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Opinions Thu, 21 Mar 2013

Pastors’ Pilgrimage: President Mahama still doesn’t get it

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

At long last, President Mahama has confirmed that the government is, indeed, involved in the planning of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem by 200 Ghanaian pastors. Speaking on the issue for the first time, President Mahama emphasized that the amount was not coming from government coffers.

In a meeting with members of the clergy at the Flagstaff House Tuesday, he said the sponsorship package was an offer from a purely private entity. Let’s listen to him:

“Unfortunately, the whole intent has been misunderstood and it has created some negative circumstances under which various church groups are writing and saying we don’t want to participate. We respect the various organizations but I wanted to clarify that it is not from government purse, it is from private sponsorship.”

Here are the highlights of the President’s pronouncements at the meeting with the clergy at the seat of government:

• President John Dramani Mahama has expressed utter displeasure over the bashing government has received for its proposed sponsorship of 200 pastors to Israel on a pilgrimage

• “This is not financed by government, it is private sector organizations that say 'we will be able to sponsor this', and so government is playing only a facilitative role.

• The President told the clergy to let him know if government should go on with its organization or they should abort it.

(Source: http://edition.myjoyonline.com/pages/news/201303/103031.php)

MY COMMENTS

It is disappointing that President Mahama is complaining about public criticism of what his government has taken upon itself. In short, the President still doesn’t get it. He is indeed not in touch with reality. Here is why:

1. If the trip is purely a private sponsorship, what business does the government have to do with it to be so deeply involved?

2. By refusing to name the personalities behind this trip and merely fending off criticism by saying that the government isn’t spending any money on the trip, the President is creating more credibility problems for himself and the government he heads.

3. If the money to be spent on the trip is not coming from the government’s chest (tax-payer’s sweat, blood, and tears), why should the government be interested in the pilgrimage at all to the extent as to refute allegations that the quantum of money involved is 600,000 Dollars and not the 2 million Dollars mentioned by the Daily Guide newspaper when it broke the news to Ghanaians?

Ghanaians don’t believe officialdom in any way. They know that the government doesn’t tell the truth; or that it says one thing in one breath only to turn round to deny it in the same breath. If for nothing at all, Mahama Ayariga, Minister of Information and Media Relations, has set the tone for this incredulity.

Many happenings have created conditions for Ghanaians to doubt anything coming from officialdom. The government isn’t behaving properly. Take the reported gold carried from Ghana en route to Iran but intercepted by the Turkish authorities. How long didn’t it take the government to say anything about it? Only after speculation had damaged its interest?

Who believes the government anymore? That’s the main issue the government should handle so that it can claw back lost goodwill. Instead, it is acting impetuously and creating more problems for itself. How pathetic!!

I want to caution President Mahama not to be flippant in his dealings with Ghanaians. It is clear that his government’s refusal to mention specific names behind the trip and why the government should be playing the frontline role in this sponsorship of the pilgrimage has worsened the credibility problem instead of persuading the public that the government is doing a good thing.

Viewed against the current problems facing the people, they will not readily buy into President Mahama’s explanation nor will they want to sympathize with the President on this score. To them, the government has proved to be insensitive and uncaring. That’s a very damaging impression to create at this time.

Of all issues, is it a pilgrimage to Jerusalem that tops the government’s priority list at this time when there is no electricity supply to boost economic activity or improve living standards; when water is still being rationed; when the major hospitals don’t have facilities (including common water) to function efficiently; when the prices of petroleum products, goods, and services have risen; or when teachers (GNAT and NAGRAT) are on strike because of the government’s lack of faith in dealing with their grievances?

You see, it doesn’t have to take any divination for anybody to see how the government is gradually damaging its own public image and eroding public goodwill for it. What it has taken upon itself will definitely be used against it, no matter how much explanation anybody gives to justify the government’s involvement.

Again, now that the President has bared it all, the overarching question is: What interest does the government have in the pilgrimage to warrant this heavy investment in it? Does the government expect to harvest anything from the pilgrimage? What is it?

Isn't it troubling for the President to call this meeting with the clergy to attempt "forcing" them or manipulating them to go on this pilgrimage?

The meaning I have made out of his interactions with the clergy (especially moving into a closed-door session with them later) is one of desperation or condescension.

What is so pressing as to warrant a pilgrimage by these pastors? What does President Mahama personally hope to reap from this pilgrimage?

Or is he panicking over something? Like Rev. Owusu Bempah's prophecy of doom? Or the ongoing lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of his Presidency?

Unarguably, the posturing going on now and the desperate attempt to coerce the clergy into giving him a (favourable) response to his demand on the pilgrimage is giving very wrong signals.

Going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem is not a tenet of the Christian faith. That is why nobody should attempt justifying the government’s involvement in this Jerusalem trip with the claim that it supports the Muslims on their Hajj. One of the five pillars of Islam mandates a Hajj by a Muslim (who can afford it and has satisfied the conditions of the religion at the time) at least once in his/her lifetime.

Jesus Christ didn’t mandate his followers to go on any pilgrimage to his birthplace or Calvary or Golgotha to confirm their commitment or selfless devotion to him. Nor did he institutionalize any formality in that sense to warrant a passport to heaven.

We know that individuals or groups of Christians of various denominations or even non-Christians often visit Jerusalem for various purposes, be they sightseeing or pilgrimage. Some have even been pictured doing all kinds of things near the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

I am yet to hear that any government anywhere in the world has taken it upon itself to sponsor a group of pastors to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It is so because such an activity is not economically viable. It is so again because those governments draw a clear line between abstraction/spirituality and the practical/pragmatic realities existing in their countries. In all cases, they go for the practical/pragmatic to be able to solve problems confronting their countries.

Not so in Ghana. What the government has begun doing is the worst act that I have seen in my many years on earth. As a Ghanaian, I feel completely embarrassed and traumatized by the government’s involvement in this useless venture.

I end with this question: What is the real issue provoking this pilgrimage at all? I pause for answers.

I shall return…

• E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.