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Opinions of Sunday, 24 October 2010

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

The angry colonel and the hungry don

By George Sydney Abugri

Well, well, well, Jomo, the obese cat, well-fed on time and public deceit has finally jumped out of the sack, spilling the cow peas and beans all over the place and leaving our nation of some 25 million scandalized.

Who would have believed it Jomo: For more than 50 years, from our political independence to date, successive political leaders and their cronies across the political divide, have in spite of their legendary rivalry and sectarian acrimony, conspired to keep one big secret from the rest of us:

There is this law related to the disposal of state assets which g
rants every citizen the right to make a formal request to the government to purchase state land and residential properties up for sale, see?
It is a secret our leaders and top level public service bureaucrats from Nkrumah to date, had kept very secret from everyone except an elite corps of very top officers of the police, military and public services.
This elite has been carving up and selling state lands and estate properties in the choicest locations of the national capital to their privileged selves without our long suffering compatriots being any the wiser. Do not take my word for it though. Ask the people at the Lands Commission
Now, National Security Coordinator Colonel Gbevlo Lartey is taking action to re-posses state lands and estate properties on behalf of the state. The colonel says the properties had either been purchased at unbelievably very ridiculous prices during the Kufour administration or acquired in ways that contravened approved procedures for the acquisition of state properties up for sale.
Some former ministers of sate and top official of the previous administration have gone to court to contest the colonel’s action.
Before we proceed any further please, please kindly help me out with this puzzle. Can anyone anywhere on this earth rightfully stake any claim to private ownership of land? Do the laws of nature acknowledge private ownership or control of anything except the products of labour {physical or mental}?
Here I am sitting behind an old PC typing a poem. No one can walk in and rightfully claim ownership of the machine because I paid for it. Now, take note
Jomo, that I acquired the right to ownership only through purchase and that the PC was the product of labour by the original owner.
Then there is the poem itself, Jomo. When I am done with the poem no one can claim ownership of it because I was the one who exerted my faculties to produce it. In other words, a person can only stake a rightful claim to private ownership of a product of his or her labour or the labour of someone from whom the right of ownership has been received, see?
Since it is the product of mental or physical labour which confers on anyone the private right to possession and enjoyment of the product of his labour, how can anyone anywhere rightfully claim ownership to land, since no one can produce land?
It makes sense for the state or a traditional body to manage or hold land in trust for communities but how can the state sell land to anyone? Pleas help, Jomo. My poor skull cannot crack the nut and I wonder what the heck is going on.
I wish President Mills would make a comment on a subject like this one but the man has such a giant pile on his executive plate, Jomo:
Education is in a very tidy mess: Seniour secondary schools reopened this week and there was no shortage of the usual bizarre surprises associated with every national exercise. Many schools across the country spent the week hurriedly constructing makeshift classrooms and trying to work the unlikely miracle of housing students without dormitories.
Teachers of public universities are on strike in pursuit of improved remuneration. It has become a familiar ritual since the 1990s: University teachers withdrawing their services in protest against inadequate remuneration and the university authorities having no alternative than to closedown the universities.
The casualties in the past have been students who have in some cases, spent up to 40 months to complete courses that should have taken 24 months.
One morning in 1995, I received a phone call which sent me scurrying out of the offices of the Daily Graphic and heading to the campus of the University of Ghana at Legion.
On the campus, I took sentry at a vantage position and fixed my eyes on the door of a building where I had been very reliably informed, an emergency meeting of the Executive Committee of the University Council was in progress.
About half an hour later, members of the University Council emerged wearing somber faces and visibly agitated countenances, to announce the closure of the university because of a strike by lecturers. The president of UTAG at the time was a gentleman called Daniel Kwaku Shadow and the secretary, Dr. Essuman Johnson. I spoke to Shadow, Johnson and a lady faculty member called Dr. Carol Markei.
From them, I gathered the UTAG agitation begun in July 1992, when the government at the time, increased civil service salaries by a whopping 60 percent. Staff of the public universities was left out.
The government instead appointed a committee called the Gyampo Salary Review Committee to study salary levels in the public services and recommend any necessary adjustments.
Mr. Gyampo said in his report that university graduate entrants into some public service organizations were on far much higher levels of basic annual pay than university professors.
Since 1993 UTAG strikes and threats of strikes have continued. An agreement UTAG reached with the government in 2008 to rationalize the entry-level salary scale for university teachers has fallen through yet again.
University teachers and come to think of it, all sections of labour, certainly deserve better when it comes to wages but then, ours is a developing country with limited resources and so many competing demands on the national budget.
It has become necessary to have a quick national debate on how tertiary education should be funded under prevailing central government budgetary constraints, don’t you think?
Here is a footnote to the tale: In the wake of the current strike by university teachers, President Mills granted audience to vice-chancellors of public universities and set up a presidential committee to study UTAG’s grievances. The man is looking for trouble. No sooner had I put a full stop to the thought, than students of polytechnics across the country poured out into the open spaces to protest the president's meeting with the dons.
How come they asked, that the president had failed to grant audience to polytechnic teachers demanding improved remuneration and set up a committee to probe their complaints? An unwitting precedent has been set then. Every aggrieved group from the ranks of labour and public service will be demanding the same access to the president from now on!

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