The Majority in Parliament yesterday staged a walkout out ahead of the approval of the Budget Statement and the Economic Policy of the government for the year ending December 31, 2024.
The walkout came about after the Majority and the Minority leaders had taken turns to wrap up the week-long debate and the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, had also made a presentation in the House.
The Speaker of Parliament, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, then put a voice vote on the motion and declared that the “Ayes” by the Majority had it.
But the Speaker’s ruling was blatantly challenged by the Minority on the grounds that there was no distinctive difference between the “Ayes” and the “Nas” by the Minority.
Basing his challenge on Order 113 (2), the Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Armah-Kofi Buah, called for a headcount or division.
The Speaker heeded the request by the Deputy Minority Leader and instructed the Clerks at the Table to conduct the headcount.
Mr Bagbin told the members of the House that the names of each MP would be called out for him or her to stand up.
But the Majority strongly objected to the Speaker’s decision on grounds that he had earlier declared the “Ayes” in favour of the motion and should stand by his decision and disallow the headcount.
To avoid any possible defeat or having the motion lost, given that there were about three Majority Members of Parliament (MPs) who were believed to be absent, the Majority told the Speaker they would not have anything to do with the voting process and consequently walked out of the Chamber, amid booing from the Minority MPs.
Before that, the Majority and Minority Leaders, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu and Dr Cassiel Ato Baah Forson, had wrapped up the nine-day debate on the 2024 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the government.
However, the concluding debates were more of political statements than discussing the figures, perhaps because previous debaters had already exhausted all the points.
Setting the ball rolling, the Minority Leader, Dr Forson, referred to the budget as a "bye-bye budget of a group of people who promised to move the economy from taxation to production and yet ended up inflicting tax, tax and more tax on the people of Ghana".
He described the budget as uninspiring, cruel, insensitive and completely out of touch with the realities of the people of Ghana.
"This government promised the people of Ghana heaven yet delivered hell; this government was high on promises and low on delivery," he said.
The Minority Leader said never in the history of the Fourth Republic was a government so hyped up with massive goodwill and huge fiscal space enough to transform the country as the ruling government.
"Yet, this government and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) have gone down as the worst government in the history of Ghana," he said in his one-hour speech.
He said the performance of the government had not been worth the hype, the goodwill, as well as the resources entrusted to its care over the last seven years.
"The economy is broken, the exchange rate is broken, in fact, it has broken jail.
Lending rates are broken, business confidence is broken, inflation is broken, and sadly, families are broken because breadwinners can no longer afford to put food on the table," he said.
The former Deputy Finance Minister under the previous government said the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, had failed to live up to his words of removing "so-called nuisance taxes".
Rather, according to him, the government had burdened Ghanaians with over 50 taxes despite its promise “to shift the economy from taxation to production".
He said notwithstanding the over 50 taxes imposed by the government since 2017, the 2024 Budget was introducing additional taxes worth GH¢11 billion.
"These taxes are burdensome, regressive, insensitive and counterproductive, especially as the incidence of the tax will be on the already suffocating Ghanaian," he added.
Subsequently, the Minority Leader said the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) could not support the new taxes, because the poverty level in the country was too high and any additional tax would erode the disposable incomes of families and worsen their standard of living.
That, according to him, meant that more than eight million Ghanaians had been pushed into extreme poverty under the government.
Describing himself as a tax expert, the Minority Leader said any additional tax would worsen the extreme poverty in the country.
"We cannot support these new taxes because they will put an extra burden on businesses.
Already, businesses are collapsing because of the high cost of doing business in Ghana," he added.
He alluded to the fact that Ghana had lost its attractiveness to foreign investors due to the high cost of doing business under the government, therefore, any additional tax would further make Ghana not competitive.
Dr Forson said currently, the tax exemptions pending before the Finance Committee of Parliament amount to GH¢5.5 billion, which is equivalent to $449 million.
He alleged that additional GH¢7 billion tax exemptions were waiting to be processed by Parliament.
All put together, the tax exemptions will amount to GH¢12.5 billion, which outstrips the GH¢11 billion new taxes.
"Mr Speaker, how does a government give away GH¢12.5 billion to family, friends and cronies, and then turn around to burden ordinary Ghanaians to pay GH¢11 billion in new taxes?” he asked.
Subsequently, he said the NDC Minority was calling on the government to withdraw the tax exemptions, which could lead to abuse and corruption.
The Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, used the opening remarks to attack former President John Dramani Mahama's 24-hour economy.
He said for a person who had been accused of not having introduced any social policy, the hurry to announce a 24-hour economy was significant - to all intent and purposes that he wanted to be remembered for increasing employment overnight.
"I have heard some spurious justifications from some colleagues in this House.
"If you have a 24-hour economy as is being done at the hospitals, you engage the required number of people to engage in eight-hour work shifts,” he said.
According to him, "it means that you need three work shifts or a minimum of two work shifts."
"The Government of Ghana is the largest employer of the formal system.
The public service workforce is about 700,000. This number multiplied by three would send the number of employees in the public sector to 2.1 million.
"Can the national purse take care of 2.1 million workers, or if it would involve even two shifts, can the nation afford to have 1.4 million people on its payroll?” he asked.
He said if Ghaianans elected to have two shifts, it meant Ghana should provide sufficient incentives to ensure that people remained on its schedules for 12 hours per day instead of the regular eight-hour schedule.
"Can the nation afford this?" he asked again.
Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said already, there were many people in government employment whose schedules were not sufficiently loaded, which caused many workers to idle about and not contribute much to productivity.
According to him, these workers constituted a burden on the national purse.
"It is this phenomenon that President Kufuor alluded to when he said “in Ghana many people pretend to be working and government also pretends to be paying them,” he said.
"Please, and please, Excellency John Dramani Mahama do not resort to empty promises, don’t start with superficially pleasant, but manifestly empty promises," he said.
The Majority Leader said the nation did not need "unnecessary intervention which will end up as a wastage of our limited funds".
On the other hand, he said: "We have one person who says to us as a country, that we can increase our revenues significantly, we can increase productivity, we can decrease person-to-person contact, thereby reducing corruption by digitalising our economy.
"This year as far as domestic revenue is concerned, thanks to digitalisation, the GRA stands to rake in an additional GH?8 billion," he added.
Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said the Ghanaian economy suffered from two unforeseen, unimagined combined shocks of COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine War.
According to him, the twin evil forces affected the Ghanaian economy and left in its trail a lockdown and closure of businesses.
He said the government showed great sensitivity to the people.
These were expressed in no lay-offs in the public service, salaries were dutifully paid for one year, at the zenith of the pandemic and free water and electricity for the entire population, especially for lifeline consumers, among others.
He said the economy, which was experiencing an average GDP growth of seven per cent with declining single-digit inflation, declining interest rates, a stable currency and growing international reserves to a level unforeseen before in the history of Ghana, took a nosedive.
The Majority Leader said GDP cascaded downslope from 6.5 per cent in 2019 to 0.5 per cent in 2020.
According to him, inflation skyrocketed to 54.1 per cent in December 2022.
Again, the currency depreciated by 53.9 per cent over the past two years, up to 2022.
He said the banking industry marked time and International Credit Agencies discredited Ghana's economy.
Mr Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu said to confront the atrocious developments, the government in 2023 presented a plan of recovery that focused on restoring macroeconomic stability, coordinating an equitable debt operation programme and ensuring the well-being of the vulnerable population, among others.
He said the results of the initiatives pursued under the 2023 Budget had been profound.
"This is why in the Mid-Year Review, the Minister of Finance boldly declared that we have, as a country, turned the corner," he said.
According to him, the nexus of the debate should be whether the policies that were unveiled in 2023 attained the desired results.
He said inflation had declined from 54.1 per cent in December 2022 to 35.2 per cent in October 2023.
That, according to him, was a drop of 18.9 per cent in inflation in 10 months.