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Feature Article of Thursday, 31 May 2012

Columnist: Plange, Paa Kwesi

The looting of state lands is immoral

“If the exchange of favours were suddenly and miraculously abolished there would be a wholesale voluntary retirement of politicians to private life; for, they would have been deprived of the incentive to stay in politics and the very reasons by which they maintain their political influence.” Walter Lipman



By Paa Kwesi Plange

In a move similar to the scramble for Africa in the early 20th century in which the great powers in the global system divided African countries among themselves, political actors in Ghana have been engaged in an inordinate looting of State lands that were acquired for future development projects in the country.
This was the worrying trend particularly since the promulgation of the 4th Republican constitution until two young politicians decided to test the practice of ministers of state and other former and current public officials buying state land or property at the highest court of the land.
In a landmark move that would forever be cited in case law in this country, Dr. Omane Boamah and Samuel Okudjeto-Ablakwa jointly sued a former minister who in their view had carried the political spoils system to irresponsible heights when he decided to purchase the house that served as his official duty post when he was a government minister.
Like many Ghanaians, the two individuals who are now Junior Ministers in the current NDC government were also fed up with the spoils system that had characterized the politics in this country and instead of waiting for change to happen decided to become the agents of change themselves. The rest as we say is history.
For those of us who have taken a principled stance against the abuse of the public trust by political actors in this country, the recent declaration by the Supreme Court that the National Chairman of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) was the owner of his previous official residence has come to confirm the perception that most politicians go into public service for purely selfish reasons and are not minded by the public’s interest.
Indeed Jake Okanta Obetsebi-Lamptey, who served in the Kufuor administration as Chief of Staff and Minister for Tourism respectively, appears to be in good company if the long list of public officials and their cronies who have bought state lands under the national land redevelopment program is anything to go by.
The list includes stalwarts of the two dominant parties in Ghana namely the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), former and current ministers, MP’s as well as party apparatchiks and loyalists. Apart from exercising their right of purchasing their official bungalows as MP’s and ministers of State, these public officials also bought parcels of state land that were being sold under the national land redevelopment program.
Evidence abounds especially in the national capital of Accra that in the past 55 years of nationhood, Ministers, Members of Parliament, Judges, senior Civil and Public servants and political party officials have engaged in land grabbing deals that have denied the state lands that could be utilized in the future for projects that would inure to the benefit of generations yet to be born.
These band of brothers and sisters as powerful as they are have either directly appropriated state lands, bungalows and other landed property for themselves or have passed legislation and supervised same for their own gain or for their friends, family and associates.
As a country we cannot allow ourselves to be shortchanged by the people we have elected into public office to cater after our interest. After they receive the mandate they sideline our issues and seek opportunities for self actualization and benefit.
I am not a lawyer and so I would leave the issues of legalese and legal interpretation to the luminaries of law to sort out while I focus on the morality angle and dimension that have pervaded and dominated public discussion in the aftermath of the landmark 6-3 majority decision of the Supreme Court. In doing so we have to consider and bring under the microscope the actions and the inactions of political actors that have created a crisis of morality in this country.
The fact is that when it comes to the strict interpretation of the law, morality cannot be the acid test-evidence is. Evidence is the name of the game in jurisprudence and so far as that goes I fully agree with those who share this position. However on another stroke, it would be foolhardy on the part of political actors and their supporters to think that morality has no connection with the majority of the electorate in this country. It does have a link and it could be quite strong especially for the rural and urban poor.
Sociologically and politically, Ghana is still in a transitional state. While we are caught in between the advanced and traditional societies and seem to have made strides towards shedding the cloak of traditionalism, we are still several light years away from breaking into the ranks of the advanced countries in the global north.
The truth is that majority of the population in this country who live in rural areas are illiterate, poor and invariably out of the mainstream but are still capable of punishing politicians who are guided by selfish considerations when they get into public office.
And there’s the rub. Unfortunately the political commentators who hog the media landscape in our country do not seem to appreciate the nexus between traditionalism and morality. Ghanaians as a morally resilient people would always punish politicians who pooh-pooh issues of morality and engage in behavior that is morally deficient. And that might just happen if the political actors do not put a sock on the needless political equalization stunts they spew out on a regular basis especially on the airwaves.
I believe that if the almost 70 percent of our population who live in the rural areas are told to use morality as a basis for selecting their leaders in the December 7, 2012 polls, chances are that a lot of the political class in this country would never get elected into public office.
Those who make it their business to justify this obnoxious status quo in which public office holders purchase state lands, bungalows and in some cases divest state assets to themselves or to their family member in exchange for a pittance would have themselves to blame one day.
We must not forget that this country has a history and one that is steeped in coup d’etats. Those who undertook these unconstitutional acts did cite corruption as the overriding reason for staging those coups. If we fail to hold our political actors to account for their actions now and in the past we would only be creating the fertile conditions for the electorate to lose confidence in our democratic experiment and even justify the need for a military take over.
Ghana cannot continue to sustain the current situation where proximity to public office is interpreted by political actors as justification for the appropriation of state property. My heart bleeds for the generation of my children and their children in the sense that by the time they attain adulthood the state would have lost all the lands it owns in areas like Cantonments, Labone, West Legon and the other up market locations in Accra where lands were procured for later use.
The decision to procure those lands were strategic, having been anchored on a deep understanding of the intricacies and complexities of development planning and this invariably led to the formulation of a deliberate public policy that created the necessary legal framework.
Today’s leaders instead of thinking strategically have decided rather to sell these state lands to themselves and their cronies at a price that is inconsistent with the going market price at the time of the sale. It is quite disappointing to say the least. What even makes it sadder is the fact that beneficiaries of the sale of the state lands are not in just a specific political party but can be found across the political spectrum in this country.
Even the presidential candidate of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), Dr. Forster Abu Sakara is also a beneficiary. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah must be turning in his grave because there is no way he would have expected a future torch bearer of his CPP to indulge himself in this act of ignominy. These chaps should bow their heads in shame because they have really disappointed all Ghanaians. By their abhorrent and morally reprehensible decision to sell state lands to themselves and their cronies our politicians have succeeded in deepening the chasm between them and the electorate.
They have done irreparable damage to their credibility and in the eyes of the public they no longer inspire confidence in us so far as the current political dispensation goes. However if they can man up, apologise and initiate policy to criminalise the sale of state lands to themselves and their cronies we might decide to forgive them on purely moral grounds.

*The writer is a freelance journalist, an author and the Executive Director of the Center for Investigative Reporting Ghana. He lives in the Ghanaian Capital of Accra.

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