There's a declining respect for politicians all over the world and you can understand why many people don't like them. Many of those who practice politics are very dishonest and have managed to sully the rather noble profession.
A research conducted in the UK last year by one of the world's top polling institutions, Ipsos MORI, showed 76% of respondents saying they would not trust a politician to tell the truth. Politics is an indispensible activity in human life; you cannot avoid politics in your everyday life. It is 'a universal activity'. But people believe politicians are sleazy and rightly so because of people like Ghana's former speaker of parliament, the nearly 70year old Ebenezer Begyina Sekyi-Hughes.
The former speaker has had a very successful career as barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court and has been in law practice since 1966. His family has a chain of successful businesses including fuel stations in Ghana. The former speaker's efforts as a hard working barrister was crowned with the job of a speaker of parliament in 2005 until his party was booted out of office in the last general elections. For four years, he was Ghana's most important figure only two places behind the president and the vice president. He couldn't have asked for more in a profession where elevation is excruciatingly slow like a weary camel.
At the age of the Right Honourable speaker, one would expect him to be ascetic and display outstanding statesmanship, but instead, he gave in to greed. It looks like the older they are, the greedier they become – look at Bernard Madoff, the 70year old former chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange who was convicted recently of the 'largest investor fraud ever committed by a single person'.
Ghana's ex speaker of parliament committed what a friend described in his music as “lootocracy” – the act of looting state resources without regard to public sentiments. And as you would expect, our former speaker has become Ghana's latest figure of fun, and you can understand why people would deride an elderly man who out of indiscretion plundered his official residence. He is reported to have taken away “everything in the official residence”.
According to local reports, the former speaker took away items such as curtains, carpet, kitchen ware, fridges, television, flower pots, pillows and pillow cases all bought by the state for the official residence of the speaker of parliament and estimated at $350,000 USD.
And in an interesting twist of events, he is reported to have told the current minority leader, Kyei Mensah Bonsu that he is ready to pay for all the items. If the reports are anything to go by, he has admitted guilt – he admits he should not have made away with the items in the first place. It also means he has saved the state time, resources and further embarrassment.
But if he could afford to pay for such items, why take what belongs to the state in the first place? Avarice would be the plausible answer to the speaker's actions. Unfortunately for Mr. Hughes, the law is no respecter of persons. When the law catches with you, it has to deal with you.
But would this show of remorsefulness engender commutation or total forgiveness? Already there are calls from higher quarters for him to be punished and made a scapegoat. There would be a very bad precedence if he is not punished. It would simply mean one law for the elite and another for the working class. If this act of deliberate looting of state property is not punished, we would be telling the country 'look, it is ok to do such and such if you belong to the upper-class'.
The buck must not stop with Mr. Sekyi Hughes. Already, there are elements in our society who mishandle state property. We must send a warning to people who might be considering or are in the habit of abusing privileges proffered by the state.
There are lapses in our system and the Parliamentary Service Board- PSB, which is to investigate the incident, must also be investigated. There are two things in this issues, either the former speaker had the okay from the PSB or he was simply being a plunderer. Whichever way, there are serious questions that must be answered and indeed whoever is culpable must face the law.
There are many men and women in our country who work harder than many of our public service officials and yet don't get acknowledgement for their hard work and sacrifices. No decent wages, no fat end of service benefits. Those are the true patriots. But what do we get from our elite leaders? Anyone who loves their country would not do what the former speaker did. We must reform and chart a new course.
(Ras Mubarak is a broadcaster and currently studying for a masters in International Law and Sustainable Development- LLM, at Strathclyde University, UK)