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Payment of Soli: It can’t be wrong ...

Fri, 17 Apr 2015 Source: Omansomfo Ghanaba

....for one group of watchdogs & right for another

By Omansomfo Ghanaba (omansomfo@gmail.com)

When journalists are invited to cover events, it has become the norm, event organisers will often have to pay them (the journalists) something to cover their transport. They don't make it a requirement for them to be present at events. They don't demand it by force (though some will grumble), but it has become the norm. This is the fact and the payment is called SOLI (short for Solidarity).

Those who are against the practice say the payment (sometimes GHC10 or even less), constitutes corruption because it’s a form of inducement to influence the journalists to publish a story. Their argument is that covering an event is part of the routine news-gathering function of journalists. So when a journalist comes to cover an event, he or she is just executing the requirements of his or her profession; doing the job he or she is employed to do and for which he or she is paid. The transport cost they incur is a normal cost related to their news-gathering role. Any payment to the journalist is, therefore, a way of attempting to influence the journalists for personal gain-to have your story covered. I share this view as, was recently espoused by the British High Commissioner and many others

But there is a strong counter argument. Those in support of the practice have argued that it cannot be said to be a form of corruption. Not at all. They posit that when journalists are invited to cover events, they don't walk to the venue of the events. They incur transport costs. More importantly, in Ghana and in many parts of Africa, some journalists (perhaps many of them) don't even earn a monthly income of up to the equivalent of US$ 200.

Also, the majority of media organisations will not make provision for transport for their journalists to cover events. "So how do we expect journalists to bear the transport costs from their meagre salaries to give you publicity for free," they will ask. And so what is offered is just something to cover their transport costs. In fact they say that it's even an insult for anyone to suggest that the GHC10 or GHC20 paid to the journalists is what will influence them.

As I said earlier, I am with the former group.

Fast track to our Members of Parliament (MPs). It seems to becoming (or has it already become) the norm that when MPs are invited to events they have to be paid something to cover their transports costs. For journalists the payment is called Soli. For MPs it is simply Transport. Like the Journalist, I can't say the MPs make the payment a condition for attending an event. They don't demand it by force, but it is becoming or has become the norm.

Some Honourable MPs have justified such payment based on similar arguments as in the case of the justification for the payment of Soli to journalists. They say, "Well, if you invite me for your event do you expect me to walk there? I use my own, car, buy my fuel and why do you think I don't have to take transport?"

You see, just like journalists, MPs have a very crucial mandate. They make the laws that govern all of us. Just like journalists they have a watchdog role. They approve our budgets and borrowings. They represent thousands of constituents. Given their mandate, I expect that they see their participation in public interest as part of their work, to learn about what the public feel, think and want; and to be informed by same in contributing to the business of the Noble Law-Making House.

So, just as I don't subscribe to the Soli justification argument, I don't agree with transport payments to our MPs. Because in reality, the purpose for the payment is the same, the difference is in just the name. It is called Soli when it is for Journalists, and Transport when it is for MPs. In other words, monies paid to MPs to cover their transport for attending or participating in public interest events is also Soli. And if Soli to Journalists constitutes corruption, Soli to MPs cannot be anything else.

Just as I don't think the meagre soli compromises our journalists and yet see it as wrong, I don't think the payment to our MPs compromise them, but it is not right. Every Soli is Soli.

Columnist: Omansomfo Ghanaba