With a stunted economic growth, suffocating debt burden, frustrating power paralysis, a seemingly over taxed citizens and a largely unemployed youth, the Nana Akufo-Addo government has promised to use what it says is the five loaves of bread and two fishes it found in a challenged economy to feed the 25 million Ghanaians.
Borrowing from the biblical fable of how Jesus Christ fed some 5000 hungry followers 2000 years ago, Finance Minister Ken Ofori Atta told 275 Members of Parliament and 25 million others who listened and watched the budget statement that the new government will use the little it found to feed all Ghanaians.
It was largely a budget of expectation. Everything, every hope, every promise made by this government hinged on this budget. The four-year-old power paralysis, christened as dumsor, the free SHS mantra and even including the strategy to deal with the recent Bimbilla crisis were to be solved with the budget if the confessions of Nana Akomea, the Director of Communications of the NPP was anything to go by.
The task imposed on the Finance Minister appeared herculean. He walked into Parliament, all white; wore a subtle smile in a calm demeanour, and with a motor mouth, quite unusual of a man who thought about every word before he lets it out, presented a comprehensive budget statement in a little under three hours.
The statement touched on everything economy-debts, taxes, revenue and expenditure. Orphan sectors like Youth and Sports and Creative Arts which did not find space and expression in the state of the nation address delivered by the president were given pride of place in the budget even if for a second and in a sentence.
The minister drove through the facts and figures of the economy in a seemingly non-partisan way but was caught in some contradiction with the level of debt to GDP ratio provided by the president during the state of the nation address. The president gave a debt to GDP ratio of 74% but the Finance Minister in his budget presentation reduced it by one percentage point in nine days, something the Minority Leader Haruna Iddrisu was quick to refer to in his commentary after the budget presentation.
According to the minister, Ghana’s debt stood at 122.3 billion cedis in 2016. About 42% of the revenue generated was used in paying interest on loans. The total amount of interest payment stood at 10.3 billion cedis which is over five times the revenue given to six ministries combined. The six ministries, including Youth and Sports, Water Resources Works and Housing, Roads receive only 2.2 billion cedis in the 2016 budget.
With a subdued growth rate of 3.6% without oil and an interest rate of 26% and an inflation of 15.4% all in the 2016 financial year, the new government is promising a reverse growth rate of the figures in 2016, from 3.6% to 6.3% in 2017. It is also looking at an inflation of 12% at the end of 2017.
From the macro-economics, the minister touched on the election-winning promises of tax abolition, one-village-one-dam, one-constituency-one million-dollars, one-district-one-factory, zongo development, and the famous free SHS, reiterating the government’s commitment to draw resources out of the rocks to fund each one of them. Ofori Atta promised tax freedom to head porters popularly called ‘kayayei’ and to spare parts dealers at Abossey Okai. In all eight taxes will be abolished; and four reduced, something the NDC described as robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Those promises drew boos and chants from the MPs. Placards of 419 were hoisted as the Speaker sang his order chorus and struck his gavel endlessly in a hopeless threat to end the sitting if the heckling did not stop. It did not!
Then came the fight against corruption and the promise to restore integrity, a commodity that was in short supply and which the previous government had to borrow from the IMF.
Ken Ofori Atta said corruption will be moved from a misdemeanor to a felony with a gawking eyes of a yet to be named Independent Prosecutor General.
To end a well delivered presentation which looked exciting on paper but uphill to accomplish, the Minister rallied support from the minority, quoting a 1979 drama in Parliament in which his father Dr Jones Ofori Atta, then in opposition together with Dr GK Agama, successfully got the house to amend a motion to save the country in crisis at the time.
“We do have a crisis, we do have a challenge I call on you minority join us in this great example of the third republic to save this country from the current crisis,” he said.