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Mid-year budget review: What if Seth Terkper is lying to us, can we tell?

Often, you have government quoting different figures as the truth and the opposition making a counter-claim as to what the real figures are, leaving the average Ghanaian wondering who to believe.

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Finance Minister, Seth Terkper play

Finance Minister, Seth Terkper

OPINION: Financial reporting in Ghana has predominantly been reduced to mere disputes over the facts and figures, when it should be about analysis of the implications of the facts.

Often, you have government quoting different figures as the truth and the opposition making a counter-claim as to what the real figures are, leaving the average Ghanaian wondering who to believe.

Unfortunately, the journalist as the gatekeeper feeds off the same figures presented by the Ministry of Finance and its agencies, implying that the role of the journalist as the gatekeeper is lost in the world of financial journalism.

"NPP accuses Government’s conflicting figures on TOR’s debt”, “Minority is misleading Ghanaians on public debts – MP Benjamin Kpodo” are some of the common headlines making the rounds in the media. But shouldn’t journalists be presenting the true objective figures, rather than reporting the various confusing versions?

READ MORE:Budget Review 7 things you must know from Terkper's Mid-Year budget review

We cannot, however,  blame financial journalists  entirely for this, given that financial records of government expenditure, revenue generation, financial malfeasance amongst others, are deemed the property of the Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Ghana and their affiliates.

Journalists have to scrap and gnaw  at the crumbs of information that slip through the cracks of the Ministry’s non-transparent systems or rely on patriotic whistleblowers, who would, once in a while,  leak one document or the other. It is only under these circumstances that the truth gets out.

Finance Minister, Seth Terkper on Tuesday released a set of figures on government expenditure, which stands at  GHC14 billion for the first quarter of 2016, a deficit of 2.5% and debt accumulation rate of 63%, all of which paint a positive picture of government’s economic performance in the first quarter of the year 2016.

How sure are we that these figures are true? Who can independently  ascertain these figures? Certainly not Ghanaian journalists, because they don’t have the legal basis with which to demand the breakdown and proper documentations of these expenditures.

Perhaps it is high time more pressure is applied for the passage of the Right to Information Bill in order to equip the media and any well-meaning Ghanaian to get access to public finance documents that would help ascertain figures put out by the finance ministry.

Civil Society Organisations have been asked to increase efforts for the passage of the Right to Information Bill which has been in draft since 1999, and has undergone several consideration stages and review.

Renowned Member of the Coalition on the Right to Information Bill, Mina Mensah, in her speech at the World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Accra, underscored the need for the Right to Information Bill as the singular  most important tool for journalists at this point of Ghana’s development.

The reason why journalists are always shocked at the rot revealed by the Auditor General’s reports and the Public Accounts Committee of parliament’s sittings is due to the little information made available to journalists about the financial behaviour of public institutions.

Ms Mensah also urged the electorate to demand accountability from persons who controlled and administered state assets and resources on their behalf.

The Chairman of the National Media Commission (NMC), Mr Kwasi Gyan-Appenteng, noted that it was in the interest of politicians to pass the bill into law as it would facilitate easy access to information and discourage journalists from using unethical methods of obtaining information and resorting to speculative reportage.

For her part, Dr Doris Yaa Dartey, a Communications Consultant, charged the media to make the passage of the law a campaign issue.

The only way we will get the true breakdown of government’s financial figures instead of relying on the Ministry of Finance whose performance is under scrutiny, is the Right to Information Bill. But will politicians like Seth Terkper give us the bill or will they prefer to keep their figures hidden, another example of power staying with the powerful?

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