Budget discussed a forum in Ho
Ho, Feb. 27, GNA - Discussions on the 2004 budget at a public forum in Ho on Wednesday, nearly turned into a heated partisan and labour debate but for the manner Nana Oware Owusu V, Chief of Teteman-Buem who presided exerted his authority.
This was because some of the participants considered the presentation and answers by one of the resource persons, Mr Kofi Osei-Afoakwa, a Chartered Accountant as pro-government and anti-worker especially over the issue of funding the National Health Insurance Scheme, the tax relief for workers and the budget in general.
The forum was organised by the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC) and the Volta Region branch of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) under the theme "National Budget In Election Year 2004".
Mr Osei-Afoakwa asserted that the stand of organised labour over the deductions of workers two-and-half percent Social Security Contributions should be reconsidered because it was ill conceived.
Mr Osei-Afoakwa who is also the Finance Officer of the Ho-Polytechnic preceded his presentation by alerting the audience that he was going to be controversial and frank "so help me God to be objective". He said the stand taken by organised labour could be defeated in a national referendum.
Mr Veni V. K. K. Demanya and Mr Maxwell Mireku, Volta Regional Secretaries of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) and the Trades Union Congress respectively countered Mr Osei-Afoakwa's position. Mr Demanya said organised labour would have no quarrel with the manner in which the government intended to fund the scheme if all workers were put on CAP 30 pension as the loss of two-and-half percent of that pension would be negligible.
He said assertions that workers in some African countries were contributing 17 percent of their Social Security to fund their nation's health insurance was untenable in Ghana where salaries levels were very low compared with those countries.
Mr Demanya said government had resorted to propaganda to play the public against organised labour over the issue and created the impression that organised labour was divided over the matter. Mr Mireku also said the failure of government to consult organised labour before deciding on the mode of funding smacked of disregard towards the interests of organised labour whose members are the contributors to the fund.
Mr M. K. Quashigah, Regional Industrial Relations Officer of the Public Service Workers Union (PSWU), said the tax relief for workers were insignificant and would not be enjoyed by many workers who are already above the threshold.
Mr Stephen K. Awunyo-Akaba, a Development Consultant said the ability of the budget to be of benefit to the poorest and disadvantaged in the society would constitute the yardstick, by which its success would be measured.
A contributor who described the budget as NPP budget when cautioned by Nana Oware Owusu that the budget was a National document, replied that he was only re-stating what Mr Yaw Osafo-Marfo, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning told Parliament.
The Chairman ruled out a contributor who had persistently sought to compare the performance of the government to that of the National Democratic Congress (NDC).
Nana Oware Owusu impressed on participants that issues of the national budget were above partisan politics because such budgets were directed at addressing the general well being of the country.
He said it was detrimental to the overall interest of the country when the public sought to put partisan political labels on national projects, which required the total support of all.
Nana Oware Owusu lamented that because political twists were given to national issues successive governments had jettisoned otherwise good projects, which would have had a positive impact on the country's development if their successors had adopted and completed them.