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Opinions of Monday, 17 November 2003

Columnist: Asare-Donkoh, Frankie

How concerned are our MPs?

The cry by our Members of Parliament (MPs) about their inability to repay their $20,000 car loans, comes as a real surprise to many. It also questions how concerned they are about the country and its economy, and exposes their desire for personal comfort at the expense of the ordinary Ghanaian.

Since 1992, when the country returned to constitutional rule once again, MPs have had the pleasure of taking state monies to acquire new cars. Even some MPs who served in the first and second parliaments, and benefited from state support to acquire cars, again went for the $20,000 loan. As at now, nobody had even talked about the rate of interest on the loan – if really it was a loan.

All the MPs knew at the time they were taking the loan that they had a four-year tenure within which the loan was to be repaid. This was clear to them, except that they would want us to believe that they were to repay during their life time. Why is that it did not strike any of them to consider the amount involved and the period for repayment, but wait till when they are left with less that two years before they start crying to crave the sympathy of the ordinary Ghanaian who under HIPC, has had to tightened their belts for all this while.

Our law makers should be made to understand, if they do not know already, that, they are not above the laws of the country, including those they have passed. Before each of them contested for the office of Member of Parliament, I believe, they considered all the implications including the salary and conditions of service.

During the first Parliament when MPs had to decide the salary and allowances of the Executive many were those who raised concerns about the ‘scratch my back, I scratch your back’ business the MPs engaged in with the Executive, but nobody listened to the cry of the ordinary people. And if for 10 years of the existence of the Fourth Republic we still do not have properly laid down salary structure and conditions of service for MPs, who do we blame?

The point made by the Minority Chief Whip, Edward Doe Adjaho, that the MPs took the loan because they expected salary adjustments, with all due respect, sounds rather childish. He is quoted as saying that unless some adjustments are made to their salaries, they cannot liquidate the debt.

How can our legislators, who are supposed to seek our interest, count their chicken long before they even decide to own a hen? How difficult was it for our honourable representatives to make that simple arithmetic of dividing $20,000 by 48 months (i.e.12 x 4), and comparing the answer with their salaries to see how they would repay the loan?

According to one source, the Speaker of Parliament has written to the President over the issue. I am surprised what the Speaker wants the President to do now. Does he want the President to announce salary increment for MPs at this time just to enable them repay their loan? What about workers who started agitation for salary increase long before the present government took office and have still not got what they requested?

Democracy, we should all understand, is a very expensive business. But that does not mean we should not ‘sew our agbada according to our cloth’.

Our honourable MPs need cars to move to their constituencies and also commute between their homes and Parliament, but that should not be used as a defence to throw dust into our eyes. If their conditions of service do not entitle them to free cars, but loans, for which they were aware of, why do they now want to twist our arms? The Ministry of Finance guaranteed the loans with the understanding of our MPs that, they will repay before their tenure ended.

According to the Majority Chief Whip, Kyei Mensah Bonsu, the MPs who are unable to pay back their loans before the end of their term next year will use their ex-gratia benefits to settle. I do not think that how the MPs settle their debts is the concern of the people; our concern is that the loan should be repaid by the time their tenure ends. Period!

Only the other day, our MPs discussed in Parliament how a former Defence Minister, B. K. Adama, died a pauper. Even though some of them (were and are in government) could have helped change the late minister’s living standard, yet they failed to do that. This kind of miserable life after service to the nation must be eliminated so that all those who serve the nation are properly rewarded. However, reward for service to the nation must not be construed to mean the creation of super nationals who would hold the nation to a ransom as our MPs are trying to do now.

As a nation, we need to put in place well-structured conditions of service for all those in high office including MPs and Ministers of State, so that they do not borrow far and above what they earn and wait for undecided salary increase before they repay.

Anyway, our honourable MPs must repay the loans and stop any attempt to twist the arms of the people. And may I humble ask: What is the rate of interest on the loan for the four-year period?


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