Budget to deliver jobs …As Agric, industry get boost

Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta has unveiled government’s budget statement and economic policy for 2018, which outlines ambitious plans to create jobs, stimulate growth of the agricultural sector and industry, as well as consolidate gains made in the macroeconomy.

Job-creation has been high on the Akufo-Addo led administration’s agenda, which has outlined numerous policy initiatives in that regard.

Delivering the 2018 budget statement, Mr. Ofori-Atta unveiled the ‘Akufo-Addo Programme for Economic Transformation (AAPET)’ – a three-pronged economic development programme that is expected to accelerate investments in Agriculture, Strategic Infrastructure and Industrialisation.

“Under the programme we will modernise agriculture, improve production efficiency, achieve food security, and increase profitability for our farmers. The plan is to invest in the entire agricultural and agribusiness value chain, which will create new businesses and job opportunities in the sector,” he said.

With the agriculture sector said to employ as much as half of the country’s workforce, Finance Minister Ofori-Atta spoke of government’s commitment to enhancing the flagship Planting for Food and Jobs programme.

Addressing Parliament yesterday, the minister said next year 500,000 farmers will be registered and 2,700 extension agents recruited to support the Planting for Food and Jobs programme.

Having already distributed tractors and accessories to farmers and service providers to promote agricultural modernisation, Mr. Ofori-Atta revealed that government will distribute assorted farm equipment including tractors and matching implements, among others.

The agriculture sector last year grew at three percent, and provisional figures from the Ghana Statistical Service show that the sector’s growth is expected to reach 4.3 percent. With government targetting a growth of 4.5 percent for agric next year, it will be counting on policies such as the abolition of duties on some agricultural produce processing equipment and machinery, among others.

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The Finance Minister also revealed that as part of the ‘Akufo-Addo Programme for Economic Transformation (AAPET)’, government will provide a GH₵400million fund to de-risk the agriculture and agribusiness sector through sustainable agriculture financing and crop insurance schemes, among other measures.

“Government will also invest in infrastructure that supports the opening-up of the country’s major agricultural zones – in energy and related infrastructure to accelerate the industrialisation agenda of government. Significant investments will be made in the road and rail sectors of the economy to facilitate trade and the movement of goods and people,” the Finance Minister stated.

Industry boost

The Akufo-Addo government has said it will pursue an aggressive industrialisation agenda that should further create enough jobs. As part of making that vision possible, the Finance Minister said government has recommended the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission cut tariffs of industrial and commercial consumers of power.

Those consumers, who range from medium- to heavy-users, are in line to benefit from tariff reductions of between 13 to 21 percent. The reductions are expected to incentivise the factories that are expected to be established as part of the One District, One Factory initiative.

“In 2018, government will allocate a minimum of GH¢2million for each district to implement the 1D1F. I am, by this, challenging local authorities in the various districts – together with the private sector, to take full advantage of these funds,” the Finance Minister said.

Also, a Stimulus Programme designed to support viable existing local companies that are currently distressed or are facing operational challenges but are deemed viable, Mr. Ofori-Atta said, has so far received over 350 applications from business operators – out of which 80 were assessed to be eligible for support in the programme’s first phase.

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The second phase will involve provision of a stimulus package consisting of technical and financial support to these eligible companies, he said.

Nation Builders Corps

Mr. Ofori-Atta told Parliament that next year over 100,000 graduates will be taken on by government for implementation of the Nation Builders Corps programme, which he said will be a major government initiative to address livelihood empowerment and graduate unemployment to solve economic and social problems.

Under the Nation Builders Corps programme, graduates will be trained, equipped with the necessary work tools, and deployed around the country to be engaged in assisting public service delivery in health, education, agriculture, sanitation; and drive revenue mobilisation and collection.

Consolidating growth

According to Mr. Ofori-Atta, the economy has returned to robust growth, with the first half of the year recording 7.8 percent GDP growth as compared to 2.7 percent recorded in the same period last year.

While government said it is on course to meet the 6.3 percent growth target for this year, the 2018 budget is forecasting growth to reach 6.8 percent. The fiscal deficit target for next year has also been reduced to 4.5 percent, down from the 6.3 percent set for this year.

“We resolved to be fiscally disciplined and respect the limits this august House set for us within appropriation. Again, I am glad to report that we are well on course to end the year with a fiscal deficit of 6.3 percent; in fact, lower than the 6.5 percent contained in the budget. If I may add, this is only the second time in a decade that a government has managed to stay within its budget deficit target,” Mr. Ofori-Atta added.

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