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Opinions of Thursday, 8 July 2021

Columnist: Abdul-Razak Lukman

First Lady and the constitution of Ghana

There is a growing tension in the country on the government's decision to 'forcibly' include the First and Second Lady into a class of article 71 officeholders. This move by the government has kept the country talking – with lots of concerns as to its unconstitutionality of such acts and what such a precedent means for the country going forward.

This piece will walk you down memory lane and the clear potential of damage we are inflicting on ourselves as an embattled nation.

We have been told from reliable sources that we will be paying the First & Second Lady monthly salaries – backdated to 2017 at a cost of GHS 21,000 to the poor taxpayer. This back pay will put financial pressure on the public purse to a tune of GHS 1,134,000.

The shocking part is that their allowances per month which is even more than the proposed salary; totaling GHC 87,000 per month. Sources say it will also be backdated to 2017. What a clever way of "Ghana Beyond Aid" agenda.

It is important to know that Article 71 office holders include the President, the Vice-President, the Speaker of Parliament, the Chief Justice, and the Justices of the Supreme Court.

The rest are Members of Parliament (MPs), Ministers of State, political appointees, and public servants.

Fast forward, First Lady is a title of courtesy given to the President’s spouse and carries enormous influence, but Presidential spouses have no legal or political authority under the Constitution of Ghana, and any money they receive either comes out of the President’s salary or at the discretion of Parliament or the incumbent government of the day.

The implication of this is that payment of such allowances to them could be stopped at any point in time without violating the Constitution of the Republic as such payments have no legal backing whatsoever.

It is again worthy of note that the First Lady is not elected, nor is she hired through normal competitive Civil Service procedures. She is not appointed, and therefore not subject to the tenets of the Constitution.

There are no standards a First Lady has to meet and no checks and balances on her conduct written in any public official record. So by and large, being the First Lady is a volunteer job.

No matter how much work the First Lady does in championing noble causes, she still can't be appointed by her husband. That will amount to nepotism. The First Lady (FL) is acting as such because her husband is the one who got elected– not her. She is just along for a ride.

That is not to underestimate the sterling works First Ladies have been doing for decades now. To underestimate their work is to be ungrateful to them as they serve as a de facto chief operations officer of the country.

Giving them allowances to keep them afloat is logical to salarying them into a class of unconstitutionality.

If the country wants First Ladies to be paid just like those in the class of article 71 officeholders, then the Constitution has to be amended to give room to such subjects for inclusion.

But as it stands now, signing and approving such an act without following the constitutional laid down provision amounts to a coup on ourselves as a country. If this trend is allowed, four or 8 years later, another president would be signing on his children and 'side chicks' into a class of article 71 officeholders.

Putting pressure on the public purse in such a blatant disregard to the laws of the country must be condemned in no uncertain terms. Even in the United States where Ghana normally borrows from, the wife of President Joe Biden is not paid or compensated by the federal government for the service she does in support of her husband. She is awarded zero compensation.

That's why President Ronald Reagan remarked in an interview in 1982 "You know, with First Lady the government gets an employee free; they have her just about as busy they have me."

So you imagine those we borrow from and looking at the population of the United States of America. The spouse of the president is not paid for her unofficial or ceremonial title. Is not that the country has no financial muscle to pay but a best practice to safeguard the public purse.

Why can't we emulate best practices in other countries? Is it too difficult to do that?