Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta has, in response to a question about how confident he was in getting the e-levy passed, said: “If you pray with me, I’m sure by the end of March, we’ll pass e-levy, so, let’s be very hopeful about that”.
He made the comment at a press conference on Thursday, 24 March 2022 during the Q&A session after presenting the government’s austerity and economy-fixing measures to journalists at the Ministry of Finance.
The e-levy has been a bone of contention between the government and the opposition National Democratic Congress.
It has been in limbo since mid-November 2021 after the 2022 budget was presented by Mr Ofori-Atta.
The levy was expected to fill the vacuum created by the scrap of the tollbooth levies and also rake in more to shore up infrastructure development.
However, the Minority Caucus has been fierce against its passage in the 137-137 hung parliament.
At the press conference, Mr Ofori-Atta also told former Deputy Finance Minister Cassiel Ato Forson to stop making negative comments about the economy since such remarks do not help the country’s economic sphere.
Dr Forson had described the government’s austerity and economic restoration measures as “cosmetic” and “empty”, adding that they would rather “erode confidence in the economy”, prompting a direct response from the minister when it was brought to his attention by journalists during the Q&A session.
“Let me be very very clear that if I had followed an NDC-programmed economic transformation of this country, we will not be here”, Mr Ofori-Atta retorted, adding: “It is their duty [Minority Caucus] to put their responses to us, as my honourable colleague [Dr Cassiel Ato Forson] is doing but I think we’ve all been partners in seeing how the economy run from 2017 to 2019 and also very clear on the impact of COVID on this economy … the issue, therefore, of investor confidence, if he will take responsibility or inability, maybe, for his party not to pass our revenue measures in the house, it will be a very different discussion that we are on and I don’t want us hiding from that fact that it then led to the downgrade that we have, closed the international capital market, our inability to go the market in the first quarter and pass an appropriation and say that you can have the revenue that you require”.
“These are clear responsibilities that we have put and, therefore, the Ukraine war has exacerbated the situation. What do you do? So, we went out with a 20 per cent cut so that we can shrink our expenses and make sure that we still meet the 7.4 per cent [deficit] that we have promised and looking at what has happened with this [Russia-Ukraine] war and seeing that the global dynamics have been worsened, what can we do in our own kitchen to make sure that we get into the mind-frame of austerity in managing that?”
Mr Ofori-Atta said: “Whether they call it cosmetics or what, we are dealing with investor confidence also in, really, the spirit of our people also to say, ‘Let’s brace ourselves and move forward’, and we shall do that. So, the impact, of course, of the $1 billion affects our Debt-to-GDP ratio but I don’t know what the consequences would be if we do not turn the whole economy into a more positively-driven environment of people talking positively in what we do and where we are going to go and I think we should leave it at that”.
“The Negative words do not help the spirit of the country. Let’s find a way to realise that we, also, are at war and we have some 30 million people to protect”, Mr Ofori-Atta urged.
He added: “I think, really, as a people, we should not allow negative language to stop us and create this poverty of aspiration with our heads down. It should not be encouraged”.
Concerning the issue of going to the IMF, Mr Ofori-Atta said: “If we hit a snag in parliament, what are we going to do? And there’s a subtle suggestion of IMF. I think we’ve told you that we are not going there. OK”.
“But we’ve also told you that we have an incredibly good relationship with them and, therefore, their stock of knowledge and advice etc., we are going to continue with that and I think we even have a staff visit next week or so, as we look at these measures that we have talked about”.
“And, really, also the elephant in the room is our debt stock. And, so, how do you think through their knowledge, our knowledge to re-profile it and to be able to then give you a fiscal space for the future. So, it is such positive engagement using the knowledge they have, what we have that we would do but not to go into a programme”, he noted.