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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Kwesi Pratt; His Cars, His Houses, Mills & JJ.

Following several readers' Letters to Editor about Mr Kwesi Pratt, Jnr, the Ghanaian Times sought an interview with the man widely regarded as arguably the most outspoken political and social activist in Ghana. Readers' concerns ranged from his declared interest in December 2008 in the candidature of the then Candidate Atta Mills; what they regard as his "kid-glove" treatment of the current government, and his recent radio outbursts against the utterances of former President J.J. Rawlings. We also used the opportunity to quiz him about his own lifestyle.
Read on:

QUES: A section of the public thinks that you are (in their words) "in bed with the current government". They cite your visit to the Castle to meet with Atta Mills - instead of going on a demonstration over fuel price increase, as you were wont to do. They say it is no wonder because you not only campaigned with the NDC but you actually publicly endorsed Atta Mills in the run-up to the run-off of the 2008 Election. What do you say to such a perception?

Answer: Yes, it is true that I publicly endorsed Professor John Evans Atta Mills in the run-off of the 2008 presidential election but I did this as a matter of principle. I knew all the candidates in the election at very close range and I was convinced that Professor Mills was the best. I have known him for well over 30 years. I also worked with him, when he was appointed as the Chairman of the National Sports Council.

The sincerity of Prof. and his commitment to Ghana has never been in doubt. Even at the time, I made the point that if Prof. became the President we will judge him by the same standard we used to evaluate the Kufuor administration. It would be strange if any section of the Ghanaian community think that I am in bed with the government because I have been one of the most strident critics of the Mills administration. I opposed the petrol price increases with vehemence. I opposed the appointment of some of the Ministers on grounds of proven incompetence and I publicly disagreed with the handling of the Muntaka case.

I was part of the team which opposed the deals in the distribution of pre-mix fuel. Only last week, I joined the Association for Pan-Islamic Cooperation, The Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the International Socialist Organisation and the Socialist Forum of Ghana to oppose the visit to Ghana of the Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman. As a matter of fact, we cannot understand why the Government of Ghana wants to hobnob with a racist like Lieberman. Lieberman is also an advocate of terrorism who has called for the execution of even Israeli Members.

This is not to say that the Mills administration has failed. It has achieved significant successes. The incidence of armed robbery is gone down considerably. Power supply has virtually stabilized. Inflation has begun sliding and the modesty of the President is phenomenal. My major problem with the administration is that there has been no paradigm shift.

The view that demonstrations resolve all problems is also a mistaken one. Demonstrations are important forms of democratic expression but they cannot be used all the time. Even in the Rawlings and Kufuor eras we did not demonstrate all the time. There were times when we held press conferences and wrote protest letters or had discussions with the authorities. Since Professor Mills became President I have joined the Committee for Joint Action to organise two demonstrations already.

Ques: On one of the Accra radio stations, two or three callers claimed that your preference for Atta Mills is such that anybody who is seen to go against him or whose words or actions would tend to make him or his government unpopular automatically incurs your wrath. That, they say, explains why you have descended heavily on former President Jerry John Rawlings for daring to suggest that Atta Mills's government is too slow. Does this perception represent the basis of your reaction to the utterances of the former President? If it does not, could you explain why you have taken him on three or so occasions on radio for criticizing, first the perceived delay in appointing the security heads, and only this week, the allegation of sloth?

Answer: First, the views of two or three callers on a particular radio station cannot be public opinion. They remain the views of three callers.

If I am critical of the President myself, then how can I be against those who criticize him simply because they do so? I believe that every citizen, including former President Rawlings, has the right to speak out against what they believe is wrong with the policies or actions of the Mills administration. The point must be made however that those of us who criticize others are not above criticism. If former President Rawlings thinks that it is alright to criticize President Mills then he must find nothing wrong with others who disagree with him.

I don't accept the view of the former President that there is the need to rush the prosecution of former functionaries of the Kufuor administration who are alleged to have involved themselves in corrupt practices. My position is that all those accused of corruption and mismanagement must be made to face the full rigours of the law after proper investigations have established prima facie cases against them. This is a painstaking process requiring a lot of diligence. I also disagree with the former President when he creates the impression that the current administration has achieved nothing. It is Mr. Rawlings who continues to insist that Kufuor's government left empty state coffers behind. Indeed if that is true, then how can he expect the Mills administration to perform miracles within a relatively short period of eight months

I am also worried about the apparent threat in the tone and language of Mr. Rawlings' message to NDC cadres in Kumasi. The security heads he wanted dismissed have been eased out of their positions in a fair and decent manner and that must be to the credit of Professor Mills. What the former President needs to understand is that this is not a coup regime and that things will, as of necessity, be slow. At the end of the day, we cannot prefer speed to justice and fairness.

Ques: Why do you disagree with the former President that the Atta Mills government is slow?

Answer: The issue here is not about speed. It is about delivery. It is about whether election promises are being kept or broken. It is about whether the people still have confidence in their elected leaders or not.

So far, some of the promises have not been kept and others have been kept. The Mills administration has not kept its promise to run a lean government. It has not been able to give 40 per cent of top level positions in public appointment to women, and the prices of petroleum products have been upped.

On the other side, the Government has kept its promise to reduce the duration of the Senior High School from four to three years. The supply of school uniforms to the needy is on course. The modesty of the President is more than apparent, cases of armed robbery have come down considerably and the war against corruption is on. For the first time we have a President who is refusing to take his per diem allowance on foreign travels and who is insisting that even those who want to demonstrate against his government should not be stopped. This is not a government which is slow. It certainly has not kept all its promises but it is not slow.

Ques: How did you feel when the former President described you as the Best Journalist, and conferred on you the title, "Dr. Dr." Why should the person who praised you so highly not qualify to criticise his own party government?

Answer: Former President Jerry Rawlings is an important member of the Ghanaian community and his words cannot be taken lightly. I was greatly encouraged by his warm words of commendation even as I knew that Ghana can boast of far better journalists than I have managed to become.

Who says that because former President Rawlings praised me at some point in his life I have to agree to everything he says? If that were the case I will be the most confused person on earth, because I have been praised profoundly by all Heads of State in Ghana since 1979. President Limann said publicly that he was like me in his youth. President Kufuor has praised me and President Mills has also commended me highly. The important point is that all of these leaders don't agree on all things so how can I agree with all of them simply because they have praised me before?

Ques: When will you stop criticizing?

Answer: Criticism and self-criticism are essential aspects of life and without them life itself would be emptied of its essence. Your question, in other words is when will you stop living? I intend to live for as long as it is possible, and for as long as I live I will continue to contribute to setting standards for public and private life.

Ques: Were you ever approached by this government or offered the position of an Ambassador to Cuba or any other country? If you were, did you turn it down?

Answer: I am not ready to discuss this.

My view is that all citizens are engaged in public service no matter what they do. Farmers grow food to feed the nation, engineers design and construct bridges for all of us and journalists also serve their nation. I have nothing more to say.

Ques: At the beginning of this year, you were heard criticising the award of ex gratia benefits to former Article 71 public office holders such as MPs, Ministers of State, the President etc. What is your stand and that of the Committee for Joint Action today?

Answer: The Committee for Joint Action can speak for itself. I think that whatever condition of service we approve for public officials should reflect the Ghanaian reality. Many workers have not been paid for several months. Hard working Ghanaians retire without any benefits. Premature children die because our hospitals and clinics don't have incubators and the vast majority of our people cannot have one square meal a day. Under these circumstances it is unfair to buy six chauffeur driven cars for former heads of state in addition to giving them three houses each and many other benefits. There can be no justification for paying hundreds of millions of cedis to MPs for serving the nation for only four years. These are my views and I will not apologize for them.

Ques: For a socialist who espouses moderation in lifestyle, especially of public personalities, it is said that your ownership of two top fashion saloon cars, namely a Mercedes Benz and a BMW, is a demonstration of opulence. What do you say in your defence?

Answer: What crime have I committed to warrant my opening a defence?
Are all journalists expected to explain how they acquired their vehicles? Why is there such a fuss over my ownership of very old cars which give me a lot of headache?

I used to own a 25-year old Mercedez Benz and an 18-year-old BMW but about two weeks ago I sold the BMW very cheaply because it was giving me a lot of trouble. If this is what you call opulence then so be it. Right now I am using an ISUZU pick up which I borrowed from a friend about four months ago.

Answer: All my three children went to Provident School at Abavana Down in Accra where they finished their primary and junior secondary school education. Maame Ama, the most senior, went to Mfantsiman Secondary School and graduated from the University of Ghana about three years ago. Panyin and Kakra went to Adisadel College for their senior secondary school education.

Kakra completed a four-year programme from the University of Ghana last year and Panyin is in his final year at the same University.

Ques: What house do you live in? How many rooms? How did you acquire that house?

Answer: I have never acquired a house. I live in a little village called Musuku in New Ashongman between Kwabenya and the Ashongman Estates. The number of rooms in our house will not tell you anything. If what you want to find out is how comfortable it is, you may come over and see things for yourself. That house was bought in 1998 with a Ghana Commercial Bank Staff Housing Loan payable over 17 years by my wife who has worked there for over 20 years. I wish I could find the money to build a small house somewhere outside the city before I die. Sometimes I want to be in a very quiet place all by myself and reflect. In my old age I would want to do a lot of reflection and writing. I think I deserve that after decades of struggle and pain.
Source: Ghanaians Times

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