By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Sunday, October 19, 2014
Folks, the news report yesterday about what happened to the United States President, Barack Obama, at a restaurant came as a huge surprise to some of us; but it threw more light on why the kind of democracy being practised by the United States is relevant to that country's development agenda.
If you missed that news report, here it is in full (as carried by the BBC) under the headline "Barack Obama's credit card 'declined':
"President Barack Obama's credit card was declined at a restaurant in New York City last month, he said. "It turned out I guess I don't use it enough," Mr. Obama said. "They thought there was some fraud going on."
Fortunately, he said, First Lady Michelle Obama had a credit card on hand and paid for the meal.
Mr. Obama told the story at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as he announced new protections for debit cards used to deliver federal benefits. An estimated 100 million Americans have been affected by identity theft in the past year, including high-profile security breaches at retailers like Target and Home Depot.
“I was trying to explain to the waitress, you know, I really think that I've been paying my bills,” Mr. Obama said. “Even I'm affected by this.”
The US president is paid $400,000 (£250,000) per year, as well as given a non-taxable $50,000 expense account. (Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-29664831).
The nub is really not about the credit card's being declined, clearly because it is nothing strange for one's credit card to be so treated either for a technical glitch or for security reasons. But in this case, it involved the US President, which might give it the intriguing twist. However, when one gets to know that in the US, the law is no respecter of persons, the reality registers a clear impression. No more surprises, huh?
The real issue is about transparency. Here is a whole President of the US buying food at his own expense and being exposed to what the ordinary people face. In our case, do our leaders (starting with the President and ending with the lowest government official on the bureaucratic ladder) eat at their own expense or everything supporting their lifestyle is borne by the ordinary tax-payer? When was the last time anybody ever bothered to know how much our Presidents (in and out of office) have been taking from the tax-payer to sustain their lives just because of their status(es)?
We don't really know the exact quantum of end-of-service benefits that the two ex-Presidents (Rawlings and Kufuor) are enjoying and why they have found adroit means to hang on to official designations, relishing all kinds of largesse, including foreign travels at the expense of the tax-payer. And they have devised means to rope in their children---and who knows what has been put aside for hangers-on singing their praise?
A more crucial aspect of the Obama experience is the disclosure of his earnings as a President. It is there in plain sight for everybody to see. He earns $400,000.00 and pays a huge tax on it. He files his tax returns every year, which is put in the public domain for everybody to know. That is the United States for you!
Turn the table around to focus on Ghana. What do we have? A democracy that is designed to keep everything about officialdom in the darkest part of the alley. How much is our President paid a month and how much tax does he pay? How about the Vice President and other government officials being supported by the ordinary tax-payer?
Information about such issues is regarded as top secret!! Why should it be so? Just because it is not what our democracy is designed to help the people know so they can appreciate governance as responsible citizens. The lid is kept tight on such issues because nobody in authority wants the citizens to be well-informed so as to do critical assessment of issues. Keeping them in the dark is good for those who profit from this kind of democracy. That is why passing the Right to Information bill into law is dragging on.
As I have kept saying all this while, no democracy can endure without public funds; and those who have access to such funds are required to account for their stewardship so the citizens whose sweat, blood, and tears feed the national coffers can monitor how public funds are spent. Anything short of that will demoralize the citizens and spawn rebellion.
Why is it that nothing is told the citizens about how much money is being spent on all the foreign engagements of the President and high-ranking government officials? Of course, they don’t bear the cost. It is the citizens who do so. Thus, why not tell them how much money goes where at which time so they can become informed to act responsibly? Nobody in authority will do so because much water has to pass under the bridge for them to live their lives in comfort. That is what our kind of democracy offers them.
And this kind of democracy being practised in Ghana cannot help us develop our country. It will only provide a safe haven for self-seekers to be cushioned while the millions of citizens killing themselves to sustain the democracy sink further down into narrow circumstances. Pathetic.
That is why they are not bothered about the weakening of our institutions of state because they profit from such inadequacies. If they didn’t, they would gear up to retool those institutions for them to perform their legitimate functions to keep them on their toes. They know how to keep those institutions on their leash for personal comfort. That is why despite being practised for 22 years now, our democracy is still wobbling and hobbling.
Let nobody tell me that there is stability and that general elections have been conducted for governments to be changed. This kind of ritual is sterile and dangerous because it misrepresents reality. The citizens are compelled to exercise their franchise because they are still not sure whether abandoning this democracy will be a better solution to the country’s problems of under-development. They won’t certainly welcome the military toads; thus, why not stick to the devil that they know and damn the angel lurking at the fringes? But this situation itself is dangerous.
When the citizens seek only the political kingdom and nothing is added to it, they become disaffected for the devil to give jobs to. Such jobs include anti-social activities such as selective sabotage, plain criminal activities like armed robbery, murder, and what-have-you? Is that what we are nurturing our democracy to produce?
Can our leaders ever learn to do the right thing so we can all work together to grow our democracy for it to serve our collective purposes? I wonder; I really wonder!
I shall return…
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