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Mid-year budget and all that

BY: Enimil Ashon
Ken Ofori-Atta — Minister of Finance
Ken Ofori-Atta — Minister of Finance

Once upon a time, Ghanaians used to wonder what manner of economists Nigerians possessed who had so poorly managed the country that the largest oil producing and exporting nation in Africa was importing refined fuel.

We did not only wonder; we laughed at what we self-righteously described as the incompetence of Nigerian governments.

That was before Ghana struck oil. The first consignment of 650,000 barrels from the Jubilee Oil Fields was sold in January 2011 (at above US$90 per barrel). It’s been eleven years.

We are still selling and we haven’t stopped borrowing. It’s like the more the oil, the more our debt. O, yes, even America borrows but borrowing often becomes unsustainable. In 2021, Ghana’s debt stood at 81.8 per cent of GDP and IMF says it will go up to 84 per cent this year.

Now the finger has been pointing at ourselves. We are now the man in the mirror.

By and by, I shall come to matters arising from this week’s mid-year budget review. For now, permit me to get two small points out of the way.

First

The first was pointed out to me by a dear friend. While urging a round of applause for Majority Leader, Kyei Mensah Bonsu, for his brilliant suggestion to cap the number of ministers needed to efficiently manage Ghana’s economy (he capped it at 19), I daresay he would have won the standing ovation of the whole nation if he had taken the first step by giving up his own Ministerial portfolio.

That automatically reduces the present over-bloated size of Cabinet by one.

Truth be told, if there is one ministry which is conspicuous by its redundance, it is the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.

Number Two: To a people reeling under the burden of economic hardships, is Gabby Okyere Darko not adding salt to injury, literally asking Ghanaians to go and eat cake if there is no bread?

By taking to Twitter to question Ghanaians if removing the Finance Minister would stop the Ukraine war or COVID- 19, his posture is not unlike that of Queen Marie-Antoinette (circa 1789), who asked hungry demonstrating peasants of France to “go and eat cake if there is no bread”.

Ghanaians may look tame, but we can’t bear insults.

Budget

Now to matters arising from the budget review. When a people get as hungry as we are today, what they need to fill their tummy is not being told that the Black Stars are going to Qatar or that our 100 x 4 quartet are flying.

That amounts to papering over poverty by dangling baubles over the people’s eyes, instead of food and jobs.

Road Tolls returns! The Finance Minister says the government will be tolling only new roads. Dr Ken Aryeetey will tell you that a decorated donkey is still an ass.

Question: will tolling the “new roads” remove the nuisance traffic which was the Minister’s main reason for scrapping the booths?

Letting the Road Minister go unpunished for removing them and sending home the workers – most of whom were persons with disability – with a promise he knew could not be fulfilled, has resulted in financial loss to the state since government now has to look for money to pay their six months unearned arrears!! This, in my opinion, is an offence against the poor!!

Suggestions

I have a few suggestions to move the country out of extreme poverty. First is our universities, civil society organisations such as CDD, IEA, IFS, Imani Africa, and journalists like Bernard Avle, Kojo Akoto Boateng (of Citi), Evans Mensah (of Joy FM), Ghana has more than enough supply of brains to form a National Think Tank. Its task: a National Rescue Plan.

I have been expecting NDC’s Cassiel Ato Forson to have come out with guns blazing after Bank of Ghana’s denial of his widely publicised allegation that government, through the Bank, had printed GH¢22 billion in new currency notes.

It would be alarmist if he is unable to substantiate.

Here’s my suggestion to end extreme hunger and stop importation of food crops. With large swathes upon swathes of fertile land, why don’t we mobilise the hundreds of thousands of jobless Senior High School (SHS) and university graduates to farm?

For a start, they will cultivate only food crops. We shall feed them three times a day and give them a little out-of-pocket for three months after which, with their first harvest, they will be on their own. Something akin to YouStart, but for the agricultural sector.

These are not Kwame Nkrumah state farms and they have nothing to do with socialism or communism. And what even if it were called communism? We are hungry.

The writer is Executive Director, Centre for Communication and Culture. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.