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Opinions of Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Columnist: Achanso, S. A.

The cry over ex-Gratia



It is with great amusement that one listens to the debate on ex gratia to Article 71 Office Holders of the 1992 Constitution particularly Members of Parliament. Among other things MPs are accused of speedily acting on issues that are in their collective interest no matter whether they are the majority or the minority. That MPs hasten to take decisions about their vehicles and ex gratia without any critique from either side of the House.

While the critique of the way MPs conduct themselves is very welcoming because it shows signs of public interest in the affairs of the state, it is equally worrying due to the way we go about it. This is because it does not address the critical issue of how MPs get the mandate of their constituents and therefore reveals the uncritical nature as well as the hypocritical manner in which we go about serious matters of the state. For the most part our debate on very important national issues are sensationalized leading to decisions that do not critically address such issues leaving them to linger on and we continue to remain where we are.

The critical issue in this debate is not about whether MPs are demanding too much from the state but rather how MPs finance their electioneering campaigns and how they maintain their constituents afterwards. For those of us who are worried about MPs demanding too much from the state, do we also ask ourselves how MPs get money to seek for our mandate and also take care of our daily demands which range from children school fees, marriage ceremonies, out-doorings, funerals to chop monies? Do they think our MPs are rich and philanthropic enough to cater for these demands which are not just family commitments but demands from almost every constituent?

Well the question is whether MPs are obliged to cater for these demands since their traditional role is legislation. Some will say yes because MPs make such promises and therefore must fulfil them. But why should prospective MPs make such promises if they know that in reality that is not their traditional role? MPs will make such promises if they are bent on representing their constituencies. But why will MPs be bent on going to parliament if not for self-fulfilment some will argue? While it is true that some MPs go to Parliament for personal gains, it is equally true that some MPs go there because they want to contribute their quota to national development. Therefore, some MPs will do everything possible to want to represent their constituents even if it will require making promises to the constituents which of course most of them know it is difficult fulfilling. Some MPs will do this because in most cases telling constituents to just vote for them without any immediate returns will not bring the votes. While an MP nay choose to want to be straight forward with constituents, his opponent beats him by yielding to the immediate demands of constituents.

As an ex-Parliamentary Candidate I know exactly what I am talking about. When I approached my constituents during my first attempt, what most of them told me was that I have to pay for their votes because after elections their MPs discard them but only return to them when they need their mandate again. So I have to make instant commitments if I actually mean business of wanting to represent them so that if I win and do not account to them they do not lose anything. Believe you me I lose the election. It may be because my opponent was more popular than I was but I know I was going to deliver if I were given the mandate. On the second instance, I came from a better background than the first, because I had been a DCE for about a year and a half where I did everything possible to prove my resolve for the development of the constituency which, of course, many constituents appreciate up to now but I still lose the election since I could not just satisfy their immediate demands.

It is for this reason that I pose the question on MPs' ex gratia: "Na who cause-am"? Do MPs want to reap what they have not sown? I think no because we have largely covertly or overtly contributed to a situation where MPs have to needlessly make expenditures their personal resources cannot support. Because of the personal demands we make on MPs especially during electioneering campaign, they have to either invest their life time earnings into meeting these demands or borrow to do that. Since their salaries are not enough to recoup these investments the state has to bear the cost in the form of ex gratia.

So it is high time we engaged in critical analysis of very important national discourses instead of rushing into denationalization which do not allow for tackling the root causes of such discourses thereby leaving them to recur. The media needs to take a lead role in this because it largely shapes public opinion. It is for this reason that the effort of some media personnel like Abdul-Malik Kweku Baaku must be lauded for always trying to put issues in their proper perspectives. Of course, his paper is also sometimes guilty of such sensationalism and so every effort must be made to curb this by all.

On this note I wish to call on all those who are worried about MPs demanding their pound of flesh from us to know that we us a people need to bear the consequences of our lack of civic responsibility. Some of those who make such irresponsible demands on MPs do so due to ignorance of their civic responsibility. Those of us who are conscious of our civic responsibilities must not sit unconcern and allow them to do that for if the wise refuses to rule he is ruled by a fool.

S. A. Achanso.