The Rawlingses say they are homeless ...

Fri, 9 Jul 2010 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

Part I

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

July 8, 2010

The Rawlingses are in the news again, this time, courting public sympathy for what they claim is the government’s failure to provide them with decent accommodation after the destruction of their Ridge residence in February this year. The official response from the government to the claim is enough to help us read a deeper meaning into Nana Konadu Agyemang-Rawlings’s accusation. She may be seeking public sympathy but won’t get it. I will shortly explain my stance.

Considering how every politician easily devises means to depend on the national coffers for personal comfort, I am almost at the point of saying that Ghana’s plight is permanent. I weep for Ghana because of how its politicians manipulate the situation to advantage. My main worry is this: Should the state continue supporting the lifestyles of all these politicians even when they are no more in office? If so, what is the parameter for determining who should get what? Is it morally defensible for the tax-payer’s sweat and toil to be used for this purpose while these tax-payers themselves continue to live in narrow circumstances?

What crime have we in Ghana committed to be taken for granted and treated unfairly by our politicians? All over the world, those who serve their countries and earn salaries know that they have to peek into the future to know what lies in store for them when they leave office. They know that they have to depend on themselves and not the state for the rest of their lives on earth. That is why they invest their earnings in income-earning businesses or build/buy houses to live in when no more eligible for official accommodation. In the United States, the President enjoys benefits that no one even bothers to question because that’s the culture. In retirement, the US Presidents appear to make more money than when in office because of how they use their endowments, especially in speaking engagements and other ventures such as Presidential Libraries and Foundations that function as businesses.

In Ghana, what do we have? A haphazard approach to resettlement of our former Heads of State, usually based on political considerations. Attempts to institutionalize the benefits package (the Greenstreet Committee and the Chinery-Hesse Commission) have been shrouded in mystery and malpractices, eroding public confidence in them and setting up confrontations motivated by partisan political interests. Any move to support the after-office lifestyles of our leaders smacks of controversy, either because of perceptions of corruption or complaints that the country’s economy is too weak to sustain them. That is why the individual is expected to use his/her earnings to provide the needs for his/her after-office life. Under this circumstance, there is no room for anybody to cry as the Rawlingses are doing.

If the Rawlingses think that by washing their own dirty linen in public they will court anybody’s sympathy, they are deceived. Ghanaians know that anybody who starts working is expected to cater for all his/her needs now or later. That’s why one is constantly advised by one’s parents, friends, and well-wishers not to live a reckless life by squandering all one’s earnings. In every sense, one is expected to cut his coat according to his size so that one can secure a decent place to live in when one retires. Because we cannot stop the clock of life from ticking-and-tocking toward the end of our service or employment, we are advised to brighten our own corner. Did the Rawlingses ever think of any future life after office? Or did they think that they would forever remain in office and be supported by the tax-payers’ sweat and toil? What a paradox that those who served the longest in government and controlled the finances of the country are now declaring themselves homeless!

The Rawlingses have been lucky all these years, living their lives and taking care of their children at the expense of the state, which raises many questions: How much rent have they paid so far in life to know how it feels to be a worker? How about expenditure on food and others that overburden ordinary Ghanaian tax-payers and are the cause of misery to the majority? What did the Rawlingses do with all their earnings? Will they tell us that they didn’t earn anything or that they were not responsible enough to spend their earnings on what will provide a sanctuary for them in retirement?

The last time anything reached the public domain about Rawlings’ earnings was when he accused the Kufuor government of seeking to create credibility problems for him by dumping about 665 million Cedis in his accounts without prior notice. Most of us thought that he had a case for taking on the government. But we got to know later on that the money was withdrawn, after all. That was just one instance. How about the many others that we are not privy to? What did they do with all that money?

Of course, when Rawlings won the 50,000 Dollar award (Hunger Project), he donated it to the University for Development Studies and earned much respect for being selfless. Kufuor didn’t do so, which told its own long story. But should the Rawlingses be so obsessed with this kind of selflessness as to deprive themselves of what they are now accusing the government of not giving him? Rawlings appears to have blinded himself to reality and is now a victim of his own miscalculation.

He is not alone, although his counterpart (John Agyekum Kufuor) stands tall above him in this case. The demand for housing from the state (to serve only as his office, not official residence) has caused much friction between Kufuor and the Mills government but Kufuor has not taken matters to the scandalous level that the Rawlingses are at now. After all, like all other NPP functionaries who believe in property-owning, Kufuor did not lead any crusade to divest anybody of his personal property. Thus, he can be said to have a clean conscience to own as much property as he chooses. Remember the “Hotel Waa-Waa” saga? Yes!

Rawlings, on the other hand, is weighed down heavily by his own conscience, precepts of the revolution that he led, and the principles of morality, which have cast him into the centre of this big whirlwind. It is a conundrum from which he cannot emerge unscathed. He appeared to have taken on more than he could handle and is now reeling from the impact of the aftershock.

I am still baffled by this fate of the Rawlingses. Anybody who earns money looks for opportunities to own property (be it a private residence, business enterprise, or transportation). Why, then, would the Rawlingses not do so? Many reasons may explain this paradox. Having risen to power on the crest of their bitter anger against property owners, how would they come across to society if they began owning property themselves? Let’s remember that those who suffered from the excesses of the June 4 period were identified as “corrupt” in the sense that their earnings from their official sources alone couldn’t fetch them the quantum of property that they had at the time. They were accused of abusing their offices for ill-gotten wealth and dealt the severest blow—death by firing squad. Others faced “unprecedented revolutionary action” and had long prison sentences. Others lost the opportunity to make it in life, all because of the fear of “June 4” that was pumped into them. They are still embittered against Rawlings.

Other victims were wealthy business people who had their assets (personal buildings and business ventures, bank accounts, etc.) confiscated. Makola Number Two market was burnt down and property worth billions of Cedis destroyed by those pumped up with the revolutionary fervor. I still remember how the Confiscated Assets Committee and the “One Man One House Committee” operated to deprive people of their property. So, by design or accident, the Rawlingses had set the tone against property-owning, which has now ricocheted to hit them squarely in the face. In their case, however, this cold feeling of being propertyless has serious dimensions:

First, not only does it portray them as irresponsible but it also suggests that they did not make any good use of their earnings. Or that they are hypocrites who are merely pretending to be without property so as to continue to attract public goodwill or sympathy as they live their lives undisturbed and enjoy comfort in their closets. And mind you, these are people who had access to all manner of money-bags (whether in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, the Americas, or Australia). Having been the Head of State for almost 20 years and having interacted with all manner of well-to-do people, the Rawlingses cannot persuade anybody that they were not exposed to money.

Let’s remember that when the Kufuor government cut off all his privileges, it didn’t take Rawlings long to acquire state-of-the-art four-wheel vehicles. He made it clear that those vehicles were provided by his friends and that he would not disclose their names even if his head was to be cut off. Again, when controversy over the funding of their children’s education overseas cropped up, they told us outright that their friends were the philanthropists. Make no mistake, education at foreign institutions is expensive.

Second, the Rawlingses are teaching us a very sordid lesson in dishonesty, which is the undoing of Ghanaian politics. My question is: For how long must they continue to depend on the ordinary poor tax-payers to support their lifestyle on this earth? They are teaching us how to use subterfuge and the typical Kwaku Ananse trickster approaches to fleece the system. From the government spokesman’s comments, I am convinced that the Rawlingses are just not ready to blame themselves for this happening.

Third, by constantly portraying this sorry state to the world, the Rawlingses are disgracing the country and its citizens. It is most undignifying for them to create the impression that the country is so poor or its people so ungrateful and wicked as to create unbearable conditions for them. I can say with confidence that their plight is the direct upshot of their own visionlessness, which portrays a life in disarray and must give a serious warning to others. Nowhere in the world will people seek to depend on the state as the Rawlingses are doing. We must be bold enough to checkmate this smear campaign against the country.

To be continued…

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.