This unsavory practice has been known for quite a long time; and it may aptly be called “House-Hogging.” It is a practice that, undoubtedly, has cost the Ghanaian taxpayer millions of cedis, both in old and new currency notes, and is still bleeding our fragile economy. The practice entails government officials, mainly political appointees, continuing to occupy officially allocated residences even long after they have ceased functioning in such official capacities. And for as long as they occupy these residential premises, even while no longer in the service of the government and the public, these occupiers continue to live in these residential facilities gratis.
Not only is the practice criminal and one that is tantamount to culpably causing financial loss to the state, but even more significantly, it flagrantly slows down national governance, as official replacements for those no longer working for the government and/or general public who direly need to occupy these premises find themselves unable to move in.
While former officials of the current government of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) have been found to be in breach or guilty of the crime of “House-Hogging,” the former populist and self-righteous government of the Rawlings-chaperoned Provisional National Democratic Congress (P/NDC), for most of its two-decade stranglehold on Ghanaian politics, seems to have raised this patently criminal act to the status of a mantra or religion. What makes the practice outright unconscionable, in addition to its hemorrhaging the country of millions of cedis worth of revenue, is the fact that almost every one of the culprits is known to own at least one house and, in a remarkable number of cases, even two or three houses or even still more.
We are also told that rather than occupy their own private homes, these government appointees routinely opt for the officially provided residences while renting out their own residential properties. While the latter practice, on first blush, may not appear to be in breach of any existing law, it is, nevertheless, clearly unethical; it also belies the façade of patriotism that these officials speciously and routinely sport in justification of their leadership.
The preceding notwithstanding, recent attempts by some Joy News Online journalists to scapegoat Mr. Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, a former NPP minister for Tourism, for the lurid and selfish practice of House-Hogging were rather hypocritical, to speak much less about the outright tendentious. Why, for instance, would Joy News wait until the height of a hard-fought presidential electioneering campaign in order to highlight a practice that far predates the Kufuor administration, and then to deviously pretend as if the practice is peculiar to just operatives of the ruling New Patriotic Party?
Still, the foregoing does not, in any way, justify the rather lame riposte, by way of an excuse, allegedly proffered by Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey. According to Joy Online's Mr. Nathan Gadugah, Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey has described these officially provided residences as “grace and favor houses.” If, indeed, he was accurately quoted, then there appears to be a serious misunderstanding, on the part of the former Tourism minister, regarding the purely functional provision of public housing for government appointees and other civil servants. For, the Santa Clausian concept of residential “grace and favor” has never been an overriding objective of any constitutional government in Ghana. And if, indeed, the Presidency is smack behind the unpardonably corrupt practice of condoning the apparently habitual practice of ex-government officials overstaying their public residential privileges, then we urge Parliament to work expeditiously towards the immediate abrogation of the practice.
The fact that Mr. Ebo Tawiah, a member of the Provisional National Democratic Congress (P/NDC) government, for example, reportedly overstayed his official residential privilege by nearly a decade, from 1993 to 2001, should not be cavalierly invoked in justification of current culprits. If anything at all, it behooves the ruling NPP to demonstrate that when it comes to the patently corrupt practice of House-Hogging, or squatting, the staunch adherents of the Danquah-Busia Tradition are above board. After all, did not the New Patriotic Party ride on the crest of being more competent and purposeful than the democratically deposed regime of the so-called National Democratic Congress? In sum, when he cavalierly justifies his complicity in the unsavory practice of House-Hogging by claiming that the NDC government pursued the same regressive policy, Mr. Obetsebi-Lamptey painfully and unacceptably lowers the ethical threshold for the ruling government, which, in effect, makes the former Tourism minister appear to be saying that the putatively condign ousting of the so-called National Democratic Congress may not have been such a good idea, after all. Even more importantly, the Presidency, or Office of the President, must not be made to seem as if it is on a deliberately calculated head-on collision course with the Ministry of Housing, else the very existence of the latter portfolio stands to be seriously threatened, if not altogether rendered extraneous and therefore the practical need for its abolition.
To stanch the foregoing practice, pronto, perhaps an independent arm of the Auditor-General's Department ought to be established in order to studiously monitor the culprits of House-Hogging, and also be mandated with legal powers to ensure that those who abuse their public-housing privileges are made to refund revenue due to the State.
In brief, as a means of curtailing the practice, a system could be set up whereby ministerial and other government appointees who have their own private homes could be paid a gradated or fixed and periodically reviewed housing allowance, in order to free up scarce public-housing facilities for other government operatives and public servants who actually need these accommodational facilities.
Joy News Online also reported that some House-Hogging culprits that the media organization reached for comment rather vacuously responded that they have yet to “be served notices to vacate their residence” (“NDC did it, so NPP can do it too” – Obetsebi-Lamptey” Ghanaweb.com 10/27/08). This is what the Akan call “Nyansa Krono,” loosely translated as “Premeditated Theft.” And just what happens if these squatters never receive any eviction notices, courtesy of Mr. Kwadwo Mpiani, the Presidential Santa Claus? Then what happens? Do these government-owned properties then slip under the radar of vigilance of the Ministry of Housing to become the bona fide properties of these culprits? Something needs to be done and promptly so, before some of these “Intelligent Thieves” (ITs) take us to the cleaners!
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of 18 books, including “Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana” (iUniverse.com, 2005). E-mail: [email protected]
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