There was a justifiably public outcry against the over 150% increase in salaries for the Executive, Legislative and the Judicial branches of government as published in the Ghanaian media. Coincidentally, just at the same time this outrageous salaries increase were announced, there was report in the news (which was later denied) that employees of Ghana Education Service have had their salaries cut.
On the average, the Ghanaian civil servant got a pay rise of 18% after marathon negotiations and numerous threats of strike. So why not accord members of the Executive, Legislature, and the Judiciary the same percentage of increase? I mean if 18% salary increase is good enough for the teacher, why does the MP or even the President thinks he deserves more than 18% increase? The work of the teacher, the nurse, the Ghana Water Company guy are all equally important as that of an MP or a Minister of state.
Politics must equal Public Service
Politics is all about public service it should never be about making money. Politicians run for office to serve but not to lord it over the people but it seems these days it seems they run to make money and not to work. That is the reason why I was so disappointed and even shocked by the unashamedly self serving justification offered by Nana Ato Dadzie, one time chief of staff to former president Rawlings. He was reported by Joynews to have said “given the type of work the Article 71 officers do, they have to be paid a decent salary, so they will not have to prepare for a rainy day”.
So is he saying that apart from these officers all other group of workers in Ghana do not deserve a decent salary? Is he dumb enough to say out loud that the government does not give a damn about all the other group of workers and they are on their own to deal with any rainy day except the Article 71 workers? In any advanced civilized democracy, this is the type of comment that will cause one to lose his job. It is insulting to all other groups of Ghanaian workers.
Our intellectuals who chair these bogus committees to make such outrageous recommendations are bringing the name of the erudite profession into disrepute. Kuffour set up the Greenstreet and Chinery Hesse (these two are academics) committee to make undeserved and completely out of this world for hefty retirements benefits for himself, and now here we go again with the Ewura Ama (another academic) committee with this out of touch and unsustainable recommendations for salary increase to the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. Have our academics become partners in the rapacious greed ailing our politics and destroying our economy?
Wikileaks on Corruption in Ghana
The section of the Wikileaks report on Ghana details instances of corruption as seen from the perspectives of a number of ambassadors. The Canadian High Commissioner commented that the Ghanaian political elite are out of touch with the other 95% of the population and that they have very little understanding of or sympathy for the difficult conditions under which most Ghanaians live. He added they lack a sense of urgency to do anything about it. The American ambassador expressed concern about the perception of rising corruption and how that is depriving millions of any hope of improvement in their living conditions. The French ambassador on the other hand stated that Ghanaian leaders do not understand the scope of poverty in their country.
The Wikileaks report goes on to detail some specific instances of corruption and even names a host of politicians in the former NPP government for being notoriously corrupt but all these people are now walking free with their booty stolen from the poor Ghanaian. While the masses suffer in a desert deprived of good drinking water and other basic need necessities, the Ghanaian politician lives in an oasis of privileges and undeserved comforts yet they still continue to steal from the poor Ghanaian tax payer.
It would be nice if our politicians will park their government allocated cars a few days a month and take tro-tro to work. My political friends roll their eyes when I make such outlandish suggestions. A few, thinking I might be serious, point out no African politician will behave in such a humble way. Political power makes all of them arrogant and greedy in an undignified way.
I think some way has to be found to get our political leaders out of their privileged cocoons. It troubles me that those we elect rapidly become lords over us and isolated from the concerns of ordinary Ghanaians. Their primary objective becomes stealing from the national coffers to amass wealth and acquire properties.
They start putting up multiple houses in a year, acquiring hotels in the name of their children, depositing billions of cedis in their personal accounts in a matter of months, transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars from Ghana Airways to their fiancees abroad, drawing various sums of dollars for per diem on their numerous useless foreign trips which brings the nation no tangible benefits.
They are driven around in convoys sometimes running over and killing our children without any sense of remorse, they are whisked past poor neighbourhoods with a retinue of guards to keep strangers at bay. They behave like animals chasing Legon girls, under aged SSS girls, and even married women as if they live in the jungle with the law of the jungle in operation.
Those in government react with angry disbelief when accused by the people that their greed is hurting the poor. They think they have to increase the price of petrol to recoup the cost but they themselves continue to draw free petrol everyday of the week. They use government vehicles for private purposes and they see absolutely nothing wrong with that. They live in government houses rent free while they rent their own houses to foreigners for hard currency (US $).
They don't pay for utilities, they enjoy free electricity, free water, free gas, and free telephone services. If you care to check their phone bills and the numbers they call in a month, you will be shocked to find the percentage of the cost and the calls that have nothing to do with transacting government business. It will amaze you to find the number of calls they made to girl friends, and to friends abroad all for the poor Ghanaian tax payer to pay. Why is it that it is only in Africa that the richest men in any country are Politicians?
Elsewhere, people leave politics to go into business because they believe they can earn more there but in Africa and particularly in Ghana people leave business to go into politics, because they can steal. If we don't disabuse our minds from the mistaken notion that politics equal easy money and is the shortest way to riches, we cannot attract our children to train as doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers, farmers, etc these are all equally important and noble professions vital for our economic development as a nation.
So our politicians enjoy free housing, free car with free petrol, free electricity, free water, free telephone service etc, so you are tempted to ask what do they use their salaries for? The rest of us work for a living by paying for these items mentioned above from our salaries but our politicians don't have to pay for these. They enjoy them free but that isn't enough for them. They are greedy enough to dip their hands into state coffers to steal from the poorest of the poor. Our politicians are far removed from the daily struggles of the ordinary people. They have no idea how it feels to miss a rent payment or comb through the Help Wanted ads.
No wonder the people have become disenchanted with the politicians. It is important for political leaders to get out among the people, experience their daily life struggles and their aspirations and incorporate that into policy. Politicians seem to have no problem visiting the rural folks at election time when they need their votes but once elected they forget about them.
I do not agree with those commentators who argue that political life at the top is so rigidly structured that a leader can not control his or her own agenda. Our political leaders find time to play golf and to chase girls all over the place throwing caution to the winds, so why can’t they break out of their comfortable bubble to organize the people and join them in cleaning the filth that is engulfing our cities and posing a public health threat? It is partly a question of will.
Apparently, our politicians have gotten the message that we are satisfied with their incompetence and arm chair leadership. We are not. If we don't demonstrate our displeasure with the level of incompetence, greed, arrogance, and corruption in government they will assume we approve of such gross leadership failures.
In a modern democracy in its infant stages like ours, rulers are expected to leave their palaces, their offices, their castles, every so often, and share the struggles and frustrations of their people. They must demonstrate that they care about the poor. In that way they bring government near to the people, as things are now, government is far alienated from the people.
Corruption is a serious challenge. If we fail to address this problem, it can cause the collapse of our multiparty democracy and the fall of the nation.
The author is a policy strategist and Public Policy expert. He is also a senior political and social analyst based in Tokyo, JAPAN. He welcomes your comments: email@example.com