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Parliament endorses 2021 Budget

BY: Nana Konadu Agyeman

With a majority decision of 137 to 134, Parliament on Friday approved the 2021 Budget after four days of heated debate in the House.

This has paved the way for the government to spend GH¢113.75 billion to implement its policies and programmes this year.

The amount is equivalent to 26.2 per cent of Ghana's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the 2021 financial year.

The approval came via head count that saw the Majority side of the House having their way.

On March 12, this year, the acting Minister of Finance, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, who is also the Majority Leader, presented the 2021 Budget Statement and Economic Policy to the House and moved a motion for the approval of the budget.

It was seconded by the Minister of Information, Mr Kojo Oppong Nkrumah.

Debate

Prior to the approval of the budget yesterday, the Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, and the Deputy Majority Leader, Mr Alexander Afenyo-Markin, took their turns to debate the motion, which started on March 16, 2021.

Soon after the debate, the First Deputy Speaker, Mr Joseph Osei-Owusu, who was presiding, put the motion to a voice vote.

The Speaker told the House that the “Ayes” vote from the Majority side had it and the motion had been adopted (budget approved) but the Minority challenged the ruling by the Speaker and called for a headcount vote.

Objecting the ruling, the Deputy Minority Leader, Mr James Klutse Avedzi, cited Order 113 which states that: “When a question has been put by the Speaker at the conclusion of a debate, votes shall be taken by voices “Ayes” and “No”, provided that Mr Speaker may in his discretion instead of declaring the result on the voice votes call for a headcount.”

He also stated that Order 113 (2) stipulates that: “A member may call for head count or division if the opinion of Mr Speaker on the voice vote is challenged.”

“Mr Speaker, I am therefore challenging your ruling and I am calling for a headcount,” he asserted.

Majority objection

However, Mr Afenyo-Markin told the House that the objection by the Deputy Majority Leader did not amount to a challenge of the ruling by Mr Osei-Owusu.

Prior to the commencement of the headcount, the Speaker, Mr Alban Kingsford Sumana Bagbin, assumed the seat and presided over the sitting.

He subsequently called for a headcount and ordered the names of the members to be called out in a roll call format.

That was after he had told the House that what the Deputy Minority Leader did amounted to a challenge of the First Deputy Speaker's ruling.

Drama

Drama began to unfold in the House as some Majority MPs, whose names were called out, were absent.

They included the Second Deputy Speaker, Mr Andrew Amoako Asiamah, and the MP for Abetifi, Mr Bryan Acheampong.

However, Mr Acheampong showed up in the House to shore up the votes of the Majority prior to the headcount.

And fortunately for the Majority, the Speaker told the House the headcount would be retaken after a Minority member had drawn the Speaker's attention that he was in the House but he never heard his name called out.

Absentees

It also emerged that three Minority MPs were absent. They were the MP for Bia West, Dr Augustine Tawiah; the MP for Ho Central, Mr Benjamin Kpodo, and the MP for Komenda-Edna-Eguafo-Abrem, Mr Samuel Atta Mills.

Information gathered indicated that Dr Tawiah was indisposed, while Mr Kpodo and Mr Atta Mills were bereaved.

Both of them had sought leave of absence from Parliament.

Why Minority voted against budget

On Thursday, the Minority expressed their readiness to vote against the budget.

Addressing a press conference on their position on the 2021 Budget and Economic Policy Statement, Mr Iddrisu accused the government of failing to provide accurate fiscal deficit in the 2021 budget.

For instance, he said for the 2019 fiscal year, the government reported a fiscal deficit of 4.8 per cent of GDP to Parliament, while at the same time it reported a fiscal deficit of 7.5 per cent of GDP to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in April 2020.

That, he said, meant that an amount of about GH₵8.2 billion was concealed from the expenditure framework.

“We demand that the fiscal deficit including arrears for the year 2020 be corrected in the budget statement to reflect the actual figure of 17.5 per cent of GDP,” the Minority Leader said.

“The fiscal deficit for the year 2020 of 13.8 per cent of GDP as stated by the Ministry of Finance excludes an amount of GH¢6.2 billion being what government refers as energy sector payments. We demand the inclusion of the energy sector payments of GH¢6.2 billion in the fiscal tables to reflect in the corresponding fiscal deficit,” he added.

Mr Iddrisu said the position of the Minority was that if the government failed to correct misreporting of deficit that started from 2018 and it had gotten worse in 2020, “we can assure Ghanaians that we will not be part of the budget approval processes.”

Dishonest report

The Tamale South MP said the 2021 Budget and Economic Policy Statement sought to blame COVID-19 for the abysmal performance of the economy in the 2020 fiscal year.

He, however, said mismanagement and uncontrolled expenditure and sheer lack of prudence accounted for the poor performance of the economy and not just COVID-19.

Attached below is the full document of the 2021 Budget