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23.06.2009 Feature Article

Taking us for a 50,000-dollar ride

Taking us for a 50,000-dollar ride
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Call it the Accra Auto Show and you may not be far from the truth. The various car dealerships in Accra have turned much of the space around Parliament House into some sort of an exhibition centre where they are displaying their four-wheel merchandise to lawmakers.

Last Friday, instead of sitting their bums down to do the work they have been elected to do MPs spent a lot of time moving from one dealer to another checking out the latest automobile models.

“I want to get a VW Touareg or a Nissan,” one MP said.

From his tone and the way he pronounced Nissan (“Nissain”, he said), you can tell he is an MP from the hinterland (not very exposed to the automobiles) and until that day, all he could do was dream of owning a luxurious 4-Wheel-drive. Now, his dream is about to become reality – thanks to government's decision to approve an auto-loan of 50,000 dollars for each MP.

The cash will not be drawn from the national kitty. What is going to happen is that government will guarantee the loans from a couple of banks, which will release the funds directly to the auto dealers after each MP had driven away the luxury sedan or SUV of his choice. Then over a period of four years, the MPs will repay the loans from their salaries.

It sounds like a good plan, doesn't it? But it's not!

We have seen this before. Under John Kufuor, MPs were given a similar facility. In fact, under Kufuor loans were much smaller at just 20,000 dollars. Yet a good number of them failed to pay back, leaving government with the burden of clearing their debts at the expense of the taxpayer.

When this happened, President Mills was not helping with the repair works on the international space station. He hadn't taken a vacation to the moon. Perhaps, he was somewhere receiving medical treatment but he was right here on this planet and he knows about the backlash that greeted Kufuor's mistake of guaranteeing car loans to MPs.

Most Ghanaians saw it as a scheme by our political leaders to fleece the nation. It was the issue of MPs car loans that made most Ghanaians realise politicians have the ability to bury their petty differences to act for their common good.

President Mills' decision to repeat the mistake of guaranteeing auto-loans for MPs (and grant them even more than Kufuor did) will only make sense to those who will benefit from it.

Rumour has it that the President didn't actually want to guarantee the loans but MPs from his own party wrung his hands and forced him to do it. If this is true, it only adds to the perception that the pair between his legs is as soft as dough. If he knows that the right thing to do is not to guarantee the loans, why will he bow to pressure and do what he knows to be wrong?

As it was under Kufuor, this decision to guarantee loans for MPs should be condemned because it demonstrates once again that our politicians see themselves as better human beings than the rest of us. When teachers, police officers and civil servants do not get government guaranteed loans, it is unfair (even immoral) for MPs to be given such preferential treatment.

We should not fall for the deception that this is just a loan and it will be paid back in due course. Realistically, few MPs can afford to repay this facility from their parliamentary salaries over the four-year period. The average MP earns about 3,000 dollars per month. Interest rates are hovering around 30 percent. By law, people (including MPs) are not allowed to spend more than 40% of their monthly earnings on servicing loans. So do the maths!

And this is where the politicians pull a fast one on us. It is inevitable, therefore, that the taxpayer will eventually have to pick up the tab for clearing the MPs' debts. According to the arrangements being worked out, MPs who fail to repay the loans will have monies deducted from their ex-gratia for the purpose.

With the public outrage that greeted the publication of the ex-gratia awards for MPs and Kufuor, a good number of Ghanaians expected President Mills to bring this ex-gratia nonsense to an end. But since ex-gratia is being mentioned as an integral part of the auto-loan deal for MPs, we can assume that nothing has changed. We are going to be forced to dole out hefty sums of money as “gifts” – for that's what ex-gratia means – for men and women who voluntarily opted to stand for election as MPs, supposedly to serve us.

This is not the change Ghanaians voted for, is it? Here, once again, is proof that politics is the easiest road to privilege and wealth in this country. Our politicians are still determined to use their positions to enrich themselves and get all of life's niceties whiles the rest of us struggle to even get water to drink.

This idea of government guaranteeing loans for MPs is sickening. It doesn't make sense that a government – proclaiming austerity – has taken on the extra financial burden of spending 11.5 million dollars on luxury cars for MPs. It's a mistake. They are literally taking us for an expensive ride and most of us will not enjoy it. It's a mistake for which we are going to pay dearly.

Credit: Ato Kwamena Dadzie (atokd.com)

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