The trade, industry and tourism committee of parliament has rejected the GHS80 million budget allocated to the construction of the National Cathedral.
The minority side of the committee voted against the budget in an 11:10 majority decision.
A member of the committee, Mr Yussif Sulemana told journalists on Tuesday, 20 December 2022: “I can tell you on authority that at the end of the day, we had to vote and after the vote, the minority carried the day. We have voted against it and we are saying that this is not the time for us to be spending that huge sum of money on building a cathedral”.
The Bole-Bamboi MP said: “Apart from that, we were told at the committee[-level] that they had already spent GHS339 million and when we asked them to give us evidence of how the money was spent, it was a challenge”.
Again, he noted, “we were told that they have moved the cathedral from wherever it was to the ministry of tourism. And the question I put to them was that that organisation that is handling this cathedral, the secretariat, is it under the ministry of tourism?”
“If it’s not under the ministry of tourism, then it means that you want o use the ministry as a conduit to send the money wherever you want to send it and we, the minority, will not accept it”.
A few days ago, President Nana Akufo-Addo said upon completion, the National Cathedral will serve not only as the country’s collective thanksgiving “to the Almighty for the blessings He has bestowed on our nation, sparing us the ravages of civil war that have bedevilled the histories of virtually all our neighbours, and the outbreak of deadly mass epidemics but also as a rallying point for the entire Christian community of Ghana, which represents seventy-plus per cent of the population.”
The president made this known on Sunday, 18 December 2022, when he delivered an address at the centenary celebration of the Ga Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, held at the Black Star Square, Accra.
Addressing the congregation, which included the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, Rev. Prof. Joseph Obiri Yeboah Mante, the asked the Ga Presbytery, and, indeed, all Christians, to continue to pray for Ghana’s peace and unity, so the nation can move forward in unity.
“I need the support of every Ghanaian, together with the prayers of the church, to help me and my government carry out our mandate successfully. Pray for me so that Almighty God will continue to give me wisdom, strength, courage and compassion to enable me to execute my duties as a good leader. With Him, all things are possible, as the battle is the Lord’s. For this, too, shall pass”, President Akufo-Addo said.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), Professor H. Kwasi Prempeh, recently said the National Cathedral is not a sensible project to undertake in the midst of an economic crisis.
In his view, the government could use the site for the project, for a more sensible venture.
Speaking at a roundtable organised by the Citizen’s Coalition in Accra on Thursday, 15 December 2022, Professor Prempeh said making allocations for the cathedral in the 2023 budget beats his imagination.
“When you are in a crisis, you can do exceptional things, I don’t see anything in the budget to suggest that this is a crisis and that this is being done as an emergency measure,” Professor Prempeh said.
“This is not the time for vanity projects but we have preserved a vanity project in the form of the cathedral. I was expecting that this being a crisis period, we will reflect on that decision and say: ‘even if this is sensible to do at all’ – and I do not think so – that it will not be the appropriate period or we will change the idea to something else”.
“There is a lot that we can still do with that site which can make sense”.
“So, generally it is a missed opportunity in terms of seeing this as a crisis moment and seeing it as a moment to reset the button”, Prof Prempeh noted.
“I think we have not quite done that”, he stressed.
“It looks to me that it is purely an emergency thing targeted at the IMF to approve a loan, as opposed to something that is going deep into the structure and our governance,” Professor H. Kwasi Prempeh admonished in his assessment.
Prof Prempeh is in good company with pressure group OccupyGhana, which recently recommended that the government suspend all public expenditure on the National Cathedral considering that the country is going through an economic crisis.
“Whatever arguments there might have been to support spending now-non-existent money on the proposed National Cathedral, have been eroded by the dire straits that the nation faces”, the group said in a statement.
“Our current situation makes the continued commitment in the budget to spend GHS80m on the cathedral, look like a vanity project”, it noted.
OG said: “We lose nothing by suspending expenditure on that project until the economy recovers”.
The National Cathedral was a personal promise made to God by then-presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo if he won the 2016 election.
Read OccupyGhana’s full statement below:
Our ref: OG/2022/054
OCCUPYGHANA PRESS STATEMENT
Accra, 7 December 2022
GHANA’S CURRENT ECONOMIC SITUATION – OUR FURTHER THOUGHTS AND PROPOSALS
OccupyGhana has noted, with considerable concern, the Finance Minister’s announcements on restructuring portfolio investments.
While IMF support depends on the proposed ‘haircuts,’ they are extremely painful to the many Ghanaians who have participated in these investments.
Simply, under this government’s watch, Ghana has become broke under circumstances that were avoidable and inexcusable and unpardonable.
As we stated in our press release dated 28 October 2022 (Our ref: OG/2022/050) and titled GHANA’S CURRENT ECONOMIC SITUATION – OUR THOUGHTS AND PROPOSALS, the nation would not be in this situation but for the government’s failed, risky economic strategy that borrowed heavily from the international market to fund expenditure, pay maturing debt, support the cedi and possibly control the effect of the depreciation on inflation.
This risky strategy effectively relied on good fortune and extremely astute economic management, both of which failed.
Thus, although the government would seek to blame the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war for this disaster, it cannot evade or avoid the fact that our debt was unsustainable even before these external factors kicked in and compounded an already precarious situation.
TWO BROAD COMMENTS
We have two broad comments on the announcements that request Ghanaians to forego legitimately earned funds to help the government out of the disaster it has created.
First, we consider the finance minister’s announcements as nothing more than an offer from the government to institutional portfolio investors to accept new terms that vary the terms under which the latter acquired the government’s securities.
We think that the government has no power under the law and the Constitution to unilaterally impose fresh terms on portfolio investors; negotiation and the mutual consent of all parties will be required.
Second, notwithstanding the claims that individual investors are insulated from the proposed ‘haircuts,’ the millions of Ghanaians whose funds (pension or otherwise) have been invested by institutional fund managers in government securities, will be the ultimate losers in this new offer.
That is because those fund managers will simply pass the cuts on to their clients and customers.
There is simply no way to understate the terrible consequences that this state of affairs has caused and will cause to Ghanaians.
That is why we believe that any offer to the citizens, who are already hit with the multiple effects of inflation and cedi depreciation, to essentially bail the government out of its self-afflicted disaster, must come with an acceptance of failures and a firm commitment to do better.
We, therefore, recommend 10 things that the government may act upon.
First, reduce the number of government appointees by at least fifty per cent.
This may be achieved by consolidating several ministries and slashing the number of political appointees (ministerial and otherwise), such as all deputies and the like, and entrusting public servant-technocrats with the responsibility of supporting substantive heads.
This will send a powerful message in these tough and painful times that the government is serious about its commitment to doing better while requesting sacrifices from the general public.
Second, let the president pay income taxes, too.
We should remove the tax exemption granted to the president under article 68(5) of the Constitution.
While the actual savings from this might not be much, it is hugely significant and relevantly symbolic.
The president must lead by example.
When he pays his taxes, then he can demand that the rest of us pay taxes too.
Third, it is time to rationalise the so-called ‘article 71 benefits.’
Ghana needs to end the three-decade-old grand conspiracy among the political class that milks Ghana under the false argument that article 71 authorises so-called ‘ex gratia payments.’
We must eradicate the multiple claims of ex gratia; the multiple claims over different administrative/government terms do not make sense and are difficult to sustain.
We must also immediately end the false scheme by which successive governments deliberately delay the setting up of the emoluments committee till the end of their terms, so that salaries and emoluments are agreed upon and calculated literally at the ‘midnight’ of the outgoing government, considered and adopted in secrecy to precious little debate, and then applied retrospectively.
Ghanaians only get to find out the huge pay-outs to the executive and legislators after the fact.
We demand that the committees are established at the start of each government so that we know what and how much the political actors are entitled to when they assume office.
The current government must establish the committees NOW.
Fourth, revise all tax exemptions, especially those granted to incomes and gains from portfolio investments.
The government must, as a matter of urgency, amend section 7(1)(p) to (v) of the Income Tax Act, 2015 (Act 896) to remove all or some of the exemptions on incomes and gains from portfolio investments.
These are not normal times, and we propose imposing a specific, time-bound withholding income tax regime on such earnings.
Ghana may consider re-granting the exemptions when we have recovered.
Fifth, intensify and institutionalise GRA’s invigilation activities.
In addition, the legal sanctions for under-reporting and tax evasion must be drastically applied.
Sixth, explain the source of funding of the proposed Financial Stability Fund (FSF).
Extreme transparency of the proposed programme and its implementation is required.
If the government is broke and requires an IMF bailout, where will the monies for the FSF come from?
Seventh, pursue the Auditor-General’s disallowances and surcharges.
The government must show some seriousness in pursuing those the Auditor-General has found to have caused loss to Ghana.
To the best of our knowledge, the government is doing nothing to enforce the Auditor-General’s disallowances and surcharges.
The president issued a terribly belated instruction to heads of institutions to provide to him the names of all persons identified to have caused losses to the state in the Auditor-General’s reports.
The president’s deadline has come and gone with no communication or indication on whether the names were indeed supplied to the president, and what the president is going to do with them.
Eighth, end galamsey.
The government has to address the galamsey menace as a matter of urgency, as our natural resources are plundered and the ecosystem destroyed.
The much-publicised Kumasi meetings do not appear to have borne fruit.
We have written to the president, at least, 9 times in the past six weeks, in addition to several other previous statements on this, challenging the government to properly regulate artisanal mining in a way that benefits the nation.
They have all been ignored.
Our current efforts will come to nothing if this canker is allowed to overcome any future economic recovery.
Ninth, slash all non-critical government expenditures. Implement a ruthless focus on prioritising government projects and expenditures, and ensure a strict relationship to GDP growth going forward.
And, the government must provide monthly reports on how much money all announced cost-saving measures have delivered.
We specifically recommend the suspension of all fees and allowances paid to persons appointed by the government to serve on various boards.
We also recommend suspending all expenditures on the proposed National Cathedral.
Whatever arguments there might have been to support spending now-non-existent money on the proposed National Cathedral, have been eroded by the dire straits that the nation faces.
Our current situation makes the continued commitment in the budget to spend GHS80M on the cathedral, look like a vanity project.
We lose nothing by suspending expenditure on that project until the economy recovers.
Tenth, rationalise the president’s flagship programmes.
This includes the Free SHS scheme.
Every Ghanaian who can pay fees should pay.
Limit the scheme to only those who can prove that they are not capable of paying fees.
In conclusion, a government that is pleading with Ghanaians to bail it out of a self-afflicted disaster, must ‘bear fruits worthy of repentance.’