President John Agyekum Kufuor said yesterday that the 2008 Budget was designed to bring the country closer to its vision of a middle income economy.
In a foreword to the 2008 Budget presented to Parliament yesterday, President Kufuor said it sought to consolidate all gains that had been made over the past seven years and to ensure that the increase in oil prices to new historic heights did not unduly burden the finances of the country and derail the hard-won achievements.
The foreword was read on his behalf by the Minister for Finance and Economic Planning, Mr Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu. He said the Government would continue to pursue pragmatic policies and good governance to propel the nation to the level of a middle income economy within the next decade.
'This will require higher productivity in all sectors of the economy to increase the current growth rate from 6.4 % to 8-10 % and even higher within the next three years. Critical infrastructural bottlenecks are being addressed to attract more investments for the acceleration of economic growth.'
President Kufuor said the country was poised for a brighter future on account of progress that had been made since 2001. He said in building an economy for a brighter and secure future had meant laying a strong foundation, and pursuing prudent and sound macro-economic policies underpinned by the rule of law and good governance.
'It also entailed taking necessary but politically tough decisions in a timely manner, and always counting on the understanding and goodwill of Ghanaians. 'The phenomenal transformation which has generated such high confidence in the investor community is therefore a tribute to the patience and forbearance of all Ghanaians, and our Development Partners who have stayed the course with us.'
President Kufuor said it was gratifying to mark the 50th anniversary of Independence this year against a back drop of a stable economy that pointed to a bright future.
He underscored the various achievements the country had chalked on the socio-economic and political fronts, and cited the successful Eurobond debut in September this year, making the country the first sub-Saharan country after South Africa and the first post-HIPC country to access the international capital market with a debut Eurobond which was highly over-subscribed.
In each of the past two years, the international community has rated Ghana among the 'Global Top-Ten' reformers and the leading reformer in sub-Saharan Africa in 2007, in the 'Ease of Doing Business' category.
He noted that notwithstanding the shocks from rapidly rising oil prices and the energy crisis, both inflation and interest rates were declining steadily. The cedi had remained relatively stable against major currencies, and had been
successfully re-denominated, he said.
President Kufuor said from 3% in 2000, GDP had risen to 6.4% in 2007. 'Poverty levels have reduced substantially and Ghana is tipped to become one of the few Third World countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty by half by the scheduled date of 2015.
'Above all, Ghana is considered a haven of peace and security in the ECOWAS
sub-Region. On every count, the country's economy is ready for a major take-off. 'This is how far Ghana has travelled since 2001 when she signed unto
the HIPC initiative.'
On energy, President Kufuor said' to avoid the recurrence of the frequent energy crisis and the attendant load-shedding exercise, government was implementing a comprehensive medium to long term energy programme which included the search for alternative sources of energy.
The construction of the Bui Dam and the West African Gas Pipeline are important elements of the programme.
There are also measures to encourage more efficient use of energy, better management of the public utility companies and market pricing of electricity.
Other efforts are aimed at attracting increased investment in the energy sector through greater involvement of the private sector.
President Kufuor made reference to the recent discovery of oil in commercial
quantities, saying it was certainly a blessing. However, he said, government was fully aware of the potential problems that had come in the wake of oil discovery elsewhere, and was initiating measures to design plans that would minimise the dangers our find, and maximise its returns for the benefit of the entire citizenry.
On next year's elections, President Kufuor said the Government was committed to ensuring the conduct of free, fair and peaceful elections. The Election 2004 was conducted in such an atmosphere to the admiration of the world, he said.
'I am, therefore, appealing to the entire nation, including all the political parties and other stakeholders to resolve to make next year's election violence-free and credible.'
On the Ghana 2008, the 26th Edition of the African Cup of Nations, he said the nation had gone to great lengths to refurbish the Accra and Kumasi stadiums and constructed two new state of the art stadiums in Tamale and Takoradi.
He said the political, economic and socio-cultural gains were expected from high inflow of tourists and international exposure through television coverage of the tournament.
'It is the patriotic duty of every Ghanaian not only to cheer the national team, the Black Stars, to lift the trophy but also to contribute in whatever way possible to the overall success of the tournament,' President Kufuor said.