The Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, on the authority of the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, and in accordance with Article 179 of the 1992 constitution March 2 presented the government's maiden budget to parliament. The presentation came at a time when the country finds itself between a rock and a hard place, underpinned by an economy that is highly challenged in almost every sector. The fast depreciation of the cedi, high interest rates, budget deficit, increasing debts and unemployment are just but a few pointers of the state of the Ghanaian economy. The NPP while in opposition capitalised on these challenges which featured prominently in its 2016 campaign. The Vice President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia then the NPP's running mate, incessantly attacked the John Mahama administration of mismanaging the economy, and tagged the NDC government as incompetent. The NPP in turn, made a number of mouthwatering promises to turn round the fortunes of the economy. It is not surprising that during the presentation of the budget, the nation stood still with people glued to their radio and television channels to hear key policy measures in President Akufo-Addo's maiden budget statement vis-a-vis the campaign promises.
High on the minds of many Ghanaians were issues regarding the free Senior High School, One District One factory, One village one dam, One constituency one million dollars, reduction in utility and fuel tariffs, and what will be done to the so-called nuisances taxes as well as the restoration of the teachers and nurses trainee allowances. The previous NDC administration was heavily criticised for imposing harsh taxes on Ghanaians as a measure to raise revenue for government business. At a point, taxes were imposed on condoms, machetes, imported raw materials, among others. True to its promises, the Finance Minister announced juicy stimulus packages for businesses.
Reference can be made to the removal of taxes in the banking sector, on spare parts, and that imposed by local authorities on head porters, popularly known as ‘kayayei.’ The Minister also announced the implementation of the free SHS policy and the restoration of the trainee allowances. The budget indeed contains pieces of good news. No wonder the minister christened it ‘Asempa’ budget. However, the budget leaves a number of questions unanswered. For instance, the budget did not provide the number of people who are expected to benefit from the free SHS policy, except to say it is for only first year students.
With the introduction of the policy, there is a likelihood of an increase in the enrolment figures, which will lead to pressure on the existing facilities. There will therefore be the need for an expansion in the existing facilities and or putting up of new ones. Unfortunately, all the GH¢400 million earmarked for the implementation of the policy is going into goods and services. This cast doubts over the infrastructure component of the policy. What then happens to the Community Day Senior High schools project of the previous administration?
Another issue has to do with the restoration of the nurses' trainee allowance, which is estimated at GH¢149 million. The budget is silent on the number of nurses who will receive the allowance or the amount per student per month. The same can be said of the teacher trainee allowances. The government must come clear on whether or not it intends to reintroduce the quota system in the Colleges of Education and the nursing schools.
Again, it is not clear the rationale for abolishing of certain taxes is not clear. For instance, the so-called kayayei tax. One wonders if it is meant to encourage more girls onto the street as head porters. One would have thought that the government will pursue the policy of the previous administration, in helping these girls to acquire certain vocational skills, as a means of getting them off the streets. Despite the rowdyism displayed by members of the house, one thing that cannot be taken away from the presentation was the eloquent manner in which the minister delivered his statement. But here again, the performance of a budget is not determined by the manner of presentation but rather it’s out turn.
It is the expectation of Ghanaians that this budget will translate into concrete and demonstrable results which will be felt in the pocket of all citizens.
BY BUBU KLINOGO, A JOURNALIST.