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15.02.2009 Feature Article

Legal Plunder! —all the President's men faulted.

Legislators who served in the fourth Parliament of the fourth Republic of Ghana are unanimously up in arms, brandishing threats of rebelliousness to the President's economic policies when they are laid before them for debate. The agitation is over the new President's decision to review downwards the retirement package for former Presidents and end-of-service package for the legislators, many of whom were re-elected and currently serving their terms.

While Ghana's constitution gives enormous powers to the President than one would expect of a progressively free country, many Ghanaians do not have a quarrel with the President's decision to set the aside the offensive ex-gratia packages for the former President and legislators.

Often, we have heard about the difficulty associated with running for political office in Africa-from the paucity of campaign finance to uncivil and unconstitutional means to outshine opponents. We have even been cajoled into accepting that since the costs of political decision making far outweigh the benefits, the politician ought to be well catered for, even if his decisions, either as a legislator or an executive bring less or no benefits to ordinary citizens. Then there is the comical suggestion that the President's emoluments must not be varied to his discomfort, so as to make his office attractive for future aspirants, while encouraging political stability. The opposite is exactly what would be achieved if the atrocious package was awarded.

Many a time, the emoluments for politicians are determined by themselves remotely through the services of appendage professionals constituting obedient committees. The current emoluments, worth $25 million was fraudulently approved by faceless legislators (at least none has owned up to reading the entire Chinery-Hesse report on the suggested emoluments) and we may never know, because individual voting records in parliament are not made public. So, by the sleuth of hands and by the flight at night, indeed, the night before the previous Parliament and President's term expired, legislators and the erstwhile executive colluded to award themselves sumptuous emoluments.

What was particularly poignant is the retirement package for former Presidents. Some observers have compared the proposed retirement packages of our past Presidents and that of retired American Presidents. US Senate sources list the following for President George W. Bush for instance. US$191,000 for his pension, a life time secret service protection for president and spouse, official travel expenses with two members of staff , no cars, no houses, no end-of-service gratuity, private funds for presidential library (tax exempt) and residential widows receive a lifetime pension of $20,000 per year.

Ghana's Chinery-Hesse Committee report approved the following for ex-Presidents. A lump-sum worth $400,000, six fully maintained comprehensively insured, fuelled and chauffeured-driven cars to be replaced every four years. The fleet comprise of three salon cars, two cross country cars and one all-purpose vehicle. Two fully furnished residences that befit a former president at place of his choice, 60 day overseas travel with three staff members each year until he dies, 18 months consolidated salary, One Million-dollar seed money for the setting up a foundation, 24 hours security services and an arbitrary budget for entertainment each year.

Critics of this comparison might fault it as being simplistic. However, the per capita incomes of the two countries are poles apart, $46,000 for the US and $1,400 for Ghana. The US's can afford a financial bail out for their broken economy, but Ghana cannot. We a have 14 per cent budget deficit and our currency is fast losing its strength against the United States dollar. There are many malevolent public financial scandals yet to be unearthed, three of which are already in the region of $150 million.

In the midst of the furore, the current President's own nominee for Works and Housing Ministry, himself a legislator, authorized payment of the controversial end-of-service package when he had temporary oversight of the Finance Ministry. He has since been sacked as a would-be Minister even before he was vetted. So, will our politicians learn any lessons?

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We have seen all of these before. In 2005, many African politicians and bureaucrats greeted with glee the Group of Eight industrialised countries' debt relief package, not because it was going to lift their countries out of poverty — their reasons were far more self-interested. They even started planning how they were going to spend the 'loot'. In Kenya, while religious vigils were held for the country's debt to be forgiven, corruption scandals hit the country's AIDS programme. Years on, Kenyan legislators earn and retire on fat salaries rivalling some of the most influential corporate executives in the developed world. Two weeks after the G8 debt relief package was announced in Gleneagles, the then majority leader in Ghana's parliament announced a new package for legislators, giving them $25000 car loans and a $60-a-day rent allowance, free fuel, and chauffeur-driven courtesies.

It is important for citizens to remind politicians that the decision to lead was not imposed on them. It was theirs to choose. They must spare us any future connivance to plunder our resources. But aren't we are their mercy? Frederic Bastiat, the French journalist, economist and philosopher wrote in the 19th century that "the state is the great fiction by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else."

The shameful defense of the controversial end-of-service package by Ghanaian legislators again reminds me of Bastiat's warnings. "Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. Thus the beneficiaries are spared the shame and danger that their acts would otherwise involve… But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them and gives it to the other persons to whom it doesn't belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime. Then abolish that law without delay… No legal plunder; this is the principle of justice, peace, order, stability, harmony and logic."

But first we need to decentralise the power and management of resources in Africa. That way, the productive energies of ordinary poor Africans that translate into exorbitant taxes supposedly for the general welfare will not be in vain.

Franklin Cudjoe is editor of www.AfricanLiberty.org and executive director of Ghanaian think tank, IMANI. This year, IMANI was named the sixth most influential think tank in Africa by Foreign Policy magazine. He has written an introduction to Frederic Bastiat's Essays.

Franklin Cudjoe
Franklin Cudjoe, © 2009

This author has authored 117 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: FranklinCudjoe

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