By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
January 8, 2010
The furore surrounding the payment of End-of-Service Benefits to our politicians seems to defy solution. It may be a test case for us as we continue to seek opportunities to sustain our democracy. But for the fact that money for payment of the ESB comes from the national coffers, no one would be piqued by the furore it has generated. This ex-gratia issue should not continue to dominate public discourse because it doesn’t need to be at the centre stage of our priorities. Yet, it still does because of the lackluster manner in which our politicians handle national affairs.
We have just been told that former President John Kufuor has rejected a cheque for 90,000 Cedis presented to him by government as his ex-gratia award (Courtesy: JoyFm Online, January 8, 2010).
His reasons for rejecting this payment were two: first, according to the former President, the cheque was presented without any documentation or details; second, the amount indicated on the cheque falls short of Kufuor's retirement package, according to Frank Agyekum, his spokesman.
We are also being told that the former President’s action follows comments by the Minority Leader, Osei-Kyei Mensah Bonsu, that amounts paid Parliamentarians exceeded the figure recommended by the Ishmael Yamson report.
Again, Frank Agyekum, speaking for Kufuor, has said that the cheque was sent to the former President without any accompanying letter.
Unlike Kufuor, the other beneficiaries (the Parliamentarians) accepted their end-of-service benefits and have kept the treasure close to their chests. The MPs have received six months’ per each year served, raising questions about which report the payment was based on. Under the Chinery-Hesse report, ex-officials were to be paid amounts equivalent to seven months’ of each year served times the number of years served, while the Yamson committee report recommended four months.
Controversy over the basis for calculating the quantum of money has been generated by the conflicting approaches adopted by both Kufuor and President Mills. While Kufuor’s Chinery-Hesse Commission made recommendations that aroused immediate contempt and repudiation from Ghanaians because of the massive benefits recommended for Kufuor, the Ishmael Yamson Committee’s recommendations cut short the package, which angered the prospective recipients.
Now, the question being asked is: On which set of recommendations was the cheque for paying Kufuor and the other beneficiaries based? The Chinery-Hesse committee report or the Ishmael Yamson one?
This controversy is needless but has been allowed to simmer for far too long. Both Kufuor and President Mills are to blame for this despicable situation while our Parliamentarians should bow their heads in shame for all that they’ve done to muddy the waters.
The manner in which Kufuor’s government handled the Greenstreet Commission’s recommendations, which they manipulated to the disadvantage of the first group of beneficiaries of the ex-gratia package (Rawlings and his government functionaries) left clear traces behind that all was not going to be well with this issue of End-of-Service Benefits.
Then, when it came to Kufuor’s turn to leave office, he surreptitiously sought to use the Chinery-Hesse Commission to advantage. If Kufuor had been humane and caring enough to appreciate the dire circumstances under which the majority of Ghanaians live, he would have turned away from using the Chinery-Hesse Commission to provide the kind of Arabian Nights Magic Carpet that the package was offering him. How can a conscionable President seek to enjoy maximum comfort at the expense of the national economy and the poor people living in narrow circumstances whose plight should have tempered any crave for an extravagant post-Presidency lifestyle?
Considering the self-acquisitive nature of Kufuor (the only President to have gone on almost 200 foreign trips, collecting per diem allowances that were shrouded in secrecy but rumoured to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars), one would have thought that his tenure garnered enough material benefits for him, which should have been enough to sustain him for the rest of his life. But greedy as he is, he is insatiable and wants more from the poor tax-payer’s blood, sweat, and toil.
Then, President Mills’ handling of this ESB issue itself leaves room for much to be desired. Granted that his repudiation of the Chinery-Hesse Commission’s report is excusable because of the general anger that it generated, one would have expected him to ensure that the Ishmael Yamson Committee was properly constituted under the existing legal or constitutional framework so that Parliament could ratify its recommendations. The Committee acted otherwise, thus, failing to get Parliamentary approval and rendering its recommendations “illegal.”
Then, instead of informing the public about developments, his government chose to pay the beneficiaries through the backdoor. As is to be expected, news reports about these payments have attracted public anger. In effect, the government’s handling of this ex-gratia problem is shoddy and adds to the bulk of failures that it has recorded so far. Why should the payment to Kufuor, for instance, be made without any official document to support it? Does this NDC government know anything about protocol at all?
Viewed from a wider perspective, what this ex-gratia furore reveals is that our politicians are bent on regarding politics as a gold mine, which they must exploit to the hilt. They are a disgrace and should be treated with contempt as such.
Let’s cut a long story short. If Kufuor will not accept the money being given him because he considers it to be far short of what he expects, let’s not fight him. Let’s redirect that money to other areas. School children still attend school under trees in some parts of the country. Using this money to provide decent classrooms for them will be a step in the right direction. Then, appropriate measures must be taken to prevent abuse of the system under the guise of this End-of-Service Benefits conundrum.
The time has come for our politicians to be told that if they continue to manipulate the system for personal benefits, they will create conditions for agitations. The poor Ghanaian tax-payer cannot continue to tolerate their greed. Public anger has the potential to destabilize our democracy and we must prevent our politicians from pushing us to the wall. They must stop eating where they haven’t sown anything.