Feature Article of Friday, 18 August 2006
Columnist: Amonu, Kofi
The recent publication that Parliament has passed the Whistleblower Bill in an effort to fight corruption is excellent news but whether it will work at all or perpetrators who have been reported, apprehended, and found guilty will be sufficiently punished is another talk.
The proliferation of Internet cafes and exposure to news from advanced countries, radio talk shows and general condescension for corruption has contributed to the rise of whistleblowing in Ghana. In general terms, corruption is the misuse of public or governmental power for illegal private gain. However, there seems to be an ascend in a form of dishonesty in high offices that I call 'legal corruption' because it involves finding a loophole in the law (over-budgeting 'bogus' government projects) and shamefully abusing it to one's benefit.
Our son is about to graduate from Legon (golden jubilee) so regardless of our financial standing (HIPC) my wife and I have set aside our combined monthly salary ($20m) to throw a party for him. We think that we need a better car so, despite our low income, we are getting a loan ($30m) from India to buy a Lamborghini (Presidential Palace) to replace our old but working Honda Accord (Osu Castle). We need a garage for the Lamborghini at spot in our yard where the fishpond (Accra zoo) now sits so we are going to transport the fishes from Accra to Kumasi (at a cost of 1.5b cedis), tear down the fishpond, build the garage in its place, build a new pond, and then transport the fishes back (another 1.5b cedis) into the new pond. An agricultural officer (President) is entitled to business traveling allowances (per diem) so after each genuine farm visit, he goes on a frivolous one to bump up his regular pay as well as his assistant's and company driver's (entourage), hoping that his boss (citizenry) will not realize the abuse.
Dr. Wireko-Brobbey, the chairman of the golden jubilee celebration, has been recklessly trying in vain to defend the $20m that the government has allotted to him to celebrate our underachievement on March 6, 2007. During a recent interview, he sounded like a student who, without prior notice, has been asked by his parents to explain his demand for a huge pocket money. He did he not have the budget for the $20m in front of him at the time of the interview and did not show artists' impressions of the permanent structures that he is going to erect. He has not planted any trees now to bloom by the time of the celebration. Golden Jubilee is a social affair of speeches, drumming and dancing. It must not be intermingled with development to confuse us. There are ministries for the Beautification of the Capital City and Tourism which have people on payroll to plant trees, build schools, hospitals and toilets at 4-mile interval on our highways as Dr. Wireko-Brobbey claimed to have seen in Zimbabwe. Twenty million dollars is scanty for a country with a sound economy but considering our current state, it will make sense to scale down the celebration to a much smaller size and concentrate our efforts towards bringing the country to where it should have been after 50 years of self-rule. This will portray us to our benefactors that the leading African country has realized its past mismanagements and abuses and is now determined to correct them for a better future. It is rather ironic that we are planning an elaborate independence celebration while we are still dependent on other nations to balance our national budget.
It defies all reasoning that we are getting a $574m MCA donation from the American government while we are borrowing $30m from the Indian government to build a presidential palace. President Bush works out of the old White House like his predecessors did and all his successors will do because it is a longstanding tradition. America is capable of building an ultramodern office for the president but it will not have the same ambiance as the old White House. What is wrong with renovating the Castle and upgrading the security system and office electronics? Is it not stirring for foreign dignitaries to the Castle to know that they are in the same room that colonial governors once sat, the same room that Nkrumah received the Queen? You borrow money to undertake a project that will improve your life and/or generate money to pay off the loan and interest and realize a profit. The fact that we are borrowing money to build a palace indicates that we do not need the palace at the present. This ostentatious project is clearly a waste of money for which our children and we will suffer.
As President Kuffour said in an interview with West Africa magazine, 'if you look elsewhere, everybody is traveling, even in the big countries. I'm sure that in due course, they will get to see that it's all part of the office that the President should be traveling'. Certainly, there are certain diplomatic trips that a president must take and some of his travels have resulted in the cancellation of some of out debts but it is very clear to see that nearly half of President Kuffour's visits are needless or must be allotted to deputies and ambassadors already resident in the host countries. A few examples are going to the US with a large following to WITNESS a Discovery Channel film on himself, going to Freetown to WITNESS the burning of guns to mark the end of their civil war, stopping over in Germany to WITNESS the Black Stars' soccer game, flying to the US to WITNESS the signing of the MCA. Reading this article over my shoulder, my teenage daughter commented that it is like being paid to take a vacation, why will he not travel. According to former vice-president Prof. Attah-Mills, one trip by the president of Ghana can cost us up to $100,000. If this is true, then only four trips by the President of Ghana will cost us as much as the annual salary of the president of America. Even if Prof. Attah-Mills has doubled the figure to make his opponents look bad (as politicians often do) it is still too high for poor Ghana. Several complaints about the president's pointless travels have fallen on deaf ears so, perhaps, a bipartisan group has to decide on which trips the President can make before he does so. Besides cutting huge expenses (first class transportation, posh boarding and lodging, airport departure and arrival parties) and bringing decency to the office, we have to ensure the president's healthiness and safety for a stable government. Just to illustrate how some presidents are protected, the American President's movements (room to room) within the White House are constantly logged so that his whereabouts will be known at any minute. As president of Ghana, Dr. Kuffour has been entrusted to make decisions that affect 20 million lives so he must not be overexposed.
One the eve of Ghana's Independence, Kwame Nkrumah optimistically declared that 'our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.' Today, I declare shamefully that our independence is meaningless, for it only gave us the chance to prove that we are a people who have decided to waste our lives through greed and selfishness. Our only success since independence is that we have not fought a civil war.
Fellow countrymen, this is not an issue of NPP versus NDC, because the previous government did it and the next government will do it too. It is a case of laypeople versus politicians. Of all the evils done by Rawlings and the NDC, he is as free as a bird in the air. Of all the evils being done by Kuffour and the NPP, the opposition parties only find it necessary to abandon parliament because of worthless ROPAB (I will explain this in another article). This indicates that both parties are only concerned about being in power and milking us dry. My people, please open your right minds and observe that every government that we have had since independence is worse than the previous one and it will continue for ever if we keep praising them and fighting each other. At the next opportunity that you meet a supporter of another party, give him a hug, share a kolanut, join forces and direct your anger towards the common enemy - the politicians. They create the loopholes in the laws to be abused, they determine their salaries and benefits to be paid by YOU, and they determine what to do with YOUR money thereby steering the course of YOUR country.