Special Report by Emmanuel Akli

Dr. Kwabena Duffour, Finance Minister

The Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Dr. Kwabena Duffuor, will this morning present the 2011 budget statement to Parliament. It is supposed to deal primarily, with oil revenue.

The presentation would be third in the series after the National Democratic Congress (NDC) took over the reins of government in 2008. The Finance Minister is expected to address pertinent issues confronting the economy, which, according to the Ghana Statistical Service, has now attained lower middle income status, with a Gross Domestic Product of GH¢44 billion.

Dr. Duffour, who once served as Governor of the Bank of Ghana, has no doubt chalked successes when he was handed the post in 2008 by President John Evans Atta-Mills.

According to official figures, he has successfully brought down inflation, which was hovering around 20.7% in 2008, to the current lowest level of 9.38%, the third conservative month that inflation has recorded a single digit.

He also managed to release GH¢450 million for the part-payment of the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) debt early this year. The long awaited Single Spine Salary Structure (SPSS) has also been operationalised. He has also been commended by his boss, President Mills, for leading his ‘Better Ghana’ agenda campaign.

But, whether Dr. Duffour can sustain this development, and build upon it, will be known this morning, as there are no figures so far, to show that last year’s projections in the budget have been met or not.

The Finance Minister projected in last year’s budget that rice consumption would hit 830,000 metric tonnes, with 30% of the figure being produced locally to save more foreign exchange for the country.

The said budget also promised to eliminate all government-assisted Primary and Junior High schools where classes are held under trees. Though the project did start during the year under review, no official figures regarding coverage has been released.

There is also a general perception about the rise in the cost of living in the country, though inflation continues to fall in the books of the Government Statistician. Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies are complaining that the Common Fund is in arrears for several months, which has stifled development at the local level.

Connoisseurs are, therefore, expecting a budget that would address all these issues, and set the economy on the path of growth, especially now that the country is going to begin the production of oil.

Mr. Fifi Kwetey, Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, would not like to prejudice what his boss would be reading today, and diplomatically declined to comment when The Chronicle contacted him.

But, he had previously told this reporter that much revenue was not expected from oil as was being envisaged. According to him, the much projected $1 billion revenue would only become a reality when the daily production of crude oil hits 120,000 barrels per day.

A renowned economist, Mr. Esilfie Adjaye, also declined to comment for now, insisting that he would like to read first what is contained in the budget, before making any public comments on it.

Dr. Owusu Afriyie Akoto, Minority Spokesman on Agriculture, though not disputing the reduction in inflation, does not however, think the government can sustain it.

According to him, the government is expected to meet most of her statutory payments such as the release of the Common Fund and payments to contractors. Figures posted on the Citi FM website indicate that the government has to service road arrears of GH¢200 million, non-road arrears of GH¢2.6 billion, Energy Projects costing over GH¢740 million and Promissory Notes for crude oil imports worth GH¢417 million as at October 2010.

This, Dr. Owusu Afriyie noted, meant that more money was going to be pumped into the economy next year, which would make the sustenance of the current inflation figures very difficult.

Meanwhile, Michael Boateng reports from Sunyani that most of the residents interviewed, expect a budget that would improve upon their standard of living, with much emphasis on      agriculture, especially, cocoa and food production.

Nana Yaw Owusu Nkwatabisa, a vegetable grower at Dumasua in the Sunyani West District, indicated that the government was doing its best in the cocoa sector, but it was still not enough.

But, added however, that the over-concentration on cocoa would spell doom for the country.
According to him, the middle income status gained by Ghana could be sustained, only if the 2011 budget statement focuses on investing in food preservation and proper storage, as well as subsidies to food crop farmers.

Nana Owusu Nkwatabisa noted that assisting food crop farmers to enter into mechanised farming would assist in job creation, and increase the size of food produce in the country for the GDP to increase.

“We are tired of using cutlasses and hoes; it is time agricultural equipment are made affordable for farmers for increased productivity.”

Nana Kyei Adoma Samuel, a radio presenter, was of the view that duties on the importation of cars and other motor vehicles should be reduced for people to import modern environmentally friendly and more safety-conscious cars into the country, to reduce accidents and its related fatalities on the roads.

Mr. Albert Addae, a teacher at Wamanafo in the Dormaa East District, expects the budget statement to focus on the rehabilitation of roads, to ensure the easy passage of farm produce to the marketing centres.

“It is quite difficult to admit that Ghana is now a middle income nation, when you visit some schools in districts such as Sene, where I had my teaching practice, where people still school under trees, and school children walk miles to school,” he said.

A local restaurant operator, Madam Martha Addae-Boatemaa, hoped that the budget statement would bring economic relief to Ghanaians, because patronage of her eating place had gone down.

“It’s my hope this time, the budget statement will work to the expectation of Ghanaians who have been crying over economic hardships,” Madam Addae-Boatemaa said.

Nana Kwadwo Poku, a business consultant, on his part, said security must be given priority in the 2011 budget statement, because Ghana was currently becoming notorious for highway armed robbery, murder and jail breaks, which, when not curbed, would prevent prospective investors from coming into Ghana.

“We should not also forget about the private sector; it is my hope that the private sector would be given the needed attention in this budget statement, and shouldn’t be just a lip service, but practical and real,” said Nana Kwadwo Poku.

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