There's nothing that gets internet discussion forums as excited as the appointment of people into positions in government, and moneys that are paid to office holders, past and present, from government coffers.
You can always expect discussion of appointments and money and the fruits they bring - free houses, free cars, and [not-so-free] girl friends - to eat up enormous quantities of cyber space. And since internet forums generally represent what happens in genteel watering holes as well as palm wine and akpeteshie bars, they never fail to be a good indicator of the public mood.
I infer, from a close study of recent internet traffic, that Professor Mills and his associates in government are in serious danger of dissipating the enormous goodwill that attended their assumption of office on 7 January 2009. Nominations of people into prospective ministries always arouse debate, of course, but I don't set too much store by them unless a proposed appointment flies blatantly in the face of good sense, due to the appointee's known past record.
In fact, the first thing most people do, when they see a list of nominations, is to check to see whether they know anyone on the list. The subconscious subtext of that is "Can I obtain some favours from him or her?" Alas, very rarely do people get genuinely exercised about whether a prospective appointee will bring enough expertise and imagination to the job, in order to face the enormous challenges that face our public sector in all areas.
In a way, this is only to be expected, because in the normal run of things, a Minister is only the head of a civil service team that is inherited, and unless the Minister is extremely well-endowed with leadership qualities, he or she will hardly be missed when the position goes to another Minister.
So I shall leave the personalities aside, interesting as the discussion of some of them is, and go to the nitty-gritty: the monetary awards given to the members of the previous administration. The ex-President's entitlements -- as publicised -- appear outrageous, even, it would seem, to the former President himself. And then it soon became clear that graduated entitlements of an equally inflated nature had been apportioned to others below him.
I am not going to go into the specifics of the matter, because (1) the entitlements were not awarded by the recipients themselves but by a committee specially set up to look into entitlements and (2) they spring from some constitutional provisions and follow precedents that had benefited others.
What is more important is to decipher, generally, how certain top elements in the state hierarchy view their own importance to the state, and the rewards to be derived from that, as compared to other equally important servants of the state. I am sure the Chinery-Hesse committee, which is bearing the brunt of current criticism regarding the awards, based its recommendations on "evidence" presented to it. The question is: where was the evidence gathered from and who collected it?
In Britain, for instance, there is no question of a former head of government getting a number of houses fro the state. On the day the election results are declared, removal vans turn up in great haste at the official residence of the Prime Minister, Number 10 Downing Street, in Whitehall, London, to ease him out of the place. He is given no more than one Jaguar car and driver, and a detective (body guard).
This way of treating a former head of government may appear disrespectful, but it is good in one way: it serves to concentrate the mind of a serving Prime Minister on not riding roughshod upon public opinion, because when the public gets angry with him and boot him out of office at an election, he will suffer actual material loss. Margaret Thatcher's tears, on leaving No. 10 Downing Street on 28 November 1990, were pitiful to behold.
Other countries, specially the USA, are not quite so ruthless towards their former rulers (though the loss of Air Force One, which we saw vividly happen to George W Bush on TV recently, wasn't a pretty sight.) We in Ghana, it appears, have gone to the opposite extreme and are, currently over-generous towards our former rulers.
This is not a wise idea because entitlements from the public purse generally are decided upon with the full knowledge of the Cabinet and Parliament -- two bodies which are never too reticent when it comes to making pronouncements on how the economy cannot bear the burden of inflated wages (when these apply to the lower-paid persons "below the ladder"). The lower-paid must accept what others decide for them, whereas the administrators, by and large, decide on what they should pay themselves.
Yes, "independent" committees may be in charge of the actual recommendations for top-level entitlements, but such committees, by definition cannot be entirely disinterested, in that their members also tend to belong to what is known as The Establishment. In other words, at the very top, the privileges of one rung of the ladder, necessarily spill over to the next and the next and the next. In any case, actualisation of a committee's recommendations, like those of the Chinery-Hesse committee, can only be carried out by the Cabinet and Parliament.
So, in times of economic trouble, when those at the top call upon everyone to "tighten his belt" in order to save the national economy from collapse, the workers, who are the most crucial element in society, may turn round and point to what The Establishment have voted for themselves, correctly diagnose their calls on everyone else to to tighten their belts, as utter hypocrisy, and refuse to co-operate.
We have all seen strikes occur at the most unfortunate moments in some nations' history -- when the nation is most vulnerable, economically. That is what public cynicism, borne out of resentment against governmental hypocrisy, produces. A Government may deceive itself into thinking that the workers don't matter. But if it constantly shows that attitude, it will live to regret it.
That being so, President Mills and his advisers should take care to build up a reserve of goodwill from everyone, so that they can call upon this goodwill to inspire the whole nation to accept the sacrifices that need to be made, when there is a recession or, perish the thought, a depression. The importance of this cannot be lost to President Mills, who after all, is the beneficiary of the resentment that the NPP Government managed to build up against itself in the sector of the population known as the "floating voters" -- those who have no firm loyalties towards one party or the other, but vote according to how they perceive the rulers' performance to be.
The trouble is, President Mills seems to be caught in a trap by this entitlements debate: people remember that he, as Vice-President, once obtained some entitlements. Why then should he not honour the entitlements proposed for Kufuor and others? What about the future? Mills cannot expect to be President for ever, and whoever will take over from him will base the entitlements Mills is allowed, upon what was given to to Mills' predecessor. So the conundrum becomes circular in character..
The trap is made worse by the presence of the re-elected NDC MPs, who, like their NPP colleagues, are alleged to be clamouring for their ex-gratia entitlements. The President thus needs all the wiliness at his command in order to emerge from the messy situation, with strong and wise action, equitable to all, yet able to win back for him, the confidence of the public. For you cannot start a successful administration by convincing the voters that they have made a mistake and that money-chopping is the single pre-occupation of all those at the top: be they NPP or NDC.
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