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Opinions of Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Columnist: Danso, Kwaku A.

Presidents Retiring Like Kings In Ghana?

Do they deserve it and what did they do for the people?

By: Kwaku A. Danso

There seems to be a fury over the revealed ex-Presidential emoluments, according to Chronicle report of Jan.19, 2000 on Ghana web and Joyonline. As of time of writing, Ghanaweb had received a total of 482 comments! That seems like a record! A fierce debate is raging over the perceived expectation of our Presidents and their performance to people’s expectations. The debate is also on what is fair and what is not fair compensation for these men and their Cabinet Ministers and elected MP.

The Question of what is fair and what is not fair for en elected officials to live on whiles in office and after retirement, can be debated for ages. The great Greek thinker, teacher and philosopher, Aristotle once argued that politicians should not be paid, simply because they get paid in many other ways, including the great esteem and respect society holds them. Aristotle put a price on the respect, adulation, admiration of political leaders, in exchange for their free services. Well, this is not a bad argument – since many would pay with all their wealth to have the love, admiration, and be in the limelight as American Barack Obama is having now around the world to be sworn in tomorrow January 20, 2009. We all know that the much loved former President Bill Clinton can command over $50 million a year from speaking engagements alone. Would he make this money if he was disgraced as a crook as Richard Nixon was? Would he have made this money if he had not performed at a superior level, what we may call in Africa some leadership “magic”, which helped boost the American economy into the first balanced budget with a surplus in a generation?

Assuming we all agree to disagree with Aristotle, or modernize his ideals and pay politicians a decent salary, what is fair for them to act honestly and with integrity, so they manage the affairs of the nation for us, help inspire, motivate and guide the next generation, and be paid good retirement benefits to avoid the chaos, public theft, quit-pro-quo bribery in public office where “friends” of the President reward him in the millions after his term? We see this often in most poor nations? Nobody will doubt that no matter the institutions, without effective and honest leadership, the ship of nation can go astray or even sink!

There should be no doubt in the minds of most people that many of these elected people are well educated professionals who could have taken other career paths and earned decent money and lived decent livelihoods. The President in America for example is not the highest paid executive, but he gets fairly compensated if you add all the benefits, without having to be tempted to cut deals, be a thief, or like Robert Mugabe and other disgraced leaders, be tempted to stay in power till he dies! So what is fair?

To help answer this question, the writer did a mathematical budget calculation using Excel ™ spreadsheet to show the actual estimated end-of-service one time housing and other allowances, plus vehicles, and other costs such as fuel, insurance and maintenance. The results show that the ex-President will be paid an estimated sum of $2.65 million to buy and furnish his two decent level homes (using East Legon or Transsacco Valley homes prices in Accra as examples), plus an additional yearly allowance and expenses of $1.146 million for every year they are alive!

Some people have described this on Ghanaweb with as vulgar, filthy and “Open thievery”. However we must all examine the pay we give our elected and appointed officials as fair compensation for the work they are hired to do for all of us. The caviar is that we expect them to put in their professional best to serve the nation and provide the best management care and make decisions for our nation to compete and succeed like others in the world, without the disgrace of begging other nations and the many corrupt practices that have become endemic culture in our society. Public thieves should not be rewarded, but honest professionals should be adequately compensated to the same level they would in any modern nation of our size and average economic development. It will be unfair for Ghanaian leaders to be paid the same as the American President, or corporate executives who manage budgets several hundred times that of our size. One single American company, such as Intel Corporation of Santa Clara reported gross revenue of $8.2 Billion in fourth quarter of 2008, with operating income of $1.5 Billion and $234 million in earnings, with earnings per share of 4 cents (Intel Corporation Website, Jan.15, 2009). Would many complain if the CEO is paid say $3 million for the year in base income and bonuses and stock options?

The pay that President Kufuor announced in 2001 on assumption of office was $287 per month. There was no public disclosure of any pay raises that this writer remembers, but a large percentage of Ghanaians are of the opinion that the ex-President Kufuor’s travels, estimated to be 200 of the first 365 days in office, were mostly motivated by financial gain. The per diem allowance level was raised to $1,000 and later reported as $3,000 daily, according to some sources later disputed by the President’s office.

The writer recommends

1. A full public disclosure of the financial statement of the President, his executive staff and Members of Parliament, before and after leaving office, with full investigation of the member and about ten of his closest immediate relatives selected at random for thorough audit. The public will be allowed to give inputs into the investigation. This should be done within 45 days after leaving office and before any emoluments are paid. Any malfeasance should deny the person of any benefits accumulated. If any acts of corruption has been found, appropriate legal action should be taken and if found not guilty in court, the benefits would be stopped.

2. Effective this year, a commission of experts should determine the fair salaries of the President, Ministers, MPs and all senior government officials and tie this to some acceptable performance measurement such as the known Economic and Human Development indices developed by the World Bank and UN) and other we develop ourselves. Examples are Increase in GDP/capita, percentage of people living under $2 per month, percentage without with potable water, average number of malaria deaths reported, reduction in malaria, increase in human rights, corruption perception index (CPI) improvement, adult literacy rate, education performance of students.

3. The approved benefit package of the ex-Presidents as reported and approved in the last day in office, on Jan. 6, 2009, without much discussion (under duress), should be properly discussed and evaluated again by the new parliament, and the approval accepted or denied since the old parliament has no powers over the new parliament.

These should be a good enough incentive for politicians to be honest and work hard to earn their fair compensation and deliver effectively for the people who hired them. Ghana is still a poor country and there is not much proof of improved economic and human development indices. People still go without water pipe-borne water in our cities, suburbs and rural areas. Importers are still forced to pay 55% to 200% of the value of goods and vehicles. Government cannot even settle business disputes on land and other matters in reasonable manner at the courts and unemployment is at an all time high of over 80% estimate. The people voted for change and a new Ghanaian mindset is expected of the new administration. We should throw away these colonial benefit packages once and for all! Politics and public service should not be a place for people to seek their wealth or retirement benefits.

These ideas and recommendations can be implemented without too much bureaucratic waiting since a competent team of experts can determine this fair salary package within 30 days.

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