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General News Tue, 24 Jul 2007

Second Batch of nominees appear before Vetting Committee

Accra, July 24, GNA -The biggest challenge facing Ghana's development would be to maintain the microeconomic discipline that government has adopted over the last six years.

This observation was made by Dr. Anthony Akoto-Osei, Minister of State at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning when the second batch of Presidential nominees appeared before the Parliamentary Vetting Committee on Tuesday.

Other nominees who appeared before the committee were Mr. Alhassan Samari, Regional Minister Designate for Upper East, Mr. Joe Baidoe-Ansah, Minister Designate for Trade, Industry, Private Sector Development and PSI, and Mr. George Hikah Beson, Upper West Minister Regional Minister Designate.

Dr. Akoto-Osei said the greatest constraint or risk facing the country in view of the current energy crisis must be looked at in the global contest, by keeping financial discipline over the years. "That is paramount. If we move away from the discipline over the last five years we would be in trouble", he emphasised. "We have to be particular with agriculture and ensure that we keep our hand on the micro and ensure that we grow at 8 per cent. We have not done it before and we need to be vigilant in ensuring that we do not slip. That is the challenge. But so far, we have done well having had the energy crisis last year and still keeping our figures right. "We have to accelerate in that direction and ensure that we are on track", he added.

Dr Akoto-Osei also mentioned the health sector as a key area, "since without health we would be unable to be productive and the figures must be kept religiously."

When asked by Mr Enoch Teye Mensah, NDC-Ningo Prampram about Ghana's relationship with the Bretton Woods Institutions on getting inflows in on time, Dr Akoto-Osei, said: "our relationship is a double edged sword."

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He said currently Ghana has no programme with the International Monetary Fund, "as it were in their own language, we have graduated." He said it was however, important to maintain a good relation in terms of economic performance since most international bilateral and multilateral bodies have ceded their assessment to the IMF.

"Ghana is however, continuing the poverty reduction support programme with the World Bank, and will continue to do that. Not likely to meet the fund again until after Ghana has gone to the bond market. "All they (Fund) have done now is to have had Article Four Consultations with the country. They come in, do a report and go back after their findings. We are however seeing whether we should go back into the Poverty Strategy Initiatives with the Fund," he said. He maintained that the Cedi has been stable against the major international currencies, noting that even though trading heavily in Euros, the much trading takes place in dollar terms and the cedi has been performing well against the dollar.

He said the problem of delays in release of funds for the District Assembly Common Fund and the National Health Insurance Scheme was not a deliberate effort by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, "but rather due to delays in the officials' response to applying to the Ministry of Finance for their monies."

He said there was no arrears, since the Ministry of Finance cannot, on its own, approve the money. It is Parliament which must approve it. "If Parliament has not approved the budget or the money we cannot pay it out. We must ensure that they are spending money on what they have been asked to do. There are procedures that must be followed." On the removal of the tax on imported poultry products, Dr Akoto-Osei said it was a decision the former Minister of Finance took within the purview of ECOWAS Protocols.

He noted that on the average incomes have been rising, especially when inflation has not been rising as high and frequently as before.

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On the 1000 dollar income target towards the attainment of middle income status, he admitted that, "it was not enough; but it is what we have set ourselves and working towards it."

Mr Alban Bagbin, Minority Leader argued that it was not right to say that at a 1000 dollar per capita income level, Ghana could be considered a middle income country, since Botswana had more than 3000 dollar per capita income and yet is not listed as middle income county.

On the Energy situation, Dr. Akoto-Osei said it was a bit challenging, "but we are on target, especially since we carried the crisis into this year and still met the targets.

"What we are worried about is the growth rate and evidence so far shows that our projections are on target," he explained stressing that, we are just in the middle of the year, by September we would be able to say if it has had any such effect on our projections."

Dr. Akoto-Osei said the Minister of Finance would be in the House on Wednesday to present a supplementary budget to Parliament in view of the energy situation, which was not actually factored into the budget presented in November last year. 24 July 07

Source: GNA