Feature Article of Saturday, 10 November 2012

Columnist: Ofosu-Appiah, Ben

Ghanaian Political Elites Have No Sympathy For The Poor

There was a justifiably public outcry against the over 150%
increase in salaries for the Executive, Legislative and the Judicial branches
of government as published in the Ghanaian media. Coincidentally, just at the
same time this outrageous salaries increase were announced, there was report in
the news (which was later denied) that employees of Ghana Education Service
have had their salaries cut.

On the average, the Ghanaian civil servant got a pay rise of
18% after marathon negotiations and numerous threats of strike. So why not
accord members of the Executive, Legislature, and the Judiciary the same
percentage of increase? I mean if 18% salary increase is good enough for the
teacher, why does the MP or even the President thinks he deserves more than 18%
increase? The work of the teacher, the nurse, the Ghana Water Company guy are
all equally important as that of an MP or a Minister of state.

Politics must equal
Public Service

Politics is all about public service it should never be
about making money. Politicians run for office to serve but not to lord it over
the people but it seems these days it seems they run to make money and not to
work. That is the reason why I was so disappointed and even shocked by the
unashamedly self serving justification offered by Nana Ato Dadzie, one time
chief of staff to former president Rawlings. He was reported by Joynews to have
said “given the type of work the Article 71 officers do, they have to be paid a
decent salary, so they will not have to prepare for a rainy day”. SO is he
saying that apart from these officers all other group of workers in Ghana do not
deserve a decent salary? Is he dumb enough to say out loud that the government
does not give a damn about all the other group of workers and they are on their
own to deal with any rainy day except the Article 71 workers? In any advanced
civilized democracy, this is the type of comment that will cause one to lose
his job. It is insulting to all other groups of Ghanaian workers.

Our intellectuals who chair these bogus committees to make
such outrageous recommendations are bringing the name of the erudite profession
into disrepute. Kuffour set up the Greenstreet and Chinery Hesse (these two are
academics) committee to make undeserved and completely out of this world for
hefty retirements benefits for himself, and now here we go again with the Ewura
Ama (another academic) committee with this out of touch and unsustainable
recommendations for salary increase to the Executive, Legislature and the
Judiciary. Have our academics become partners in the rapacious greed ailing our
politics and destroying our economy?

Wikileaks on
Corruption in Ghana

The section of the Wikileaks report on Ghana details
instances of corruption as seen from the perspectives of a number of
ambassadors. The Canadian High Commissioner commented that the Ghanaian
political elite are out of touch with the other 95% of the population and that
they have very little understanding of or sympathy for the difficult conditions
under which most Ghanaians live. He added they lack a sense of urgency to do
anything about it. The American ambassador expressed concern about the
perception of rising corruption and how that is depriving millions of any hope
of improvement in their living conditions. The French ambassador on the other
hand stated that Ghanaian leaders do not understand the scope of poverty in
their country.

The Wikileaks report goes on to detail some specific instances of corruption
and even names a host of politicians in the former NPP government for being
notoriously corrupt but all these people are now walking free with their booty
stolen from the poor Ghanaian. While the masses suffer in a desert deprived of
good drinking water and other basic need necessities, the Ghanaian politician
lives in an oasis of privileges and undeserved comforts yet they still continue
to steal from the poor Ghanaian tax payer.

Undeserved Privileges
It would be nice if our politicians will park their government
allocated cars a few days a month and take tro-tro to work. My political
friends roll their eyes when I make such outlandish suggestions. A few,
thinking I might be serious, point out no African politician will behave in
such a humble way. Political power makes all of them arrogant and greedy in an
undignified way.

I think some way has to be found to get our political leaders out of their
privileged cocoons. It troubles me that those we elect rapidly become lords
over us and isolated from the concerns of ordinary Ghanaians. Their primary
objective becomes stealing from the national coffers to amass wealth and
acquire properties. They start putting up multiple houses in a year, acquiring
hotels in the name of their children, depositing billions of cedis in their
personal accounts in a matter of months, transferring hundreds of thousands of
dollars from Ghana Airways to their fiancees abroad, drawing various sums of
dollars for per diem on their numerous useless foreign trips which brings the
nation no tangible benefits.

They are driven around in convoys sometimes running over and killing our
children without any sense of remorse, they are whisked past poor
neighbourhoods with a retinue of guards to keep strangers at bay. They behave
like animals chasing Legon girls, under aged SSS girls, and even married women
as if they live in the jungle with the law of the jungle in operation.

Those in government react with angry disbelief when accused by the people that
their greed is hurting the poor. They think they have to increase the price of
petrol to recoup the cost but they themselves continue to draw free petrol
everyday of the week. They use government vehicles for private purposes and
they see absolutely nothing wrong with that. They live in government houses
rent free while they rent their own houses to foreigners for hard currency (US

They don't pay for utilities, they enjoy free electricity,
free water, free gas, and free telephone services. If you care to check their
phone bills and the numbers they call in a month, you will be shocked to find
the percentage of the cost and the calls that have nothing to do with
transacting government business. It will amaze you to find the number of calls
they made to girl friends, and to friends abroad all for the poor Ghanaian tax
payer to pay. Why is it that it is only in Africa
that the richest men in any country are Politicians?

Elsewhere, people leave politics to go into business because they believe they
can earn more there but in Africa and particularly
in Ghana
people leave business to go into politics, because they can steal. If we don't
disabuse our minds from the mistaken notion that politics equal easy money and
is the shortest way to riches, we cannot attract our children to train as doctors,
engineers, teachers, lawyers, farmers, etc these are all equally important and
noble professions vital for our economic development as a nation. So our
politicians enjoy free housing, free car with free petrol, free electricity,
free water, free telephone service etc, so you are tempted to ask what do they
use their salaries for? The rest of us work for a living by paying for these
items mentioned above from our salaries but our politicians don't have to pay
for these. They enjoy them free but that isn't enough for them. They are greedy
enough to dip their hands into state coffers to steal from the poorest of the
poor. Our politicians are far removed from the daily struggles of the ordinary
people. They have no idea how it feels to miss a rent payment or comb through
the Help Wanted ads.

No wonder the people have become disenchanted with the
politicians. It is important for political leaders to get out among the people,
experience their daily life struggles and their aspirations and incorporate
that into policy. Politicians seem to have no problem visiting the rural folks
at election time when they need their votes but once elected they forget about
them. I do not agree with those commentators who argue that political life at
the top is so rigidly structured that a leader can not control his or her own
agenda. Our political leaders find time to play golf and to chase girls all
over the place throwing caution to the winds, so why can’t they break out of
their comfortable bubble to organize the people and join them in cleaning the
filth that is engulfing our cities and posing a public health threat? It is
partly a question of will.

Apparently, our politicians have gotten the message that we are satisfied with
their incompetence and arm chair leadership. We are not. If we don't
demonstrate our displeasure with the level of incompetence, greed, arrogance,
and corruption in government they will assume we approve of such gross
leadership failures. In a modern democracy in its infant stages like ours,
rulers are expected to leave their palaces, their offices, their castles, every
so often, and share the struggles and frustrations of their people. They must
demonstrate that they care about the poor. In that way they bring government
near to the people, as things are now, government is far alienated from the

Corruption is a serious challenge. If we fail to address
this problem, it can cause the collapse of our multiparty democracy and the
fall of the nation.

Ben Ofosu-Appiah.

Tokyo, JAPAN. The author is a policy
strategist and Public Policy expert. He is also a senior political and social
analyst based in Tokyo, JAPAN. He welcomes your comments: