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Monday, November 16, 2009

MPs cry for ex-gratia... but who cares


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WHAT POVERTY-STRICKEN Ghanaians have described as suffocating economic conditions in the country in recent times has apparently caught up with the supposedly well-to-do in society including Members of Parliament (MPs), compelling them to cry out for assistance.

“MPs are suffering! Prices of goods have shot up astronomically without a corresponding improvement in the welfare of MPs and some are finding alternative ways to survive,” Isaac Kwame Asiamah, MP for Atwima-Mponua, lamented on the floor of Parliament on Friday after the presentation of a highly-packed business statement of the fourth week ending Friday November 20, 2009.

Asiamah’s lamentation was unanimously greeted with declaration of “Mills should pay our ex-gratia (gratuity)”, albeit in an atmosphere of civility and conviviality.

Concurring, Majority Chief Whip and MP for Ningo-Prampram, E. T. Mensah, said the issue of welfare of Members of Parliament must be tackled in a bipartisan manner, promising that the Committee of the Hold will meet on the matter.

DAILY GUIDE has learnt that salaries of MPs have not been increased since 2008, making it unbearable for the legislators who have to virtually cough out huge sums of money to solve numerous problems of their constituents on daily basis at the Parliament House.

Those who are unable to routinely satisfy the needs of their constituents are sometimes seen rooted in their seats in the Chamber, even after adjournment, just to avoid some of the taxing visitors.

The plight of MPs, some people say, has been worsened following the refusal of President John Atta Mills to pay in full the gratuity or ex-gratia of MPs, which was approved by former President John Agyekum Kufuor for the last Parliament, per Article 71 of the 1992 Constitution.

It would be recalled that upon the assumption of office and with the prompting of “street agitators”, President Mills set up the Ishmael Yamson Committee to review the ex-gratia of MPs for the last parliament, which was legally approved by his predecessor.

The move, widely described by political analysts as a populist approach to an otherwise simple matter, has since been an albatross dangling on the neck of the President, as some former MPs have threatened to take legal action against him should he go ahead to eventually cut down their purse.

One of such determined personalities is John Akparibo Ndebugri, former MP for Zebilla in the Upper East Region.

Unlike members of two of the three organs of government, the Executive and the Judiciary who are given free transportation, MPs are given car loans, payable within four years.

In most cases, the legislators say they are not able to pay these loans before their tenure ends, pushing them to fall on the ex-gratia to service the debt, thereby defeating the populist outcry that the gratuity is too much.

Information filtering through indicates that the unresolved issue of ex-gratia could cause a major setback for President Mills in the coming days, as the MPs are said to be rolling their sleeves for a saliva-dropping showdown.

DAILY GUIDE has gathered that President Mills’ Budget Statement and Economic Policy for the year 2010, which will be presented to Parliament by his Finance Minister, Dr. Kwabena Duffuor on Wednesday November 18, 2009, may be thrown back to him should he fail to okay the full benefits of the MPs, majority of whom were in the last parliament.

Although some might see the impending action by the legislators as blackmail, a number of the MPs who spoke to the DAILY GUIDE argued that they should not only be seen to be carrying out government business in the House; their welfare must also be considered, particularly when they are the “guardians or keepers of public purse”.

The paper has also learnt the MPs are pushed to take this action because their former colleagues are accusing them of not doing enough to persuade President Mills to expeditiously grant them their gratuity.

The former MPs, DAILY GUIDE further gleaned, are accusing their colleagues in Parliament that they are unconcerned because they currently comfortable in the House.

However, explaining to the paper, a leading Member on the Minority side indicated they were helpless because their colleagues from the Majority side are playing it safe on the matter for fear of victimization.

It remains to be seen what happens in the coming days regarding the saga of ex-gratia, and DAILY GUIDE will definitely be around to report the issues.

Daily Guide

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