Alhassan Iddrisu, Ghana
Ag. Director Economic Planning Division, Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning
International Development Studies Program, MA & Ph.D. (’02/’06)
What is your area of specialization and how did you come to work in this area?
My specialization lies in the area of Development Economics and Public Finance. The trajectory that brought me to this specialization started in 1996 when I successfully completed a Bachelor of Arts (BA Hons) program in Economics and Statistics at the University of Ghana. Immediately after graduation I undertook a one year National Service at the Department of Statistics of the University of Ghana as a teaching and research assistant. Thereafter, in 1997, I was appointed to the Ministry of Finance as an Assistant Economics Officer. Shortly afterwards in the same year, I gained admission to the University of Ghana to pursue an MPhil in Economics at the Economics Department whilst still at active post in the Ministry.
During these periods, I had a huge interest in economic development, or more broadly development economics, and always concerned myself with what my country can do right to ascend the development ladder. As someone who worked in the public service, I knew that the path to development would require sustainable mobilization of resources as well as efficient, judicious, and effective allocation and use of such resources. It is in this regard that my interest in Public Finance gained prominence.
Even though my academic career had exposed me to various branches of economics, including Development Economics and Public Finance, my professional experience as an economist in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning really brought me closer to reality in terms of understanding and analyzing development issues. In the early years of my profession at the Ministry, I was deeply involved in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) component of the Public Finance Management Reform Programme (PUFMARP) which was meant to develop and implement a comprehensive Public Finance Management (PFM) system in Ghana. These notwithstanding, I felt the need to pursue further studies to enable me to appreciate my professional goals better.
In fulfillment of this dream, I gained admission into GRIPS to pursue the masters program in International Development Studies (IDS) through a JICA scholarship in 2002 and proceeded to the PhD program after successful completion of the masters program in 2003. The IDS program in GRIPS, which in my view, is one the best programs in Development Economics worldwide, really provided me with the theory and practice of development issues in general and industrial development in particular. It indeed crystallized my specialty in Development Economics, especially in Cluster-Based Industrial Development. Since my return to Ghana in 2006 these areas of specialization have been in much use in my professional life.
You are currently working as the Director of the Economic Planning Division at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your work and what has been the most rewarding aspect of your career thus far?
I assumed duty as the Ag. Director of the Economic Planning Division of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning in August 2008. Even though the Division is very young in the Ministry, it had been in existence since 2003. To my surprise, however, when I took over from my predecessor, there was limited work on the establishment of the functions and responsibilities of the Division. My biggest challenge was, therefore, how to develop an organogram and functions for the Division and chart the path of the Division whilst ensuring consistency with the Ministry’s Mission. This task also involved establishing roles and responsibilities for my staff immediately to ensure that the Division executes its mandate efficiently and effectively.
With hard work, dedication, a h4 desire for reform, and support from management, I was able to draw up an elaborate organogram and functions for the Division in the first few days in office. Among others, the core functions of the Division is to ensure effective linkage between Ghana’s annual budgets and the medium-to-long term national development plans as well as undertake policy analysis and advice in sectoral issues such as health, education, labor, and industrialization. The Division also engages in the development of macroeconomic models to inform policy.
Another challenge was the adequacy and quality of staff to work with. Gradually this challenge is being addressed as my staff strength is growing and the staff quality improving through a series of short-term and long term capacity building programs I have put in place.
The most rewarding aspect of my job? I get a lot of satisfaction providing leadership and on the job training to my staff who look up to me for hope, direction, and career advancement, among others. The hardworking attitude of my staff and their appreciation of my leadership style make me want to do more always. It also gladdens my heart that I am in a position to contribute my quota to national development as I bring my experiences and educational qualities to bear on the formulation and implementation of development policies and strategies in my country.
You spent for about 4 years in Japan and obtained both your Masters and Ph.D. in International Development Studies from GRIPS. How has your time and studies in Japan influenced you in your subsequent life and career?
Yes, I was in Japan for four years spanning the period 2002 to 2006. My experience in Japan as a student has influenced my life significantly.
Time is of essence in Japan and the habit of being time conscious in all undertakings was inculcated in me whilst in Japan and is amply being used in Ghana. I remember very well that in Prof. Hayami’s (a renowned lecturer in Strategies and Conditions for Development and Governments and Markets) class, one could not be a minute late as the time-conscious professor would always prevent latecomers into the class because he considered them to be “public bads” providing negative externalities to the whole class once class is in session.
The unparalleled Japanese hospitality I received in Japan from my Japanese colleagues, friends, and my Japanese lecturers left an indelible mark in my memory. So much so that it has greatly enhanced my professional relationship with Japanese in particular and foreigners in general when I am dealing with them in the course of duty.
For my PhD thesis which was based on cluster-based industrial development and focused on a huge cluster of metal works and vehicle repairs in Ghana (the Suame Magazine) I received tremendous support from my lead PhD supervisor, Prof. Tetsushi Sonobe. His support was admirable and unprecedented to the extent that my thesis recommendations culminated into a capacity building project which is currently supporting enterprising entrepreneurs in the Suame Magazine. The project has already provided managerial training to about 120 enterprise managers in two batches of about sixty each. I must say that but for my successful education in Japan and the support from my supervisor and the Japanese and Ghana government, this project would not have been forthcoming. Please permit me to use this forum to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to Prof. Tetsushi Sonobe in particular and the Japanese and Ghana Government in general for making it possible to earn a PhD in Japan.
Another area in which my life and studies in Japan have been influential after my return to Ghana is my involvement in the capacity building exercise in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning on a joint project by JICA and MOFEP to equip selected staff with tools of economic analysis. My qualification in Development Economics and Econometrics from GRIPS enabled me to lecture in Econometrics with ease and allowed knowledge to be imparting to selected officers at MOFEP.
During your career in the Ghana Civil Service, what achievement(s) are you most proud of?
I have chalked a number of achievements in the Service but the one I am most proud of was when I earned the Best Civil Servant in the Ministry of Finance Award in June 2002, prior to my departure to Japan for the IDS program.
My involvement in the Public Financial Management Reform Programme (PUFMARP) as a resource person who helped in the design and implementation of the reform program, especially my role as a training of trainers and as a trainer of senior government officials enabled my Ministry to nominate me for the award. My performance on my additional responsibility as a Special Assistant on public finance management matters to the Deputy Minister also contributed to me being nominated for the award.
I guess I can also say that my hard work and leadership qualities which culminated in my appointment as the Ag. Director of the Economic Planning Division of the Ministry, making me the youngest Director of a Division in the Ministry, is something to be proud of.
id the, perhaps more lucrative, private sector ever hold any appeal for you?
I got a number offers from the more lucrative private sector but I turned all of them down because those jobs were not consistent with my medium-to-long term objective of becoming a practicing economist capable of contributing significantly to, not only my country’s development, but the development of the African sub-region and the world at large. I guess the trajectory I have taken will take me to my objectives soon if it has not already started.
I should be quick to add that the enormous job satisfaction I get from doing what I like most in terms of profession in my current job makes it extremely difficult for me to want to leave to work for the private sector. May be, one day, after I am convinced that I can reach my medium-to-long term objective quicker with the private sector, would I then consider the possibility of working there.
If you could choose another profession to be in, what would it be?
If given the chance to choose another profession, it would be in lecturing.
I like lecturing a lot. My desire to lecture dates back to 1990 when I started teaching, whatever least chance I had. I remember teaching my colleagues in Mathematics and Statistics during my senior high school days. Since then I have been engaged in lecturing in various subjects, especially Econometrics, Economics, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Quantitative Methods, and Public Finance on a part-time basis.
I just love the habit of imparting knowledge to others through lecturing as that gives me a lot of joy. Currently I lecture “Economic Policies and Development” and “Quantitative Methods” on a part-time basis at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), a renowned tertiary institution in Ghana.
What is your fondest memory of your time spent in Japan?
I have lots of fond memories but let me mention just one of them.
It was during the winter of 2004, when Shingo Kimura, a friend and a colleague PhD class mate invited me and a few other friends (including Mukuli from Zambia, and Suppatra and Weaw from Thailand) to go and spend the one week winter holidays in Osaka at his parents’ residence.
The one week Osaka trip was fantastic and indeed memorable as it was characterized by merry making, visiting of shrines, wining and dining at a traditional Japanese restaurant, and visiting of many other places of historical importance in Osaka including visiting one of the largest Aquaria in Japan. The Kimura family treated us to an excellent Japanese cuisine at their residence. Shingo later took us to the family residence in the mountains where we spent about three days making merry including dancing, dining, and enjoying the onsen (hotspring). I was really moved when I saw Shingo’s mum break into tears as we announced our departure back to Tokyo.
I have selected this moment as the fondest memory for two reasons: First, Shingo and Weaw who were both at the occasion later got married. They are now a happily married couple, living in Paris. Second, the merry making activities and the lovely and caring attitude with which the Kimura family received us makes it very difficult to forget the occasion.
What do you miss about Japan?
The Cherry-blossom season is certainly an occasion that first timers like me will miss when they leave Japan. My classmates and I have always gone out to see the beautiful cherry blossom during the spring season. The wining and dining during such occasions together with the beautiful natural scenery makes the occasion so memorable.
Another thing I miss so much about Japan is the fireworks season where there are spectacular displays of colorful fireworks of all type and shapes. I experienced a number of them. I miss them mainly because my daughter liked them most.
I also miss the high customer care exhibited by Japanese workers in every sphere of business, whether in restaurants, hotels, train stations, and shops. I think it is unparalleled world-wide. Such high employee morale makes the customer feel very important and that he/she is getting value for money.
I would also miss the cleanliness and timeliness of the Japanese people. Their cities and towns are always clean and the people keep to time.
What is your favorite thing to do when you are not working?
When I am not working, I like to spend time with my family either at home or outdoors especially at the beach or at the movie theatre. My wife and I have a beautiful daughter who is seven years old and a lovely and joyous boy who is two. My boy has a Japanese name, Shingo, named after my best Japanese male friend who happened to be a classmate during my PhD program in Japan. My wife and I hope to name our next child as Tetsushi (after my PhD supervisor) if he happens to be a boy or Atsuko (my best Japanese female friend) if we get a girl. That is not to say that my wife is pregnant now.
I like to watch movies, especially series. Among my favorite series are 24, Prison Break, the Hustle, Heroes, Lost, and Alias.
How do you maintain a balance between your work and the rest of your life?
This is a very good question. I have little time left after my office work. My work demands that I sometimes go to the office during the weekends. I, therefore, devote almost all the remaining time to the family. I think I am lucky to have a wonderful wife who understands my working life and assists immensely in bringing up a happy family.
What advice would you give to current GRIPS students?
I would advise them to work hard and to note that the sky is the limit. GRIPS programmes are structured in a manner that makes them comprehensive and packed leaving very little time for social life. I would encourage the students to have an optimal balance between academic work and social life as both attributes are reinforcing.
The international environment in GRIPS provides a unique opportunity for students to learn about each other’s country experiences and I would encourage students to explore this opportunity to the fullest whilst the opportunity is there.
Thank you very much for the award of the Alumnus of the Month. Live long, GRIPS!