I listened to finance minister, Dr. Kwabena Dufuor’s budget presentation – mostly with rapt attention. There were a few occasions when I felt myself dozing off, especially at those stages when he drifted into calling out numbers that meant nothing to me. All those numbers make my head swirl to the point of delirious dizziness. Blame it on poor education.
I am not an economist, even though I find the subject quite fascinating. So when I listen to a budget presentation, I don’t care much about the hardcore economic stuff – not half as much as Dr. Joe Abbey does at the Centre for Policy Analysis.
My interest is usually in the social initiatives. They are easier on my fickle mind. And this year’s budget has quite a lot of those. So here is my take on some of them.
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The one thing that stood out for me is the plan to build classrooms for school children who study under all sorts of trees. “It is unacceptable that kids are studying under trees in 21st Century Ghana,” the minister said, and I agree with him.
I’d be very delighted if government provided proper classrooms for at least half of those children for whom classes end with the slightest hint of rainfall. I think it’s possible and whether government meets its revenue targets or not, it should be able to provide these classrooms.
Since I come from Sekondi-Takoradi, which in times past was heavily dependent on rail transport, the initiative to rebuild the railway system also struck my fancy. The Ghana Railway Company has all but collapsed. The last I heard, the company was heavily indebted and had only 600 Ghana Cedis in its accounts. That makes the company slightly richer than I am and its staff have not been paid for months.
I was quite surprised that the finance minister just rattled names of the towns that are going to linked by the rail system without actually spelling out how the company, comatose and currently on life-support and in intensive care, will be restored to good health. This makes me feel that the minister was just talking (not exactly ‘by-heart’) and that when it comes to reviving the rail sector government is far from decided on a definite, comprehensive plan of action.
While on the subject of transport, I wonder why the budget didn’t say much about how government intends to ease the suffering of commuters, especially considering that several ministers of state recently boarded ‘trotros’ to allegedly to get first-hand knowledge on the operations of public buses. At least, we should have heard something about how the Mills administration intends to restructure the Metro Mass Transit Service.
I was also delighted by the announcement that government intends to continue with the rehabilitation of the Kotoka International Airport. Whatever form the ‘rehabilitation’ will take, I hope it completely transforms that airport into a modern, efficient facility to compete with some other major airports in Africa. As it stands now, Kotoka is one of the worst airports in the world. Let’s not delude ourselves. The chaos that greets visitors at the arrival hall is shameful. I hope that at the end of the rehabilitation project, passengers will no longer have to walk on the tarmac.
Still on transport, the road projects that government intends to either initiate or continue with appear to be the same roads the Kufuor administration kept mentioning year after year. It gives me a certain sense of highway déjà vu to keep hearing Anwiankwanta-Yamoransa; Tetteh Quarshie-Madina; Pantang-Manfe Dual-Carriage Road; Bamboi-Tinga (under Kufuor it was Bole-Bamboi); Sefwi Bekwa-Eshiem – Asankragwa; Achimota-Ofankor etc.
I hope that the next time we hear about these projects, the news would be that they have been completed. If I hear another finance minister mentioning these projects as works-in-progress or works-yet-to-start, I might choke to death.
Besides the road projects I think I have heard several other portions of this budget before. Like, how many times have finance ministers told us that we are not paying enough taxes and they are going to take measures to broaden the tax net? I’ve been hearing that since Kwesi Botchway’s time. Then there was Kwame Peprah. Yaw Osafo-Marfo. And Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu.
And now, there’s Kwabena Dufuor who is ominously threatening to impose more taxes. I don’t earn much and I hate paying pay taxes. Who doesn’t? If government will not squander my tax money on the luxuries of politicians, then I wouldn’t mind paying a little extra. Not too much. Just a little more. I hope it goes into providing classrooms, hospitals, water and other essentials that make life worth living.
The plan to set up special pensions and housing schemes for cocoa farmers sounds sensible on the surface. But it’s completely warped. There is a new pension scheme which should be operational from next year. I think it’d be better to get the farmers to sign up under the new scheme, instead of setting up a whole new system for them. I also wonder why a special housing scheme is to be introduced for cocoa farmers.
Every Ghanaian needs affordable housing. Why set up a special scheme just for cocoa farmers. How about the tomato farmers? And the rice farmers, the cattle herders (like the one doing Mahama Ayariga’s dirty legal jobs) and the ‘bofrote’ sellers like my mum? Instead of focusing on cocoa farmers (they are very important, we know) government should spell out a housing policy that will, for example, stop my landlords from charging exorbitant rent advances and make it easy for people to acquire their own homes shortly after taking up their first jobs.
Finally, I am afraid the plan to restore tariffs on rice and other food commodities will increase how much I pay for my ‘omo-tuo’ at Heavy Do Chop Bar. That’s not good. I know government needs more money – not just to pay ex-gratia for politicians but also to plug the large crater in the national kitty – but I think they should not touch my bowl of rice. It seems the plan to restore the tariffs is borne out of a desire to discourage rice importation and force us to consume local rice. But, truth be told, I don’t like local rice. Many Ghanaians don’t. Even if we did, there isn’t enough local rice for us all. So will someone please tell the taxman to keep his hand off my rice and chicken, please? I beg!
By and large, however, the initiatives to boost local production of rice, fish and poultry are commendable. If only the government can see them through, most of us might just start eating long grain perfumed rice from Aveyime.
That’s my simple-minded take on the budget. As to whether the budget deficit will be cleared or whether inflation will fall to under 10 percent, prompting interest rates to tumble to enable me take a bank loan to buy a new car, I’ll leave that to Dr. Abbey and co.
Until the next budget presentation, they are going to be talking above our heads about macro-, macro-, gibberish. They will only succeed in adding confusion to our poverty. That’s our lot. Let’s keep our belts tightened and try to make the best of our hard ‘ecomini’… It’s not going to be turned into an economy any time soon!