Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
June 19, 2009
Even before the dust settles on the furore over the expenditure of over a billion Cedis on themselves by members of the Transitional Team that worked for the Mills government to enter office, another hot potato has surfaced: “The President John Evans Atta Mills has given approval for a $50,000 car loan for Parliamentarians.
The move is to facilitate the work of MPs some of whom have to commute long distances to their various constituencies and back to Accra weekly. Even though approval for the loans has received presidential assent, contractual details are yet to be firmed up.” (Source: Nathan Gadugah/Myjoyonline.com, June 19, 2009). This news report is annoying for several reasons. It is an insult to the ordinary Ghanaian tax payer and adds an ugly hue to the current picture that the NDC government has so far painted about public office. Most Ghanaians are already angry that the Transitional Team could spend over 1.3 billion Cedis on itself; then, there is this increase in the prices of petroleum products, which have invariably pushed the cost of living higher than expected. At least, in this early segment of the NDC’s four-year term in office, one expects that President Mills will ensure that nothing of this sort is done to annoy the electorate. But, unfortunately, this is not the picture being painted, and it is annoying. Is the circus being re-enacted?
Some people have already passed judgement: In the first six months of his administration, President Mills has given little to confirm that he is ruling Ghana with a different agenda from what Ghanaians have already known about the governments that have ruled the country over the years. Now, to the car loans! It is not yet clear whether to curse or bless the first Rawlings NDC government for granting $20,000 as car loans to the MPs of the second Parliament of the Fourth Republic. I remember very well in Kufuor’s first term in 2001 when he was reported to have been angered by the MPs’ demand for $20,000 car loans. He initially threatened not to grant their wish but when political strings began being pulled, he budged and the storm was calmed by that concession. In his second term, (in the 4th Parliament), the same ritualistic demand for car loans cropped up. Then, in this 5th Parliament, it is up again but this time, with its own unfortunate tinge—the quantum is pegged at $50,000. How mindless can the President and the MPs be at this time when the general economic situation isn’t any better than it had been over the years for the ordinary tax payer? This useless tinder-box of MPs car loans must be done away with outright! Implementing it portends tense moments for all.
Any opposition to this four-year ritual of car loans will be justifiable in every sense and no one should be deceived by the sentiments of the MPs. It appears that the loopholes that exist in our system of governance continue to be exploited with impunity to the disadvantage of the Ghanaian tax payer. Things are done as if no one cares to ensure that the benefits of the political dispensation are spread for the enjoyment of those whose toil and sweat feed the national coffers. Here are some questions for President Mills and his government to answer before anybody goes ahead to give that huge amount of money to the MPs as car loans:
• How much has the government spent so far on these car loan facilities since it was first implemented by the Rawlings government?
• How much has been repaid so far? Who are the defaulters?
• How about those MPs who took previous car loans but were not re-elected into Parliament? Who is in charge of collecting their loan repayments?
• What mechanism is available to monitor and enforce any regulation on the car loan facility?
We must have the details published so we can make our decisions on what to do next. After all, we are the tax payers whose money is given out to these people. There is too much wanton abuse of public trust.
Take, for instance, the case of MPs who have been in Parliament since 1992 and benefited from all the car loans that have been given by the various governments. Are we not creating opportunities to dissipate public funds? Then, take the case of Ministers who already have cars allocated to them at their Ministries but are also MPs. How has this car loan issue been handled to ensure that they are not being unduly cushioned? We know of instances in which some of the official cars are given to the wives and girlfriends of these beneficiaries for use on their market errands, funerals, and other private business interests. Instead of following this ritual of dishing out huge sums of money to the MPs as car loans, the government must initiate moves to provide a long-term solution to this logistic problem. There is some sense in the proposal put forward by the Majority leader, Alban Bagbin, for the state to provide official cars to MPs as is the case with other public officials. It is a good idea, although it will not solve the problem unless something more institutional is done about it.
To me, a better way to solve the problem is to create an office within the Legislative wing of government to cater for logistics concerning the residential and office accommodation, housekeeping, cars, etc. of the MPs. Such an office can be in the form of an Estate Development Office for Parliament (or any other name that may be chosen for it), which must be integrated into the workings of the Parliamentary Service Board.
The main functions of this Estate Development Office should include the procurement of services that will help the Legislature function to the best of its ability. It must be tasked with creating a “logistics pool” that will provide such services as residential and office accommodation, cars, etc. for MPs, the Speaker of Parliament, and others entitled to official support as stipulated in the conditions of service under the Parliamentary Service Board. The cars and residential or office accommodation should be designated as “State Property” and managed as such. An incoming MP or a new Speaker of Parliament must be allocated the accommodation and the cars (I suggest two, at most, for each) to use within the stipulated period that he functions as legitimate member of the Legislature of Ghana. When his term is over, he must vacate the residence and the cars, which should be taken custody of by the Estate Development Office (or whatever name is given to that designated office) after proper inventory has been taken. Such facilities will be passed on to a new crop of MPs or Speaker of Parliament.
If the MP is found to have destroyed anything in his possession, he must be surcharged. Whatever personal property he brings to the official residence must be taken out at the end of his tenure as an MP of Speaker. Responsibility for monitoring the use of these logistics should reside primarily with the Parliamentary Service Board and, generally, all Ghanaians whose sweat and toil provide such amenities.
If we had such an arrangement, it might be difficult for what we have seen in the case of the former Speaker of Parliament, Ebenezer Sekyi-Hughes, and the recklessness associated with the seizure of cars from former government functionaries to happen.
Let us remember that the members of the legislature are salaried workers just like all others and should use their salaries and allowances to support their lifestyles. Those who cannot should not be there.
We all know that the Executive wing of government is heavily supported by the State Protocol. Why can’t the Legislature and the Judiciary also be supported institutionally instead of what has been happening so far?
The current arrangement favors the Executive branch and disadvantages the other two as if they are meant to be subordinate to the Executive. It must not be so. What is good for the Executive must be equally good for the Legislature and the Judiciary. If we accept the maxim that functional democracy depends on the equality of the three arms of government—the Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary—then, we must take prompt steps to raise the status of the Legislature and the Judiciary so that they can function adequately without becoming subservient to the Executive, especially when it comes to pulling the purse strings. There must not be any instance of panhandling by the Legislature and the Judiciary; the Executive must not place itself at a vantage point to use this ritual of doling out public funds on demand as a measure to browbeat the other two arms of government.
We must institutionalize the logistic supply issues and ensure that budgetary allocation is made to cater for whatever the MPs (and the Judiciary) need to perform their constitutionally mandated functions. It shouldn’t be left for the Presidency to decide on. At any rate, the current arrangement is a good recipe for conflict between the other two arms and the Executive. Too much power appears to be concentrated in the hands of the Executive. This is where the need for constitutional amendments becomes imperative so that the proper thing can be done to reinforce every arm of government that has a role to play in strengthening our system of constitutional democratic governance.
We must take prompt and far-reaching action to disabuse people’s minds that politics is a lucrative business and that those who participate in it must necessarily enhance their economic status at the end of the period. In civilized democracies, most people enter politics to make names, not necessarily to grab public funds or property at the expense of the system. It is from such systems that we have to learn useful lessons, not the vain comparison between the degree of self-acquisitiveness of NPP and NDC functionaries. They are a disgrace and their sordid examples must not be emulated at all.
So far, there is no silver lining on the horizon and many people are worried about what the future will bring. Can we in Ghana ever do things in any organized manner to ensure that something good emerges in the end to provide the props that we need to promote national development? It is not too early for one to caution that if the current trend continues, public disaffection will heighten and create very good conditions for political propaganda against the NDC to intensify. So far, it appears that President Mills and the NDC government are merely shifting bones from one grave to the other. That’s not good, especially in this early segment of his four-year tenure. Gaining public trust—and building on it—should have been done through consistent and convincing strategies by now. Unfortunately, the situation isn’t so. Then, to compound the problem, this ritual of MPs’ car loan is being re-enacted. Is it not politically suicidal for the government to begin doing things this way? I think so; and I am sure that I am speaking for the silent majority of Ghanaians whose votes will influence the swing of the political pendulum at the next general elections.