A Budget without Hope

In Nineteen Eighty-One (1981), Mr. Kwaku Baah, Leader of the opposition Popular Front Party (PFP), forerunner of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), arrived on the floor of Parliament House for a debate on the Government of the People’s National Party (PNP) of ex-President Hilla Limann’s Budget proposal, with a ball of kenkey tucked in his briefcase.

When he opened the case, removed the popular food item from its hiding place, and thrust it forward as the debate on the Budget proposal had reached a crescendo, it got both sides of the political divide laughing their lungs out. What followed the period of hilarious expression was serious for the political evolution of this nation.

With his moustache rising up and down to indicate the seriousness of his action, Mr. Baah told the House that the bad fiscal policies of government had so negatively affected the cost of every item in the land that even kenkey, the average Ghanaian’s main diet, had shrunk in size.

He succeeded in whipping up sentiments in the House against the budget, by declaring it inimical to the advancement of society. He told his fellow Members of Parliament that their constituents would revolt against their continued representation in the House, if they approved the proposal for more taxes to be heaped on the people.  The government lost the vote. The budget had to be withdrawn and re-packaged for another presentation.

The debate that followed the re-presentation of the budget created a scene that would take some doing to upstage in contemporary Ghanaian politics. With another defeat staring the party in the face, the PNP cracked the whip, and summoned every member to the House to ensure that their majority could defeat the machinations of the opposition. It came to pass that Mr. Rockson, Member of Parliament (MP) for Ekumfi (now Mfantseman East) incidentally the home constituency of current Head of State, Prof. John Evans Atta-Mills, was on admission at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital.

When votes were needed, even the sick could not be spared. Mr. Rockson was rushed to the State House in an ambulance, and ferried to the floor on a stretcher. The government of the day managed to sail through on a slim majority, but the popularity of Mr. Kwaku Baah soared. People from all walks of life referred to the Honourable Leader of the Opposition as ‘Kenkey MP.’

Today, Mr. Baah is no more in the House. He does not seek protection any more under the elephant. He has now switched camp to the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Since Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Dr. Kwabena Duffuor read the controversial 2011 Budget proposal of taxes and more taxes on the poor people of this nation, nothing has been heard from the one-time ‘kenkey’ politician. It would be a rich contribution to the evolution of this society, if Mr. Kwaku Baah would comment on the spiralling cost of doing business with kenkey sellers, under the new administration of the Ekumfi-born former tax-man.

One contributor to Ghanaweb wrote of the new budget. “There is absolutely nothing in this budget to lead to economic growth. No clear policy and no sense of direction.” Another described it as a ‘konkonte’ budget. “Which sane person,” he quizzed, “can envisage consumer demand to spur economic growth under a tax-hike regime?”

The opinion on the street appears to be even stronger. One middle-aged man at Odorkor, a suburb of Accra, said the budget proposal had exposed the NDC regime as a government of people who appear not to have prepared for the governance of this nation. “They came unprepared, and are just on a trial and error trip with this nation. I hope 2012 is here. We have to get rid of them to get our nation back. They have hijacked state resources, and keep taxing the ordinary people to fund their lifestyles,” complained Kwame Antwi, playing draughts with a friend.

I have tried unsuccessfully, ever since Dr. Duffuor ended reading the statement on Thursday, to understand the rationale for piling more taxes on the already hard-up people of this nation. I am also at a loss to understand why the government has virtually abandoned the construction of portions of key road networks like the Achimota-Ofankor, Nsawam-Apedwa and the Nsawam by-pass on the Accra-Kumasi highway, undoubtedly the busiest stretch of road network in the country. There is clear indication too that this administration is not interested in completing the Tetteh Quarshie-Adenta stretch of the Accra-Aburi Highway.

There are no provisions for completing these key projects. Rather, Dr. Duffuor told the nation that the Government of Prof. Atta Mills was going to consider appealing to financial institutions to partner it in completing these projects. No proposal has ever been made into what it takes to complete these projects, which are key to the development of this nation. And they say they are propelling a Middle Income Nation.

The achievements in the proposals Dr. Duffuor read out, could be best described as make-beliefs. The Finance Minister talked about government having ended classes under trees. I do not believe anybody needs to travel far to see for herself or himself. Right here in the national capital, both basic and second cycle institutions are holding classes under trees. First year students of the Nungua Secondary School, Teshie Presbyterian and quite a few others in the second cycle, I am told, receive tuition exposed to the weather.

Not too long ago, when the elephant roamed the Castle, it was said, through a similar budget proposal, that Ghana was weaning itself off international support for our fiscal policy formulation. In Dr. Duffuor’s presentation, he made a similar pledge.

“The key strategy of the new financing plan includes reducing concessional borrowing, and monitoring the external debt indicators in relation to the sustainable threshold.”

This is an administration that has announced that it is borrowing more than 20bn United States dollars from China, the new Godfather of the nation’s development. For further contradictions, refer to the Minister’s own fiscal policies of 2011. The budget proposal Dr. Duffuor read would be short of funding, and that the shortfall was to be paid for by the government and external creditors on virtually a 50-50 basis.

Read the lips of the Finance Minister: “The 2011 Budget will result in overall cash budget deficit of GH¢2.3 billion, equivalent to 7.5 per cent of GDP. Net Domestic financing of the Budget is estimated at GH¢1.2 billion, and foreign financing is GH¢1.1 billion.” It has been always difficult to believe in this administration, two years down the line!

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