made a case for it to be included as a conditionality in the IMF program because the law when passed would empower citizens to demand greater accountability and openness in the management of public resources. Although it did not make it into the eventual agreement, the Platform has not relented in its advocacy and has partnered with the Right to Information Coalition to organize a press conference on the subject and to push it across during program review discussions.
This citizens’ initiative in Ghana has become a model for other countries. The Managing Director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, recognised the useful feedback from the Civil Society Platform on the IMF Programme in Ghana (and that of Ukraine) during the CSOs’ town hall meeting at the October 2017 annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF in Washington DC. She also said that this citizens’ initiative to bridge the governance loop was commendable and will serve as a model for IMF citizen engagement across the globe .
Analysis and Lessons Learned
A key strength for the Platform is its diversity in background and strength in unity operating as a CSO platform in spite of individual differences in opinion and background. The Platform has member organizations working on social accountability initiatives, while others have led the anti-corruption fight in Ghana over the years partnering with the supreme audit institution (the Ghana Audit Service) to protect the public purse. Other Platform members focus on public policy analysis and advocacy, improving democratic governance and decentralization as well as the use of ICT tools to support the efficient delivery of social interventions. The secretariat greatly benefited from the different perspectives that members brought on board to push the collective interest of the Platform.
The Platform’s analysis, commentary and recommendations have been informed by macroeconomic data and facts. This was critical in ensuring the survival of the Platform across two different governments in a very polarized political duopoly like Ghana where, if the commentary is positive you are likely to be labelled as pro-government by the opposition and anti-government or pro-opposition if it is negative by government. The sure way of being credible in this kind of environment is to objectively speak official data and statistics, which the Platform has done over the years devoid of bias.
The IMF’s willingness to engage with the Platform was very helpful. This could be attributed to the fact that civil society spoke with one voice; the high quality of the representations at IMF review meetings as well as the Platform’s handling of information shared with it in confidence aided the IMF to take the Platform seriously. Clearly, this gave the Platform a level of credibility and acceptability – both internationally and locally – and enabled it to access the corridors of power much more easily than it would have been without IMF involvement.13 The IMF also facilitated the first tripartite meeting between CSOs, government and the IMF in April 2017 for all parties to share their views to improve the Ghanaian economy.
In times that funding was not forthcoming (particularly in 2017 and the second half of 2018), the secretariat continued to function. There was willingness on the part of the Coordinator (full-time staff) to work for over a year without remuneration. Similarly, several other members of the Platform sacrificed their time and effort and regularly attended meetings, reviewed documents and provided consultancy services at rather minimal cost to keep the initiative going.
Essentially, inadequate funding constrained the Platform’s work. Although, the Platform was national in character, it was not broad-based (i.e. not regionally balanced). The Platform mostly restricted its activities to Accra, so the rest of the country only got to know what it was doing through media coverage and reports, which were often inadequate. It is an area that the Platform should improve on.
The gap identified at the beginning of this initiative was how to get the ordinary citizen to understand the IMF-related issues (management of public finances) and how they could participate. However, the Platform may not have done too well on this because it did not have the necessary funding. Originally, the thinking was to have regional events to engage and mobilize at the regional level and break it down for the ordinary Ghanaian.
The Platform also suffered from the usual political bias label where some people in the respective governments thought the Platform was anti-government and pro-opposition but with time, the political class have come to understand that the Platform stands for Ghana and it is refreshing to note that government has begun to open up.
The learnings from this case study to improve the Platform’s work going forward are as follows:
- Further simplification of content communicated using more info graphs during forums and workshops would be very useful.
- Greater effort to connect with the people is needed through social media activism – Twitter, Facebook, etc. The Platform should intensify its policy analysis, write-ups and communicate the implications of economic policies and programs in everyday language that people understand.
- To be regionally inclusive, the Platform should consider translating content into local dialects. It could collaborate with other regional-based organizations and NGOs, which could add national character to the Platform.
- The Platform should map out the existing networks it can leverage to make it more visible (i.e. partners that the Platform can ride on to achieve what it sets out to do). The Platform cannot be physically everywhere but it can be heard everywhere. For example, the country has a plethora of local radio stations communicating in local dialects and the Platform works with institutions like the National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE): it should strategise to get independent-minded experts into these spaces to disseminate and empower the citizenry.
- Steps should be taken to strengthen the structure of the Platform so it can live beyond the Coordinator, and others can carry on with its work when the Coordinator is not around.
- The Platform must remain technical and not be political. Politicizing the issues defeats the objective. It is imperative to build on the dialogue spaces with development partners such as the IMF, World Bank, EU, etc.
- The Platform should build greater connections between technical policy work and social movements. Where the government is failing and where the IMF is giving them a pass or waving certain benchmarks, there should be a response from the Platform. Timeliness in switching from an inside influence to an outside pressure strategy is critical.
- At the heart of all these proposals is the need for regular funding to support the Platform’s work.
 For the Platform’s interaction with Madam Christine Lagarde, see Economic Governance Platform, 18 December 2018, https://econgovplatform.org/ economic-governance-platform-engages-christine-lagarde-imf-md/
The first submission of this Participedia entry was adapted from a case study by Godson Korbla Aloryito in collaboration with the Institute of Development Studies as part of the research project 'Linking Participation and Economic Advancement’ licensed and reproduced under Creative Commons (CC BY 3.0). Original source, including the full original case study and methodology can be found here: