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Letter to Xexemuxe - when you have a "dead goat" for a president

Sun, 15 Mar 2015 Source: Dowuona, Samuel

Samuel Dowuona

"I have seen more demonstrations and strikes in my first two years. I don't think it can get worse. Such demonstrations are part of strategies by workers to tie the hands of government especially in an election year.

It is said that when you kill a goat and you frighten it with a knife, it doesn't fear the knife because it is dead already. I have a DEAD GOAT syndrome. Hehehe...(laughter)

When Government yields to such THREATS, the economy and budget are thrown out of spin, only for the government to start tightening after the elections. That will not be allowed. So we are going to ensure fiscal discipline in 2016" - John Mahama.

Xexe, this, according to some very good friends of mine on Facebook, are the exact words of the president in the famous "dead goat syndrome" speech in Botswana. Even though those were not the exact words, I agree with them 101%. No spin, no additions, no minuses, no interpretations. Just the bare facts.

The speech was laudable for one and only one reason; ensuring FISCAL DISCIPLINE. That is one simple thing that has elude government after government, including this one. Every budget is over spent, and we often don't see the real results of the profligate spending (apologies to the late President John Mills). The reason is often because most of the money is spent on consultants and administrative purposes rather than on real development; otherwise why would a ministry buy and give luxury cars to people to go monitor rural electrification.

Xexe, whereas the ultimate import of the president's statement, fiscal discipline, is super laudable, the full import of the various components of it leaves much to be desired, particularly coming from no less a person than the number one man in the country. One would have thought that whatever proceeds from the president's mouth, is the totality of ideas and careful thinking by the many "honorable" men around him. And so for him to make statements that sound like "not well thought through" is rather intriguing.

For example, I was one of the people who thought the import of the president's statement on freedom of religion during his State of The Nation Address was laudable. But I also thought, and many others did think too, that if he had thought through it a bit more, he may have changed the approach. We all witnessed the backclash from both Christians and Muslims alike, so I don't need to stretch it, for the same reasons I thought the president could have put his statement in a better frame.

Xexe, now the president says workers' demands for better conditions of service IN AN ELECTION YEAR is a STRATEGY BY WORKERS TO TIE THE HANDS OF GOVERNMENT. He also calls it a THREAT. He also says the demos and strikes used by workers are not things he has not seen before and IT CAN NOT GET WORSE. So now he will play DEAD GOAT and ignore those demos/strikes and by extension, their INEVITABLE CONSEQUENCES and rather maintain a FISCAL DISCIPLINE in order to save the economy from the POSSIBLE WORSE CONSEQUENCES AFTER THE ELECTIONS.

Brilliant idea, ultimately. But it throws up a number of issues worth discussing.

1. Is the president expecting demos/strikes in 2016? 2. Does the president know what is due workers now, which are outstanding? 3. Has the president categorized LEGITIMATE DEMANDS of workers from illegitimate ones? 4. Does the president have a proactive/preventive plan? 5. Has the president weighed the full consequences of ignoring workers' demands for what is legitimately due them? 6. Is the president saying the only thing that throws government's budget out of spin in an election year is demands from workers? 7. Is the president saying that minus the demands from workers, no other area of expenditure has the potential of triggering fiscal indiscipline? 8. Is the president ready to live with the full consequences of ignoring legit demands from workers in an election just to protect his budget from going out of spin? 9. Are workers demands bad because they came in an election year or they are bad when made in any year?

Xexe, the questions and issues emanating from this "dead goat" speech are a lot. I may not even be able to exhaust all. I believe one of the main marks of a good government is ensuring fiscal discipline. And they include controlling spending on public workers and on the government machinery, as well as stemming corruption, among other things. Already the government wage bill is said to be consuming, at the last check, about 69% of its income. That is huge. But it does not change the fact that several categories of public workers still do have outstanding legit claims that have still not been met.

Indeed, in an election year, no one knows the fate of the sitting president. Not even the president knows his own fate, so every creditor would want to get as much of their due before that president gets out of office, which is a possibility in an election. So one would have thought the smartest thing to do would have been to sit with the people around you, as president, to find ways of strategizing to avoid any crisis next year, rather than throwing your hands in despair in a typical "yentie obiaa" fashion.

Xexe, at least, with yentie obiaa, we know the president could hear the complaints but he only refused to listen. But in this case, he said he will remain a dead goat to the demos and strikes. In other words, it is not that he is not listening but he can't even hear it. He can't even be bothered. No matter what the consequence of strikes are on the masses, he will not yield to the THREATS of the workers.

We all know Xexe, that when doctors and nurses go on strike we are in a big trouble. And the Ghana Medical Association has already made it clear that if that is the president's posture then he and innocent Ghanaians should be ready for the worst in 2016 because "we will not sit by and watch him [the president] spend on politics and refuse to pay us our due. We will demand what is legitimately ours with all the legitimate means available to us."

My wife is a nurse, and when she heard the speech she asked me "is this how your president want to play the game now. If this is the way he wants to go then he should be prepared paaa because as for what is due us we will get it."

But Xexe, what do those "THREATS" from medical doctors and nurses mean to a DEAD GOAT of a president? Absolutely nothing. He is only alive to protecting his budget from going out of spin. If people die in scores because doctors and nurses go on strike in 2016, the president sees it in only one way: an election year strategy to tie the hands of government. When innocent people die, it is all part of that grand strategy, no matter how legitimate the demands of nurses and doctors are. Let me not even talk about other categories of workers and what impact their strike can have on even government's own financial inflows.

The president is simply making a choice between either preventing the consequences of the strike actions or preventing the consequences of a fiscal indiscipline after the elections. He obviously chose the second. I dare say that the president, his family and his men would not directly suffer the consequences of a strike actions by doctors and nurses, for instance, because they have the means to look elsewhere. But the millions of innocent Ghanaians who do not have the privileges the president has will bear the brunt of his "dead goat" posture. He and his family can use our state funds to get luxurious healthcare elsewhere while we die like goats because of his dead goat posture to our plight.

Xexe, but is workers demands the only factor that throws budget out of gear in an election year or any year for that matter? What about the huge expenses on elections itself - what about the huge expenses on cosmetic projects just to make the sitting government look good at the last minute - and even expenses on government machinery running around with the president to commission projects and making promises to boost his chances of winning elections. We are not kids, Xexe. It has taken us several years to read in between the lines and know incumbents ride on our backs for their selfish campaigns in the name of president commissioning projects and or visiting project sites. Xexe, what about the corruption?

Big question Xexe, why did president John Mahama pick on demands from workers and left the other factors that could also throw the budget out of spin? What is the motivation for wanting to tell Ghanaians and the world that Ghanaian public workers are solely responsible for budgets getting out of gear in an election year, when in fact we all know there are other factors; other areas needing discipline too?

Xexe, I am happy the president is announcing this early, that he is expecting more strikes and demos in 2016. But would it not have been better if he told us how he intends to prevent them rather than telling us when they come he will pretend they are not even here, no matter how dire the consequences are? I thought it is a key quality of a leader to foresee the future and strategize to prevent a bad future, rather than allowing it and saying "my strategy is to remain a dead goat to the issues no matter what."

And Xexe, what is the value is telling us what his posture is going to be long before the strikes start. I believe public workers are not the president's ultimate opponents. But even if they were, why would the president tell them what his war plan is even before the war begins. Xexe, I am totally confused what kind of war strategy that is. Unless the president want to set Ghanaian workers off now, so that by 2016 they would be cooling off.

I wonder if Barrack Obama could make such a lose statement, laugh about it, and go scot free. But here is Africa, no matter how obvious the meaning of the statement is, you have people telling you the president meant something else than what is in plain black and white. And they will make the battle about what you said and did not say about the president rather than focusing on the core, which is what the president said.

So Xexe, we have people defending the totality of what the president said, probably with its full implications. But why should we bother. The president himself has promised to be a dead goat when things get worse. So Ghanaian public workers and their families should be prepared to also be buried with the president in the election year. But those of us who are determined to live, got out of public service a long ago. We saw this coming and we moved strategically. So when the dead goat and his victims are buried in 2016, we shall be here to move our country forward.

Sometimes I think president John Mahama just sets out to give ammunition to his opponents to bury him. When you come out and say you are a dead goat, you are saying we should bury you because that is exactly what happens to the dead. So those who work on the presidents communication would need to really wake up because I don't see how you can talk like this and expect the greater majority of the public to hail you, particularly in these days of dumsor, where even some media houses are cutting down on broadcast time just to reduce spending on fuel. In this times when the generality of the public is in distress and people are losing jobs, and psychologists are reporting that more of their patients are contemplating suicide. This is the time the president chose to tell us he will adopt a "dead goat" posture to workers' complaints. What a shock Xexe?

Columnist: Dowuona, Samuel