End-of-Service Benefits: Politics favors the thieves

Fri, 24 Dec 2010 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

December 23, 2010

Once again, the controversy surrounding End-of-Service Benefits (ESB) for our politicians has re-surfaced and caught public attention. Disguised as “emoluments for Article 71 office holders,” this ESB is nothing but a gigantic fraud that the country’s politicians (in the Executive and Legislature) have sprung on Ghanaians. It has no moral justification to back it and must be abolished.

I commend the representatives of the Convention People's Party (CPP) and the People's National Convention (PNC) for insisting that the ESB be scrapped. Bright Akwetey (the CPP’s Shadow Minister of Justice) and Bernard Monnah (the General Secretary of the PNC) have argued that “politics was a voluntary service to the nation for which Ghanaians needed not pay for the comfort of politicians on their retirement.” Nothing could be more apt than this perspective.

As is to be expected, however, MPs in the NDC and the NPP have seen things differently and thought otherwise. They were angry that the committee formed by Parliament to work on their emoluments had delayed in submitting a report before the House rose yesterday. The report of the committee would be factored into the work of the Professor Ewurama Addy Committee, which was appointed by President John Evans Atta Mills to deal with the whole issue of emoluments for Article 71 office holders after recommendations by the Chinery-Hesse Committee had stirred considerable controversy.

I say it loud and clear that “Shame unto all those in favour of ESB for our politicians.” They are self-seekers who shouldn’t be supported in any way to fleece the national coffers any further.

Although the abolition of the ESB for public-sector workers was a unilateral decision taken and implemented by the Rawlings government, its adverse implications have continued to affect the entire national psyche. In one way or the other, the abolition of the ESB remains as a big blot on the conscience of the Rawlings-led administration. It will be difficult for me to forgive that administration for this mischief, knowing full well that the Rawlings government left office after turning round through the back-door to award itself the very ESB that it had nullified for others also serving the country with their energies and talents but not fortunate enough to have chosen the path of partisan politics to do so.

More intriguingly, whatever justification might have necessitated that action cannot be borne out by reality. The factors that might have prompted that action by the Rawlings administration haven’t vanished as of now. They are still with us. Our economy is still not yet out of the woods.

Productivity hasn’t increased to warrant the retention of the ESB nor is there any reason to limit it to the politicians (in the Executive and Legislature). If it has, then, the scope must be widened and the ESB reinstituted for the benefit of all Ghanaian public-sector workers whose sweat, toil, and blood continue to sustain the body politic. So, if ESB wasn’t (and isn’t still) good for public-sector workers, why should it be for these politicians alone?

Rather disgustingly, the Rawlings administration reserved ESB for its functionaries and Rawlings himself left office with a quantum of benefits (accommodation, cars, emoluments, etc.). Functionaries of his government took away official vehicles for which they paid pittance. Poor public-sector workers looked on dejectedly as they retired into a life of excruciating poverty, misery, and haplessness.

In a half-hearted manner, the Kufuor government reacted, retrieving some of the cars (from Rawlings and his Vice, now President J.E.A. Mills, among others). It didn’t go any further because it foresaw its own fate and had no conscience to resolve the ESB crisis. Apparently aware that they might also benefit from the existing ESB mechanism, Kufuor and functionaries of his government didn’t go any further in divesting the NDC beneficiaries of such property. They knew what lay in store for them—that their time would come to expropriate those very state property (bungalows, cars, lands, etc.) in the name of the ESB.

At the end of Kufuor’s term in office, we all saw the madness that occasioned the looting of state property under the umbrella of the ESB. The Chinery-Hesse recommendations to provide a magic carpet for Kufuor, especially, said it all: that our politicians are nothing but mere confidence tricksters taking an undue advantage of the weaknesses of our system.

More annoying is the criminal aspect of the craze for this ESB. To all intents and purposes, the politicians have broken all bounds and fallen into the gutter to grab state property under the cover of the ESB. Take, for instance, the misconduct of the former Speaker of Parliament, Begyina Sekyi-Hughes, who stripped his former residence of all the property that the state had procured for him to enjoy only in his official capacity. Yet, nothing has been done to punish him or reassure Ghanaians that such criminal acts are punishable and that the law is no respecter of persons. Sekyi-Hughes insisted that he did nothing wrong because all that he took away formed part of his ESB. And the dust has already settled on his sordid acts. He has been adroitly absolved by his fellow politicians and is living his life in comfort as a free man!

The circumstances surrounding this ESB for the politicians are depressing. This ESB for our politicians is indefensible against the background that the Rawlings government had already abolished ESB from public service. By inscribing Article 71 in the Constitution, we are faced with a serious incompatibility. What is good for the politicians (in the Legislature and Executive) that is not equally good for public-sector workers, including those in the Judiciary?

The anomaly is difficult to rationalize and no one should attempt to do so. Kwaku Baako’s misguided defence of this act of injustice must stop immediately because it is not supported (or supportable) by the principles of morality and justice. Unless he wants to suggest that he is a beneficiary of this ESB (probably because he has politician friends who butter his bread), he should use his over-zealousness to serve better causes. Support for this ESB for the politicians is demoralizing.

Why should these politicians (in the Legislature and Executive) consider themselves as the only people eligible for ESB while all others (including those in the Judiciary) are not? Are all those drawing emoluments from the Consolidated Fund not considered as servants of the state who should be treated equally? If members in one segment are deemed legible for compensation (ESB) at the end of their service to the state, why shouldn’t it be so for the others too? Or do we consider our politicians (in the Legislature and Executive) as “more Ghanaian” than all other citizens who serve their country in various capacities? What specific roles do these politicians play to deserve this preferential treatment?

Simply put, these politicians are nothing but wicked thieves and liars who work in concert to perpetrate fraud under the cover of the ESB. And they do so with careless abandon too under the cover of darkness, where they sink their partisan political interests for mutual gains, only to emerge in the Chamber of Parliament during the day to jump on each other and to behave as if their petty political rivalries would put food in the plates of Ghanaians. These politicians are heartless and unconscionable and should be told in no uncertain terms that they are the thorns in the flesh of Ghanaians.

By enacting to isolate themselves for this over-compensation under the guise of the ESB, our politicians are doing nothing but institutionalizing discrimination. And by entrenching such self-serving mechanisms, they are creating conditions for further corrupting the system.

This one-sided approach to rewarding service to one’s country is based on nothing but unbridled greed and wickedness in high places. It’s part of the grand agenda of implementing self-serving policies and measures that undermine the spirit of patriotism. These are the people for him a lame-duck President Atta Mills wants to establish an MPs’ Common Fund to beef up the huge car loans and other benefits already conferred on them!

The restriction of ESB to these politicians goes against the grain (of decency, common sense, and social justice). Every citizen serves the country in peculiar capacities and must be appreciated as such. Civil servants do the menial clerical and administrative work that sustains the government bureaucracy while others such as security personnel sacrifice their lot to ensure peace and stability. Without their input, the equation will not be complete. Discriminating against them undermines patriotism.

In that sense, those who choose to do politics must know that their decision is motivated by service to the country through politics. This decision doesn’t warrant any demand for any special recognition as a spectacular service to country that must be given any preferential treatment by way of ESB. Doing so undermines the tenets of good citizenship and propriety.

Considering how our national politics is being projected as a gold mine, I am not surprised by the rate at which all manner of people are rushing into politics. Conscious of the loopholes that politics opens up for them to exploit, they will do all they can to be in politics. By so doing, they see politics as the panacea to their personal economic problems.

I am certain that the conscience of these self-centered politicians is seared with a hot iron. They must not be spared public anger. No doubt, the hottest place in hell is reserved for people like these who, while on earth, took active part in schemes to do acts that served their own interests while subjecting fellow human beings to the dehumanizing state of abject want, poverty, disease, misery, and death.

I am more concerned because when they succeed in getting this ESB to shore up their financial resources, they don’t rest on their oars. They go further to damage the national psyche as they scheme to corrupt the electorate and heighten tension in the society.

We must be careful how we handle sensitive issues (such as this ESB) so as not to deepen our national crises or woes. What is happening is deplorable. The extent to which these politicians are pushing their greed and insensitivity to the plight of the vast majority of Ghanaians is nauseating. What moral justification exists for their misconduct? None, I daresay.

The conclusion is obvious: By their trickery, chicanery, and treachery, these politicians are gradually setting the stage for unpleasant events that will be the cause of national instability in the near future.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.