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General News Mon, 31 Jul 2006

Baah Wiredu challenges CJA

The Minister for Finance and Economic Planning has challenged fuel price protestors to come up with solid alternatives to the taxes they oppose. “People can’t just make sweeping statements without backing them up with properly calculated alternatives,” Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu told The Statesman last night.

Government currently relies on the ¢4.1 trillion it makes in fuel taxation to finance the Capitation Grant and School Feeding Programme, amongst other things. All those opposing the various levies must therefore do the maths to show how this money will be found elsewhere; but “Where are their calculations?” the Minister for Finance & Economic Planning would like to know. Mr Baah-Wiredu was interviewed in response to a press conference organised by the Committee for Joint Action – the National Democratic Congress-led group set up to oppose fuel price and fuel tax increments, which held a series of Wahala demonstrations last year and yesterday renewed its call for a reduction in taxation on fuel prices.

Last Wednesday, the cost of fuel in Ghana went up for the third time since January; meaning a 32.6 percent increase in petrol prices in the last seven months, a 32.4 percent increase in diesel prices, and a 57.4 percent increase in the price of kerosene.

“It is interesting that every time the price of crude oil has gone up, the Government has hurriedly increased the price of petroleum products and related taxes,” the Committee noted, in a statement read by Emelia Arthur, a CJA member, on behalf of the group.

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Ato Ahwoi, a leading member of both CJA and the NDC, told assembled journalists that Government is not just hostage to world oil prices, he said, but is also inflicting additional costs on fuel users by increasing the tax burden. Around 40 percent of the price paid for fuel in this country now goes in various forms of taxation. As the world price of oil has increased, Government ought to cut the levels of taxation attached to fuel in Ghana, to compensate for the rising prices and give some respite to struggling citizens, Mr Ahwoi and the CJA suggest.

Specific suggestions include a reduction in the ad valorum tax charged on petroleum products to around 2 percent. However, CJA has yet to officially publish any figures outlining their exact proposals and the mathematics behind them, a concerned Mr Baah-Wiredu sought to emphasise. “What will their yield be? The bottom line is that whatever their alternatives, the money raised needs to at least equal the ¢4.1 trillion currently raised from fuel tax,” he said – an amount clearly accounted for in the 2006 Budget. The CJA, meanwhile, went on to attack Government’s taxation policies and spending priorities, declaring: “Government’s excuses are contrived and fraudulent.” One allegation caused a particular stir. “The same government that claims that it cannot reduce taxes on petroleum products has in the last 12 months or so, forced citizens to subsidise electricity supplies to VALCO to the tune of more than ¢1,425 billion,” according to the CJA. Mr Baah-Wiredu said he was unable to comment specifically about the claim. “I would question where they got their facts,” he said. “But we presented our figures in the Budget – and now they should present theirs.” The CJA’s course of action in the past has been far removed from negotiation and reasoning, however; and another round of Wahala protests could soon be on their way. “All over the country, the agitation is growing,” according to Kwesi Pratt, a leading member of the Committee for Joint Action who chaired yesterday’s meeting, and Managing Editor of The Insight. Johnson Asiedu-Nketia, General Secretary of the NDC, was also amongst the panel of leading CJA members at yesterday’s meeting. “The NPP government has taken another large step down its reckless path towards confrontation with the masses with very dangerous consequences for national security,” the CJA statement warned. Street demonstrations may not be immediate, however: “What we do now will largely depend on the responses of different sections of the Ghanaian community,” said Mr Pratt, in response to a question asked by this reporter about the possibility of more street demonstrations. “We are observing this – and at the appropriate time we will make the appropriate statements.” Although predominantly interested in fuel price increases in Ghana and the, they say disproportionate, increments in fuel tax, the CJA was also vocal in its opposition to the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, intended to give Ghanaians living outside the country the right to vote.

In February of this year, the opposition NDC tried to mobilise people from various towns across the country to oppose the Bill, but the protests were only partially successful in Accra. The Bill was passed on March 1. The CJA had been instrumental in stirring up the protest marches, and went on to organise a string of poorly-attended demonstrations following fuel price increases in May.

Source: Statesman
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