Our MPs must be getting hotter and hotter by the day, and unfortunately regrettably so. They have sort of eaten too deep into their privileges at our expense. For that reason, one Professor Stephen Asare (aka Kwaku Azar) of a University in Florida, USA, has dragged them to CHRAJ, and successfully so. It is an issue of concern to all of us.
The matter of the 'abuse' of their Parliamentary privilege has been that they took Bank Loans in about 1993 to buy themselves cars to help enhance the performance of their duties as MPs. It was a necessary evil. They need to link their constituencies with Accra where they sit and go about their Parliamentary duties. They needed the cars, except that our MPs' craze for cars has of late been a little above the norm.
No doubt, the conditions of the loans they have been contacting have been generous. For example, instead of the chargeable interest rate of 29% or so, they were given a privilege discount of 27%. In that case, they had only 2% interest to pay on the loans - a facility which only our MP's are privi1eged to enjoy perhaps.
This must be so because perhaps they are so poor, and cannot have the means to pay so much, and yet need to work so hard as the privileged MPs of their people. And they have to be encouraged to work harder still to excel.
Unfortunately, when the loans were due to have been paid up by the end of the 4 - year repayment period, it was found out that they still had more to pay. In the mean time, Parliament was due to be dissolved after its four-year term. Our MPs became hot, then. Some SOS must come from somewhere to blot away that much blanket of embarrassment that hangs over them.
And the SOS came in fact. The Government of the NDC quickly ordered payment of the outstanding loan in the total sum of (5) five billion cedis only to the bankers that advanced them the loans. It was a relief whether or not the write-off of the loans was ethical. None would refuse a kind offer. Indeed, it cannot be degrading of one's dignity when one is told to open one's big mouth for a morsel of food to be dropped in.
Unfortunately, that rare magnanimity of the then Government to our ailing MPs was not communicated to the general public. The Auditor General perhaps did not see it either for mention in the Government audited Accounts for the attention of "whose" Parliament -.Professor Stephen Asare's Parliament, perhaps, which should concern itself with the ethics of it all.
And none of our MPs, and none of the big men of our Parliamentary Service saw otherwise. We have lacked the necessary presence of mind here perhaps because their desire to go in for the loans had lacked the principle of their ability to pay. It has not been complimentary of our sense of purpose, and fairness here, which is what Professor Asare did challenge.
Professor Asare indeed means well. Parliamentary Service which has been out of the political system for so long must be seen to be doing the right things always. And if Parliament forgets, Professor Asare is in to remind them.
Well CHRAJ - Commission of Human Right and Administrative Justice, has upheld Professor Asare' s submission to the effect that it was not prudent on the part of the Government to have accepted to pay that much for our MPs, whose request equally has not been prudent. Consequently, CHRAJ advises that the practice of giving car loans to almost every new Parliament should stop.
Indeed, according to Professor Asare, the car loans granted to our MPs in 1993 and in 1997 are virtual gifts, which cannot be sustained any further. Our very eminent Professor further wants the first two sets of car loans to be probed if some skeletons cannot be found in the cupboards of our honourable Law-makers.
The volume of sweat that now engulfs our MPs is that CHRAJ has ordered that our MPs and the Clerk of Parliament then should be held jointly liable for that much unprecedented abuse of privilege, and that our MPs should pay back what they owe the nation into the Consolidated Fund. It is war.
And who pays what, and when, are some of the details the publication in the Daily Graphic of 1st April, 2004 did not say. CHRAJ's ruling cannot fail to mention all of them, any way. Indeed, there is no cat and bell business here except where the ruling is challenged at the Supreme Court for some interpretation(?).
But Professor Asare is no stranger to the Supreme Court. He has been there before with a Constitutional issue, which he lost. The matter of the Constitutional arrangement by which the Speaker of Parliament is sworn in as President of the Republic in the absence of the President and his vice should stand. Professor Asare has been a good fighter. He loses well, and wins well too.
Parliament then must sit and watch. Professor Asare may wish to go further on our MPs to question the wisdom and so the reason why our MPs' total monthly allowances are greater than their monthly salary. It may sound petty here but something reasonable must be missing in the broth of the MPs' salaries on one hand, and their allowances on the other.
Do they for example employ drivers to merit drivers' allowances? And do they have housemaids in their homes to collect maidservants' allowances on behalf of their maidservants? And do they have the watchmen also there? They must be keeping some vouchers at home to show their accounts of payments to whoever would want to challenge the fine fine wisdom in the various and diverse allowances paid to our MPs.
The MP's position is a very sensitive one. Necessary care should be exercised to protect their position so that we may not have any question to raise about the whys and the wherefores of their conduct, now and in the future.
Professor Stephen Asare does not mean any ill-will to our Honourable MPs. If their business includes constructive criticisms, our MPs must accept same in good faith and reform their tastes. The Professor's concern has been that the development of our Parliament, and so Parliamentary practice in the country should be seen to be flawless. We need Parliament indeed as Parliament of the people, and not for our MPs exclusively.
We have cherished the 4th Republican Parliament as one of the greatest political miracles of our time. It came rather unexpectedly by the hands that destroyed its predecessor Parliament, the 3rd Republic Parliament.
Surely, the very undemocratic and " destroyer" hands that destroyed it cannot create overnight a Parliament which can pass as being wholly clean. Some grits of greedy lawlessness that characterized the despotic hands that created it should naturally remain stained in the Parliamentary thinking, to say the least. If this were not so, they could not have asked that their outstanding car loans be written off. It sounds greedy and unwise.
If this is not a hang-over of the past greedy spirit that brought them about, then what else it is? In any case, such unwanted appendage of conduct cannot be allowed to continue. Professor Asare should be the stopper here, symbolically by the ruling of CHRAJ, of course. The debtor owes it to his moral self to pay his debts.
But our MPs of the 1st Parliament of the 4th Republic were in a very good position not to have missed the gifts of cars to them.
Their Parliament was virtually a "Thank-you" Parliament which existed on the stolen ballot. It made it possible for the PNDC chieftain to turn into the NDC Overlord. The MPs' "thank you" parcels naturally should be expected. The car gifts were natural of our greedy selves.
Professor Asare wouldn't have bothered himself with that if he did not detect that the trend had the potential to stay on, and corrupt us. It infected the 2nd Parliament, and it is gradually crawling to infect the 3rd Parliament, which is surely but gradually drawing to a close. Father Christmas is not coming in this time, this Christmas time?
The CHRAJ People are saying he should not come, because we are poor. And we dare to sing the refrain of CHRAJ's poverty chorus. We mean no ill.
For the sake of our poverty status, the order of things in the 2nd Republican Parliament was that our MP's were not paid salaries. They received only sitting allowance without the generous and diverse allowances we encounter in the Parliamentary system in our time.
We need to change for the better. The structure of Parliament, and Parliamentary Service needs to be reordered. CHRAJ's order that no car loans be given to our MPs could be the first of such orders.
Our understanding of the order is that the MP should be a man or woman of some considerable means if the MP by his wild tastes is to avoid criticism by the general public. In effect, the facility that should be given to the MP should be within our economic means, and within the order of the Law that applies.
Well, it is not an easy task to call the Custodians of the Law to some order but it must be done if democracy of our current experience should be upheld and helped to grow. It is the Professor' s concern, and CHRAJ's ruling.
We wonder whether the Laws of the land do not say that gifts once given and accepted remain gifts for ever, and cannot be returned. We encounter similar principle in Economics which has it that goods bought and paid for cannot be returned for the price money. Well, we do not know what applies any way.
Meanwhile, CHRAJ's ruling stands. Professor Stephen Asare has won one of his two "innings" for the democratic principle of fairness. The losers are our MPs who should be sweating hotter and hotter by the day for some reliefs, which should be forthcoming again at this time. We wonder.