07.11.2005 Feature Article

Burying Ghana with parliament in the lead.

Burying Ghana with parliament in the lead.
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Like other Ghanaians I am happy our debts have been forgiven and much of the credit goes to the president and his team. For your good jugdement and prudential analysis of the financial situation the country was in at the time you took over, thank you. Our country was almost bankrupt, I remember being in Ghana then, and trying at the time to explain to somebody why it was necessary to throw in the towel financially when things were not going as expected. We Ghanaians owe you thanks and appreciation Mr. president.

But after debt cancellations what next? We all are witness nowadays of news on corruption scandals involving the misuse or mismanagement of public funds, travel per diems, hotel bills car loans etc, etc.

Over the years our nation has been dragged into poverty and disgrace not mainly because cocoa prices have fallen and that prices of finished goods (which we import) have risen, but due to the major fact that political office has become a gainfull industry where machinations and speculative activities for self gain are engaged. In effect, the distance between the people and their political representatives or mouthpieces has widened over time, and trust in political leaders is at record low. Otherwise one may ask, "what countries like Lebanon and Jordan, Albania and Latvia have that we don`t?". By 1966, our country was better off than most countries in Asia, today we are begging them to invest in our country and they in turn are spitting on our people when they arrive.

It is an agreed fact that parliamentarians must have unfettered access to their electorate or constituencies. But with the meagre resources at our disposal, will it be right that we take up loans for cars and build apartments for the voted every four years after elections?.

(A parliamentarian strikes a jackpot by having the government to approve of new loans for cars and apartments, and everytime after an election in four years).

The idea that parliament should be the holder and controller of the purse of a nation is laudable in theory and in many cases in practice. However, in cases where Parliament is the controller of the purse when it comes to matters pertaining to its own interest is a painfull one to swallow for most of us who understand how scarce our national resources are.

In our attempt to build a market economy, (where privatisation, individual financial responsibility, accountability and probity and private ingenuity and enterprise are preached), we should dicourage the animal farm syndrom where government steps in to guarranttee for some, leaving others, (hardworking countrymen), to fend for themselves in matters pertaining to finance and critical support. In many places, Ghanaian businessmen are struggling with their businesses to survive the harsh business environments and realities whiles some functionaries and party contributors have easy access to cash and import licenses to import all sorts of useless used products into our country. They have the means to import luxurious cars with tax wavers whiles the ordinary man has to pay a penalty for importing the same type of cars.

This whole idea of fringe benefits to officials and functionaries in government is symptomatic of the general cancer eating into our national economy and nation. Which moral authority has the government in telling the Ghanaian worker to tighten his belt when it continues in that fashion?. Tightening of belts should be redefined to mean doing away with the waste in the system, the fleet of cars, the travel bonuses, the free petrol, the number of drivers per person etc. etc. etc!!!!!!.

Take for instance the idea that a paliamentarian after being elected to office is eligible for a $ 25.000,- car loan, a free apartment, a driver, free petrol, care for electricity bills, water bills, only to mention a few,…….. AND NOW HOTEL BILLS!. It is this same parliament which will have to come up with the idea of the need, formulate the bill, vote on it into law and then for subsequent approval, for writting of the cheque.

And what about those who got loans in the previous four years of parliamentary sessions and have since repaid them?, for sure these will also be eligible for a new $25 000,- injection after re-election!. What will they need the new loans for? loans for cars this time too?. If yes, then effectively one can conclude that in Ghana anyone who stays in parliament for say twenty years will change cars five times within the period, every four years at a time. This is Luxury for a poor country like ours and inadmissible!

When the loan culture has been established, remember it is the same people who will write new bills on gratuities and bonuses for themselves, meant for the repayment of these debts so as to pave the way next time for newer loans. No wonder there are no defaults on the previous ones taken.

They literally don`t need to worry, "they legislate to recieve the loans and legislate to write them off" so to speak.

The executive branch of government is an organ that can set its foot down to stop the waste, but it has its own sources of fringe benefits, per diems, and it is mostly the same parliamentarians who constitute the executive branch.

In the situation where the majority in parliament comes from the presidents party, this order can be seen effectively as a way of repaying the presidents followers and not necessarily ensuring contact between the elected and their electorates. In effect, the poor Ghanaian is hijacked by democracy which was meant to better his situation. The fact that loans and cars to paliamentarians were one of the first important agenda after our debt cancellations in itself was not good for public relation at all nor did it sew a seed of hope and confidence.

All ministries have a budget why not the state house/castle and parliament?

It seems here that these two institutions have limitless flow of cash as well as lack of control for how these funds are spent.

Other examples

I live and work in the public sector in one of the worlds richest countries and the examples drawn from this angle is contrary to what we practice back home. Here, a parliamentarian lives in his own private apartment financed from a privately arranged loan. For those who have to travel down to sessions in parliament from their constituencies, there are apartments and hostels owned by the parliament to accommodate them. A car loan is a private matter and payment for travel to and from is based on the cheapest means of public transport on the route if any. If not, of an alternative means, and in instances where private cars are used, refund is made through annual tax accessments like any other citizen where price pr. kilometer to and from the workplace is used. It is unthinkable that the state will go in to guarranttee car loans for members of parliament let alone private homes!.

A case for tomorrow

With the view of enhancing good governance, bringing politicians closer and accountable to their people, and to dispel the myth and fear that politicians care for non but themselves and thus correcting the anomally that holding political office means hitting a jackpot, there is the need for us as a nation to stand up and review our worldview and the way we do things starting from the parliament .

We can start with a blank sheet and do well as a nation. There is also a way of making sure that 10 years later we will not be crawling on our knees again with our empty calabashes before our rich benefactors, begging for forgivness of our loans while asking for more.

Parliamentarians don`t need to own cars to be able to go round with their all important assignments (most of them own one), though they need cars to move them round and good ones that can last for 2-3 paliamentary periods, that is 8-12 years. In the same way, they dont need to own houses in Accra to be able to do their work well, for here too, most of them own houses already. What then can we do as a nation to check this wanton waste of our scarce resources?.

My proposal calls for handing over a loan facility to the constituency/district with subsidised interest rates and paying terms. These facilities wil take care of the parliamentarians when it comes to their cars and lodging in Accra. The constituency purchases a durable car and an apartment with guest rooms meant for its parliamentarian, maintains control over how these are used and maintained. Or the state can purchase these and then hand them over to the subsequent districts/constituencies to be in turn given to their members.

All high level officials visiting Accra from that district or constituency including the paramount chief for instance will have to lodge at the apartments guest quarters.

Ownership, caretakership, repair and maintenance of both the apartments and the car(s) should lie with the traditional and district development council/assemblies or constituencies etc.

When a paliamentarian is voted into office, he meets at a ceremony with the chiefs and people as well as stakeholders, thank them for voting him and promises to fight for their interest in parliament.

The chiefs and people then crown/confirm him as their representative, hand over a key for the car, a key for an apartment in Accra and a promise by the people to stand by him, work with him in the coming four years.

If the paliamentarian is voted out of office four years later, he will meet at the same ceremony again where he thanks the people for supporting him for the past four years and wishes his successor good luck with a word of advice. He then hands over the keys and any property in his keeping to the chiefs and people who then hand over to the new man, welcoming him and plegding again their support for four new years.

In this way the peoples empowerment becomes a continous process and the bond between the voter and the voted becomes stronger.

We will also be putting an end to the constant ritual of satisfying parliamentarians with cars and houses after every election. The problem of servicing debts whiles representing their electorates will also be removed.

Is it not a stark reality that when officials have been voted out of power it takes the mighty hand to eject them from their homes or retrieve property meant for the newly elected?, it is also true that for members of the sitting regime, ejecting a previous working colleague from his home is no mean task. The districts and constituencies in this regard can take good care of the assignment.

There is a case against allowing parliamentarians to run on state serviced cars, and that these would lead to reklessness and destruction of the vehicles, i say nonsense. they dig their own graves if they destroy a car belonging to their constituency or rent out a bungalow belonging to the poor people. More so we can put clauses in the agreement, like; any defect will be repaired by the representative punctum!

By doing so, the clamour for houses and cars will stop whenever representatives are elected.

Funds for development

Now instead of loans to parliamentarians, lets begin to look at a $50 000,- loan for the district/constituency, to be used on viable developmental projects and for supporting already existing ones; projects that can repay the loans back and which will create jobs and benefit the people for the next four years. Responsibility and management of this money lies with the Parliamentarian, assisted by the chiefs and development stakeholders of the area.

An effective management of this amount in four yours, how it benefits the people and the vision exhibited will help the constituency determine whether to revote or recall their representative.

Here we are being concerned with parliamentarians not becoming a bunch of talkatives but an engaged people not only at the central governmental level but also at and with the grassroots, who have specific issues to takle for their people and with available funds to do the job.

Think of what $50 000,- every four years can do for a town like Hohoe, Bekwai, Yendi or Wenchi in 20 years to come, irrespective of who the people have chosen to vote for all these years?.

This will also help change the peoples thinking about democracy and parliamentarism, they will know they can have something specific and tangible benefits out of every election, cherishing the thought that it is they who have empowered the elected.

To promote good govenance, we need to find a way of empowering people at the grassroots such that they will help keep politicians on their toes, making them to consult often with their people every step of the way and whiles avoiding a situation where the elected lourds it over the electorate.

A loan for the district/constituency can for instance ; purchase water tankers which in turn will supply water at a cheap fee for the people who need it ; purchase a caterpiller that can help build dams for water storage, irrigation and for road repairs ; build a community center where the people can rent to make funerals, meetings or parties at a fee etc. all depending on what the people see as a pressing need to them or the loan can be used to renovate a hospital, a school etc. $50 000,- is not much but can in every four years move a people an inch forward.

A constituency can for instance take up a loan of say $200 000 for a period of 20 years for vital developmental project and based on projections.

In a country like ours, loans which we take should be made not only to benefit as many as possible but also that the projects we use them on should be able to repay these loans fourfold creating more jobs and wellbeing for our poor people.

But even here, there should be word of caution; the communal and common good or interest should be stressed and not that of individuals. Care should be taken to ensure that functionaries do not use such funds to specifically campaign for re-election, favour a section of the community or in the sense for self-enrichment.

We can begin by selecting 10 important projects which can create jobbs, better the living standards of our people the next 12 years and then task the representative on it, irrespective of party programms. These can become the guideline and blueprints of what the monies could be used on, and what parliamentarians should do when elected. Most of them in fact do not know what to do and parliament is like landing on the moon.

We have the people and the brains, lets not waste time on material things for individuals in our bid to promote the common good.

God bless Ghana and all well-meaning leaders in our country.

"Integri procedamus!" Festus K. Lartey-Adjei Labour Consultant Norway. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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