26.01.2009 Feature Article

Of Golden Parachutes, Revolving Doors and Ghanaian Political Culture

Of Golden Parachutes, Revolving Doors and Ghanaian Political Culture
26.01.2009 LISTEN

The recent ex-presidential golden parachute business has rightly generated a lot of political heat among Ghanaians everywhere. Both the nature of the package as well as the way it was processed leaves a taste in the mouth akin to the immediate aftermath of downing some living bitters.

I do not find it necessary to recite the details of the package here - they are well publicized - and in any event my blood pressure jumps to stratospheric heights when I recall them. One begins to wonder what on earth possessed the Chinery-Hesse Committee to reach the recommendations it did in the first place. And it is fair to say that ex-President Kufuor has had his image badly dented by this affair, given that the package was put together under his watch (or under his influence, as some have insisted).

It is all well and good to foam at the mouth and lambast the NPP and the ex-president for the scandal. If you are an NDC member or supporter, this may give you particular satisfaction and a sense of vindication that the NPP were booted out of power in the recent election. After all, is it not in the nature of politics to rub your hands in glee and harvest huge political capital when your opponents are on the run and in a great deal of discomfort? One man's political hell is his opponent's political paradise.

However, the golden parachute scandal goes beyond particular individuals and the narrow confines of political parties. This repugnant affair is symptomatic of a wider malaise that pervades the corridors of the ruling political establishment. There is a political culture that seems to entrench a self-serving and greedy manipulation of public finances and privileges without any sense of shame or wrongdoing. This political culture in turn feeds off the Big Man syndrome in the wider Ghanaian society, where even third-rate chiefs, businessmen, landlords, headmasters or car owners feel an exaggerated sense of self-importance and corresponding entitlement to immense respect and privileges from the underlings in his little fiefdom.

The golden parachute was not only presidential in nature - there were sweeteners for departing Speakers and their deputies as well as ordinary members of parliament, even though many MPs are extremely mediocre and provide mere window dressing by merely seconding motions and concurring with everything else said by their party leadership. With such mouth-watering benefits for them, no wonder there was little or no scrutiny by our dazed parliamentarians when the proposals landed on their sorry laps. Why on earth anyone thinks it is appropriate for parliamentarians to deliberate on their own pay and benefits is way above my head. Can we not have a commission made up of distinguished retired senior civil servants and judges to decide on this? As things stand parliament and the executive just seem to be scratching each other's back in deciding each other's pay and benefits.

The link between ex-President Kufuor and Mrs Chinery-Hesse is inappropriate, in the sense that after she had chaired a committee which recommended this extravagant package, he appointed her his special advisor. There is therefore some weight in the argument that he influenced the report. But the NDC have come out of this scandal hardly smelling of roses. For all its shrilly criticism of the NPP and ex-President Kufuor, their MPs clearly did not do their job of scrutinizing the package, and the excuses being offered are lame and pathetic.

Now they are running away from the flames. One could be forgiven for cynically suggesting that they are making noise not on principle, but only after public fury has erupted and that they are merely seeking a cheap ride on the populist bandwagon. In any event, I don't recall NDC MPs protesting vehemently when huge car loans were dangled in front of MPs noses sometime ago. For a party that likes to portray itself as the champion of the masses, that is hardly edifying. Are they going to reject the parts of the Chinery-Hesse report that gives them handsome retirement benefits? We live to see. Whenever it comes to enhanced benefits for MPs, both parties are significantly very co-operative and dig their noses as deep into the trough as they can possibly push.

I have an observation and a prediction. The general desire for change in 2000 was premised on perceived corruption and other issues, and the NPP rode into power promising an end to corruption. With the jailing of Peprah, Selormey and co, the NDC found itself cast in a very bad light and the NPP appeared vindicated. Then allegations of NPP corruption began to fly, and soon the public began casting nostalgic eyes towards the NDC. Now the NDC has pushed the NPP out, and I am sure that we will see a few NPP guys in jail sometime soon.

Now here is my prediction: In a few years' time, scandals of NDC corruption will begin to fly. The reason for this is simple - the prevalence of the Big Man symptom with vast political patronage, a sycophantic parliamentary majority that laps up all that government says and a host of other conditions perfect for corruption and abuse of office to flourish. Those conditions remain firmly in place. It is a systemic problem regardless of who is in power. It is therefore possible that NPP will be back in government again in 2016, or maybe even in 2012, for they will eventually become like angels, just as the NDC was transformed from devils to angels in a matter of 8 years. And then of course we will perhaps keep repeating the pattern, engaging in an exercise of political revolving doors and deluding ourselves into believing that we are practicing real democracy and punishing corruption.

I have always believed ardently that corruption, nepotism, abuse of office and theft of state assets will continue irrespective of which party is in power, unless we strengthen our various institutions to be truly independent, led by men and women of integrity, and with clear, sacrosanct rules to underpin their work. I refer to the judiciary, Serious Fraud Office, Parliament and the Police Service, among others. As these institutions stand, they are extremely weak in enforcing the law without fear or favour, and a sitting minister or associate of the powers that be need not fear jail, whatever their wrongs.

I long for the day when a government in Ghana will rigorously prosecute one of its own ministers or party associates who have broken the law, and allow the system to take its course. I long for the day when a government minister refuses to interfere in a police case involving his relative and does not storm the police station bellowing 'Do You Know Who I Am?' breathing fire and brimstone on the poor policeman who is only doing his job. I look forward to the day when some of a government's own MPs revolt against the government and vote with the opposition on a bill which they deeply feel to be wrong. That is when I will believe that, to paraphrase Barack Obama, Change Has Come To Ghana. I fervently hope this change will happen in my lifetime.

A government should not be judged by whether it is a lesser, or greater thief than its predecessor. Nor should its degree of tribalism be a yardstick. I believe that the core values of the party, including its political vision, its economic policies and its sense of social justice should be the things that distinguish it from the next party. Unless there is a paradigm shift in the tectonic plates that sustain our political culture and public life, our yearning for advancement among the community of nations will forever remain a distant pipe dream.

Credit: Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
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