The debate on the 2008 Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the government continued in Parliament yesterday with a call on the goverment to rescind its decision to impose tax on airtime used by mobile phone users.
According to the Member of Parliament for Bole/Bamboi, Mr John Mahama, such a tax was repressive and would eventually compel more people to stop using their mobile phone.
Taking his turn in the debate, the MP said the argument made by the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Mr Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, as reasons for the imposition of the talk-tax was not logical.
He explained that by the minister's argument “if you cannot collect tax on machetes because of smuggling, then you have to tax farmers on daily basis for using machetes”.
“Mr Speaker, this is unfair”, adding that telephones should not be considered as luxuries but necessities.
He urged the government to seek efficient means of collecting taxes on mobile phones instead instituting such a tax on mobile phone users.
Touching on the theme of the budget, “A Brighter Future”, Mr Mahama stated that on the surface, the budget painted a picture of optimism and hope for the masses of the people.
“Mr Speaker, unfortunately, I cannot associate myself with such a positive picture that has been painted through this budget”, he said amid “hear”, “hear” from the Minority side of the House.
Mr Mahama said that the brighter future was for only a smaller segment of people, explaining that the gap between the rich and the poor continued to widen.
He said while cases of maternal and infant mortality were on the ascendancy, child mal-nutrition had reached 33 per cent, with urban poverty increasing from six to 11 per cent.
These figures were, however, disputed by the Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Professor George Baffour-Gyan, who wondered from which document the MP was quoting his figures.
Professor Baffour-Gyan said evidence on the ground from the Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS) indicated that all the statistics that had been quoted by Mr Mahama were going down.
When he resumed his submissions, Mr Mahama touched on the failure of the government to take bold decisions to encourage the cultivation of certain crops to minimise the huge amount spent by the country to import such commodities.
He mentioned rice, sugar, tomatoes, poultry products and fish as some of the commodities which could be produced in larger quantities with a little bit of encouragement from the government.
When he took his turn, the MP for Atwima-Mponua, Mr Isaac Kwame Asiamah, said the country was seeing a lot of development as a result of the good policies that had been initiated by the government.
He said that the institution of the talk-tax was meant to raise adequate funds to enable the government to finance its projects and programmes.
Mr Asiamah said it was unfortunate that although MPs from the Minority side of the House vehemently opposed the HIPC initiatves, they were now benefiting from it.
The MP mentioned the construction of the Tamale and Sekondi stadia and the rehabilitation of the Ohene Djan and Baba Yara stadia in Accra and Kumasi respectively as some of the landmarks of the government in the sports sector.
When he took his turn, the Minority Spokesperson on Energy and MP for Nabdam, Mr Moses Asaga, accused the government of failing to account for the production of oil from the Saltpond Oil Fields since the inception of its operation about two-and-a-half years ago.
He estimated that about $55 million had accrued from the sales of oil from the Saltpond Oil Fields and wondered why it was not accounted for in the budget.
Mr Asaga's assertion was, however disputed by the Minister of State at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and MP for Old Tafo, Dr Anthony Akoto Osei, referred Mr Asaga to certain portions of the budget where revenue on oil had been spelt out and further promised to furnish the House with the details later.
Story by Emmanuel Adu-Gyamerah