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22.11.2004 Press Review

Editorial: MPs & Bouncing Pay Cheques

By Gye Nyame Concord

LAST WEEK AT ONE of their sittings in the first week of this month, Members of Parliament (MPs) direly lamented the non-payment of their salaries for October 2004 as at that date.

During the sitting the Speaker, Mr Peter Ala Adjetey, called on the Finance Minister, Mr Yaw Osafo-Mensah, to explain why monies budgeted for Parliament had not been released on time to speed up the work of MPs and personnel of the House.

The GYE NYAME CONCORD does not only back Mr Speaker's call but insists that the payment of the MPs October salaries, if not effected last Friday, should be paid unfailingly TODAY, Wednesday, November 10, 2004.

For as one MP put it during that sitting, it beats all understanding “why a nation which boasts of having exceeded revenue targets in a number of sectors could not pay its parliamentarians on time to enable them discharge their duties”.

This throws up the question on whether or not the Ministry of Finance has been telling fairy tales about the achievements of its revenue drive. For the purpose of this editorial, however, we will assume that the Ministry has been truthful on its revenue rakings, and go on from there to point out possible interpretations that could be put on the non-payment of MPs' salaries in the midst of this declared abundance.

Here comes an interpretation: That the October salaries of the House are being deliberately withheld to prevent the Minority members from using it to boost their campaigns for re-election. The ruling party of the majority MPs already have a war chest overflowing with funds and so its MPs have no compelling reason to deploy part of their salaries to the campaign but the same cannot be said of Minority MPs. Preposterous?

But if this scenario is flattering to the government, then the Ministry of Finance can continue refusing to pay the October salaries of the House of Parliament beyond today!

But, a more fundamental and moral-authority-killing issue was unearthed during the same sitting on the delayed October 2004 salaries of Parliament.

An MP, Mr Akologu Tia (Talensi) described as “shameful and embarrassing” situations in which cheques presented to the banks for the payment of the salaries of MPs could not be honoured, stressing: “cheques meant for the payment salaries of MPs have often bounced”.

We take the fact that this was said in the presence of Mr Speaker, the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and other majority MPs, and none of them could contradict the Talensi MP to mean that it is true. All that the Minister could say after Mr Tia had spoken was that he would get to the bottom of the matter before close of day and report back to the House.

The act of issuing a cheque, knowing full well that there are no funds to back it up, is an offence under our laws. And yet we have it announced in Parliament that Bank of Ghana or Ministry of Finance cheques have been bouncing sky-high on the floors of our banks.

What a sorry pass? Are the Police and the Courts still prosecuting people for issuing bounced cheques? Where is their moral authority when government itself is a prominent offender of the rule under which they are being tried?

Maybe it's time the Inspector General of Police discontinues, with immediate effect, all prosecutions for bounced cheques. This should subsist until the government and its agencies put their houses in order and cease issuing dud cheques!

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