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General News Fri, 29 May 2009

MPs To Demand New Cars

As reported last week, Albin Babgin, the Majority Leader in Parliament echoed the decision of Members to demand new cars from the current administration.

His unabashed revelations about the extravagant housing allowance all MPs receive coupled with the inevitable financial perks, and fat ex-gratia awards are staggering.

The legislative arm of government seems to be holding the rest of us to ransom with demands for brand new cars when Ghana is struggling under the current economic challenges.

However, the government is urging workers to shelve their demands for additional pay, cajoling doctors to hold on a little longer for salary increments and asking the unemployed to wait for the promised economic boom.

Thus, you would expect those linking the Executive and the people to exhibit even more restraint when making financial demands.

Daily they receive appraisals of the Ghanaian economy through policy documents, regular appearances in Parliament by heads of institutions and tête-à-têtes with government insiders but if anything, each group of MPs appears to be more voracious than the previous batch in taxing Ghana's kitty to the maximum.

While the British Parliament is bending over backwards to right the excessive demands of its members, the leadership of Ghana's legislative house is doing the opposite.

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Certainly, the swift measures that the leadership of Westminster is now advocating are long overdue.

It seems the call for members to refund improper claims and for an independent committee to investigate abuses of the expense claim system is just in response to the huge public outcry.

There is a real fear for the UK political parties that the furore over their greed will spill over into the next elections results.

However, our situation is worse because our MPs display no such fears. From the beginning of the year, they have en masse defended the huge ex-gratia payments to all members of the last Parliament irrespective of whether a particular Parliamentarian is retaining his seat.

Even the ruling NDC's MPs have not displayed any sensitivity to the precarious economic situation the government is dealing with.

The Majority leader revealed that the controversial gratuity has been paid out to MPs but he believes the whooping GH¢82,000 is justified since it helped them defray their car loans.

I assume that before the banks approved the car loans for our legislators, they did so based on their salary levels and because they would have completed payments before their term of office ended.

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Now, we are confronted by Albin Bagbin's contention that it is more prudent to give all MPs new vehicles (four-wheel drives, of course) instead of car loans. In addition, he has revealed that second hand cars and the new cars that they purchased over the last two or three Parliaments did not last.

Imagine, all these purchases were made either at the taxpayer's expense or with the assistance of loans that are not available to the majority of Ghanaians.

If the new cars did not last after four years, does this not point out that our legislators are doing a bad job regulating the quality of cars that enter our markets?

He takes exception to the loans provided to members to purchase cars for their work, citing the immense cost to them and urges the present administration to reverse this policy and provide vehicles free of charge to them.

I would have liked to ask him if this suggestion goes to new members of Parliament or all members, irrespective of whether they purchased a four-wheel drive under the previous arrangement.

Then I am certain that after the four-year term ends, these MPs would fight to ensure they are allowed to purchase these same cars at prices far below the market value

Then the next government would have to find new cars for the members of the next Parliament.

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At a time when most Ghanaians rely on rickety buses to meet their transportation needs, a four-year old car is too ragged for our Members to use.

Most Ghanaians who work their entire lives will never be able to afford even a car that has changed owners several times over.

Others would even appreciate daily tro-tro service but even this is unavailable in the villages they live in. Our MPs who spend the majority of their four-year term in Accra living luxuriously at our expense are demanding new four-wheel drives with all the bells and whistles.

For a developing country that is producing far less than it consumes, giving our Parliamentarians all they are asking for is irresponsible, to say the least.

Instead of demanding new cars, they should fight for rapid improvement of their local roads, better regulation of vehicles entering the country and accelerated local production.

We seem to be breeding an aristocracy who subsist solely on the sweat and toil of us, the peasants.

Then we find out that all 230 MPs received 30,000 Ghana cedis or 300 million old cedis to rent a place within Accra as a secondary residence i.e. approximately 10 million per month for two years and six months.

This colossal sum of money was well spent, according to Albin Babgin because it saved the government from renting hotel rooms at a higher rate, imagine.

Four years ago, I bet 30,000 Ghana cedis could have purchased a two-bedroom house even within Accra but how many of these MPs actually spent the money on rent.

I wonder whether MPs resident within Accra also received these monies or only those from remote constituencies are eligible for the 30,000 Ghana cedis.

How do we justify such an expense when all other public service workers, after decades of service, do not receive even a fraction of this amount to defray rent costs?

Clearly our rent laws prohibiting demands of more than a three-month rent advance are not working. But do our MPs care? Ghanaians need to push for greater accountability of our monies since the public is clearly not privy to discussions about Parliamentary allocations to MPs.

Source: Yela Awunyo-Akaba /Times