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Budget Controversy Minority accuse Seth Terkper of dishonesty; boycott budget debate

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Parliamentary debate on the 2016 budget hit a snug due to on going controversy between minority and majority caucuses.

The  controversy began when the minority decided not to debate on the budget until what they describe as factual inaccuracies and dishonesty by the minister of finance over figures quoted in the budget.

On Thursday, Just after prayers had been said and the votes and the previous day’s proceedings had been approved, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Ablekuma North, Mr Justice Joe Appiah, drew the attention of the First Deputy Speaker, Mr Ebo Barton-Odro, who presided over affairs, to the fact that there were only 39 members of the Minority and 35 members of the Majority present and, therefore, a quorum had not been formed.

That was an indication of the posture the Minority intended to adopt in the conduct of affairs in the House, but he was ignored by Mr Barton-Odro.

After the Deputy Speaker had initiated moves for the commencement of the debate, the Minority raised another objection and stated that figures contained in the copies of the budget statement provided to them were different from what the Minister of Finance, Mr Seth Terkper, had presented to the House on November 13, 2015.

As a result, they contended, they could not debate the budget.

The MPs for Akuapem South, Wenchi and Sekondi, Mr Osei Bonsu Amoah, Prof. George Gyan-Baffuor and Papa Owusu Ankomah respectively; the Minority Spokesperson on Finance, Dr Anthony Akoto Osei; and the Deputy Minority Leader, Mr Dominic Nitiwul, said at different times that the Minority wanted a true and accurate record of what they were going to discuss.

Prof. Gyan-Baffuor said since there were discrepancies in the figures, the Minister of Finance should appear on the floor of the House again to present another budget which would address the discrepancies.

After a lot of back and forth between the Majority and the Minority, Mr Barton-Odro stated that it was the reproduction of the original document presented by Mr Terkper that had created the discrepancies.

He said the correct figures had been quoted by the original budget document and, therefore, the debate should proceed.

He then directed the Chairman of the Finance Committee, Mr James Klutse Avedzi, to commence the debate.

But the minority will not budge. They began to make noise, high enough to drown the submission of the chairman of the finance committee.

"Even in the Hansard, so many pages are missing. How can we proceed with the debate? Mr Speaker, if you do not allow us to break and have a meeting to discuss the issues behind closed doors, as suggested by the Deputy Majority Leader, we will have problems," Mr Nitiwul said.

Taking a cue from the suggestion, Mr Barton-Odro suspended sitting for about 10 minutes and held a closed-door meeting with the leadership of the House.

They emerged from the meeting with smiles and debated the budget.

As is usual with such debates, a member of the Minority condemned the budget, referring to it variously as "a toxic mix of incompetence and mismanagement"; "an Opana budget"; "a budget that lacks innovation"; and "a rehash of old budgets with no bold initiative”.

The Majority, on the other hand, described it as a budget of hope which contained initiatives to transform the economy.

Since President John Mahama stated during his tour prior to the presidential and parliamentary primaries of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) that the Minority were "sleeping in Parliament", the Minority has made it clear that it will make the carrying out of government business in the House very difficult.

Mr Nitiwul, on November 25, 2015, stated on the floor of the House that the Minority would not even allow parliamentary business to proceed if the members did not form a quorum.

"Because we have been told by the President that we are sleeping on the job, we will not compromise," he said.

About a week-and-a-half ago, the MP for Adansi Asokwa, Mr K.T. Hammond, requested for pillows and mattresses for members of the Minority so that the Minority could "sleep very well".

“Since we have now been provided with offices, and since the President says we are sleeping, they might as well provide us with pillows and mattresses so that we can sleep very well," he added.

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