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Opinions of Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

Ex-Gratia: New twists, uncertain turns

President Atta Mills needs a committee to help him review the recommendations of the committee whose recommendations are essentially an ‘upgrade’ on the recommendations of another committee.

After all the pressure that has been mounted on him to take action, that’s the best the president could come up with. It’s a rather tentative response to the public outcry that greeted the revelation that President Mills’ predecessor had ‘cooked’ up a sumptuous retirement package for himself with Mary Chinery-Hesse the head chef and the 230 elected representatives of the people acting as kitchen maids.

It’s surprising that despite the outrage against the retirement package and the accompany ex gratia awards, President Mills is reluctant to act as swiftly and decisively as he did against Moses Asaga, who inexplicably signed a cheque for huge sums of monies to be paid his fellow MPs under the controversial package recommended by Mrs Chinery-Hesse. By withdrawing Asaga’s nomination for the position of minister for Works and Housing, the president seemed to be sending a message that he has the two solid ‘balls’ to take some very difficult and controversial decisions.

However, the statement from the presidency announcing his plans to set up yet another committee to advise him on this simple matter, makes me wonder: perhaps, the presidential pair (of balls) are either not as hard as they should be or they are just too small. The president doesn’t need a panel of experts to help him realise that a poor country like Ghana cannot afford to (and should not) lavish its meagre resources on a bunch of selfish, ineffectual, greedy politicians.

A vast majority of Ghanaians (except those who will benefit from the handouts) are disappointed, shocked and angry that our politicians who are supposed to be protecting the little we have insist that they deserve hefty ex-gratia pay checks. Meanwhile, they tell us that the nation is broke and for that reason, our teachers, civil servants, nurses, police and fire officers as well as the several others who literally break their backs to build the nation – cannot get the ‘living’ wages they deserve. Through this controversy, Ghanaians have come to the realisation that our politicians are like a gang of brigands whose main delight is in looting our coffers. If we take this matter to a referendum, I will wager my life that Ghanaians will vote overwhelmingly for any decision the president takes to end the plunder once and for all. That’s why I am surprised that the president is being overly tentative – adopting measures which do not amount to much.

In the meantime, our MPs are not even making any attempt to hide their greed and selfishness. The MPs have started baring their teeth at the president, criticising him for marginally altering the ex-gratia handouts they claim they aare due. Some former MPs say the president is breaking the law and they have threatened to take the government to court. Some current MPs also argue that they are ‘entitled’ to the ex gratia handouts because they served in the last parliament. They are literally blackmailing the president by insisting that if he fails to give them their full ex-gratia they will scuttle his legislative agenda and do all in their power to sabotage his policies.

Such parochial thinking on the part of our MPs exposes a fundamental flaw in our political system and how our politicians are compensated. It seems the system has been contrived to enrich the political class whiles the vast majority of Ghanaians are left to wallow in excruciating poverty. The system has bred a very large number of parasitic politicians who need some sense knocked into their heads.

Let’s start off by explaining the true meaning of ‘ex-gratia’ to them. According to my Encarta dictionary, ex-gratia is “given as a gift, favour or gesture of goodwill rather than because it is owed”. What this means is that government is under no obligation to give ex-gratia to any MP or president or vice president or judge – not after they’ve been paid monthly salaries in addition to several other perks.

Under the current arrangement, all the MPs who served in the parliament which was dissolved at the beginning of the year – including those who retained their seats – are to get a ‘gift’ of at least GHC 80,000. The senior ones – majority leader, minority leader and deputy speakers etc – will get more. In total, this country (which the politicians tell us is highly indebted and poor) is splurging about 20 million dollars on our MPs as ‘gifts’. That is insane! And to think that this ‘gift’ is given out every four years – even to those who retain their seats – turns the whole idea into a monumental venture in national foolishness.

These ex-gratia payments should be scrapped – and soon. The president doesn’t need another committee to help him come to the realisation that we cannot afford to spend 20 million dollars (or more) every four years on ‘gifts’ for our MPs. Add the ‘gifts’ for the retiring president, his vice president, his ministers and all those so-called ‘Article 71’ public office holders and you will realise that monies that could otherwise have been used to build roads, hospitals, schools, bridges, water treatment plants and children’s playgrounds – are being used to immorally enrich politicians.

No wonder people go to great, often absurd lengths, to win parliamentary seats. In parliament, they are sure to hit the jackpot. From the posture of our ‘chopocratic’ MPs, it is clear that they are oblivious to the fact that representing the people in the legislature is a public service, for which they should expect very little or nothing at all. No one forced any of them to run for parliament. They should not, therefore, force us (through blackmail and legislative manipulation) to give them what we cannot afford – and which they do not deserve.

I therefore stand proudly on the side of those who say that the president has the power to say “no” to the ex-gratia payments. With or without a committee, he should take the bull by the balls (the horns do not hurt enough) and tell all the ‘Article 71’ office holders that the ‘ex gratia’ era ended at the start of the Mills presidency. Otherwise, we are going to have even more nincompoops, eager to make a quick buck, running for parliament from 2012.

Click here to visit Ato Kwamena Dadzie’s blogsite
Email: ato@atokd.com

“Service is the rent you pay for the space you occupy on this earth. You’ll never get rich except by enriching the lives of others…the greatest idea in the world is the opportunity to be of service to others.” – Helen Keller

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