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General News Thu, 5 Feb 2004

Why are you so down after the good news? - Senior Minister asks Minority

Accra, Feb. 5, GNA - Senior Minister, Mr Joseph Henry Mensah on Thursday called the attention of the Speaker of Parliament as though wanting to second the Finance Minister's motion, but rather asked the Minority: "Why are our colleagues on the other side of the House so down when there is a lot of good news in the budget?"

The Senior Minister asked the question after the Minister of Finance, Yaw Osafo Maafo had finished reading the 2004 Budget.

The question attracted a thunderous and long laughter from both sides of the House. He did not stop there, he went ahead to say: "I think they should be rejoicing because they also stand to benefit from the policy initiatives contained in the budget."

At this point, almost all the members on the Minority side, who apparently were quiet, stood up to catch the Speaker's eye for an opportunity to respond.

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The Speaker instead granted the opportunity to the Majority Leader, Mr Felix Owusu-Adjapong, who seconded the Finance Minister's motion and asked for an adjournment of the House to allow members time to reflect on the Budget, saying: "Already we can see from the mood of the Minority members that they want to reflect on the Budget."

The Minority Leader, Alban Bagbin in seconding the motion for the adjournment attracted boos and jeers from the Majority side when he digressed and said: "The Minister of Finance just presented his handing-over notes."

Earlier, the day, generally thought to be a crucial one, started on a very low-keyed level.

As at 1000 hours when proceeding commenced, the Minister of Finance was absent and the public gallery was less than half full and the chamber itself had only 65 members on the Majority side and 59 on the Minority side.

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The Minister of Finance entered the chamber at 1013 hours while Mrs Gladys Asmah, Minister of Women and Children's Affairs, was in the dispatch box answering a parliamentary question.

The atmosphere lacked the kind of anticipation, excitement and pensive mood that usually characterized budget readings in Parliament, except for the fact that the Press gallery was unusually full, as some media houses beefed up their Parliament correspondents with extra hands, including editors.

At least there were 35 Journalist in the Press Gallery when business commenced, but the numbers in the press and public galleries as well as in the chamber increased in the course of the budget reading. From 1034 hours the Finance Minister began the presentation of the Budget and finished at the exactly 12.55 hours.

The Minister was not spared heckling and jeers during the presentation of the Budget.

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The loudest jeers came just at the opening statement of the Budget when the Minister said: "Ghanaians were eating better". The jeer from the Minority side was deafening.

Members of the Minority talked back to the Minister and challenged him on some facts and figures he presented to the House.

Intermittently the Minister stopped and sipped some water and the Minority members shouted "waa!" suggesting that he should drink the water well because the task was heavy.

The Minister of Finance had coughed heavily during the 2003 Budget presentation and it was apparently to forestall a recurrence that he had a jar of water by his side.

When the Minister announced tax holidays for certain categories of local industries and tax and VAT waivers for the importation of some materials, the Minority Members of the House shouted: "We told you these in the past but you didn't listen."

In the same breath, the Minority MPs shouted: "It is too late to give such waivers now because the people have decided already."

On the part of the Majority, they kept shouting thunderous: "Hear! Hear!" and "Scent noo! Scent noo!" at every policy the Minister announced. At some point some of them shouted: "Osaga take notes from the Minister's wisdom", in reference to Minority Ranking Member on Finance Mr Moses Asaga, who is affectionately called Osaga by his colleagues.

At the close of presentation of the Budget, the Senior Minister opened an exhibition of copies of the 256-page budget statement mounted by the Parliamentary Service Board, a novelty meant to bring the general public closer to Parliament.

Source: GNA