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Opinions of Saturday, 11 July 2009

Columnist: Anyanful, Akwasi

Milking and drowning Ghana’s Economy – Some suggested solutions

Not a single passes without us reading about Government Officials, Government Appointees milking the country dry. From the former Speaker stealing every state property in his house, even bulbs to the Transitional team blowing millions on “some expenses” to parliamentarians receiving $50,000 to purchase cars. Since we always have very “big, big” problems, here are some suggested solutions to problems in Ghana which I think are no problems at all.

Cars for parliamentarians

I still find it hard to believe that a parliamentary candidate who spends between $75,000 - $100,000 campaigning, uses several cars during the campaign process will refuse to work and sabotage any bills proposed, unless they are given loans to buy cars. Worse still, re-elected MPs also ask for car loans again. I also do not understand how the government came to the $50,000 amount. A brand new 2009 Camry in the US costs $19,000. Add tax, shipping, duty etc and it should not cost more the $35,000. What sort of cars are the MPs going to buy and how will the government ensure that the money is actually used for cars. If the $50,000 loan is even interest free, that will mean MPs will have to pay $1190 every month from July 2009 to December 2012. How much do MPs earn to afford this expense for only car payments? What about their other expenses? Definitely, this will encourage corruption and stealing.

Suggested solution.

The MPs want cars, fine. Let the Government loan each MP, appointee, special assistant, minister etc. $10,000 and a letter to any bank of their choice for a loan not exceeding $40,000 to purchase any car of their choice. The $10,000 loan should be standard and should be ready within a month of swearing in. This loan should be interest free and payable within four years through salary deduction. That brings it to $213 a month which is reasonable. Whatever payment transaction that is arranged between the appointee, MP and the bank is not our business. Government appointees will think twice on the car they buy as they will surely pay the banks. A transaction like this will help Ghana as outlined 1. Banks will never lend you money more that the value of the item you want to buy so if the car you want to buy is worth $30,000, you will only get $20,000. Thus, the money loaned to you by the government for a car will be used to buy a car. 2. The bank will not give the MP the money but will pay directly to the dealer or seller. There will thus be little chance of diverting the money and a detailed paper trail will be available for transparency. 3. The real value of property (cars) will now be important and prices will reflect international standards. In Ghana, people quote prices at random. There will also be job opportunities for those who want to be in valuation. 4. The bank will protect its property so you will be forced to buy comprehensive insurance for full replacement value in case of accidents. This will boost the insurance industry and insurance companies will start paying. 5. In case of accidents, a valid police report will be required. Since the police will know that lawyers from the banks and the insurance companies will be watching, they will be on their toes and will be forced to do their work well. 6. The appointees, MPs will now be paying 30%+ interest like any other Ghanaian. Feeling this pinch, next time they go to parliament, they will be proposing and supporting bills that will tend to reduce the interest rate and help Ghanaians.

Furnishing Houses for Appointees.

Either we are by nature greedy or when the sun shines on us, we lose our brains. In January 2009, one truck packed Bush’s property of out the White House and another truck brought in Obama’s stuff from Chicago for his use. Before being appointed to office, the Speaker had his own property. When moving into the bungalow, you carry your property in for use. When your term expires, you carry your stuff and any that you have acquired back to your old house. This is as simple as ABC and I do not see why Ghanaian Government appointees can’t just simply understand this. Bedsheets, towels etc are recycled for years in hotels and these appointees have no qualms using them.

Suggested solution. Furnishing houses should be cancelled. Problem solved. However, since it will not happen, at least for now, we should follow the car loan way. The bungalow should be empty. A fixed amount should be set say $15,000 for an official. The Government gives you $3,000 interest free loan and a letter to the bank. Again, we are only interested in our $3,000, payable over four years and deducted at source. At the end of your term, clear the house and leave empty for the next person. The $12,000 is between you and the bank.

Cars for official duty Cars for official duties must be used solely for that. The car should have the ministry or whatever’s logo on it. If the minister wants a private car, the same rules as above should be applied. He drives to work in his private car, parks it and uses the official car. At the end of the day, he goes home in his private car. If the official car has to take him to and from work, then there must be an assigned driver and a log-in book for the records. This rule is in existence and must be enforced. Finally, the practice of selling the official car cheaply to the boss upon his or her retirement should be stopped. If the car needs to be sold, a silent auction should be held and if the boss wants, he can also participate.

African Time and work attitude Twice I was stopped for ex-president Kuffuor’s cars to pass to work. The time was after 9.30am. If the boss goes to work after 9.30, then all subordinates will be at work just before 9.30. Consider this scenario. President gets to work at 8.30am and calls finance minister to discuss important issues. Secretary says finance minister is not yet in. President leaves a harsh message telling finance minister that he wanted to discuss important matters at 8.30 but couldn’t due to the minister’s absence. He will call again the following day. Next day he calls again at 8.30am, but finance minister is absent and president issues a query for the minister to answer. He leaves a message that he will call again the following day at 8.30am. Definitely, the minister will be there for the third call. If the minister is in the office at 8.30, it will trickle down. Other workers will have to come earlier. The president can repeat his call at 4.00pm to ensure the minister is still at post. Any minister could be called so you better have a very good excuse for not being there. A disciplined president who ensures discipline in his ministers will change work ethics. We tackle this problem from the top and it will trickle down. In Ghana we like tackling problems from the bottom and leave the top.

The stagger system Everything in Ghana starts at 8.30am and everything ends between 4.30-5.00pm. There is thus a massive flow of people and cars in one direction in the morning and evening. Supposing we try out this system. All banks, large and small scale stores, departmental stores and markets should start at 10.00am and close after 6.00pm. Schools, government employees etc should start at 8.30am and follow the current system. Basically, I am proposing a system where those whose work schedules are flexible to start later and close later. Civil servants can no longer say they were late because they went to the bank before work. They also can not leave early since the banks, stores and markets will be open. One problem I can envisage is the banker who needs to send their kids to school in another area. To that, we must encourage the setting of satellite schools in neighbourhoods so there will be no need to live in Dansoman and attend Christ the King. An example of satellite schools is St. Theresa’s in North Kaneshie establishing Bishop Bowers in Latebiokorshie and St Bernadette’s in Dansoman. Other schools can follow suit. For SSS, about 75% are in boarding schools so not much of a problem. I am not assuming a perfect system, but I think in a way it will help ease congestion and boost productivity. Anyway this is just an idea that I am floating around.

Voting day The last election brought a very important issue up but as usual we are ignoring it. If the second round had ended in a 50-50 draw, we would have been in big trouble because the constitution stated clearly that the President, Vice and Speakers terms end exactly four years from swearing-in. On January 7th 2009, we would have had no leader till we vote again. The second issue was that the transition team had only one week to transition. So I propose we shift our voting day to late October or early November. If we elect the new president in the first round he or she will have at least two months with his transition team to get as much information as possible (no huge bills please). By January 7th, the new president will really be ready to start running the country as he will have his list of appointees by then. Let’s take this change of date serious before trouble brews one day.

MPs as ministers Rawlings wanting to control everything aspect of government made sure the constitution stated that 50% of Ministerial posts should be held by MPs. Thus these MP will attend cabinet meetings and agree on a bill, go to parliament the following day and vote for it. This gives the president too much power and MPs kowtowing to the president so they will be considered for ministerial positions if the chance arises. Minister MPs also do not serve their constituencies since they may be busy with other issues. Subsequent presidents allowed it because it favoured them. I think it s time to amend the constitution. People voted you to represent them as their MP. If you want to be a minister, fine, vacate the MP post and let us select someone else to represent us. If we do not want to amend the constitution, then, MPs should be made deputy ministers. With little work to do, they will have more time for parliament.

The president can do it Let me end here for now saying that everything boils down to the president. If he wants to, he has the power to do it. Yes, this is possible even in Africa. In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame is doing it. Rwanda is the least corrupt country in Africa and the darling country for NGOs etc. Their rapid growth after the 1994 genocide will surprise you if you ever visit this country. This is because you may never know who has the secret camera the size of a button filming you or who has the secret microphone recording you, and before you say jack, you will be on national TV accepting bribe. Instantly, you are fired. In Rwanda, everybody does what is expected of him or her. That can easily be applied in Ghana. So president Mills, the ball is in your court, you can make history if you want to.

I welcome other suggestions, comments and criticisms.

Akwasi Anyanful