Minority National Democratic Congress (NDC) group in Parliament has registered its unhappiness about the absence of the Minister for Finance, Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta from Parliament during the commencement of the 2023 Budget debate yesterday.
The group threatened to stop the debate until Mr. Ofori-Atta presents himself and sits through the exercise to take inputs from the Minority members.
Parliament began debating the Motion for the House to approve the Budget Statement and Economic Policy of the government for the year ending 31st November 2023 on Tuesday November 29.
Consequently, First Deputy Minority whip Ahmed Ibrahim Banda argued it was not for thing the 1992 Constitution indicated that the Finance Minister should lay the budget on the floor on behalf of the President.
The House, he said, was prepared to debate the Motion and make inputs for the Minister to convey same to the President.
“You just can’t come and move the Motion and you are not present. We are in a critical stage as a country and members have researched over the weekend.
“You took us to Ho and gave technical insight and guidance to members who are prepared to make their inputs.
“It is only appropriate the Finance Minister must be here for us to make our input”, Mr. Ahmed stated. The Finance Minister, he said, should inform the House if he was not ready to do job.
The Deputy Minority Whip questioned how the Minister was expected to wind up the debate if he did not even sit through the argument to acknowledge the concerns of the members.
Ranking member on Finance Committee of Parliament, Dr. Cassiel Ato Forson lamented the attitude of the Minister to absent himself during budget debates, describing it as unacceptable.
He argued Mr. Ofori-Atta cannot read present a budget to the House and then fail to solicit inputs to improve it going forward.
This, he said, is unbecoming of the Minister responsible for Finance and added, “Mr. Speaker, if we have our way we should not debate until he appears before us.
“This means that whatever we say the Minister is not going to pick it up and make inputs in building the nation, which requires inputs from both sides.
“You don’t just present a budget and travel abroad or go and sit in your office. We cannot accept this; he should come before we start the debate”.
Majority Leader disagrees
Majority leader Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu who responded to the concerns of the Minority argued the Constitution does not say anywhere that the Budget Statement and Economic Policy should be submitted by the Finance Minister.
Article 179 of the Constitution, he said, only provides that the President shall cause to be prepared and laid before the Parliament, estimated revenues and expenditure of the government for the following financial year.
“That’s all it says. It doesn’t mention the Minister responsible for Finance. The President can choose to send any minister to represent him in the House.”
Minority Leader’s reply
The Majority leader, however, explained the Minister was on an equally important national assignment to Germany and had indeed informed the Speaker and leadership.
He gave assurance that the two Deputy Finance Ministers were in attendance and will convey the concerns of the Minority to the Minister and the government.
Minority leader Haruna Iddrisu, however, drew attention of his colleague that he should not have gone on a Constitutional legal tangent.
The responsibility of the Majority, he said, was just to provide an explanation for the Finance Minister’s absence rather than attempt to dilute the concern raised by the Deputy Minority Whip.
He argued the late Baah Wiredu and Seth Terkper, Finance Ministers under the Kufuor and Mahama governments respectively always sat through the budget to take notes and sometimes engaged MPs while the debate was going on.
However, Mr. Haruna said the Minority was ready to debate and do justice to the budget.
Speaker Bagbin’s response
Speaker Alban S.K. Bagbin put the matter to rest when indicated that budget document laid in Parliament was different from the statement presented on the floor of the House.
According to him, Article 179 (7) and Parliament’s Standing Order 140 clearly provide that the Minister responsible for Finance shall present the Budget to the House on behalf of and on the authority of President.
“So, it is the Minister responsible for Finance who is, by our procedure and rules, to present the budget for and on behalf of the President,” he added.