By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Friday, December 25, 2015
Folks, the rebranding of 116 MMT buses and its sequel of ridiculous developments has engaged our attention for some time now. There are still some loose ends to tie up.
Those who want to do other things with the scandal are up on their feet. One of them is Vitus Azeem, the Executive Director of the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), who has called for the removal of the photos of President Mahama from the 116 Metro Mass Transit (MMT) because “putting the photos of President Mahama on the buses especially as Ghana enters an election year in 2016 amounts to abuse of incumbency since it will give him an advantage to market himself to the detriment of the other presidential candidates”. He said that the photos of the former Presidents could, however, be maintained. (See http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/Remove-Mahama-photos-from-buses-GII-403192).
An immediate question: Do the former Presidents not belong to known specific political camps and draw public support to their cause, which matters much because whether they have left office or not, they still wield a clout? Or are they not already known to the Ghanaian citizenry to not warrant their being projected on nothing but buses? Why not ask that no image of anybody be used? Or that the space should be used for advertising anything else Ghanaian (probably, the flora and fauna)?
Who will be contracted to remove President Mahama’s image and how will that person be paid? Certainly, the job cannot be done gratis!!
This call by Azeem also raises some hypothetical issues: What would all these critics have been saying had the contract for rebranding the buses been given to an NPP member and not Selassie Ibrahim, a so-called NDC member?
It also raises some more serious issues:
1. How come that the contract was awarded to Selassie Ibrahim? Was the project advertised for bidding? Or did the former Minister just use her authority to award it to Selassie Ibrahim? Why?
2. How come that no one heard anything about the project until it was completed and the matter laid before Parliament before being exposed? Was the rebranding exercise done in a closet hidden from public view? I assume that it was done in a timeframe that could have been known by people seeing what was happening to the buses. How come that nobody said anything about the exercise all that while?
As I have kept saying, our kind of democracy is not designed to solve problems but to either compound them or create new ones to add to them. If the former Minister could act unilaterally to that extent, especially when public funds were involved in the rebranding exercise, no one needs any divination to know how pestilential our democracy is. Where did the money come from to pay for the contract? From the coffers (budgetary allocation) of the Ministry of Transportation itself? Could it be a clear case of misappropriation of funds? Or what else?
Now to the principle behind the rebranding exercise itself. From the images plastered on the buses, I am tempted to think that the idea was to project the leaders that we’ve had in this Fourth Republic, which is why the faces of Rawlings, Kufuor, Mills, and Mahama are plastered on the buses. Why the projection of these leaders, anyway? Is the rebranding, then, being used to immortalize them? For what? And why do so on buses? Very weird!!
Turning to another aspect, we can see why the GII is asking that President Mahama’s image be expunged. Could there be a hidden agenda behind the rebranding exercise to make President Mahama more visible to the people in areas plied by these buses as part of the electioneering campaign efforts? From the GII’s concern, we may be tempted to draw that conclusion. But, then, an intriguing aspect surfaces. Who in Ghana doesn’t already know President Mahama? Is it the pasting of his image on buses that will make him known to the people? And does knowing him as such automatically fetch him any political capital?
Folks, you see, there is a lot of misconception and misperception going on here, especially if we consider how the GII is twisting the matter to create the mistaken impression that projecting President Mahama’s image on the buses is an abuse of incumbency. What is the guarantee that projecting his image this way will give him a head-start advantage over the other politicians? Haven’t the NPP people claimed that Akufo-Addo is the most popular Ghanaian politician in our time? What is their worry now?
On the flip side, can it not be that the mere projection of President Mahama’s image on the buses will have a negative impact on those to whom he is a “curse” and for which they will not want to have anything to do with him no matter how the image dares them? Or that once they don’t like him as their leader, no amount of projection of his face on buses will change their stance? If then, what is there to fear about abuse of incumbency through this rebranding exercise? Do Ghanaians not already know President Mahama, having seen images of him all over the place? What is new here, except that his image as used in the rebranding exercise is on MMT buses and not billboards, newspapers, TV screens, pamphlets—just anything?
More importantly, is there any credible information to indicate that President Mahama was consulted about the project and that he consented that his image be included? How does abuse of incumbency come in, then? Of course, he is our current leader; but does the use of his image necessarily drag him into the fracas?
And how about the portrait of President Mahama hanging in the offices of public institutions? Will one ask that it be removed because it constitutes an abuse of incumbency? (So far, only the NPP’s Kwabena Agyepong is on record as having asked that the portrait of Akufo-Addo hanging in his office be torn down. That is between him and his own God as to why he won’t want to see Akufo-Addo’s face bearing down on him in his office!!).
Beyond this level, if we want to be fair to ourselves as far as the obvious scope of the rebranding is concerned, we will not expect to see the image of just anybody (including the political opponents of President Mahama) on the buses; that is, if the rationale behind the rebranding is to project leaders of the Fourth Republic. In truth, the flagbearers of the opposition parties don’t qualify to be so projected because they haven’t ruled Ghana in this Fourth Republic. No one will expect Akufo-Addo’s face, for instance, to show up among those of the Heads of State.
Folks, we have already analyzed the rebranding exercise and condemned it as a waste of public funds. The sector Minister has resigned in consequence. We wish that the matter will be fully investigated so she is taken to task if found to have misappropriated public funds or if other instances not yet exposed prove that she has done worse than the rebranding exercise in the handling of public funds. If found culpable, she should be prosecuted and dealt with to serve as a deterrent to others deceiving themselves that they can do things anyhow and get away with it. No decent democracy will encourage this kind of flippant behaviour. That is what we must fight for.
It is good that the citizens fight for commonsense and decency to prevail in the use of public funds; but when matters get over-extended to create unfortunate impressions, questions must be asked those leading the campaign. Where was Vitus Azeem when Kufuor caused Ghana’s Cedi to be redenominated by a team led by Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia (who was then the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ghana and now leading the NPP’s pack of wolf-criers against anything done by the Mahama-led administration) without telling Ghanaians the cost of that exercise? In any case, what has Ghana’s economy benefited from the slicing off of zeros from the figurative representation of the Cedi? Selective amnesia at work for political mischief? Too dangerous for our democracy, folks!!
I shall return…
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