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The announcement of the proposed scrapping of road and bridge tolls by the government in the 2020 Budget Statement has been met with different reactions that might test the independence of Parliament, enforcement of legislation and the functioning of other state institutions.
First, the presentation of the budget was advertised to take place at 10am on Wednesday, November 17, 2021, in Parliament, but the delivery started several hours later with some MPs complaining about the delay.
The annual constitutional event, done on the authority of the sitting President, began after 1pm, for which the Speaker, Mr Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, explained why the activity rather became tardy.
“The pre-sitting meeting, which we usually refer to as conclave, has rather taken a longer time than anticipated,” Mr Bagbin said, adding “clearly, I am sure many of you were a bit worried about the delay and you are right to do so”.
“It is because the leadership of the House, together with my good self, has grave differences with the Ministry of Finance.”
The Finance Minister, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta, arrayed in his characteristic white kaftan, appeared before the 275-member legislature, holding the famous brown bag that contained the budget document.
Unlike other years, he was not accompanied by fellow economist, former Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ghana and now Vice-President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, who was at the time acting as President of Ghana because President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo was on an official assignment outside the country.
Dubbed: “Agyenkwa” to wit “Saviour” Budget, the 2022 Budget and Economic Statement seeks to strengthen the economy despite the Covid-19 menace and is focused on jobs creation and skills training for the youth as well as entrepreneurship to address the growing unemployment in the country.
Among other things, Mr Ofori-Atta indicated that the budget would be the propelling tool to catapult the country into a prosperous future by creating a careful realignment and rebalancing of the country’s needs, wants and aspirations as a nation to ensure sustained recovery and transformation to a Ghana Beyond Aid.
The minister proposed a scrapping of the payment of levies at tollbooths and bridges, to the happiness of motorists.
Few hours later, the Roads and Highways Minister, Mr Kwasi Amoako-Atta, announced that the collection of tolls at the booths must stop, an action which the Minority Leader brought to the attention of the House, pointing out that the Roads Minister had acted ultra vires and attempted to usurp the powers of Parliament by that directive.
Mr Bagbin directed an immediate reversal of Mr Amoako-Atta’s instructions, pending the approval of the budget statement by the House, or the minister being charged for contempt.
Some members on the Majority side are of the opinion that the Roads Minister’s directive was to prevent further chaos as there were reports of people misunderstanding that the directive took immediate effect.
The directive has since been withdrawn.
During the week, the Deputy Majority Leader, Mr Alexander Afenyo-Markin, rendered an apology over his using a wrong picture to support a position he held that part of the reason for tidal waves in some coastal communities was as a result of sand winning.
Buttressing his argument that sand winning had contributed to tidal waves in Keta and other constituencies in the Volta Region, the Deputy Majority Leader said it was on record that the first major intervention made to tackle tidal waves in Keta was during former President John Agyekum Kufuor’s era.
He said again in 2015, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) initiated the Keta Sea Defence project but it was the current government that completed the project.
He retracted the comments he made about Keta; the source has pulled down the article and pictures depicting sand winning activities in Keta.
He subsequently filed an urgent question for the Minister of Works and Housing to tell the House what action was being taken to address the problem of tidal waves in coastal communities.
Many were surprised to see the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Member of Parliament for Madina, Mr Francis-Xavier Sosu, in Parliament for the budget hearing.
Lawyers for Mr Sosu had indicated to the Kaneshie District Court hearing a case of unlawfully blocking a public road and the destruction of public property last Tuesday that Mr Sosu was outside the country and expected in the country next week.
That made the court, presided over by Oheneba Kufuor, to adjourn the case to November 29, 2021.
It will be interesting to see how these issues pan out in the coming days and weeks as it will test the independence of Parliament, enforcement of legislation and the functioning of other state institutions.