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Spreading It Thin - Elizabeth Ohene Writes   
 
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15-Nov-2018  
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Today will see one of the regular Big Events of Parliament enacted on the floor of the House. The Minister of Finance, Mr Kenneth Ofori-Atta will come to the House and present the 2019 Budget on behalf of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

The minister of finance having gone from the Asempa Budget in 2017 to the Adwuma Budget in 2018, the President has now told us we should expect a Hope Budget.

For the past two years, the name given to the budget has been a dramatic aspect of the ceremony in Parliament and I shall be listening out to see what the minister comes up with now that the President has asked us to have hope.

Last year, he showed he had his ears very much on the ground when he demonstrated he was ready for the opposition NDC’s attempt to ruin his big event by suddenly holding up placards in Parliament that said it was a “419 Budget”. The finance minister obviously knew what was coming and was ready for them, because, quick on the draw, he blunted the effect of “419” as something fraudulent by resorting to the Bible.

He quoted Philippians 4:19, which says in the Good News version: And with all his abundant wealth through Christ Jesus, my God will supply all your needs.

This is obviously the kind of comeback that only the well-read is able to do or if Opposition plans have been leaked.

The truth is that national budgets have lost the aura of fear and awe they used to have. Time was when ministers of finance went into purdah and even the speculations about what the measures to be announced would be made in whispers. Probably increased transparency in governance has something to do with it. The process of writing the budget and the creature called the budget have all been demystified.

What to expect

The website of the Ministry of Finance would give you a reasonable idea of what to expect in Mr Ofori-Atta’s red bag; if IMANI Ghana has made any suggestions to the Ministry of Finance as many other individuals and institutions would have done, the chances are Mr Franklin Cudjoe would tell us what he has told the minister. There are no secrets really; we all know how much is in the envelope.

I lost interest when it became clear to me that our budgets throughout the years have been wish-lists that bear no relationship to the reality of the moneys at our disposal and there is never enough money. The figures for the 2019 final budget ceilings have been out for months and it is obvious a Ghanaian Minister of Finance has not got much room to manoeuvre.

The estimates are made and argued over, but somehow, apart from salaries, none of the figures are sacred. They are allocated, but not released. Under Mr Ofori-Atta, it does look like there is a closer link between the estimates and the releases.

Going through the Hansard you discover that the problem of releases of allocations of funds made in the budget has been a long-standing one. An honourable member once resorted to a Latin term used in commercial law to try and explain the state of affairs: nemo dat quod non habet - what you do not have, you cannot give. In other words, the Ministry of Finance doesn’t have the money and therefore it cannot give it.

The amount of money that constitutes the national budget of the Republic of Ghana goes nowhere near meeting our needs, our desires and our demands. Are we willing to accept this reality?

State of roads, health insurance and education

Right now, the state of the roads is exercising everybody’s mind. If you added the resources from Tax Revenue, the Annual Budget Funding Amount (ABFA), Internally Generated Funds (IGFs), Development Partners (DP) Funds (project and programme loans and grants), it would not be enough to fix all the roads. The Minister of Finance will doubtless read the list of roads that we are told would be funded from the SinoHydro deal. This list does not include any of the roads that I use regularly and which depresses me beyond measure. 

I discovered in 2003 that if the entire budget of the republic were allocated to only the Ministry of Education, we would still not have enough money to build and equip schools from kindergarten to universities, train and pay our teachers adequately and modernise education to make us competitive in the world. 

There seems to be a consensus that the National Health Insurance Scheme should cover all diseases and our hospitals and clinics should be well equipped and our doctors trained and paid at rates that would ensure they are not tempted to go and work in the USA or Saudi Arabia. That would probably take the entire budget. 
There is a consensus that every Ghanaian citizen should have access to potable water and electricity. I have heard a serious discussion on the radio that we cannot call ourselves civilised until the government solves the housing problem and every Ghanaian has a decent house to live in. Maybe the entire budget this year should be directed to water, electricity and housing. 

Many people consider a well-trained and well-equipped military an absolute necessity. The ratio of police to population is way below the UN recommended rate. The police must be trained and retrained and equipped and modernised. Some say we need to quadruple the police budget to even make a start. 

The judicial service is full of unhappy people who feel they are not being given their due as set out in the Constitution. I hear Parliamentarians are feeling poor and want “an upward adjustment” of their conditions. Those in the executive wing of government are the only ones that dare not say out loud they want any increase. 
Almost all Ghana’s embassies and missions are in a deplorable state and need to be rehabilitated or built anew. We have ambassadors whose official cars break down on the roads regularly. 

And then of course we have the Special Prosecutor, who seems to want more than the budget of the AG’s department as proof that the government is serious about fighting corruption.

Everybody wants taxes to be reduced or abolished, government to reduce electricity tariffs, reduce prices of petrol and other petroleum goods. All public officials want a salary increase. In many sectors, salaries, wages and other personal compensations account for more than 90 per cent of the budget.

As he rises to make his statement, none of these doomsday scenarios would be playing on Ken Ofori Atta’s mind. He has things to smile about: we are exiting from the IMF, his Adwuma Budget has made room for 165,000 public sector positions made up of 100,000 NABCO graduates, teachers and nurses and other health service personnel. 

He will be able to say “I present to you the Comfort Budget, the Ahotor Budget, the Akorfafa Budget.”

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Footnotes on Footbridges 
Footbridges are very much in the news. Right now we are not worried about costs or procurement processes. #fixourfootbridges. I hope they get built and soon. My mind goes to the footbridges at Kaneshie market that are never used for what they are intended for and have become shopping and preaching areas. I remember the Nima footbridge which stands as “a monument to cultural insensitivity”, or so we were told. Back in 2002 and for about how many years after that, serious commentators said Ghanaians did not like heights and would therefore not use footbridges.
 
 
Source: Elizabeth Ohene
 
 

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