Parliament has approved three major tax bills targeted at bolstering the sustainable generation of the domestic revenue for the country.
The bills are the Excise Duty and Excise Tax Stamp (Amendment) Bill, 2022, the Income Tax (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2022, and the Growth and Sustainability Levy Bill, 2022.
The trio, which were passed under certificates of urgency, are projected to complement the government’s efforts to raise more than GH¢4 billion annually.
The Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill, which will impose a 20 per cent tax on cigarettes and e-smoking devices, as well as sweetened beverages, spirits and wines, is projected to rake in about GH¢400 million annually, while the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill will generate about GH¢1.2 billion.
The Growth and Sustainability (Amendment) Bill, which will replace the National Fiscal Stabilisation Levy that currently imposes a levy on companies operating in selected sectors, is also projected to raise about GH¢2.2 billion.
The National Fiscal Stabilisation Levy itself replaced the National Reconstruction Levy, 2001 (Act 597) and the National Reconstruction Levy (Amendment) Act, 2005 (Act 687), which imposed a 1.5 per cent non-deductible levy on profits before tax of all companies, except rural and community banks.
The House also approved the Ghana Revenue Authority Bill, 2022.
The three tax bills are vital to enhancing Ghana’s chances of securing a $3-billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Headcounts on votes
The approval of the bills came last Friday after the Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, had moved the motions for the House to approve them.
When the Speaker put the motions to voice votes during the consideration stage and the third readings, he declared the “Ayes” to have had it.
However, his rulings on the voice votes were challenged three consecutive times by the First Deputy Minority Whip, Ahmed Ibrahim, who called for headcounts and a division.
The division is where MPs will walk out of the chamber and be called in one after another to be counted.
Despite the high hopes of the Minority to block the approval of the bills, the outcome of the headcounts showed 137 “Aye” and 136 “No” votes in favour of the bills.
On the question of how 137 Majority MPs were counted during each of the headcounts, the Minority Chief Whip, Governs Kwame Agbodza, said often things that happened in the House were “sometimes misinterpreted outside”.
“When we took the last vote, you (Mr Speaker) counted 137 for our colleagues; some members of the public are aware that two of our colleagues were not physically here and it would be appropriate to make a public pronouncement as to why we still counted 137,” he prayed.
Responding, the Speaker referred the House to Order 114 rule (4) which stipulated that: “Members who are incapacitated by some physical infirmity from passing through the lobbies shall, upon reporting their incapacity to Mr Speaker through the Clerk, be counted and recorded accordingly in the House”.
“Honourable members, we have some of our members that are incapacitated and what I did was to ask the Clerk to go and physically see them, the state of incapacitation and whether they are of sound mind because we are dealing with decision-making before they can come to testify, which has been done.
“And so, they were recorded and counted accordingly. So, I have the figures here with me,” he explained.
A tax expert and consultant, Dr Abdallah Ali-Nakyea, listed 11 implications for the economy following the passage of the three tax bills.
They include the high cost of doing business, increase in unemployment and inflation, difficulty in exacting levies from petroleum and mining sectors due to stability clauses and additional cost of rendering services to customers in the various banks.
He said the increases in levies on income brackets for those in the high net worth taxation policy were misplaced, while the introduction of withholding tax on the realisation of assets and liabilities was a welcome idea.
Dr Ali-Nakyea, in an interview with the Daily Graphic’s Vincent Amenuveve in Accra yesterday on the implications of the new tax bills, welcomed the review of income tax rates for temporary mining concessions.
He said the passage of the bills meant that a lot of monitoring had to be done to avert and deal with the smuggling of products when the taxes were imposed.
While agreeing that the country’s domestic revenue must be shored up, he quickly added that stakeholder engagement should have been held for key industry players to recommend to the government appropriate measures to be taken so that it did not affect industry players.
“This is why we always call for stakeholder engagement to discuss tax policies to avoid such back-and-forth tax policies which lack consistency,” the chartered accountant, lawyer and lecturer further said.
Why Minority opposed bills
During the considerations of the bills, the Minority Leader, Dr Cassiel Ato Forson, justified why his caucus was opposed to the passage of the three tax bills, saying they would impose more burden on the ordinary Ghanaian, businesses and financial institutions.
He said currently the country was going through very difficult times, as inflation was at hyper levels in excess of 50 per cent.
He said the government, as part of the 2023 budget, decided to remove discounts on benchmark values, which increased the prices of imported goods and services at the ports.
The Minority Leader also said as a result of the poor performance of the cedi, increasing Value Added Tax (VAT) had shot up import VAT by 2.5 per cent.
“Therefore, any attempt to increase excise duties will impose more suffering on the ordinary Ghanaian,” he said.
He told the House how he had been receiving petitions, since last week, from the Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA), the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) and the Food and Beverages Association for the Minority to reject all the tax bills.
“Mr Speaker, clearly, the people of Ghana do not want to see an increase in excise duties. Yes, the government needs revenue, but when they prepare the budget for 2023, the budget assumed that they are going to make debt service payments.
“Prior to that, the government had to take the country through domestic debt restructuring and as a result they are saving GH¢40 billion. So if you save GH¢40 billion from domestic debt restructuring and another GH¢21 billion from external debt payment, you have GH¢61 billion free money that you did not budget for,” he said.
Protecting people’s health
Contributing, a Deputy Minister of Finance, Abena Osei-Asare, said the tax bills were not meant to help the government raise revenues per se but for health reasons.
Putting some percentage levies on sugary items, such as fruit juices, would help reduce consumption and protect the health of the citizenry.
With the influx of tobacco products into the country, Ms Osei-Asare, who is also the MP for Atiwa East, said the government had included tobacco in the existing schedule of items to reduce the consumption of tobacco and spirits that contained more alcohol, especially by the youth.
Reacting to the Minority Leader’s assertion that the government was going to make a savings of about GH¢40 billion with the debt exchange programme, she said Dr Forson should bear in mind that there was a deficit that had to be addressed by the savings.
The National Democratic Congress (NDC) MP for Bawku Central, Mahama Ayariga, disagreed with the Deputy Finance Minister on grounds that taxes would be imposed on mineral water and beverages, and that children would be hurt the most since they took more beverages.
He also disagreed with Ms Osei-Asare on the argument that the government was taxing for health considerations.
“Mr Speaker, if you look at the items, the principal consideration for imposing these taxes is not health consideration but more of revenue generation,” Mr Ayariga said.