THE intention of the Government to release the 2006 Budget in November instead of the conventional practice of the First Quarter of the New Year has been described as disastrous by the Minority Spokesperson on Finance, Moses Asaga (pictured left).
In a statement to The Statesman the MP for Nabdam said the decision to read the 2006 budget months earlier has “no merit and is flawed with inadequacies.” Finance Minister Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu who took the decision saw it as essentially a measure to allow early disbursement so that public institutions, especially district assemblies, could better implement their annual programmes. Reached for his comments last night, he reminded Mr Asaga that the decision is indeed a constitutional requirement.
However, Mr Asaga's counter argument is that, “the novelty claim defeats other national interest and practice to the detriment of a good and complete budget with all the necessary inputs.
By conventional practice the President's Sessional Address on the State of the Nation inputs into the budget giving all the broad policy issues that would be quantified and disaggregated into the budget under various sectoral heads.” He continued, “As it is now, the rush to read the budget in November would make the 2007 Sessional Address of the President redundant and irrelevant. The President is supposed to set out the government broad policy framework which is informed in the budget. References to all budget statements of the NPP government has alluded to this fact.”
To support his point, he showed our reporter several budget statements and quoted former Finance Minister Yaw Osafo-Maafo from one of them: “On Thursday, February 13, 2003, His Excellency the President set out the government broad policy framework and shared his vision of how to ensure enduring success and prosperity of the nation. This broad policy framework and the President's vision informed the 2003 budget.”
After which Mr Asaga posed the question: “Does that mean that the President no longer has vision and ideas for the country and therefore there is no need for his input into the budget? In that case are we now running a lame dark government? The Presidency should not allow their visionary input to be swayed away by ill advice from his advisers.”
In the NDC frontbencher's view, a further flaw is that government figures on expenditure, revenue, GDP growth and inflation, “would all be inaccurate given the fact that all the financial books would not be adequately closed.” He therefore reasoned, “Is government reading a draft budget or the actual budget?”
He argued in furtherance of the point that even when budgets are read in March or during the first quarter of the new year, the statistical information is considered provisional. “The situation of inaccuracies would be worse for a November Budget,” he stated.
Asaga accused the ruling party of implementing novel ideas in haste and without broad consultation. He believes this has become a hallmark of the NPP government and is very dangerous. He cited the idea of a Mid-Year Review of the budget which was established by Yaw Osafo-Maafo in 2001.
“In 2004 and 2005 there was absolute silence on that and no Mid-Year Review has been submitted and read to Parliament. Again that task has not been undertaken and the economic dialogue for 2005 is now collapsed and it would be buried soon. There are similar hasty decisions that have not worked according to plan nor achieved the needed results for example the National Health Insurance Scheme,” he charged.
Reacting to Mr Asaga's statement, the Finance Minister told The Statesman that the decision to read the budget, or the Appropriation Bill, before the Budget Year is basically a constitutional requirement.
Article 179 (1) of the Constitution states: “The President shall cause to be prepared and laid before Parliament at least one month before the end of the financial year, estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Government of Ghana for the following financial year.”
He said, “A promise to read the budget before the end of the year was made in the 2005 budget. Moreover, the argument that no proper closing of books would have been prepared does not wash, since the cut-off point for the budget is September and in any case, the budget is an estimate, not an absolute document,” he explained.
The Minister stated further that by mid-February, vital allocations, such as for those for GETFund and Common Fund, would be ready.
He has questioned the rationale behind the NDC's opposition to a move he believes is positive from whichever direction one looks at it. But, the Finance Minister is also of the view that, going by previous stands taken by the NDC and the shadow man on Finance on HIPC and GDP projections, he does not find Mr Asaga's concerns as strange.
He promised, “Government is determined to move forward and stay focused.”