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Opinions of Monday, 30 May 2011

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Betty Mould's Yoke and Otumfuo's Gesture

Candidate John Evans Atta-Mills was not expected to appear moody. But he did. In a country where the incumbent political party often exploits the state media to the maximum, the Institute of Economic Affairs’ Encounter with Presidential Candidates was an opportunity for political parties in the wilderness of opposition to really express themselves beyond the five-second sound bites they received in the electronic media.

But candidate Mills was not a happy man that evening. One of his party stalwarts had been hauled into the dungeons of Nsawam Prison. Before he started his submission that evening, Candidate Mills sent a warning note to the unseen forces behind the incarceration. If they thought imprisoning his party stalwart would dampen his spirit and throw him off balance then they would not succeed. The few days that followed would see the birth of a group christened Free Tsatsu Tsikata Movement. Made up of mostly members of the then opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), the group contended that the incarceration of the most renowned legal dribbler of our time was politically motivated. Judicial independence had been traversed, they chorused. They held various fora and used every media outlet available to tell the world how compromised and corrupt the judiciary in Ghana was. But things would not remain that way for long. Despite the acrimonious nature of our politics, it seemed the ageless Old Man above the azure skies still has say in who emerges victorious. So President Mills won, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds that lay in his way. Thankfully, the legal Maradona had refused Presidential pardon from ex-President Kufuor. Mr. Tsikata was determined to prove his innocence. He managed to find space out of the most important landmark of Nsawam. The Free Tsatsu Tsikata Movement then took time to cool off and sip some energy drinks. When they had had enough rest and stood up again, their song changed.

It was their turn to teach the erstwhile untouchable officials of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) a great lesson. President Mills must act fast, they urged. One ministry that was crucial to the vendetta brigade was the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General. The success or otherwise of their mission depended on who headed that ministry. So what did the president do?

He appointed a strong tower when it comes to interpreting the Latin jargons. That person had headed the Legal and Constitutional Affairs of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London and had taught in University of Ghana’s Faculty of Law. But that person’s weakness was that she was a “she”. The vendetta brigade would have preferred a “he.” So from that day their agitation was renewed, this time directed towards an innocent daughter of Eve.

What would later follow is well-documented. The government lost a number of high profile cases. Then hell broke loose and descended onto the Ghanaian soil! Perhaps Satan, too, is a Ghanaian.

The hierarchy of the NDC could not sit down and allow things to get out of hand. So they held a press conference and made the famous declaration about there being “many ways of killing the cat.” The losses could have been turned into positive campaign messages. After all, how many countries in Africa will a ruling government lose a case involving a political opponent? So it should have been exploited, especially when the NDC had accused the NPP of unfairly dispatching the Abodakpis, Tsatsus and Selormeys into the dungeons of Nsawam.

But they decided to tear Betty Mould Iddrisu apart. Finally she was relieved from ministry to the delight of souls boiling with the blood of vengeance. But that would not end the NDC’s legal woes. And that of hers.

Betty Mould Iddrisu took over the education Ministry when the Single Spine Salary Scheme (SSSS) was ripe for the men and women whose reward, we’re often told, is in Oboade’s sanctuary. When IGP Paul Quaye and his men went to the bank and returned grinning from ear to ear, people started to do their own calculations. Each school has a mathematics teacher and one of the cheapest topics in mathematics is ratio and proportion. So the Ghanaian language teacher who might have problems working out the figures may walk up to the Maths Teacher for help:

“If a police constable, with senior high school certificate as qualification, is taking about GH?700 under the SSSS, then how much will I receive?” he would ask. “What is your qualification?” the maths teacher would ask.

“I’m an Assistant Director. I hold a degree (never mind the class). I’ve been teaching for fifteen years. That is not all. The constable who now bags about GH?700 used to take about GH?80. I take more than GH?300. So what am I likely to leave the bank with now that we teachers are on the SSSS?”

The calculation was as simple as that. And the expectation was higher than any imaginable height. It was therefore not a surprise when the teachers exploded with anger when their calculations proved different from the “coins” in their bank accounts. Some “militant” group of teachers in Ashanti and Bono Ahafo Regions would later wage an unending war against the leadership of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) and the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) long after the impasse between the teachers on one side and the education ministry and the (un)Fair Wages Commission on the other. It was another hell and baptism of brimstone for Betty Mould Iddrisu. The the teachers’ uprising, if one may call it so, has brought to the fore a poor job done by the communication arm of the Fair Wages Commission. Information on the new salary structure was very scanty and many people knew next to nothing about the modalities involved in rationalizing salaries of public sector workers under the SSSS.

It also brought out what is no longer newsworthy news – that teachers in Ghana are poorly paid. There is this standing joke about a primary school teacher who once asked his pupils the jobs they would do in future. After mentioning many professions without ever making mention of teaching one of them stood up and said he would teach for some time and then look for a good job.

Well, this might be a joke but it captures the reality on the ground. It is sad but the naked truth is that teaching is increasingly becoming a profession of last resort. Many people are teachers because they have to, not because they want to. And like primary school pupil’s submission in the joke, thousands of teachers leave the classrooms every year for so-called better jobs. This is one of the most unfortunate commentaries about a nation, which is still grappling with the high level of illiteracy. Government deserves commendation for the urgent and amicable resolution of the teachers’ impasse but the story must not end there. If we’re are to retain the teachers in the classroom and restore the pride of yesteryears when teaching was still a noble profession, then a lot more policies and people must be involved in teacher motivation. It will not be out of place to institute scholarship schemes the wards of teachers to attend the country’s public universities if they qualify. A teacher will be happy to remain the classroom if they are assured that their children will one day enter the university free of charge. Rural communities must also find ways of motivating teachers in their own small ways. My twin sister is a teacher in a rural community in the Easter Region and according to her, some of the villagers often charge unreasonable rent and increase prices of things when dealing with the teachers. To them teachers are “government workers” and have a strong purchasing power. How sad!

The government alone cannot pay teachers. Communities and traditional rulers who have vision, not only for litigation, but also for the development of their communities and the nation at large should consider taking up the challenge. They can in their small ways make teachers within their communities not willing to leave.

A recent gesture by the Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II to award some 200 teachers serving in deprived communities is very commendable and worthy of emulation not only by chiefs but also by civil society and metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies. Beyond the items given to the teachers, Otumfuo’s gesture has put an evalasting joy and pride in the teachers who also had the rare opportunity to dine with him.

“It is not about the items we received, it is the significance of the award,” says Isaac Mensah a young teacher in Chantai a typical farming and fishing village in the Krachi West District of the Volta Region. He proudly shows me his prize – a certificate signed by the Asantehene himself, a rechargeable solar lamp and wellington boot as some of the items he received from Manhyia Palace last week. On his wall hangs a photograph he took with Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II. And he cannot just hide his joy. “I had never imagined that being posted that remote community would one day grant me the opportunity to dine with Otumfuo and receive his award. It means a lot to be appreciated in this special way,” he says.

Indeed, the reward of the teacher is not only in heaven. It is not in what the Single Spine Salary has to offer. The burden should not only be borne by Betty Mould Iddrisu and the Ministry of Education. The teacher, like everyone else, needs to be appreciated in a special way. Otumfuo Osei Tutu II has set the tone and we must replicate it in our communities, in whatever small ways. If we cannot do great things, we can do small things in a great way in motivating the men and women who sacrifice to groom our children, siblings and the future of our nation.

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni/www.maxighana.com Writer’s Email: azureachebe2@yahoo.com The writer is a freelance journalist based in Accra, Ghana. To read more of his writings, visit www.maxighana.com