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Uneducated citizenry is like a pitch any game can be played on it. Illiteracy is what has given the politicians in Ghana the chance to fool so many people for so a long a time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ghana: The Ex-gratia programme must be scrapped

When Kuffour left office he requested for six cars, two houses, a luxury holiday package, a lifelong health package and security among other things. Rawlings is alleged to have retired with thirteen cars and a mansion at Ridge. He also has his own mansion at Adigyina a suburb of Accra. And there are allegations that he owns a mansion at Akosombo. Rawlings has not come out to deny or confirm these allegations. The argument was that in order to prevent our leaders from becoming corrupt they must be given a luxury package so as to prevent them from being corrupted. While this argument is sound and makes a lot of sense I still believe that the present economic and social conditions in Ghana, the high levels of poverty in the country, the many corruption scandals involving ex-presidents and their ministers and the fat salaries, bonuses and per diems that they receive while in government warrant that we stop paying ex-gratia to them.

The fact is that for the number of years that they serve as presidents, ministers and MPs these people do not pay taxes, do not pay rent, electricity, transportation, healthcare, clothing and security. On top of all these they enjoy a very handsome pay with huge bonuses and per diems. All these in the name of serving Ghana, but very few people will dispute that farmers, masons, teachers, lawyers, carpenters, nurses and the kenkey sellers who have to endure mosquito bites selling kenkey at Circle, Dansoman, Achimota, Asafo Market, Adum and in deed in many other places around the country, all serve our dear country, pay taxes and yet do not enjoy any of the benefits the former presidents and their ministers enjoy while and after they leave office. These poor tax payers never get one-tenth of the emoluments enjoyed by these pay-no-taxes and care free leaders.

Why should the poor kenkey seller after footing all the bills for the president and his ministers while they are in office should continue to shoulder them when they leave office after all these benefits? What do the ex-presidents spend the salaries and bonuses and per diems that they receive on when they do not pay for anything? How can’t they save it to cater for themselves when they leave office? It is common sense to save or invest your money if all your needs are taken care of by the state while you are receiving income and not paying taxes. The ex-presidents and their ministers ought to save the money they receive as salaries, bonuses, per diems for their own upkeep when they are no more in government. If they fail to save these huge salaries, bonuses and per diems to take care of themselves when they leave office, should the poor carpenters and cocoa farmers continue to pay for their lack of common sense and poor judgement to save towards retirement?

To ask the poor Ghanaian farmers who have no access to electricity, toilet facilities and whose children attend classes under trees to continue to shoulder the burden of Rawlings, Kuffour and their ministers is not only a crime against the people of Ghana but it is also a sin against humanity. How can Rawlings and Kuffour and their ministers including the MPs justify the six and thirteen cars they want or took away when the ordinary Ghanaian cannot afford a cup of rice?

The argument that these so called leaders would steal from us if we do not give them proper emoluments does not hold water in the people’s court. If Kuffour deserves six cars and two houses after serving just eight years as president then what about the teacher at Forifori near Donkokrom who has taught for twenty-five years and yet will retire with money that cannot buy a bag of cement? Are those teachers not Ghanaians too? What makes Rawlings, Kuffour and their ministers so special? Is it because they lied their way into power, sold national assets and accounted to no one?

I still demand to know why Rawlings, Kuffour, their ministers and the MPs deserve millions of cedis after just four years in office while nurses have to walk to work everyday under the Ghanaian scotching heat. Is this what Rawlings call justice and is this what Kuffour and his ministers call development?

And who says they do not steal from the people after years of receiving fat tax-free salaries and bonuses? Ghanaians are beginning to come to terms with the monumental corruption that took place under Rawlings regime and we will not be surprised if in future similar allegations are made against Kuffour or his ministers. The Mabey and Johnson corruption scandal which took place under the nose of Rawlings is just the tip of an iceberg. Ghanaians have still not digested fully the true horrors of the scandal. These corrupt ministers accepted bribes from the company they were obliged by law to supervise, and then allowed this corrupt company to over price the cost of the poor bridges that they built and then asked the kenkey sellers and the cocoa farmers to pay for the high cost. On top of this they are paid ex-gratia because they were former ministers, does this make sense? Where on earth other than Ghana can this be done by people who preach equality, accountability, probity and justice?

In 2007 Scancem a Norwegian cement company admitted in court that its officials paid Rawlings, P. V. Obeng and their associates a sum close to four million US dollars. When Rawlings was confronted with the allegations his only childish response was that he could not hire lawyers to sue the paper that broke the news even though he had friends who could afford to buy him armoured plated Jaguars and Land Cruisers. Ghanaians were paying close to one hundred thousand old Ghana cedis for a bag of cement because Rawlings and his cronies were paid close to four million US dollars by that corrupt Norwegian cement firm that had monopoly in cement production in Ghana. Through the monopoly which it bought from Rawlings and P.V. Obeng the company was able to fix prices at will hence the near doubling of cement prices under Rawlings regime. These corrupt people who masquerade as leaders of Ghana were paid four million dollars; on top of it we pay millions of cedis to them as ex-gratia every year. Why do we have to commit this crime against ourselves? I mean paying these corrupt people ex-gratia on top of what they have received as bribes and have looted from us is a crime that we do not need to commit against ourselves.

Many supporters of Kuffour were pissed off when Mo Ibrahim decided not to award the five million dollars good governance award to Kuffour. But how could anyone in his right mind give five million dollars to a person who has sold valuable national assets for peanut and whose government is tainted with bribery and corruption allegations? The award is about good governance and Kuffour’s administration has no clean record when it comes to fighting bribery and corruption at least Kwame Pianim did not see him or his ministers rejecting brown envelopes did he? Have Ghanaians forgotten so soon about Dr. Richard Anane who used state resources to finance his infidelity and yet was protected by Kuffour? It would have been the mistake for the decade if Kuffour had been awarded the Mo Ibrahim award.

Is Ebenezer Sekyi Hughes former speaker of Parliament not alleged to have carried soft furniture and other stuffs that belong to the state to his house when he was leaving office?

Let us all ask ourselves who now owns the companies that were sold at cheap prices by these leaders and where did the proceeds go? I am talking about Ghana Telecom; I am talking about GIHOC and those Ghanaian assets built by Nkrumah and sold at auction prices by these leaders even though they were supposed to manage them on behalf of the people? Have Ghanaians forgotten the Hotel Kuffour Saga? Have Ghanaians forgotten the Nsawam Food Cannery that was sold to the Rawlingses at no cost? And who are behind the companies that are often given big government contracts? Is it not these same leaders who milked the state while in office and who did not pay taxes on their incomes? Why do we have to pamper them after they had amassed wealth, mismanaged state resources at the expense of the people? Why do we have to treat them as kings when in our rural folks continue to live in houses built with mud and roofed with raffia leaves?

Since they left office Rawlings and Kuffour have been everywhere in the world, attending conferences, delivering long speeches and acting as if Ghanaians live in paradise. Both of them have been acting as if they are competing with each other for international assignments while Ghana remains poor, but I hope that the poor tomato farmers at Mampong Akrofonso, Bomeng, Oyoko and Effiduase in Ashanti region are not the very people footing the bills. Sometimes I find it difficult to comprehend how these so called leaders think they deserve better than Ghanaians and always want to take Ghanaians for fools.

Should our ex-presidents continue to be treated as if they are still in office? How can’t they use the enormous knowledge they acquire while in office to provide consultancy services and earn income for themselves instead on wasting it to tear down each other tear down Mills government and sowing the seed of hatred all over the country? Look at the number of hours, days and years that Rawlings has spent since he left office criticising first Kuffour and now Mills. Instead of using his reach knowledge in the annals of security to provide consultancy services to governments and institutions across Africa and around the world for fees Rawlings prefers to engage in politics of nowhere because Ghanaians will still pay for his bills in the name of ex-gratia. Rawlings and Kuffour won’t do anything that will bring them income because the poor kenkey sellers could be taxed and the proceeds used to provide for them and their families. Is it not absurd for the people who are poor and unable to support themselves to continue to fund the lifestyle of the rich and more able? I mean does it make economic sense for the poor gari seller at Aflao to pay Rawlings and Kuffour’s hospital and hotel bills when she cannot send her children to school?

Ex-President Clinton of United States makes tens of millions of dollars by speaking in forums, delivering speeches and many more. Tony Blair also makes a lot of money by doing the same. President Jimmy Carter of US is known the world over for his activism and receives financial support for that and hardly comments on political issues in America. But come to Ghana and everyday we have Rawlings telling Mills what he should do as president. Instead of establishing a consultancy firm where Mills’ government could go for consultation and pay a fee, Rawlings won’t do it because the poor Ghanaians are not fed up yet paying for his opulence lifestyle. It is absolutely inhumane for the poor to be asked to continue to support the rich in the way we have been doing for the last couple of years, and this is why I call on all true meaning Ghanaians to begin to question some of these practices which are of national importance. Ghana is not rich enough to waste money on these people who have sold our assets, milked our economy, awarded contracts to themselves and their cronies, accepted brown envelopes full of bribe money and accounted to no one. Nobody in Ghana can say Rawlings was not corrupt. He has been allowed to go with his loots because we wanted peace but I do not think we should pay another price in terms of ex-gratia to him and his corrupt ministers whose corrupt life is now in the public domain courtesy Britain’s Serious Fraud Office.

If we give so much to ex-presidents and ministers and MPs then how about the rural farmers who toil all their life and still die in poverty without social security and healthcare? How about the hundreds of thousands of children who are condemned to poverty and desperation and who are being raised in the street, taught in the street, lived in the street and protected by the street, abandoned by those who are now claiming ex-gratia for ignoring the plight of these unfortunate ones? For Christ’s sake these leaders do not deserve any ex-gratia, the money should better be spent to help the street children in Accra, Kumasi, Ho, Koforidua, Tema, Tamale, Sunyani and Takoradi who have no future or hope except selling ice water, sugar cane and bread. Are these children not Ghanaians too and don’t they deserve a better deal than they have been offered by these corrupt, self serving, visionless leaders?

What at all justifies such emoluments for these insatiable politicians? I mean what did Rawlings, Kuffour and their ministers do so remarkably to deserve the fat ex-gratia payments? Is it their 8 years of inaction and dithering? Is it the economic mismanagement that we have seen in the last 27 years under the NDC and NPP? Any Average Ghanaian can of course do what Kuffour and Rawlings spent 8 years and 19 years respectively doing for Ghana because after 27 years of their reign the railway sector is still collapsed, energy crisis is still with us, fishermen still find it difficult to get premix fuel, we still export cocoa beans for peanuts, our farmers still use cutlasses and hoes to farm and they still depend on nature to plant their crops with no access to tractors and irrigation facilities. The farmers lack storage facilities and are at the mercy of aid agencies. So on what basis are we paying the ex-gratia, is it a reward for the failures, mismanagement and corruption? Or is a reward for the misery, deprivation, hopelessness, hunger and abject poverty written everywhere in the country? Is it a reward for the poor state of our social and economic infrastructures: roads, bridges, energy, railway, harbours, telecommunication, health, education, harbour, market and airports? Or it is a reward for our export sector which still consists of agro raw material with little or no added value? Is it a reward for the unemployment problem that has been growing from bad to worse? Or is a reward for our rural areas which remain inaccessible during the rainy season? Or is a reward for the importation of used cars, used computers, used pants and braziers and anything used that characterised the administration of Kuffour and Rawlings? Officially in Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology as it is in the rest of our universities four first year university students sleep in rooms meant for a student and this is when students are lucky to have their names short listed by the authorities, so what are we paying ex-gratia to ex-ministers of education for when students are living and learning in 18th century conditions? Who at all cannot mismanage an economy in this way?

Instead of burying their heads in shame for failing the people they still have the audacity to ask the poor people to provide them with 17 and 6 cars and to finance their extravagant lifestyles. While they claim the nation is poor they want the poor teachers, nurses, technicians and fishermen to build mansions for them because they are special If any of the politicians believe they deserve ESBs he should ask the ordinary man on the street who may not know where the next meal might come from whether

The answer to the question that they will steal if we don't give them ESBs is that we need to establish strong institutions that will check corruption and imprison them if they attempt to do so. This is exactly what we need: institutions like Electoral Commission that will be fair, open-minded, and objective. Strong and independence police force that has allegiance to the state and not individuals and political parties. Strong and independent public prosecuting body and independent judiciary that adhere to the tenets of our laws. We can follow the examples of Botswana and Malawi by putting corrupt former presidents behind bars; give them and their ministers long jail terms to serve as deterrent to would be corrupt officials. Seize the assets they obtain by fraudulent and dishonest means and give them to the state. With that their children and friends will be careful not to touch state resources if they ever get into government.

I will like to rest my case here but the fact still remains that Rawlings, Kuffour, their ministers and the MPs do not deserve the ESBs that they have been receiving for years. Therefore the aspect of our constitution that makes it possible for ex-presidents, their minister and MPs to claim ex-gratia on our souls should be repealed. The ex-gratia was inserted into the constitution to make it possible for Rawlings and his ministers to continue to enjoy from our sweat even though they have not sowed. The whole ex-gratia and ESB or whatever must be scrapped. It does not serve the interest of Ghanaians. It only serves a few unscrupulous individuals who after milking the nation still want to make fools out of us. We are not dumb as they will want us to believe. We are human beings like them who also deserve to live in comfortable environment with houses, cars and means to take care of our families. Since they have failed to provide the conditions for us to live beyond less than two dollars a day they do not deserve to be given any payment or whatsoever whether small or large.

By Lord Aikins Adusei


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