Parliament debates 2013 budget

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

Debate on the Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the government presented to Parliament last week begun Tuesday.

Even before the debate begun, the two sides engaged in a battle as to whether the budget needed to be seconded or not by referring to Standing Order 81 and 143 (2) of the House but in the end the Speaker ruled that the Majority side should second the motion by the Minister of Finance, Mr Seth Terkper, for the approval of the budget.

Seconding the motion, the Chairman of the Finance Committee of Parliament and MP for Ketu North, Mr James Klutse Avedzi, said Ghana had been able to achieve microeconomic stability on the basis of strong will and the stable local currency.

He said the 7.1 per cent economic growth achieved in 2012 should be considered alongside the average sub-Saharan Africa rate of 4 per cent within the same period to appreciate the fact that the country did well.

Mr Avedzi argued that a cursory look at previous budgets indicated that the country had been experiencing budget deficits over the years.

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He said Ghana could avoid the perennial deficits either by increasing its taxes to meet its expenditure or reduce the size of its expenditure by stopping some of its development projects and programmes.

Mr Avedzi said the government should be praised for working hard to achieve three years continuous single digit inflation, adding that the feat was not achieved on a silver platter.

Responding, the Minority Spokesperson on Finance and MP for Old Tafo, Dr Anthony Akoto Osei, said it was unfortunate that the government was praising itself after recording a whopping GHC8.7 billion deficit in 2012.

He said it was not good that after Parliament passed the Appropriation Bill, the government would violate the law and spend far above what had bed approved by the House.

He mentioned the Ministries of the Interior, Health, Roads and Highways, Youth and Sports, among others, as those which spent far more than what was approved, singling out the Office of the President for spending over GHC 600 million above their approved budget.

 "Mr Speaker, this is serious. If we consider Parliament as the holder of the country's purse, then we should do something about this phenomenon", he said, warning that tough times laid ahead.

He called on Parliament to properly exercise its oversight responsibility and ensure prudent spending by the ministries,department and agencies toavoid the recurrence of such deficits.

When he caught the eye of the Speaker, Mr Edward Doe Adjaho, Mr Gabriel Kwodwo Essilfie acknowledged the fact that the country had overspent what was approved by Parliament over the years.

He said what Ghana needed to do was to raise more taxes and be disciplined in its fiscal management.

He called for increment in the current property taxes in order to get more revenue to support our numerous projects and programmes.

"Let us support the Finance Minister to bring about tax reforms to enable the country to get more revenue since that  is the only way that we can avoid such deficits".

The NPP MP for  New Juaben, Dr Mark Osei-Assibey, said it was unfortunate that the government was borrowing excessively and paying dubious judgement debts instead of concerning itself with the welfare of the people.

He said instead of thinking about how to solve the country's economic problems, it is praising itself for achieving single digit inflation even though on the ground interest rate are sky rocketing, and described the single digit inflation achievement as a hoax.

Dr Osei-Assibey called for the passage of a fiscal responsibility act to check reckless spending by governments.

Dr Osei-Assibey said within the last four years, the country's debt had increased from GHC 9.5 billion to GHC 33.5 billion, an increase of 248 per cent.

He said if in 2001 Ghana was considered a HIPC country when it had nine per cent deficit, then the country could be considered as having slipped back into HIPC with the current 12 per cent deficit.

A Minister of State at the Presidency and MP for Ketu South, Mr Fifi Kwetey, blamed the NPP government for the depreciation of the cedi, and explained that the problem started within the last six months of that administration.

He said even though the country was going through some challenges, other countries were still looking up to Ghana because of a number of its microeconomic achievements.  

Mr Kwetey called for a bi-partisan discussion on how taxes could be collected from the informal sector  since the country could no longer depend on the formal sector to finance its development programmes and projects.

Story by Emmanuel Adu-Gyamerah & Mark Anthony Vinorkor