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27.05.2009 Feature Article

Sacrifices, witch-huntand accountability

After days of embarrassing revelations of questionable expenditure by member of the British House of Commons, the Speaker, Michael Martin, has tendered in his resignation.

Mr Martin came under severe criticism for being an obstacle to reforms of the expenses sys­tem. His resignation came after a group of MPs set in motion an agenda to oust him through a no-confidence motion, a situation that could have made him the first Speaker in 300 years to suffer such a fate.

Members of the British public were shocked to hear how their representatives in the House of Commons went into extravagant and sometimes frivolous expenditures on anything from build­ings to lawn mowers, which imposed on the tax­payer unnecessary financial burden.

Public response was quite straight forward­ outrage at what they considered to be irre­sponsible behaviour on the part of men and women who pledged to serve their interests when they were campaigning for office.

Over there, people did not run into the embracing arms of political parties or the media for support and sympathy. In fact, it was the media which raised the alarm and the parties were the first to denounce those acts of indiscre­tion.

The leader of the Conservative Party, Mr David Cameron, for instance, did not hesitate to demand that those members of his party who were found to have indulged in those acts to make refunds or face sanctions.

Since the changeover from the Kufuor to the Mills administration, we have had and continue to have several cases of public officers being asked to render one form of account or another for their past stewardship.

There were several cases of some officials of the previous goverrunent going home with vehi­cles which, officially did not belong to them.

Some have been accused of paying ridiculously low prices, for their official vehicles, some of which do not even qualify to be sold. There were also cases of previous occupants of government bungalows having loted the places or abandoned them in an manner that could not be described as the best.

It is true that in their attemptto retrieve state vehicles or regain custody of official bungalows, Some agents of the new administration made some false moves which should not be over looked.

But by and large, the issues revolve around individuals and not political parties or the previ­ous goverrunent as a body. It is, therefore, important that Ghanaians begin to see things the same way as the British public so that individual public officials do not cover their own excesses by evoking the sympathy of the previous
admini­stration or any political party.

Suddenly, certain words are being bandied about in a manner that does not contribute to the public good. It is now fashionable for some publie officer to be screaming hoarse for ill-treatment after, in their own estimation, making much sacrifice to serve the nation.

Public service in any form entails some amount of sacrifice, but at what cost to the state? Shall we ask whether it is fair for a minister of state who, with all the niceties and privileges attached to his position, evoke this sacrificial theory simply because he had been asked to return a vehicle belonging to the state? Or is it a sign of ingratitude to question the propriety of a government official who, after buying a state property very cheaply, resells it for huge profit?

Shall we say that argument also holds for a former head of state who will decide to go home with a fleet of customised state vehicles because he had been given the opportunity to serve the nation in that prestigious capacity? Is that why people do not see anything wrong with a high office holder such as the Speaker of Parliament stripping bare his official bungalow because he had served the nation in that capacity?
We may ask further, why are the so-called sacrifices made to warrant such rewards from the state when others making even bigger sacrifices are ignored? Is it because they forfeited their salaries and other entitlements while in office?

Is it because the posi­tions were imposed on them because they were the only persons capable of acting in that capacity? In short, one may want to know what were the sufferings, pains and other depriva­tions they had to endurefor serving in their respective positions.

Can we think of the sacrifices of other public servants that continue to sustain the progress and gevelopment of this nation? Think about the sacrifices of teachets who mould raw brains in to sophisticated human resources with very little remuneration.

What about the men and officers of the Police Service who work aronnd the clock to provide us with security, sometimes at the risk of their own ­lives. What of hospital workers whose complaints of poor service conditions have become a permanent feature on the labour front?

Should they also commandeer all, hospital equipment and vehicles when proceeding on retirement? So why should those who obvious­ly made gains while in their privileged positions hold the nation to ransom because they have to account for their stewardship?

Closely related to this is the complaint of witch-hunting. It is as if all our political and public office holders are angels so any attempt to ­check malfeasance amounts to witch-hunting.

Politics has become a lucrative enterprise and only a few can claim becoming worse off after assuming political office.

Take the number of friends and relatives who accompany nominees to the vetting sessions. Look at the agitation, manoeuvres and intense lobbying associated with the quest for ministeri­al and other appointments. So why should some sound as if they were led to the altar like the meek lamb and sacrificed so that the rest of us shall be saved?

Our democracy cannot grow if our public office holders are not held accountable for their actions. Victimisation cannot be ruled out in some cases, we agree, but it is better to treat cases on their individual merits than putting everything into one basket and labelling it political vindictiveness or witch-hunt­ing.

Since the vehicle-snatching episode gained media attention, the names of some prominent personalities in the previous administration have not surfaced anywhere. That tells a story. It means individuals should be answerable for their actions.

It also means that some people have conducted themselves very well and left public office with their dignity intact.

Those who failed to meet those standards should not try to court public sympathy with claims of
harrassment or witCh-hunting.

Everywbere, from Britain to Australia, the citizenry are becoming more and more critical of the conduct of their political leaders, especially where the use of public funds is concerned. We cannot claw indifference to this new wind of public arwaness more so, when our economy cannot absorb frivolous spending and extrava­gance in high places.

As for sacrifice, no one claims to be doing it better than the millions of Ghanaians whose take-home pay cannot afford them even a single decent meal a day- and whose children cannot afford the luxury of a good classroom for their studies. Those who have had more than enough should tone down their noises, otherwise it will becOl;ne obvious that their claim to serve was to exploit those who voted them into office.

Credit: Kofi Akordor ([email protected];

Kofi Akordor
Kofi Akordor, © 2009

The author has 11 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KofiAkordor

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