Today is Budget Day. It is that day in the year when the Minister of Finance appears in Parliament House in his best acquired western suit to tell the long-suffering people of this nation how much is in the kitty, and how it intends to spend it.
Someone should help. The tired old brain seems not to remember. When in the political evolution of this nation-state did the Minister of Finance brief the august House on fiscal policies wearing anything other than a suit? Is it because the rendition of the budget statement is a Western concept?
I am looking forward to the day when it would be possible for the Minister of Finance to mount the rostrum at Parliament House in his gorgeous Bonwire Kente to tell us how we have done economically, and how the government was going to use our resources in the next 12 months.
In nine out of ten cases, Budgets Days are very stressful times for the ordinary people of this land of our birth. It is the day he and she are told how much, by way of taxes, would be squeezed out of his meager remuneration, if there is any at all.
I was looking through the Longman’s Dictionary of Contemporary English the other day, and was intrigued by the number of definitions available for the same word. For the expectation of what is expected in Parliament House in Accra in the mid-morning today, Budget is described as the official statement that a government makes about how much it intends to spend, and what taxes would be necessary.
Like everything Ghanaian, the Budget provokes different sentiments in the political divide. Expect every word from Dr. Kwabena Dufuor this morning to be greeted with ‘yeah…yeah’ the usual expression of divide from the Majority side.
Even before members of the other half get to know the full text, the Minority members of the House would have raised a banner describing the budget as inimical to the forward march of this nation.
Last time round, the Minority found the expression in one word, ‘SAKAWA’. I bet the placards are ready for the description of today’s budget, even though members of the Minority side have no idea about what the Finance Minister is going to say. I was raking through the old and tired brain, and hit on a brilliant idea.
I have the inclination that Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu would lead his charge to shout in unison. A-M-I-NA BUDGET. Poor young woman Amina Mohammed is standing charged with causing fear and panic. According to the police, by stating that on a Tema-based radio station that a Bolgatanga-bound bus was hijacked by robbers on the highway, and male passengers ordered at gun-point to rape the women in their company, she was spreading fear and panic in the whole nation.
As you read this piece, many Ghanaians have no brief on the follow-up account by the police on the robbery aspect of the story. It is the fear and panic aspect that has turned the story into a crime thriller. Take it from me, there would be more fear and panic generated by the contents of the budget, than anybody ever felt by Amina’s narration.
No budget in this land of our birth, as far as I can remember, has ever brought relief to the long-suffering people at the centre of the earth. In all cases, budgets require the ordinary person to tighten his belt. We have tightened to such extent that there are no more holes left. Many holes have been created by the knuckles trying to find their own level. Budgets in Ghana tend to follow-the-pattern of mirages and self-beliefs, than directing the nation towards a positive growth path. I afraid not much is expected from the House. By the time the Finance Minister finishes reading the prepared document in the afternoon, there could be despondence all over the place. Snippets of information coming out of the Finance Ministry seem to suggest that there would be more of the make-beliefs and propaganda items underpinning the state economy in recent times.
The last time we encountered the Government Statistician, Dr. Grace Bediako, she was hailing the new economic miracle. From her narration, Ghana is now about a fortnight old as a Middle Income nation. It looked all along a great achievement until one naughty nephew reminded me that he and his entire household had not been captured in the 2010 Population Census.
I thought he was in his usual mischief making mood until I made a number of enquiries and realized that the 2010 Population Census is fast becoming a failure. Quite a significant number of our people have still not been counted. No one knows whether or not, the two-week exercise is still ongoing. The plain truth is that the Government Statistician has not been able to count all of us. If they cannot even count the people, what is the guarantee that the new economic miracle actually, reflects the true situation on the ground?
The answer is simple. Economic indicators are supposed to gauge the well-being of the people. For instance, if a family could previously afford one meal a day, has the same family been able to make it two or three in a day? I am not an expert in economics. I cannot claim to know much about all the indicators rattled in the roof-top advertisement of a ‘Better Ghana’. But I know the size of kenkey, and how it could kill hunger. If the size increases or drops for the same asking price, I can tell you a thing or two about how the economy is doing. I bet my last pesewa that the improvement bandied about has not trickled down to the people.
When the people of Otuam, the President’s birthplace, have no potable water, two years into Prof. John Evans Atta-Mills’ administration, the ‘Adze Wo Fie A Oye’ slogan has not been of much benefit.
From the preview of the Budget Statement published in state-run Daily Graphic the other day, one gets the impression that emphasis on the new fiscal policy is likely to be placed more on expanding the frontiers of the magic that took Ghana into a Middle Income status less than a decade after declaring HIPC, than real activities to ensure that people of this nation could feed themselves.
I was trying to work out how a social democratic political party got to be more concerned about figures in the books than the welfare of the people, when I came to the realisation that the Deputy Minister of Finance, who is busily trying to couch out a new definition for mortgaging our oil reserves against huge loans on the contractual list of this administration, was a lead player in constructing images.
Fifi Kwetey, (I am told by Ewe traditionalists that the name appears to have its origins from outside the borders of this nation) was the Propaganda Secretary of the National Democratic Congress when the party was in opposition.
By the time Dr. Kwabena Duffour finished with his presentation, many are the Ghanaians whose level of belief in the new Middle Income status would have sunk lower.
As a reminder, I would like to state that from time immemorial, every budget in this land of our birth has captured the re-construction of the Essuehyia-Ajumako road in the Central Region. The only thing worth reporting about that road is that it has developed larger potholes.
When Amina was incarcerated in police cells for a period longer than the 48 hours stipulated in our statute books, she was processed for court and charged with causing fear and panic. There is likely to be more fear and panic in the body politic arising out of this afternoon’s budget statement, than Amina ever caused. Welcome to Ghana, where truth is still on holiday!