E-LEVY: FROM WHENCE COME THE DEUS EX MACHINA?

The high mark of the 2022 Budget is undoubtedly the E-levy Bill. Because of its controversial nature and its importance to the government and the economy every Ghanaian knows or should, by now, know what the e-levy bill is.

The e-levy bill has generated a great deal of acrimony, heat, animosity and intolerance in Parliament. It has deeply divided Parliament and caused unprecedented friction and fracas in the House. MPs attempted to snatch the Speaker’s Chair and, in fact, exchanged blows. The media reported that one hon. MP got injured!

This, to some extent, reminds us of what happened in 1995 when the NDC Government wanted to introduce the VAT. The major difference is that in 1995 there was no strong opposition political party in Parliament. But that did not prevent the media, public opinion and the NPP mounting relentless and spirited opposition to the VAT Bill. The opposition to the Bill was so absolute and vehement that the NDC government was forced to withdraw the Bill for further consultation. Even though the Bill was eventually passed it was considerably amended, re-structured and watered down.

But things are different in the 8th Parliament of the Fourth Republic. The e-levy bill is being introduced in Parliament when there is equal number of opposition and the ruling party in Parliament, 137/137. The House is also plagued with unbelievable intolerance, intransigence and impunity from the ruling party. At first, the NDC MPs were opposed to the E-Levy Bill and will have nothing to do with it. They, rightly or wrongly, argued that there was a lot of hardship and suffering in the land. According to them the Bill, if passed in its original form, would compound the suffering of the common man in the street. But they relented and, in fact, there was a split of mind in the NDC about the Bill. Some asked for the rate of the levy to be reduced to 0.5% while others thought it should be reduced to 1.0%. It was even widely reported that the Minority Leader favoured the reduction of the levy to 1.0%. This attracted unfavourable reaction from the NDC hawks. These positions have not yet been reconciled but the NDC has given indication that, if it was properly consulted and further educated on the levy, it was prepared to reconsider its stand.

The NPP, on its part, is adamant. It will not budge and has refused to compromise or consult on the issue. It is resolute to pass the levy at the rate of 1.75% and in its original form. According to the NPP Caucus in Parliament the levy will be passed, no matter what, and irrespective of whether the NDC likes it or not. Yes, the NDC can have its say but the NPP should have its way. But the NPP must sober up and remember that, first of all, we are in a democracy and, secondly, that the House is equally divided. This means thatthe House should embrace the spirit of consultation, tolerance, compromise and consensus.

Because of the serious disagreement between the NPP and NDC the situation has become intractable and stalemated. This was the situation in which Parliament found itself before it went on Christmas recess. It was hoped that during the recess cool heads would prevail; that there would be self-introspection; that more public education would be carried out and that there would be engagement and consultation. It was hoped that by the time Parliament returned from recess consensus and compromise would have been reached on the issue and Parliament would find its way clear to engage in a constructive debate and enact mutually accepted e-levy legislation for implementation. Unfortunately the opposite situation seems to be the case; there has not been any reconciliation!

The same old discordant song is being sung. The NDC is alleging that it has still not been consulted even though it is prepared to compromise if properly consulted. The NPP, on the other hand, insists that it is legally entitled to have its way notwithstanding what the NDC says or thinks. To quote an NPP MP “We shall pass the e-levy whether the NDC likes it or not and they can’t do anything.” This intransigent position ofthe NPP is not too good for parliamentary democracy. It is, to say the least, greatly disappointing, uncalled for and, in fact, not necessary.

Because of its controversial nature and its importance to the political stability of Ghana, Ghanaians were expecting the e-levy bill to be the first thing to be tackled when Parliament resumed sitting. Disappointingly and inexplicably, that has not happened. Astonishingly, the Minister of Finance was said to have asked for the postponement of debate on the bill. He was reported to have said that he needed more time to consult and provide further education on the bill. So what was he doing during the time Parliament was on recess? Or maybe the NPP has something up its sleeve!

It appears to me that the Parliament of Ghana has lost its capacity, ability and, maybe, its legitimacy to take decisions on crucial issues of state. Do I hearsome people askif Parliament is in a state of anomie and that thereshouldbe an intervention to rescue it? But from whence come this intervention? Who or what should the Deus Ex Machina be?

By  Kosi Kedem, Former MP for Hohoe South

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