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Opinions of Monday, 12 May 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: The records are the same

Last Wednesday, the presidential candidate of the NDC, John Atta Mills gave the best speech I’ve ever heard him make. When I listen to a speech I like to take some ‘quotable quotes’ away with me. I hardly get any from President Kufuor’s speeches. From Prof. Mills they come in dribs and drabs. But last Wednesday’s speech was full of them and that made me very happy.

He was speaking at the launch of the NDC’s campaign for the December polls. The event, was meant to usher in the ‘new NDC’ and so, perhaps, it was appropriate that Prof. Mills showed that he can also give very good speeches. I loved that speech. He said all the right things and I agreed with him on most of the issues he raised.

For example, his remarks on what public service means really struck a chord with me. “The comfort of leadership should be subordinated to the interest of the majority,” he said. “If you have the kind of experience that I have had, if you have the kind of knowledge that I have, you are not going to engage in profligate expenditure.”

This means that public service is about the welfare of the people – not the comfort of the president and his ministers and their special assistants. I completely agree with Prof. Mills on that. We don’t need plush presidential mansions when pregnant women sleep on the bare floors in our hospitals. I also don’t see the sense in buying a presidential jet when our university students are crammed like sardines in rooms which were built for just two people.

But I don’t agree with Prof. Mills that taking a decision against “profligate expenditure” comes with a certain “knowledge” and “experience”. It’s common sense.

And that leads me to my next point. The lack of common sense makes me (and quite a substantial number of Ghanaians) wonder how politicians think. It’s a good thing Prof. Mills realises that our confidence in politicians is waning. “It is quite obvious that the Ghanaian electorate is beginning to lose confidence in us as politicians,” he said. And he is right. He promises that he will be different. “Atta Mills and the NDC are pledging to the people of Ghana that we will restore hope, restore confidence and we will restore faith.”

Nice words. But we’ve heard it all before, haven’t we? Yes, we have! Not just from the NDC but from the NPP as well. That’s why I was quite surprised to hear John Mahama (my friend) saying that anyone who asks for a comparison of records is prescribing “a recipe for mediocrity.” Shortly thereafter, Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey issued a statement demanding that it’s alright for the records to be compared. And the back and forth has started over whether records should be compared or not.

I’m surprised that this has even become an issue. Why are the politicians wasting our ears with all this noise about whether or not we should compare records?

It’s a clear indication of how out of touch they are with us – the ordinary citizens whose taxes make it possible for them to travel the world, seek medical treatment abroad, enjoy electricity for free, talk for hours on phone without paying and drive around in plush cars. If they hadn’t lost touch, they would have known that we compare records. We like to compare records. How else will we be able to decide who to vote for?

Over the past seven years, especially, we have been diligently comparing the records of the (P)NDC and the NPP and we have come to the conclusion that there is little to choose between those who were in power before 2000 and those who were in power from 2001.

Quite a number of us (those who have already lost confidence in politicians) have come to the realisation that politicians are a greedy and selfish lot who only care about themselves and not the people who got them into power.

Korle Bu under an NPP government is not different from the rundown death trap it was under the NDC. The NDC didn’t find it wise to spend money to rebuild and equip it. They thought that a presidential jet will be more useful than an MRI scanner. So they went and bought a Gulfstream. The NPP vehemently opposed the purchase of the jet and they spoke all the nice words. We thought the NPP could do better and they were voted in. And what did they do? They decided to buy... not one but two jets whiles Korle Bu and all our hospitals remain neglected dens of misery and death.

Comparing the records, we’ve realised that politicians are thieves. They steal at the least opportunity. We were angry when we learnt that the NDC had invested large sums of money in a cotton tree, expecting (rather foolishly) a rice harvest. People cheered as those who allegedly took this foolish decision were locked up. Some of them were said to have caused financial loss to the state and others were accused of corruptly benefitting from various shady deals. We thought the NPP were seriously going to live by their promise to do better and observe a policy of “zero tolerance for corruption”. We were wrong. The NDC’s ‘chop-chop’ continues steadfastly under the NPP but this time it’s “waawaaawaaaaa”.

When we compare the records we also realise that politicians are liars. We have come to the conclusion that when a politician tells you to look up and you do as he says you are a fool. When he says look up, you look down. Like a man who wants to get into a woman’s panties, a politician will tell voters lies of different shapes, shades and sizes just to get elected. But as soon as he is voted into power, he forgets the promises he made.

The NPP told us that the NDC government had too many ministers. And it was true. There were more ministers than there ministries to be run. That is why we had ministers “without portfolios”. That was euphemism for ministers with nothing to do. We wanted change and we brought in the NPP, thinking that they will give us a lean and mean government. But what did we get? The NPP government is an ‘obolo’ administration. It’s so big because some ‘portfolios’ that were previously being carried by one person are now being carried by three or more people, most of whom are so lazy that they need ‘special assistants’ to be able to do their jobs effectively. When he was asked about why he had reneged on his promise the president says he didn’t know that a big government was not that bad. That translates into he didn’t know that he needed to create so many jobs for the boys. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have made that promise. We get you, Mr. President.

I could go on and on, spelling out why it is difficult (but not impossible) for us to differentiate between the NDC and the NPP. But I don’t need to waste anyone’s time. Even the politicians know that their “value is the same”. So they should shut the heck up and stop talking about whether or not we should compare their records. We have compared the records – whether they like it or not – and we are disappointed and ashamed that politicians have taken us for a ride for so long. Now we are caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s a tough choice to make. But we will... come December.