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17.02.2009 Feature Article

Ghana's Woe – Gratiapolitik is the Word

Ghana's Woe – Gratiapolitik is the Word

It's been a while. Qanawu had to lay down his gloves for a while, certainly not for fear of hitting below the Queensbury Rules. For Qanawu to soften his punches would be tantamount to sterilising the needle for a lethal injection – superfluously redundant exercise in the exercise of saying it as it is. Indeed, it is argued that it is far freer to pull no punches from opposition than in a position where throwing objective punches are sometimes taken by the less enlightened as own-blows. Moving along the zeitgeist, 'change' certainly has taken place in Ghana. But, the quality of it is yet to emerge from the changing room onto the playing field. Qanawu's hope is that Ghanaians will act as active supporters of this change rather than spectators.

However, being philosophical, I, Qanawu, would dare say that this change may even benefit the NPP better than the NDC. Not that I fully subscribe to the pun that politicians, like diapers, have to be changed frequently - and for the very same reason. I say so because it appears the NPP, like the path-mower, was growing increasingly careless to the zig-zags in the path it was clearing and struggling between the forces of addressing what the public needs are and what politicians consider to be in the public interest. The party was running the risk of jettisoning the dreams of August 4, 1947 in convenient exchange for the satisfaction of provincial desires, some of which were not different from what my wife describes in a dissertation on petroleum policy as the 'Delta Disease'.

The four years of opposition presented by the 2008 electoral defeat must be constructively seen by Nana Akufo-Addo and his NPP as a period of catharsis rather than catastrophe. It must be seen as an opportunity for reflection rather than punctuation for depression. It must be exploited to expose the vacuity in false populism, and at the same time exploited to explore the advantages of populist posturing in opposition politics! It must be used to mend ways and instil greater discipline in the NPP and especially in its leadership.

So, what are my chances of suing the Electoral Commission for wilfully causing me a constant reminder of a painful defeat? Seven weeks after the run-off, and ten weeks after December 7, two of my fingers still bear the dark scars of those two epic battles. Yes, I do wash daily -- and pretty well too. Perhaps in defence, the EC can simply cite the many people who quickly applied paraffin after voting to clean up the 'indelible' ink; and whilst at it Afari Gyan can add how effective this was in facilitating multiple voting. When George W Bush said, “A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls,” it was dismissed as one of his no-brainer howlers. But, how profound that statement really is when applied to Ghana! A high turn-out means a bloated voter register!

There've been some false starts by the new government whose leader promised to hit the ground running. Sometimes it appears he hit the ground too hard to have torn a ligament or two. The sacking of Moses Asaga got me wondering that the man I once described as a 'poodle' may be too anxious to shame the likes of me that he risks over-stating his ownmanship.

Reports that both sides of Parliament were ready to fight President Mills over attempts to vary their so-called ex-gratia awards were warmly greeted by many as a sign of a brave new legislature. Sadly, it is the kind of optimism that makes that of Presidential Candidate Nduom's come across as woefully modest. Asking MPs to oppose their own ex-gratia payments is like setting up a Joint Committee to investigate marijuana use.

So far the media have been kind to President Mills, but expecting the media to treat you fairly because we are constantly reminded by Messrs Pratt and Baako that you are a nice man is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian. Mind you, the likes of Kweku Baako are being patient with the NDC because one important rule in politics is to never interrupt your opponent while he's busily and artfully making mistakes. Unfortunately for hounds like me waiting to bark and bite, the opus magnus of the NDC government has been about how cleverly they have kept the conductors of political rhetoric occupied with the encore symphony of ex-gratia payments.

I've been out of the country for some weeks now, which has sparked rumours that Qanawu has joined the exodus from Ghana's state-sponsored mediocrity. But, I'm not so sure how long I can last in this cold, wet country, where everybody's job is at risk, living on toxic borrowed money and illegal immigrants on borrowed time. Here in the UK, just like in Ghana, when people talk to God, it's called prayer. Yet, when God talks back, it's called schizophrenia! Churches have been turned into furniture shops and pubs.

Britain is a country, where in the government's eagerness to please Moslem extremists, free speech is being deported. Just last week that anti-Islamist extreme rightist libertarian oddball Dutch MP, Geert Wilders, was refused entry to the United Kingdom for the premier (at the House of Lords!) of his offensive and unenlightened 17-minute film, Fitna, which erroneously depicts the Koran as entirely inflammatory, feeding terrorism and violence across the world.

But, how different is his entry refusal different from the Fatwa Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued for the death of Salman Rushdie for insulting the Prophet Mohammed in his book The Satanic Verses? Indeed, the move by the British government was rather an insult to Islam. It portrays Moslems as a bunch of intolerant fanatics who would violently attack free speech. If literal criticisms or caricature of Moses or Jesus Christ of Nazareth can be deemed as okay by the Brits then why should they think that Moslems, generally will be offended by an ill-informed movie by a man whose anti-Islamism is not that different from the anti-Americanism most common in the Middle East?

Last week, I had the enjoyment and endurance of listening to proceedings at the vetting committee of the Ghanaian Parliament and watching British Parliamentarians grilling the former bosses of RBS and HBOS banks over the multi-billion pound bail-out of the two banks. The quality of questions from the Treasury Select Committee which is conducting an inquiry into the banking crisis here were even criticised by some experts as lacking the requisite expertise to ask the relevant questions. But, for a lay ear like mine and that of Bernard Avle (formerly of Citi FM and now at Warwick University), who was visiting me in London, the performance of our legislatures was at most parts embarrassing as compared to their UK equals.

It exposed the nature of, what I will call, our gratiapolitik¬ – where politicians believe they have no obligation to perform above the bar of mediocrity. An issue that has dominated the first month of the Mills administration and the way it has been treated by the powers that be (including the media) has very little or nothing to do with the agenda of change for a better Ghana.

Today, every Ghanaian, literate or otherwise is familiar with one Latin phrase. And, that is “Ex gratia" – not the more common one exempli gratia, meaning for example (e.g.). Ex gratia translates into: "out of kindness, voluntary". An ex gratia payment is made not because it is a legal necessity (tell that to Article 71 of the Constitution) but because of a moral obligation.

Of course, there is always the compelling populist argument that for a poor developing nation like Ghana there is very little reason for MPs to still be seen as feathering their own nests. Taxpayers should not have the extra burden of finding the extra money for the people who represent them, an argument that has been eloquently made in the UK, where the Prime Minister is also moving against the “gold-plated” arrangement that entitles UK MPs to large, final salary retirement schemes.

British MPs contribute either 6 or 10 per cent of their salary, which gives them a pension of either a 40th or a 60th of their salary for each year of service, up to a maximum of two-thirds of their £63,291-a-year salary.

Beyond that, there is the Resettlement Grant, payable to any MP who leaves the House of Commons at a general election. The grant ranges from 50 to 100 per cent of one year's salary depending on age and length of service, with the first £30,000 of the grant attracting no income tax.

Prof Mills' 'offense' was to have directed that instead of the payment of five months' salary to the MPs for each year of service, in addition to a resettlement grant equivalent to two months for every completed year of service, as recommended by the Chinery-Hesse Committee, the MPs should be paid an ex gratia equivalent to four months' salary.

My frustration with the excruciating ex gratia debate in Ghana is that nobody appears to be saying what needs to be done to create an institution that would withstand any partisan-laced controversy. Article 71 leaves room for a law to be passed to establish a permanent commission or body to periodically set out the rates. The UK has such a statutory body, the Senior Salaries Review Body, which reviews emoluments for people who would be covered under Ghana's Article 71.

Indeed, we can perhaps begin to fight the gratiapolitik that maintains the quality of our politics and legislators low if we go the way of the Brits by considering equipping MPs with PCs, etc and the cost of employing up to three full time members of staff (Office Manager, Junior Secretary and Research Assistant) for each Member. In the UK the 3 staff are now on a combined salary range of about £77,000 to £87,000, depending on whether staff are based in London.

In Ghana, just like in the UK, there is recognition that in view of the significant public interest in parliamentary pay and allowances, any recommendations for up-rating existing scales or changing the present arrangements have obvious potential for generating controversy. The overriding general principles include: pay should not be so low as to deter suitable candidates, or so high as to make pay the primary attraction of the job; pay should reflect levels of responsibility rather than workload; whereas those with outside interests should not be deterred from entering Parliament, those who choose to make Parliament a full-time career should be adequately rewarded to reflect their responsibilities; pay should not be augmented in an attempt to compensate MPs for job insecurity, which is not unique to MPs; there should be no pay progression linked to length of service; and a clear distinction must be made between salary and reimbursement of expenses.

I shall be back…

Credit: Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko (Executive Director, Danquah Institute Accra, Ghana)

Gabby Otchere-Darko
Gabby Otchere-Darko, © 2009

This author has authored 8 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: GabbyOtchereDarko

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