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Opinions of Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Is President Mahama insulting Ghanaians?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

I was dumbfounded when I read that President Mahama claims his government was not financing but only facilitating the selected pastors’ “joy ride” to Israel. I considered the claim to be a complete fabrication, laughable and did not take it serious when the Minister for Youth and Sports first made it last week. However, when the President himself repeated it, I felt the President and his government are taking Ghanaians for fools and an insult to their intelligence. I just could not believe it.

“Speaking on the issue for the first time, President Mahama said unfortunately the whole intent has been misunderstood and it has created some negatives. The circumstances under which various church groups are writing and saying we don’t want to participate, we will take what you want if we should abandon it, we will just tell the private sponsors that unfortunately the church groups are not interested so that they deal directly with you. Government will play no part in facilitating it or something… so I want to get your own idea about it”. According to President Mahama, government secured private sponsorship for the pastors pilgrimage to Israel and the pilgrimage is not financed by government but “government is playing only a facilitator role" (see “Pastors' trip paid for by private sponsors – Mahama”, Ghanaweb March 19, 2013). .

From the above, I do not get the impression that the President was speaking with authority and it also clearly showed that the President and his government do not understand Ghanaians. For the President to say that the intent of “facilitation or sponsorship” has been misunderstood and created some negatives is recognition that, his government is in denial of what is happening in Ghana. These are no ordinary times in Ghana when people cannot get regular supply of basic water and electricity; when some healthcare providers had to withdraw their services to NHIS patients because of non-payment of services provided by them; when some graduate teachers are on strike over pay and at a time when students are preparing for their final examinations, etc.

Mr President, the people have not misunderstood your government’s kind gesture but they are of the view that your government has too much on its plate to deal with such irrelevant matters and getting involved with issues that would not bring any direct benefit to resolving the urgent crisis in the country. The criticism of the intent has not been negative but positive. It’s part of ensuring good governance and accountability.

Mr President, let us even give you and your government the benefit of the doubt that some rich philanthropists are funding the pilgrimage or joy ride. Why can they handle the whole exercise by themselves and call for government assistance when necessary, instead you have a minister dealing directly with it? It creates the impression that some of your ministers have nothing serious to do. Is he the appropriate minister to handle religious matters and foreign travel?

Mr President, some of us do not believe that the reported cost of $600,000 is from private sources. If that is the case, we the doubters challenge your government to publish the list of donors and how much each was donating or has donated. You probably tell Ghanaians that the private donors want to maintain their anonymity and remain private. Would that not be a perfect excuse to hide the fact that this trip is being financed by tax payers?

Ghanaian voters expect that (particularly since you recently said that you are unable to sleep because of the electricity and water crisis), your government will give priority attention to urgent matters such as water, energy, education, health and others. Because these have become crisis and the urgency in finding solutions to them presupposes that when philanthropists approached your government to facilitate this trip, your citizens would have expected you to suggest that they donate the money to some other good causes such as health or education or use it to supply good drinking water, solar energy, build schools (replace some schools under trees) or health centres in rural Ghana? Is that not what is expected of a serious government with the right priorities?

Mr President, is it not true that because of the false prophesy by the fake Pastor (Owusu Bempah) that you will die this year or perhaps the presidential petition at the Supreme Court, your government is paying for and facilitating these pastors to go to pray in Israel? If you are a true believer, then do not worry yourself over Owusu-Bampa’s false prophesy because nothing will happen to you. Follow Pope Francis and ask your people to pray with and for you. Moreover, no amount of praying in Israel will affect or change the outcome of the presidential petition. Have faith, pray to God and the Lord will listen to you and grant your requests. God is in Ghana and not only in Israel because God is Omnipresence as Jesus said in Matthew 18 verse 20.

Mr President is this also part of your new philosophy of pleasing all? Government for years has been facilitating and financing Moslems on their annual pilgrimage to Mecca. So let’s help Christians to also go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land by financing and facilitating the trip. Do you know there is no requirement in Christianity for its followers to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in their life time? Was this similar to the idea behind unsuccessful Jubilee Flagstaff House name change for the presidential edifice? You were trying hard to please Nkrumahists and the Busia-Danquah tradition so as to please both Muslims and Christians.

The past week has been terrible for your government with contradictions and confused ideas from government and this could be another humiliating u-turn. From what you told the pastors, it is self-evident that your government is seeking a way out to abandon financing this joy ride for a selected few at the expense of the state. Mr President, just give up government facilitating and financing this joy ride. It’s a bad one and benefits no one. At best, it would end up dividing pastors or Christian leaders in Ghana. The country cannot afford it and even if it is affordable, there is no added valued to be gained from by the state. It is purely misplaced priority and wanton waste of very scarce state resources. It would be irresponsible and almost tantamount to “causing financial loss to the state”, and must be abandoned.

Mr President, assert your authority and decide on whether you abandon this ill-conceived trip and do not give the option to the pastors. After all, they did not ask the government to facilitate or to solicit private finance for the trip. It was your government’s decision and the ball falls squarely on you. The pastors stand to benefit from this free trip so they would not be honest and patriotic enough to put the interest of the state above their parochial interest. If you throw the ball back to them, they will tell you to go ahead with it. Just abandon it and put a stop to all plans immediately since it is not too late.

On the other hand, if it is true that your government has secured private funding for the $600,000, please go back to philanthropists and ask if they would be happy for the money to be redirected into other critical areas such as rural water, schools under trees, rural healthcare or electricity. Otherwise, tell them to make all the necessary arrangements themselves and call on the appropriate ministries for assistance such as Foreign Affairs when required. Anyway, what has ministry for Youth and Sports got to do with religion in Ghana? Is the minister the Cardinal, Archbishop or Chief Rabbi in your government?

Mr President, for your information, Ghanaians think that you and your government have misplaced or no priorities and you are losing your way with all these fundamental errors of judgement. There is no misunderstanding or negatives on their part. Indeed, they know exactly what they elected you to do. To find solutions to the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives, among others and specifically to end the water, energy, education and health crisis that have become a norm in Ghana. They did not expect their President or government to be soliciting funds from private sources for religious trips when they do not have basic necessities such as water, electricity and healthcare. When they question that, you say, they have misunderstood your intentions? Get real and smell the grass because the very people who voted in December 2012 cannot believe that $600,000 will be wasted on such a trivial matter, whilst they have no water and electricity.

Mr President, Ghanaians fully understand and know that your intention is misplaced priority. Perhaps, it’s time you and your government asked yourselves, this simple question. Do you know the priorities for Ghanaians and do you understand them?

Kofi Ata, Cambridge.