17.03.2005 General News

Budget lacks vision for the poor - Panellists

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Accra, March 17, GNA - A public forum on the 2005 Budget on Thursday chastised government for controlling too much of the economy, saying that the budget lacked a pro-poor focus and would not create a uniformed economic base for development.

A panellist representing the government, however welcomed the budget, describing it as a budget of hope.

The other panellists were drawn from the Minority in Parliament, Trades Union Congress, Institute of Social Statistics and Economic Research and the Disabled.

The forum was under the auspices of the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC) with the objective of bringing the 2005 budget onto the doorstep of ordinary people and to hear their voices on government's financial policy.

Mr. Kwaku Agyeman Manu, Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning was upbeat about the 2005 budget, calling it 'budget of hope' and stressed that "government will work at keeping inflation at about 13 per cent by end of December."

Mr Manu said that even though government could not meet the single target for inflation it planned last year, it still has its strategy intact.

He said real GDP of 5.8 per cent would remain the target for government looking at how certain sectors of the economy are expected to perform.

Mr Manu explained that government's decision to maintain 5.8 per cent as real GDP for this year did not mean that growth had been zero or that there had been no growth at all, adding that declining inflation was a good sign.

"What it means is that prices could be high. But it is declining at a slower pace," he said.

He said government expected revenue agencies to rake in more this year, saying; "we expect about 25 trillion cedis this year as against the 17 trillion last year."

Mr. Moses Asaga, Minority Spokesman on Finance disagreed with Mr Manu, insisting that it was not for government to say weather the budget was good , but the ordinary people it was meant for.

He said the people "for the last weeks that government increased petroleum prices and read the 2005 budget have not had normal lives."

He said the pain that the introduction of the 50 per cent increase in petroleum has brought to Ghanaians could not be separated from that of the 2005 budget as it incorporated figures and statistics in the petroleum increase.

Mr Asaga noted that the 20 per cent salary increase was not anything for government to be enthusiastic about, stressing, "it has no means of cushioning workers from the effects of the 50 per cent fuel price adjustment.

Mr Asaga blamed government for not effecting meaningful change in the Ghanaian economy as it had relied heavily on an old fashioned framework of cocoa, gold and timber.

"I blame governments that have come since 1918 for not changing the structure of our economy and allowing it to be based on cocoa, gold and timber all these years.

"I have had the opportunity to see things better and I know what I am talking about."

He said Ghana's economy performed well only in the agricultural sector and was saved by cocoa, "a trend we all know too well.

"What we expect is a change that will bring increase in performance by the manufacturing and industry sectors. It is only at this point that we can say that our economy is doing well as our friends in Malaysia and Korea have demonstrated so well."

Mr Asaga said that the 5.8 per cent growth could only be seen as positive when viewed against the other larger sectors of the economy. Mr Edward Kareweh of the General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) said for the private sector should be able to play a lead role in economic development, a number of measures, including corporate tax might have to be used as an incentive to prop it up.

He said, given the country's liberal investment policy that allowed sometimes 100 per cent repatriation of profits, much of the wealth created by foreign investors was leaving the country leading to capital flight.

Mr Kareweh noted: "the neo-liberal economy in Ghana, where invisible hands of the IMF and World Bank are behind almost every policy, it is important for our policy makers to consult the people in this country more than the IMF and the World Bank."

He noted that it would be "wishful thinking" for anyone to believe that things would change for the better.

"Well, there is hope for the country. That hope can be activated, if our policy makers would come to the realization that they must listen more to their people", he added.

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