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05.02.2009 Feature Article

'You scratch my back, I scratch your back'

The so-called retirement package for former presidents, vice-presidents and former members of parliament has come under some scrutiny and rightly so. Yes I added former parliamentarians because theirs was also part of the work of the Chinery-Hesse committee. The way and manner by which the information was fed the public made it possible for the focus to be on the former president and the former president alone. A close and critical look will tell a different story.

Let me start by stating that I join well-meaning Ghanaians in condemning the magnitude of the package and I believe that Parliament is doing the right thing, now, by going back to take a second look. I will also go on record to say that I hold former President Kufuor personally responsible for the turn of events. I believe the committee, on completion of its work, submitted the report to him before he left office. That was when he should have kicked against it and suggested more modest 'benefits' that could be explained to the 'ordinary Ghanaian on the street' as we say in Ghana (why he/she continues to be on the street is another issue altogether.). If he (Kufuor) wanted to test the pulse of the people I believe the results of the test cannot be any clearer or louder. Yes you can call on Kufuor to come clean but clean about what? Do we want to continue to make this a personal matter or should we tackle this as a national one?
We do have constitutionally established bodies to take care of this and I think we should allow them to do what they should have done in the first place.

But how did we get here?
Hon. Bagbin enjoys his salary and other benefits as a parliamentarian on the back of the Ghanaian taxpayer. In return he is supposed to represent his constituents and, by extension, Ghanaians. The role of a minority leader (as he was then) is a very important one and he is to lead the agenda to keep the executive on its toes.

How then does the then minority leader, Hon. Bagbin, come out to tell Ghanaians that he knew nothing about the work of the Chinery-Hesse committee? Let me state here that parliament also had a sub-committee that worked with the Chinery-Hesse committee.

Hon. John Tia confirmed this. And so I ask the question again, how can a parliamentary sub-committee be formed without the knowledge of the minority leader? Or is it that he knew of the committee but he did not bother to check or read the report until it was released to the public? And how come Hon. John Tia and others knew but not the minority leader? Either Hon. Bagbin was not being truthful to us or there is a serious problem which needs to be addressed. If it is really true that he had no idea then I would call that dereliction of duty and question what he is doing in parliament and why the Ghanaian taxpayer should continue to pay him. If, on the other hand, he knew and decided to pull a fast one for political expediency then that is also another matter which borders on personal integrity.

I would submit that it was the former. That would explain why, after his initial outburst, he 'faded' away quietly as far as this issue was concerned. I believe he later realized the danger in continuing to insist that he didn't know about it, and the effect that was bound to have on his authority and integrity as 'leader of the House.'

The true facts could not be hidden forever and so, one after the other they started coming out:

First, one Fred Oware, a member of the 'committee' came out to say that indeed the exercise was carried out as a joint effort by his committee and that of parliament. He also threw out there names of some members of the committee. I stand corrected but I think he mentioned one Alhassan and Alex Ashiagbor. I just wish he had provided the entire list of all the members. I don't know this Alhassan but I do know former governor Alex Ashiagbor. He is a man of impeccable credentials and integrity. The question I asked myself was how can anybody accuse this committee of being under the thumb of former president Kufuor when men like Alex Ashiagbor were on it? He (Ashiagbor) will not compromise his integrity for anything!!!

Second, Hon. Freddie Blay also came later to tell us what many members of the general public had not been told from the beginning. That parliament (or the subcommittee) was to look at emoluments for the executive and the executive was to return the favour. That was when everything became so clear to me; take care of us as we take care of you. Parliament went along with this ridiculous package because of what they were expecting in return. At least every four years happens to be 'harvest' time for them. They vote for themselves fantastic amounts of money and label it as loans to buy cars. Well I guess it did not work this time. Good for Ghanaians that they expressed their displeasure angrily and openly, and did not resort to the 'fa ma Nyame' stuff. The CJA can demonstrate and it is within their constitutional and democratic rights, but I hope they direct their demonstrations at the proper forum-parliament.

I recently read that there was this issue about the use of the title 'leader of the House.'

Sometimes you just have to wonder!!! Nobody should get me wrong; I am not saying proper designation is not important. It is! I believe strongly that one has to define things correctly so one can be guided by the definition to a successful end. But was that argument in parliament really necessary? Well Hon. Owusu-Ankomah tells us that the NDC, led by Hon. Bagbin, refused to allow the then majority leader (NPP) use of that title. So you do me, I do you. Ino be so? Thank God some cool heads like Hon. Osei Kyei Mensa-Bonsu's showed up and ensured that sanity prevailed. I hope the NDC parliamentary caucus will take a cue from what he said and did. We don't always have to go through this cycle. Let this be the beginning of the end of this 'you scratch my back, I scratch your back; and 'you do me, I do you' syndromes.

Yaw Opare-Asamoa [[email protected]]
February 3, 2009

Yaw Opare-Asamoa
Yaw Opare-Asamoa, © 2009

This author has authored 55 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: YawOpareAsamoa

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