The Chamber was very noisy, but the entry of the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Edward Doe Adjaho, brought back serenity, as the members stood attentively and watched him take his seat.
It was time for business - the presentation of the government's Financial Policy Statement for the year ending December 31, 2013, by the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Seth Terkper.
When the members resumed their seat after the Speaker had led the House in prayer, the onus was then on the Majority Leader, Dr. Benjamin Kunbuor, who doubles as the Minister for Government Business, to direct the House how the business of the day should be run.
When he stood up, he first looked in the direction where the Minority members were seated, then turned left to the Speaker, and directed that the House consider the laying of two papers - Seventh Report of the Appointments Committee on H.E. the President's nominations for ministerial appointments, and the Annual Report of the Petroleum Funds for the 2012 Financial year - before the presentation of the 2013 Budget.
Moments after the Speaker had admitted the laying of the aforementioned papers, Dr. Kunbuor, who was enjoying the full support of the House, directed his colleagues to admit the presentation of the Financial Policy Statement of the Government for the year ending December, 31, 2013.
The stage was now set for Mr. Terkper to move the motion for the presentation of the much awaited Financial Policy Statement of the Government, dubbed: 'Sustaining Confidence in the Future of the Ghanaian Economy.'
Beaming with smiles and making his first budget presentation, Mr. Terkper told the members that the economy was resilient as ever before, even though it experienced a budget deficit against what was projected in the 2012 Budget.
The government has come under severe criticisms for reckless spending in 2012, thereby recording a budget deficit never recorded in the history books of the country.
The government had targeted a fiscal deficit of GHâÂ‚Âµ4.7 billion (6.7% of GDP) in the 2012 Financial Policy Statement, including the supplementary budget, but ended up recording a GHâÂ‚Âµ8.7 billion fiscal deficit.
The country's public debt by December, 31, 2012, had increased by 23%, from US$15,350 million in 2011 to US$18,832.77 million by December 31, 2012.
The opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) had expressed the belief that the excessive expenditures went to finance the purchase of vehicles, laptops, sewing machines, sound systems, and the many things the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) party lavishly distributed around during the 2012 elections.
But, Mr. Terkper, in a reaction, noted that the excessive spending was due to a combination of factors, including the reduction in the availability of concessional funds as a result of the Euro financial crisis, which contributed to the increase in non-concessional borrowing to finance infrastructure projects, as well as the issuance of longer-dated domestic debt instruments (3-year and 5-year bond).
"Although the rise in total debt has sent some shivers down the spines of sections of Ghanaians, because of the fear of its medium to long term sustainability implications, we wish to assure Ghanaians that the debts were issued for priority and self-financing projects, including the Eastern Corridor Roads, Gas Processing Plant, Wa and other hospitals project, rehabilitation of the Western railway line, retooling of the Ghana Police, and the provision of essential equipment to the military. They will, therefore, not pose a threat to debt sustainability of the country," he explained.
Many had anticipated the 2013 Budget statement was going to be a rescue plan for the collapsing economy.
It turned out to be so, but rather in a cruel and harsh way - the expansion of the tax net in the midst of increased prices of petroleum products, which has virtually affected all goods and services in the country, power rationing, lack of access to sanitation and potable water among many others.
Salary levels remained unchanged, and the cost of living continues to rise up; a situation which is having a rippling effect on the ordinary citizen.
To mitigate the huge funding requirements needed to close the country's infrastructure gap, and domestic payment of arrears, as well as ensure economic stability, Mr. Terkper argued that the only way to achieve that was to sustain revenue mobilisation.
He noted: "The focus on revenue generation in the 2013 fiscal year, therefore, is to expand the tax base, and improve the efficiency of tax administration."
Among the various goods and services scheduled for tax include, Personal Income Tax Bands, Vehicle Income Tax, Environmental Tax, Environmental Tax on Plastics, Penalty on over-aged vehicles, Airport tax, and Communication Service Tax.
With regard to Vehicle Income Tax, commercial owners are expected to file their tax returns on a quarterly basis. For example, an owner of a 33-seater commercial vehicle is billed to file a tax return of GHâÂ‚Âµ15 per quarter.
According to Mr. Terkper, due to challenges in securing funding for environmental-related issues, his outfit had set up an Environmental Fiscal Reform Working Group to look at the various fiscal instruments around the world that can be used to raise revenue for addressing environmental problems in the country.
The group, he noted, would also look at the how the funds raised can be appropriately applied to addressing concerns in waste management, transport and mining sectors, and are expected to present a proposal in the 2014 budget.
On education, the Minister said government interventions have included payment of a Capitation Grant of GHÂÂ¢32.1 million to 5,467,808 pupils in all public basic schools, payment of subsidy of GHÂÂ¢7,518,157 for the 2012 Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), and payment of subsidies for 697,917 and 51,487 students in Senior High Schools and Technical/Vocational Institutes respectively, among others.
Also in line with government policy to reduce to the barest minimum the incidence of schools being operated under trees and temporary structures, a total of 1,683 schools are being constructed.
"Forty-two percent of the schools have been completed and handed over to the beneficiary schools, while 20 percent are at advanced stages of completion. The remaining 38 percent are at various stages of completion," he noted.
In terms of access to clean water, he said most schools in Ghana do not have access to sanitation facilities, such that for a lot of the boarding schools, access to water remains a major challenge, and affects learning and other critical activities of the schools. Thus, as part of efforts to address the deficit in water provision, the government, in the medium term, would ensure that all primary, junior and senior high schools in the country have access to clean and potable water.
He indicated that the Ministry of Works and Housing would collaborate with the Ministry of Education to undertake a needs assessment of water and sanitation facilities in all existing schools, and draw up a programme to meet the existing gaps.
Additionally, the government would make a conscious effort to provide new schools with adequate water and sanitation facilities, as part of the essential requirements for the schools.
In the health sector, he enumerated government interventions through the creation of 209 new functional Community-Based Health Planning Services (CHPS) zones, procurement of 161 new ambulances, in addition to the opening of 28 new ambulance stations, bringing the total number of stations to 52, among others.
These, he noted, were in consonance with the Better Ghana Agenda objective of enhancing access to Primary Health Care, and to support improvement in pre-emergency health services.
To further improve the delivery of quality health services in the country, he observed that the government would strengthen governance, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the health system.
This would be done through improving access to quality maternal, neo-natal, child and adolescent health and nutrition services, bridging equity gaps in access to health care, and ensure sustainable financing arrangements that protect the poor.
Also, the government would intensify prevention and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases, strengthen institutional care, including mental health service delivery, and scale up coverage of HIV Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) towards elimination target by 2015.
Priority projects in the sector for the year would include, among other things, construction of five polyclinics in the Brong Ahafo Region, construction of a 597-capacity bed in the University of Ghana Teaching Hospital at Legon, expansion of Radiotherapy and Nuclear medicine centres at the Korle-Bu and Komfo Anokye Teaching hospitals, and expansion of Health Training Institutions.