Business News of Thu, 16 Mar 201717

Parliament approves 2017 budget after fierce Majority, Minority debate

Parliament on Wednesday approved the budget statement and economic policy for the 2017 financial year after six days of fierce debate on it between the Majority and Minority sides.

The budget which was the first one for the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government since assuming power on January 7, 3017, was presented to Parliament by the Minister of Finance, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta on March 2, 2017.

During the debate, the Majority Members of Parliament (MPS) defended the budget while the Minority MPs criticised it for ignoring essential sectors.

The Majority described the budget as a goodwill message that would grow the economy, lower the cost of doing business, support the growth of local businesses and create jobs.

The Majority touted the decision to remove and reduce some taxes, saying the move would encourage the growth of local businesses and consequently drive economic growth.

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But the Minority described the budget as a deception and devoid of actionable measures and policies to achieve the set targets.

The Minority argued that the removal of import duties would open the floodgates for the importation of more goods that would offer unfair competition to locally manufactured goods and consequently lead to the collapse of business.

Final debate Today's (Wednesday) final debate saw the leadership of the Majority and Minority sides disagreeing over the formula for allocating money to the District Assembly Common Fund (DACF).

The Minority Leader, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, referred to Article 252 of the Constitution, which requires of a government to allocate not less than five per cent of total revenue to the DACF. However, he said, the government's allocation to the DACF went far below the five per cent requirement.

Mr Iddrisu whose position was shared his deputy, Mr James Avedzi, said the NDC would not allow the 'unconstitutionality' to go on.

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"We will not sleep on our right. We will legitimately demand that what was constitutionally right was done. We insist that the constitution is respected and upheld to show respect to Article 252 of the Constitution," he said.

But the Majority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, and the Member of Parliament (MP) for Old Tafo and Minister for Monitoring and Evaluation, Dr Anthony Akoto Osei, dismissed the suggestion that the allocation to the DACF breached the constitution.

Dr Akoto Osei, who first raised the objection, said since 1993, successive governments had a way of operationalising that aspect of the constitution.

That, he said, was because it was difficult to legislate on what could not be predicted in terms of expenditure at the assemblies.

Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said the law did not restrict any government to the use of the ‘not less than five per cent’ of total revenue. He said the Article 252 was supposed to be applied subject to other provisions in the Constitution.

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Minister of Finance Giving his concluding remarks, Mr Ofori-Atta said he found some of the issues interesting and enriching. "The debates have been robust, revealing and very educational and illustrate to me the force of members on how the people feel," he said.

Mr Ofori-Atta said the government was optimistic that revenue projections in the budget were achievable notwithstanding the underperformance last year mainly as a result of reduction of income and property tax revenue and non realisation of proceeds from non-tax categories.

He said with the broad spectrum of policies that the government intended to implement, including blocking the leakages in revenue administration as well as ensuring compliance, "we should be able to achieve the targets in 2017."

Mr Ofori-Attta affirmed the government's commitment to upholding the constitutional provisions regarding the statutory funds, and indicated that government would ensure that adequate allocations were made to these funds.

He said the government would take deliberate and strategic steps to fundamentally change the structure of the economy bequeathed to the country 60 years ago.

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"We look to restore and sustain macro-economic stability, provide the environment for the private sector to grow and thrive, improve public services, tackle corruption, and support small businesses.

"We have clear stimulus for agriculture and industry and to create the most friendly business environment for both domestic and external investors", he said.

Mr Ofori-Atta said the principal philosophy of the NPP was a firm belief in the entrepreneurial genius of Ghanaians to respond to opportunities to become more productive. He said the government wanted a full grown economy to create jobs instead of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme that they had inherited.

"Our aim is to restore hope, steer the country onto a sustainable and inclusive growth path. We believe that with the help of Almighty God, we can deliver on all these thought out programmes and policies and build a business friendly and prosperous economy", he said.

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