THE DEBATE on the 2008 budget started in Parliament yesterday with the majority and the minority sides commending and condemning it respectively, as expected.
The debate, which can be likened to the energy debate a few months ago, was characterized by gavel-pounding, several shouts of “sit down,” “order” and heckling from both sides of the House, especially that of the minority National Democratic Congress (NDC).
In the course of the impassioned debate, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Ofoase-Ayirebi, David Oppon-Kusi, accused the MP for Tamale South, Iddrisu Haruna, of stashing four or five mobile phones in his pocket whenever he returned home from foreign trips.
Hon. Oppon-Kusi, whose allegation was in the form of rhetorical questions, said it was such bad practices which made government decide to introduce a new form of excise duty on mobile telephones.
He argued that the new levy would be so efficiently managed that everybody who used mobile phones would pay their share.
When challenged by the House to either substantiate his allegation or withdraw the statement completely, the Ofoase-Ayirebi MP said he was only making a general statement as he (Oppon-Kusi) always stashed mobile phones in his pocket and believed other MPs did the same.
The Second Deputy Speaker, Malik Al-Hassan Yakubu, who presided over the day's sitting, considered Oppon-Kusi's allegation baseless and therefore asked him to withdraw the statement.
When Hon. Haruna resumed his contribution to the debate, which was interrupted on several occasions, he said Hon. Oppon-Kusi's statement was an open admission that “he (Oppon-Kusi) smuggles phones into the country.”
Once again, the Speaker had to ask for a withdrawal of that statement because Haruna was “stepping on slippery grounds.”
Though the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, also wanted Haruna to withdraw an accusation of inefficiency against the Ministry, the latter never did. He rather insisted that there was no other word beside “inefficiency” to describe the country's tax system.
In his attempt to debunk Haruna's claim, the Deputy Minister of Finance, Prof. George Gyan-Baffour, out of a slip of tongue, also used the word “inefficient” to describe the system.
As expected, the NDC MPs poked fun at him, saying what he had done was to testify to Haruna's assertion.
The Tamale South MP, whose contribution spanned over an hour due to frequent interruptions, stated that the new mobile phone levy was inimical to free expression which would ultimately affect the way Ghanaians contributed to debates, especially on radio.
Service providers, he claimed, would also be overburdened.
It was at that juncture that the Minority Leader and MP for Nadowli West, Alban Bagbin, stepped in and described the newly proposed levy as “Talk Tax.”
He said it was a great disincentive to freedom of expression; “I can't talk any more because I'm being taxed for talking.”
The Deputy Majority Leader and minister of state designate, Osei Kyei-Mensah Bonsu, described Bagbin's claim as “a very simplistic and populist way of analyzing the tax.”
The MP for Nabdam, Moses Asaga, asked government to reconsider the new levy as it would affect a great population of students in rural areas “where there are no fixed lines and where they depend wholly on mobile phones.”
The NDC argued, among other things, that the new tax regime should be withdrawn as it would affect the elasticity of demand.
“It is obnoxious especially in the wake of increase in electricity tariffs, petrol prices etc. Ghanaian consumers will be overburdened,” said Haruna.
He said even though the New Patriotic Party (NPP) had so many good initiatives on paper, he wondered if they would “walk the talk.”
He accused the NPP of being fiscally indisciplined and irresponsible and called on government to reprioritize its investments.
The statement about walking the talk brought Hon. Oppon-Kusi to his feet once again. He accused the NDC of being the first party which did not “walk their talk.”
He cited instances like NDC promising an “El-Wak type” of stadium in every district capital and a 'Kumasi Sports type' of stadium in every regional capital. All these promises, the Ofoase-Ayirebi MP alleged, were never fulfilled by the NDC while it was in power from 1993 -2000.
Other MPs who debated on the budget were Dr. Benjamin Kunbuor, the Ranking Member on Finance and Hon. Kwadwo Agyei-Addo of Fanteakwa.
By Sylvanus Nana Kumi & Ethel Kangberee