The world of central banking is surprisingly replete with accusations of plagiarism.
The governor of Turkey’s central bank between 2019 and 2020 (and vice governor before then), Murat Uysal, was pilloried by local academics for plagiarising large portions of his Master’s thesis and two published works. He did not get fired for it. After the Turkish Lira lost 30% of its value, however, he was shown the door, and replaced with Naci Agbal. Four months later, Naci was summarily dismissed and the job given to Şahap Kavcıoğlu. No sooner had Sahap settled in than his Alma Mater confirmed an investigation into his PhD thesis. The verdict: large tracts of the text had been lifted from Turkish central bank annual reports. He survived the scandal and stayed in office until the Turkish President tired of him last year.
Around the same time that Sahap was defending his academic integrity, accusations started to fly that the Icelandic central bank governor, Ásgeir Jónsson, was guilty of a similar sin. A Norse Philologist, Bergsveinn Birgisson, with a deep expertise in mythical fiction, was the accuser. The strange intersection of their interests was on the subject of the first settlement of Iceland, on which both had published books. Birgisson says Jonsson stole important hypotheses from his work without attribution. Jónsson denied. Not much came of the dispute.
Much closer to home is the better known case of the United States – based academic, Victor Dike, and his campaign to bring then governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Lamido Sanusi, to justice for copying from three pages of Dike’s academic paper without given him the slightest bit of credit. The CBN responded with the most uproarious of excuses: the governor didn’t write the speech, didn’t deliver it on his own behalf, and was merely a ventriloquist for the CBN itself in his public speaking appearances! Professor Dike insisted that he will see the governor in Court, and the CBN could follow him there if they so wished. The matter seems lost in the maze that is the Nigerian justice system.
This is the somewhat checkered background against which Ghanaian entrepreneur and development finance specialist, Kofi Arkaah, brings his own charge against the Bank of Ghana. Except, perhaps luckily, he is not accusing any official there of lifting verbatim from his published work for their own speeches, theses or academic papers. In some ways, though, his allegation is just as concerning. He is accusing the Bank of Ghana of basing a major policy initiative on a technical model he developed and shared with one of their most senior officials, but doing so in a sneaky and dishonest way in order to avoid acknowledging his contributions.
Mr. Arkaah has shown a trail of correspondence to this author which establishes clearly that he did share with a very senior official at the central bank a draft model, and underlying data, of how to develop an optimal gold reserves policy for Ghana. One that would complement the country’s inflation-targeting regime and bolster the national currency by carefully managing the ratio between gold reserves and overall gross international reserves. The trail of correspondence shows the senior official initially expressing a willingness to help Arkaah refine the model before abruptly terminating the engagement.
Arkaah’s need for research support to benchmark the model with data from the Eurozone and WAEMU is what had initially driven the aborted collaboration in 2017. Not much happened in the ensuing years.
It would seem, however, that some time after the senior Bank of Ghana official terminated the engagement, an army of research assistants were detailed to dig into Arkaah’s data and initial model. In 2021, the Bank of Ghana announced the Gold Purchase Program.
In his speech heralding the start of the program, the governor gave credit for the idea of developing a gold-backed reserves optimisation policy solely to the sitting Vice President:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, before I conclude, let me acknowledge the support of His Excellency the Vice President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia who got this programme started.”
Attentive observers would have noted similar content in the recent UPSA speech of the Vice President. To be clear, Arkaah does not accuse the Vice President of any complicity in these matters.
It is generally the case that intellectual property (IP) infringement cases brought against central banks usually involve technology applications, and are rarely successful. Examples being the lawsuit brought against the European Central Bank by Rochester-based Document Security Systems and Technocrat Consult & IT Limited’s legal action against the Central Bank of Nigeria. But such technology-related IP disputes normally involve patents, not copyright, and not all disputes are meant for the courts. Reputational consequences also matter.
Indeed, many of the lawsuits currently underway against Artificial Intelligence (AI) companies worldwide involve the uncredited incorporation of copyrighted work into complex, dynamic, models, and the reputational blowback against tech companies for being perceived as ripping off poor creatives. IP lawsuits involving financial models and research are, actually, also not all that unheard of, case in point being the famous Barclays Capital vs theflyonthewall.com litigation (where the American courts did make a finding of copyright violation).
In bringing this matter to the public’s attention, Arkaah says he is not looking for cheap fame or monetary compensation. To his mind, the policy ecosystem of any serious country is a community of practice. In such a community, it is critical that ideas are properly sourced and attributed to encourage innovative thinking, a sound competition of ideas, and professional integrity.
He does not mind at all that the technical mechanics of aligning central bank gold purchases with other macroeconomic variables were, to his mind, clearly extracted from his model by the Bank of Ghana. He wants many African countries looking to back their currency with gold to do similar statistical heavy-lifting and not fall into the same trap that the likes of Zimbabwe did when they went down that road without a well-calibrated model.
He is peeved however that rather than seeing an opportunity to engender dialogue with the policy community so that the model could be refined for Ghana’s benefit, the Bank of Ghana stealthily appropriated his ideas, and that its officials are busily making unnecessary partisan-political capital out of it. To Arkaah’s mind, that kind of conduct does not become a technical organisation that must stay above politics, guard its institutional independence jealously, and nurture the sharpest technocratic thinking and practice. Moreover, the documented allegations of appropriation of intellectual property, without even the basic trivial courtesy of acknowledgement, reinforces a pattern of impunity, which the Ghanaian central bank has been oft accused of perpetrating.
Readers will note that, to date, the Bank of Ghana (BoG) has failed to publish any serious position papers on either the so-called Gold for Oil program or the program referenced in this essay, the Gold Purchase Program. Consequently, the policy and academic communities have been unable to provide robust feedback and subject the BoG’s thinking to the necessary intellectual scrutiny. And, now, we see clear evidence in this Arkaah affair of the BoG’s undue wariness in engaging with professionals desirous of contributing ideas to enhance monetary policymaking in Ghana.
This author’s consistent complaints about the shifty conduct of central banking in the current dispensation finds at least partial vindication in the Arkaah claims. Whether it is in relation to the contentious recapitalisation program, the botched bailout funds recovery effort, or the BoG’s very murky approach to procurement, the usual style has been one weighed down by a total lack of candour, transparency, openness to scrutiny, and good-faith dealings with public stakeholders.
Mr. Kofi Arkaah tells this author that his intellectual campaign about optimal gold reserves and ideal ratio will not be curtailed by this setback. It is an idea, he says, destined for continental relevance. And he is only getting started.