By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Folks, one sticky point in the agitations by members of the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) is the publishing of the document containing their demands. Accusing fingers have been pointed at Stan Dogbe, a member of the Presidential Staff, as the “culprit”. He has been condemned as the one who “unscrupulously” published the document on his Facebook page to the chagrin of the GMA; and some are even calling for his dismissal from office.
The Offinsohene, Nana Wiafe Akenten II, was very loud in condemning Stan, accusing him of impropriety while members of the GMA (especially the President and Secretary) insisted that publishing that document ran counter to the understanding between the GMA and the government to keep the “proposals” close to their chests. Their main beef is that by this disclosure, Stan has embarrassed all and created a bad public image for the GMA.
Some political opponents have even gone to the needless extent of claiming that the release of the GMA’s document indicated that state secrets were at risk of being disclosed by those in charge of affairs. They have been quick to blame the government for doing what will endanger state secrets.
I strongly disagree with all these critics or whatever one wants to call them because they have it all wrong. Beyond that, I highly commend Stan Dogbe—if, indeed, he was responsible for publicizing the doctors’ demands as contained in that document. By this singular act, he has helped us know a lot to facilitate public discourse. He deserves much appreciation; and wherever I meet him, I will give him a huge bear-hug. So should all others benefiting from the published document do!!
After all, such a document has nothing secret about it to warrant its being hidden from the public. It is a document that should have been made available for public scrutiny long ago so the tax payers can be informed. What Stan did fits squarely into the ambit of the Right to Information Act, which our Parliament is incapable of enacting. By his bold move alone, he has opened the floodgates for us to gather as much information about the doctors’ demands as we need to know what is at stake. And once we know what is at stake, we can easily write these striking doctors off as pesky bugs to be squashed in public discourse. That is what irks the GMA and its faceless backers seeking political capital out of the impasse. Shameless opportunists!!
Something is seriously wrong with them. Why don’t they think that it is important and good for the public to know the doctors’ demands? Why do they think that the document should remain “esoteric” when the reality of the situation says otherwise? Why the secrecy?
And they don’t even know how to go about doing things. There is nothing about the doctors’ demands that qualifies as a “state secret” to be kept under wraps and known to only those with the need to know. Neither should anybody blame Stan for acting boldly; that is if he, indeed, was the one who published the document.
All those doing government business and are sworn into office know that their conduct is guided by the State Secrets Act (Act 101), which enjoins them to keep their mouths shut over matters bordering on state secrets and security. They know the severe punishment that awaits any of them who shoots his/her mouth anyhow to expose such secrets. Even when sworn out of office or dismissed, they dare not say what they shouldn’t. They dare not even carry along with them any document containing any state secret. They know where the line is drawn and dare not overstep bounds. Only ignorant people say anything about “state secrets”. I urge them to lay hands on Act 101 to read!!
The demands made by the GMA (whether portrayed as proposals to the government or not) are not part of state secrets. They are issues not to be hidden from the public because they have dire consequences for the national purse; and the tax payers must know what they entail. That is why it is heart-warming for them to be revealed as such.
Anybody claiming that the document containing those demands was meant for only the government must be joking. It is meant to be placed in the public domain for the tax payers to know how their tax money is to be spent, supporting the lifestyle of the doctors. Placing that document in the public domain for analysis is a good service to the country and its people for which whoever made it available must be commended and not condemned.
All other documents of this sort for any institution or professional group in the public sector must also be published for the citizens to know what is at stake. After all, the kind of “aura” or secrecy that some think must surround such issues won’t help us improve our democracy for as long as the tax payers remain ignorant of how their money is spent. Now that we know what the doctors are looking for, we will keep monitoring the situation till the dust settles.
In any case, their demands have already been dismissed as “outrageous” and President Mahama has dug in to insist that his government won’t spend money not budgeted for. He has also reinforced his “dead goat” metaphor by saying that he won’t budge, even if it will negatively affect his political standing. He won’t sacrifice the national purse for political expediency. Excellent resolve!!
The next move to make is to ensure that all that is already being enjoyed by the doctors (and other professionals) which they don’t pay for is withdrawn. I have in mind accommodation. If the doctors (and other professionals asking for more without raising productivity) currently enjoy rent-free accommodation, they should be made to pay rent at the existing commercial rate for them to feel the pinch that other workers endure. They must not be pampered at all.
That is why the government’s counter-proposal to pare down the doctors’ demand for 100 gallons of petrol every month is ridiculous. It must not give any free petrol to any of them. They must buy their own fuel from their earnings so they will learn how to manage their lives. The days of Father Christmas are long gone and the doctors must be told the bare truth and charged to respect it.
There are many other areas to consider, and I urge the government to do all in its power to enunciate policies to change the paradigm. Unless it does so, the problems caused by the doctors can’t be solved; and the situation regarding other professionals in other sectors on strike or threatening to go on strike must also be scrutinized and re-appraised for the necessary remedial measures to be taken so no one abuses the system.
In the final analysis, revealing anything about their agitations and demands—as has been done with the publishing of the GMA’s demands—should be encouraged. In this particular case of the GMA, whoever released the document needs our support to improve performance. It is not the revelation of this document that should embarrass the GMA members; it is their own miscalculations that should. And now that they are losing traction, they had better rethink so they can cross the Rubicon with less agony.
I shall return…
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