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Opinions of Saturday, 29 November 2014

Columnist: Adjei-Barwuah, B.

Furniture And All That.

Dear Mr. Speaker,
Furniture And All That.
I write this note with trepidation since currently in our country anything spoken or written is automatically placed in the realm of partisan politics. I find it necessary to emphasise to you that I am writing in my capacity as a citizen with concerns about certain aspects of national life. And I have taken the liberty of writing to you because I reckon that by your position you can be considered to be the leader of our Parliament.
May be erroneously I have always believed that irrespective of the partisan cloak, the minute one is sworn into office as a member of Parliament he or she takes on the mantle to defend and protect the interests of the constituents who sent him or her to the House. Collectively then, Parliament should be seen as the protector of the national weal and by definition the first bulwark and auditor of possible incompetence or excesses of government. One might reckon with the argument that in situations like ours where government is mainly made up of people who also represent constituents and are on the wings of political parties, the responsibility as I have mentioned above may prove to be difficult especially where the views of Parliament are at variance with those of the executive branch.
However, Parliament cannot be seen to be a cheerleading organisation for the government nor can it be recognised as a pampered poodle of government. I dare contend that there have been issues and actions initiated by government which should have called for vigorous debate and interrogation of government in recent times but have either been glossed over by Parliament or mothballed by agencies supposedly working in the supreme interest of the Ghanaian electorate. Between pensions, National Service Scheme, Woyomi, Isofoton, World Cup, ‘Guinea Fowls’, CHRAG, Atuabo and innumerable other scandals not to mention the concatenation of loans contracted by government and its agencies for non-demonstrable purposes, Parliament, in my view, has behaved like a non-caring assembly of hired foreign conversationalists or at best the enthusiastic cheerleader for a rapacious administration.
What has broken my heart from its moorings is the matter of the furnishing of our Parliament chamber. If there is any location that should reflect our national character and our pride it should be parliament house. What we have now is a ‘Chinese chop bar’ with substandard equipment. But even if one were to believe that the workmanship was supreme it still does not negate the fact that by this one act of putting this furniture in the House, this country has lost her dignity, her image, her pride and her soul. We just destroyed whatever was left of any ‘can do spirit’ we could claim we had.
Mr. Speaker, I was in secondary form two when Ghana gained independence and I was a member of the Prempeh College cadet corps contingent that marched at the then Prince of Wales Park in Kumasi on March 6 1957. I was President of Commonwealth Hall JCR when the CPP decided to take over all JCRs in the country. I was the Commonwealth Hall NUGS representative at the time when the CPP decided to dissolve NUGS and replace it with GHANASO. Both attempts failed. I was the last Managing Director of the Ghana Tourist Control Board and the first Executive Director of the Ghana Tourist Board. I did an eight year stretch during the administrations of General Kutu Acheampong, General Akuffo, the AFRC, President Limann and Flight Leutenant Rawlings. And I am a twelve-day graduate of Rawlings’ 5th Battalion Guard Room. And for eight years I was Ghana’s Ambassador to Japan and High Commissioner to Singapore with some three years of concurrent accreditation as High Commissioner to Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. I am also an unsuccessful presidential flag-bearer contestant for the NPP.
I have given you the above resume, Mr. Speaker, because I find it necessary to establish the fact that politically and at the national level I have earned the right to make a comment on the current situation in our country and to register my views and feelings on an issue I consider to be an affront to all nation-loving Ghanaians. I am having a difficulty understanding why we have become a disgraceful country within such a short time. We are unable to provide electricity and other forms of energy to our population. We cannot provide decent premises to house even the lowest of our education strata. We cannot provide adequate basic health care for our citizens. And the greater proportion of our roads and streets are obstacle courses. General sanitation is deplorable and we have a rapid expansion of urban squalor even in the national capital. And I do not see any of these commanding any attention in our nation’s parliament, the very organisation supposedly seeing to the welfare of all our citizens.
Ghanaians have been turned into ‘hopers’ even though there is not much of a reason to hope for any improvement. We are hoping against hope. But if promises were planes, Kotoka International would be busier than Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. I see Ghana now as the one country where public officers, government appointees and political functionaries are handsomely remunerated for running their nation down. Mr. Speaker, if I sound bitter it is because as one of the ‘children of independence’ I believe that the present crop of leadership in this country has sold the nation down the river. We were the nation that could not be caged because our feathers were too bright. Now, not only do we not have bright feathers, we have no feathers at all. People in responsible positions treat the nation like a bedroom slipper- kick it off your feet anyhow for it does not murmur against rough treatment nor does it register a complaint against disrespect. This is the situation that has made it possible for even government ministers to refuse to attend parliament when summoned and as far as I know no sanctions are applied. In my humble opinion, all those who claim the title of ‘Honourable’ in this country have brought so much dishonour to the word that it should be scrapped from our lexicon.
I am unable to understand why local traditional leaders and ordinary citizens find it necessary to use the media to ‘beg’ the President for normal items of development such as bridges and culverts, potable water, decent classrooms and basic health service. Why are such supplications not directed to DCEs and Mayors, Regional Ministers or members of Parliament? Has our democracy now metamorphosed into benevolent paternalism? And the nagging question is what does Parliament do?
The light at the end of Ghana’s tunnel has been turned off, Mr. Speaker. Citizens are left in bewilderment as to whether the nation is being tormented by an uncaring and insensitive government. And there is the evaporation of all whiffs of honesty and decency normally associated with all arms of governance. The question on the street is – ‘is parliament unknowledgeable about its duties and responsibilities or is parliament morally compromised and thus incapable of standing up on behalf of the ordinary citizens who elected the members? Or is it a situation where members feel they purchased the votes that brought them to the House and therefore their responsibility is to themselves because they are employees answerable only to ‘management’ and not to shareholders nor consumers. Parliament does not even give the impression that it could have a vicarious responsibility for the promotion of the welfare of the citizens of this country.
Mr. Speaker, probably I need to establish that I am not naïve enough not to recognise that politicians generally worry about the next election and not the next generation. But this cannot mean that we should allow a culture of acquisitiveness, crass materialism and cheating to run our country down. Greed is rife and standing in the face of overwhelming indices of poverty and need in Ghana. And short-term economic thinking has caused a situation where the few are destroying the many.
I beg to submit, Mr. Speaker, that we as a nation are sitting on a social powder keg and we would not want to contemplate either the strength or the effect of the potential social explosion. This country must change as a matter of urgency. We must change and find our will and path back to the prosperity we all know has always been achievable with sensible, sensitive, honest and decent leadership.
At the risk of sounding prescriptive I do want to make the following suggestions:
1) the disgraceful furniture recently installed in the national chamber should be replaced by authentically made Ghanaian ones; those responsible for the purchase of the China made furniture should be surcharged with the cost of replacement and Parliament should apologise to the people of Ghana for unjustifiably undermining national sovereignty and pride.
2) the furtive and economically destructive system of increasing fuel and other utility prices should be stopped. The system is no different from the proverbial squeezing water out of stone or water boarding.
3) a moratorium should be declared on all external borrowing by the nation and any further acquisition of loans or other forms of credit by the government or publicly owned or sponsored organisation should be considered a treasonable offence. And it should be made very clear to all the known and covert Ghanaian officials and the foreign loan sharks they are collaborating with that this country, with immediate effect, will not honour the terms of new or ongoing financial negotiations.
4) all existing acts of corruption and improper behaviour should be handled by a special investigative body with prosecutorial powers instead of the ongoing barn dancing and theatrics that seem to be exacerbating the existing stench in the nation’s environment.
5) Parliament should make the effort to purify itself and arrest the massive haemorrhage it has suffered and continue to suffer in public esteem. It cannot be overemphasised that in inter-electoral years, a government is accountable to Parliament and not vice versa.
Mr. Speaker, I subscribe to Tom Ziglar’s contention that ‘change starts with you and it does not start until you do’. You and the House should just do it before it gets done by a citizenry that feels neglected, lied to, cheated and raped.
I thank you, Sir, for this gift of your attention and consideration.
B. Adjei-Barwuah
The Speaker of Parliament Parliament House, Accra.
cc The Majority Leader Parliament House, Accra.
The Minority Leader Parliament House, Accra.
The Ghana News Agency Accra.