By Maxwell Ofori
There is a usual convention in the Chamber where Parliamentarians are allowed to debate on Committee reports before they are adopted. During these times, members of both sides of the political divide speak passionately in relation to the content of the report.
However, there exists another practice where usually members on the Minority side, who belong to a particular committee, spew venom on the same committee’s report on the Plenary, as if they were not part of the process, a development which paints a picture that their views were not sought at the Committee level.
On the floor of Parliament yesterday, the first Deputy Speaker, Joseph Osei Owusu, was compelled to chastise the Member of Parliament (MP) for Ho Central, Benjamin Kpodo, to spare the House his “ranting.”
The MP, who is a member of the Finance Committee, was debating on his committee’s report on a request for a tax waiver for a local company, as part of the government’s One District, One Factory (1D1F) policy.
The waiver, amounting to US$222, 151, equivalent to GH¢1,144,723, was for equipment to be procured by Yedent Agro Bulk Processing Company Limited. The request was for the waiver of import duties, import Value Added Tax (VAT), Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) Levy, Import National Health Insurance Levy (NHIL), EXIM Levy, and other imports.
In his submission, the MP expressed displeasure over the granting of exemption to Yedent Agro Processing Company Limited under the 1D1F, though the company had existed since 2011, before he even entered Parliament, he said.
“The company was established in 2011. So, I want to find out whether it is 1D1F, as conceived by the government. Because, this company existed long before the idea of 1D1F even came up. So, I don’t know whether we are given that promise to the people of Ghana, because they (government) [are] just recycling this particular one; we are just bringing an old company which existed 2011, before I even entered Parliament; before I even heard that there was something going to be 1D1F, so this company cannot be classified under 1D1F…
“So, to me, I do not think this company should be considered based on our approval at the last consideration of the request, because it does not qualify; because it is not a new factory…,” he posited.
The MP continued that if the government intends to encourage factories to be established in every district, it should be new ones, considering the promise of the ruling New Patriotic Party ahead of the 2016 elections.
But, Joseph Osei Owusu, who is the MP for Bekwai, but was at that moment sitting in as the Speaker, had to draw the attention of the member to the fact that since the Committee, of which the member is part, had verified that the company was eligible, he could not come to the Plenary to say something different.
The Speaker interjected the member’s submission saying, “Hon., you were before the Committee,” the MP, who thought the Speaker was asking him a question, answered in the affirmative.
The Speaker then added: “You are part of the Committee that brought this report to us. If you have any objections with the company, it should have been contained in the report. So, once your report has verified and confirmed that that company is eligible, please spare us your ranting. Those ones you can do it outside, but please stick to the report,” Joe Wise silenced Kpodo.
Meanwhile, when the latter was given the opportunity by the Speaker to conclude his submission, he stated: “Mr Speaker, I think that I am only debating this particular issue. And at the Committee level, I think that we all in this House know what happens at committee meetings. When the Chairman says that he is not going to allow something to enter the report, it will never see the day’s light. That is what has been happening. So, when we come here, we are free. We can vent out opinions.”
Also commenting on the issue, the MP for Ellembelle, Emmanuel Armah Kofi Buah, asked the government, through a Deputy Finance Minister, whether the objective of the famous 1D1F had changed.
He advised the government to be careful not to waste money on companies “that have been mismanaged,” in its quest to reviving collapsed or collapsing companies, as part of the programme, adding, “that was not the objective of 1D1F.”
He also noted that the objectives of companies the government wants to bring under the 1D1F should conform with that of the government.
According to the MP for Yapei Kusawgu, John Jinapor, who shared the same view as his other colleagues – that government was to establish new factories to support existing ones – also said that the government was only bringing the former President’s legacies under the 1D1F.
Responding to the issues raised, a deputy Finance Minister, Kwaku Kwarteng, disagreed with him, noting that the government should establish new factories and not to support old ones.
He stated that the government’s strategy, by way of supporting existing companies, was for it to expand and create more jobs, which will translate into paying more tax on the profits.
He told the Minority not to confuse “a strategy to expand and gain more revenue with the suggestion that somehow if we didn’t collect taxes from these companies that need help, we will rather be working against revenue…”
Having monitored the submissions by the Minority, the Deputy Finance Minister, who indicated that his colleagues on the other side seemed not to understand the policy, attempted explaining again.
“Mr Speaker, 1D1F is a government initiative that seeks to ensure that industrialisation is evenly spread as possible across the entire country. And to do that, we need to do two things. Not only should we help new companies and new industrial activities to rise up in every corner of the country, we should also take steps to support existing industrial activities that need help, and that is what we are seeking to do by this [waiver].
“So, the suggestion that this company has existed and, therefore, we should not consider them under the initiative is to misunderstand the policy…,” he schooled his colleagues.
The Committee’s report captured that “Yedent Company Limited applied for government support in the area of tax waiver under the 1D1F programme to enable it procure a new processing plant with diversified capabilities, and to significantly enhance its operations.”
The House adopted the report at the end of the debate, granting the tax waiver request.