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Opinions of Monday, 9 February 2009

Columnist: Ofori Ampofo

The controversial Chinery-Hesse report

A reflection by Ofori Ampofo.

After eight years of collecting salaries, allowances privileges and per diem, Ghana’s immediate past President; his vice, Ministers their Deputies and Parliamentarians are to receive a quantum of retirement benefits. The quantum of the President’s benefit has raised lots of questions from the general public and among some members of the just dissolved parliament. What is in there for the ministers and parliamentarians has not been however disclosed. The controversy still hangs on as to whether or not the report should be reviewed, having gone through parliamentary approval.

One reason assigned as rational behind the huge end of service package, for ex presidents, is to discourage African power hungry leaders from any attempt to stay on to power for too long. If this is the case, then why don’t they also pay Military and police officers and all other ranks living wages and similar end of service benefits to discourage them from attempting coups in Africa?

In all fairness, article 71 of the constitution which allows the president to determine the salaries, allowances and privileges of parliamentarians and Parliamentarians to determine the salary allowances and privileges of the president makes a mockery of justice. It is simply scratch my back I scratch your back deal. I believe, if parliamentarians had been given a similar end of service package close to that of the President, no one would have heard about what was in the Chinery-Hesse report at all. Is this what they call transparency and accountability? If they believe in transparency and accountability, I challenge parliament to let whatever in the report be put out for public scrutiny.

In any case, why was a proposal which is said to have started four years ago be brought to the floor of parliament for discursion and approval at the last day of the president’s term of office? The answer is simply a calculated plan to have the dubious document go through parliamentary approval without much deliberations and questioning. That is exactly what was done during the controversial sale of the Ghana Telecom to British Vodafone. The fact that parliamentarians selfishly approved the document without reading the full contents, is a clear indication of the kind of parliament we have had to deal with, the last eight years of the winner takes all administration. In my opinion, there are a lot to confirm that the administration of the last eight years of governance was full of selfishness and greed.

The present system of Salary plus allowances and privileges, to top Government officials, Ministers and Parliamentarians dates back the colonial administration and it is high time we change them. It is evident that the economic conditions today are not the same as the economic conditions under the colonial administration. It is therefore commonsense that we as a people determine what is good, as a policy under our precarious economic conditions.

Let us think about the future of Ghana and consolidate the salary, allowances and privileges to a reasonable taxable monthly income for our officials. Let our officials accommodate themselves in their own homes, or pay rent out of their salaries if they chose to occupy Government bungalows. Use their own cars and buy their own petrol just as any public servant. Nothing is free to any Government official in the developed economies. Nothing should therefore be free for any Government official in a developing economy like Ghana. The Nation will save billions of Cedis a month that can go to provide places of convenience, good school structures, health posts/clinics, good drinking water, and access roads to the most deprived areas of Ghana. After all, they create the National wealth. It is very sad that the top hierarchy of Governance has been made a gold mine and people therefore would not mind sacrificing the human blood to get to such positions in Government.

I would like to advocate the setting up of a comprehensive National salary commission that will determine the level of salaries of the President, ministers, parliamentarians and all levels of public service workers. These recommendations must be in consultation with the bank of Ghana and all stake holders considering all that comes in as National income. We do not have to consume all that comes in as income and go out borrowing. That is all that we have done since independence and it amounts to irresponsible application of the national revenue. If we as a people resolve to sacrifice for a better tomorrow, then the top down to the bottom will have to sacrifice and not just those at the bottom. As it is, we live in Man de work, baboon de chop state, like the animal farm.

The 1992 constitution was drawn by the same elites who have been enjoying the colonial legacy since independence. Why did former President Kuffour have to wait till his last days in office to suggest amendments in some aspects of the constitution, when he had eight years to go round to convince the people of Ghana if he believed there was the need for some changes? He enjoyed all the powers and wealth under the constitution and wants to siphon more out of the national treasury even as he is gone.

Let us as Ghanaians, learn to speak the truth and face the truth all the time. It is only the truth that will change this country we all love. If our leaders are doing what is good, let us congratulate them; but be bold to chastise them when they are on the wrong side of the equation. They can not be always right. However, those that are always around them make them feel they are always right and they tend to defend them, when overwhelming public opinion even thinks otherwise.

The development of Ghana for that matter Africa can only be done by Africans. If we have to eat all our cake and have it, it can not happen. If we want to eat the eggs each day it is laid, there will be none left to hatch. For us to build a better Ghana for generations unborn, we need to sacrifice today. The leadership today should be guided by the “I have a dream” proclamation of Martin Luther King some forty years ago that some day, the black man in America will be judged by the content of the brain but not by the color of the skin. He sacrificed his life fighting for the emancipation of the black man. Forty years down the road, a black American is today, the President of the United States of America. This is a dream come true.

I believe in change and believe in sacrificing to build a better Ghana. I am surprised that no single lawmaker in our history has ever advocated the need to change the application of the colonial legacy of giving everything free to government officials. Ghanaians have voted for change and we must see real change under President John Evans Arthur- Mills. Some aspects of the 1992 constitution must be changed. It is long overdue. Article 71, which deals with the determination of salaries, allowances and privileges to some categories of public servants, must surely change to reflect on the economic aspirations of the people of Ghana. The President, ministers and parliamentarians deserve end of service benefits but; the controversial Chinery-Hesse report obviously must be reviewed.

Ofori Ampofo(Leader of Ghana National Party) 0244743069.