Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta, on Wednesday, November 15, presented the much anticipated 2024 budget statement and economic policy of the government.
The 2024 budget, a blueprint for the nation’s economic journey ahead, was expected to navigate the challenges, bolster growth, and address the pressing needs of the Ghanaian people.
However, as the sector minister drew the curtains on Wednesday’s address, a chorus of critics and financial experts arose, asserting that the budget fell short of addressing critical areas that demand attention.
In this article, The Ghana Report seeks to bring to the fore the notable gaps that have sparked debates among policymakers, economists and the public.
- Agenda 111
President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, on August 17, 2021, launched the Agenda 111 project.
The project is expected to cover the design, procurement, construction, equipping and commissioning of 101 district hospitals, six regional hospitals in newly created regions, one regional hospital in the Western Region, two psychiatric hospitals in Kumasi and Tamale, as well as a redeveloped Accra Psychiatric Hospital.
The project is to ensure that Ghanaians nationwide have access to quality healthcare services and, with the National Health Insurance Scheme, boost healthcare infrastructure and financial accessibility.
Doctors, nurses and other health personnel will have accommodation in the hospitals to be constructed.
The project is poised to generate more than 60,000 jobs.
Although the 2024 budget failed to provide a detailed report on the project and fund allocation, Mr Ofori Atta stated, “The government will be investing in the expansion of health infrastructure in every district under the Agenda 111 initiative”.
President Akufo-Addo, in September this year, had assured that the project was ongoing.
“The average completion rate of the 89 ongoing projects is fifty-two per cent 52%, with work at some sites being 70 to 80% complete,” he revealed.
This was during the commissioning of the St. Michael’s Specialist Hospital at Abeka Lapaz on Saturday, September 30.
- Road Tolls
The government cancelled the collection of road tolls in November 2021, a decision that ignited a vigorous debate among the citizenry.
For some Ghanaians, the absence of tolls signalled a welcome relief, easing the financial burden on motorists and commuters.
However, this decision has not been met with unanimous applause.
One faction is urging the government to reinstate tolls, citing concerns about potential revenue shortfalls and the impact on infrastructure development.
A civil society organisation (CSO), SEND Ghana, and some revered economists are leading the charge to bring back road tolls.
These individuals and groups are not the persons worried about the current situation. The former workers facing extreme hardships since the closure and subsequent demolition have also expressed their concerns.
In July this year, the ex-toll workers, who organised themselves under an umbrella name, Professionals and Allied Workers Union (PAWU), presented a petition to parliament, during which they explained their plight after the cessation of the collection of road tolls.
Some concerned drivers associations also joined the call.
The association stressed the critical need for increased funding to address the state of deteriorating roads across the country.
But their pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears as the sector minister did not mention tolls in the ‘Nkunim’ budget.
- No reduction in utility tariffs
Many have called for a reduction of high utility tariffs, which pose a burden to households and businesses alike.
For instance, the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) has appealed to the government to reduce the utility tariffs for manufacturing companies and industries producing and contributing to the country’s development.
AGI explained that Ghana was one of the few nations where industry paid more electricity costs than home enterprises.
They pointed out that taxes and power accounted for 30% of production expenses, making it difficult for manufacturing firms to prosper and compete globally.
The Ghana Hotels Association added its voice.
Currently, electricity and water have seen an increment of 4.22 % and 1.18%, respectively.
The Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) announced the latest increment, implemented on September 1, 2023.
- National Cathedral
The construction of the National Cathedral has garnered significant attention since it was first announced by President Nana Akufo-Addo in 2018.
While the construction is ongoing, the project has not been without its share of controversy, most notably the recent resignations of several prominent clergy members from the Board of Trustees.
Also, questions of accountability and the project’s relevance in the face of the country’s economic crisis have been repeatedly raised by the Minority in Parliament.
Critics say even though they recognise the need to honour God, the timing of the project was not prudent since it was a personal pledge by the President to God.
However, proponents of the project believe that a grand cathedral would serve as a unifying symbol for the nation, a place for spiritual reflection, and an emblem of national pride.
According to President Akufo-Addo, the National Cathedral, when completed, will become one of the nation’s most iconic landmarks.
The sector minister decided to avoid all controversies surrounding the National Cathedral. No mention of it at all.
Over the years, successive governments have embarked on robust measures to rid the country of corruption.
The Akufo-Addo administration, for example, established the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) to deal with this canker.
However, efforts have proved futile as various parameters, such as the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), say Ghana, have failed to make any significant progress.
A UN corruption report on Ghana says Ghanaians from all walks of life paid GH¢5 billion as bribes to public officials to facilitate public service delivery in public institutions in the areas of health, education, transportation, security, and justice delivery in 2021.
According to the report, the prevalence of bribery is highest in relation to police officers, 53.2%, followed by Ghana Immigration Service Officers, 37.4%, and Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) Customs officers, 33.6%.
Despite these glaring statistics, the Akufo-Addo administration still believes the battle can be won.
Although the sector minister failed to delve into the subject matter, the issue is subtly captured in one sentence in the 2024 budget.
“Government is also committed to ensuring the implementation of the second phase of the National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP) to foster public accountability and transparency,” the budget stated.
- Calls To Scrap COVID-19 Levy
Recently, there have been calls for the government to scrap the COVID-19 levy to ease the tax burden on citizens.
The COVID-19 health recovery levy is a special levy on the supply of goods and services and imports to raise the needed revenue to support COVID-19 expenditures.
The levy was introduced sometime in 2021 through an Act of parliament and was applicable to Standard Rate and Value Added Tax (VAT) Flat Rate registered persons.
While many see the logic behind the call for removing the COVID-19 levy, some doubt its feasibility, given the government’s reliance on tax to meet revenue targets by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Ghana has signed a $3 billion programme and is expected to restructure measures to boost revenue and cut expenditure to get back on track.
However, the finance minister swept the issue under the carpet.
- Silence on Cape Coast Airport and Harbour
In 2020, Vice President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia said the Central Regional capital, Cape Coast, would have a harbour and an airport.
That is the promise of the governing New Patriotic Party should it be given the nod to run the country’s affairs for another four-year term, he said when he outlined excerpts of the NPP’s manifesto ahead of the 2020 polls.
Not much has been done to make it a reality three years down the lane.
The project was not captured in the 2024 budget, drawing anger from the people of Cape Coast.
Shortly after the budget presentation, some Cape Coast (Oguaa) Metropolis residents expressed their anger about the development.
A fishmonger at Anaafo fish market, Madam Grace Adobah, expressed concerns in an interview with the GNA.
“The government deceived us into voting for them in the 2020 election with those two projects that had failed to see the light of day,” she lamented.
For his part, Daniel Dadzie, an electrical engineer, appealed for the government to redeem their pledge in the shortest possible time.
“The government urged us to vote for them to deliver the two projects, but having done our bargain, the government is feet-dragging its part.
“This is not politically good for this administration, considering the fact that the party would come around to canvas for votes in the December 2024 election. They have to explain this with no ambiguity, or else they would have themselves to blame in the 2024 election,” Mr Dadzie cautioned.