On the matter of the salaries of presidential spouses

Samira Rebecca Samira Bawumia (Left) and Rebecca Akufo-Addo (Right)

Sun, 11 Jul 2021 Source: Samuel Adjei Sarfo, Esq

Former President John Dramani Mahama has waded into the present debate over the salary of the presidential spouses with good English but little substance. He acknowledges that since the time of Jerry John Rawlings in 1992, spouses of former and present presidents had been secretly receiving monetary allowances on the blind side of almost all Ghanaians.

He appears to justify these allowances by enumerating the crucial role performed by these First Ladies while their husbands are in office. He also agrees that these payments were, or are still being made without any reference to any constitutional provision legitimizing such payments. Strangely, he rejects salaries being paid to first spouses on the grounds that our constitution does not permit it.

To narrow down the issue to its nitty-gritty therefore for the former president, the issue of contention is only in naming: Whether to call what these women receive as salary, allowance or ex-gratia. To him, everything is fine as long as you call whatever is paid to these first women ex-gratia/allowance, and not salary. And here is where Mr. Mahama’s hypocrisy lies: Those payments may be unconstitutional and yet permissible unless and until given a different name.

Ghanaians will continue to be hoodwinked as long as the hypocrisy of the leadership prevails under the present circumstances. Here, we had a president who never disclosed that any payments were being made to spouses of present and former presidents, but opportunistically jumps into the fray when he spies a chance for cheap popularity.

The need to pay salaries to spouses of sitting presidents has been debated at some length in some quarters. Michelle Obama always complained about having left her $280,000 a year job just to be First Lady and being paid zilch for her role. Hillary Clinton also complained about leaving the Rose Law Firm to be First Lady and working for free.

There is also no doubt that the First Ladies of Ghana play very important and defined roles to help the husbands to execute their governmental agenda. The only problem with the population is that these people should work for free like slaves because they are not elected officers or article 71 public officers.

This notion is naïve because there are unelected officers receiving salaries all the time. And although first spouses are not Article 71 officers, the constitution does not expressly debar them from receiving salaries. It is a legal mantra that whatever is not expressly forbidden by the constitution is permissible by the constitution: Quae licet non prohibetur!

Then again, note that any payment made to any official of this country, no matter how insignificant, will attract some outcry from the population who do not recognize that their leadership is entitled to any privileges or even any remuneration. Remember that hunger has led to many revolutions, and where the only fairly distributed gift is poverty, every rich person is a target for the anger of the masses.

That is why nobody has even asked how much more money, if any, these first spouses will receive beyond what they are already receiving. And although there appears to be a general consensus that they work for the country, the people are saying that they should rather work for free!

Given this apparent preposterousness, there is therefore some justification for keeping the allowance these spouses receive under wraps as was hitherto done under Rawlings and all the presidents that followed after him. For indeed, some stipends received by some class of people are better left a national

security secret: Nobody knows how much soldiers receive in this country; and most Ghanaian workers will never disclose how much they are paid to their own spouses, let alone their family members...

In the end, anger will be seething against the NPP government for proceeding with this decision to pay the first and second spouses, and indeed, any other former presidential spouses.

That will not mean that they should not be paid their due. The government should continue to pay them for their meaningful roles in the country; but just that it must not call whatever they are given salary. The government should also continue to keep their remuneration a national security secret just as we do for the military pay structure.

When this is done, the cacophony will abate, and peace will reign in the country.

Columnist: Samuel Adjei Sarfo, Esq
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