Debate on the government's Budget and Financial Statement for the year 2008 began in Parliament Monday with both the Majority and the Minority sides taking partisan stance to reflect the positions of their respective political parties.
While Members of Parliament (MPs) on the Majority side painted the budget in glowing and superlative terms, describing it as a panacea for the country's economic development and the well-being of the vast majority of the people, their Minority colleagues said the budget had practically nothing to show for.
When the Financial Policy of the government for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2008 was moved by the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Mr Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu it was seconded by the MP for Fanteakwa in the Eastern Region, Mr Kwadwo Agyei-Aidoo, who said the budget was a good omen for the country's present and future material and social development.
He commended the government for the early presentation of the financial statement, stressing that it was the reflection of the inputs of the establishment and the public at large.
According to him, the inputs by the public helped much in the formulation of policies in the budget, which were intended to enhance the social and economic development of the country.
The MP commended President John Agyekum Kufuor for fulfilling his social contract that he entered into with the people when he assumed public office for the second term by bringing out a financial statement designed to improve the quality of life of the broad masses of the people.
Mr Agyei-Addo touched on some vital sectors of the econo¬my, such as agriculture, and stressed that the initiatives taken by the government on the sector, as reflected in the budget, would go a long way to boost production and enhance the incomes of practitioners in the industry.
Commenting on the intention of the government to bridge the yawning economic disparities between the North and the South, Mr Agyei-Addo said, "It takes a man with a strong political will to acknowledge a problem and institute measures to address such problems.
Stating the Minority's positions on the budget, the Ranking Member, Dr Benjamin Kumbuor, said the size of the budget statement had no bearing on its substance and stressed that "indeed the document size is inversely proportional to its substance".
He said the close study of the document immediately registered highly scientifically unsubstantiated statistical figures intended to conceal underperformance and non-delivery of projects.
According to Dr Kumbuor the financial statement consisted of mainly re-packaging old projects as new initiatives and unconscious admissions of fiscal indiscipline.
He said what previous budgets and the 2008 budget in particular failed to tell Ghanaians was that there were relatively great trade imbalance between the country and its trade partners and for which the country needed to increase its exports to meet its import parity. He said Ghana also received a lower share of foreign direct investment than other African countries.
"The domestic savings rate is lower in Ghana than most African countries. And while most African countries have an overall budget surplus, Ghana is running budget deficits," the Minority Ranking Member said.
He said the effect of the external environment showed that Ghana was more vulnerable to the international economy, which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) saw in pessimistic terms as uncertain in growth rates, particularly in North America, and was exposed to possible stress downside risk.
He said it was the considered opinion of the Minority that the outlined macro-economic strategy of the economy, if pursued beyond some optimal limits, might become deflationary and could aggravate poverty.
Dr Kumbuor said wages and salaries were important expenditure heads for the government and, therefore, in the process of streamlining government expenditure, wages and salaries would not be permitted to go up regardless of how developments in the markets eroded workers' purchasing capacity.
" The economy under the NPP Government over the past seven years has shown signs of a slackened economy in terms of relative GDP growth and sectoral performance; non-diversification of the agricultural; sector, which focuses on agri-exports, a poor trade balance, and a low tax to GDP ratio," he said.