Feature Article of Saturday, 6 April 2013
Columnist: Agyemang, Katakyie Kwame Opoku
In any democratic country, Parliament constitutes one of the three arms of government. Ever since The Fourth Republican Constitution came into force in 1992, it has been the wish of most young politicians to enter Ghana’s Parliament. I am not exception, for it has been my ambition to represent my constituents in not too distant future. As a result, I feel quite embarrassed anytime there is public outcry on parliamentary issues or against our parliamentarians.
However, I think our Honourable Members of Parliament (MPs) are not doing themselves any good, especially when it comes to financial issues that concern them. Many a time, their salaries, ex-gratia, rent allowances, car loans, and common fund have raised eyebrows in the public. Their situation becomes worse when they boycott parliamentary proceedings, especially on the passage of important bills like ROPAA and NHIS. This problem is further compounded by the mass endorsement of certain personalities nominated for ministerial appointments without regard to the nominees’ competence and experience on the job. A critical observation of appointees like Victoria Hammah, Okudzeto Ablakwa, Joseph Yamin etc in critical sectors of the economy, and the ease with which the MPs on the majority side endorsed them clearly expose some of the weaknesses of our legislature.
Notwithstanding the above, I find the argument being put forward by former and current MPs who have put effective defensive system against the hullabaloo of their ex-gratia very disturbing. If their argument is not flawed or ludicrous, then I don’t really know what to say. In most of their arguments, MPs like Hon. Rashid Pelpuo and Ken Agyapong are of the view that they pay school fees, hospital fees, and make funeral donations to most of their constituents. Former MPs like Kofi Dwumah, Alfred Abayeteye, and Prof. Mike Oquaye share the same sentiments with Kofi Dwumah insisting that MPs are even more important than other professionals like teachers and doctors. Some of the beneficiary MPs would go the extra mile in quoting Article 71 of the 4th Republican Constitution to back their argument.
It is however, mind-boggling that anytime financial issue that concerns our MPs come on board, there is a unity of purpose in our August House. From $20,000 car loan in the Kufuor era, through Mills’ $50,000 car loan to Mahama’s GHC50,000 rent allowance and the current GHC200,000 ex-gratia, MPs on both sides of the House have unanimously accepted and defended their entitlements vigorously. If you listen to the passion with which their defence is being carried out, one would be tempted to agree that politicians are the same everywhere. When it comes to money matters, they all belong to “one political party”, that is, “National Patriotic Congress” (NPC), but when it comes to matters affecting the welfare of the ordinary Ghanaian such as the provision of water, electricity, roads, then they belong to different political parties. Why are our MPs hesitant to use the same vigour, enthusiasm, urgency, and passion to pass good laws that could improve the lives of the ordinary Ghanaian? Why are most MPs unable to maximise their Common Funds to the benefit of their constituents?
In spite of the unwarranted justification of their ex-gratia and salaries, many communities in Ghana lack good drinking water, public places of convenience, clinics, schools, good roads, and electricity. Most constituents, especially the youth are unemployed and lack basic skills. Yes, the MPs would tell you they are only law makers and not development agents, but what prevents them from facilitating the provision of the afore-mentioned basic necessities, if I may ask?
Indeed, if our Honourable MPs now have the strongest belief that Ghana is rich enough to take care of their welfare in view of the nature of their work, we appeal to them to fight for the same rights for other Ghanaians who elected them. If our MPs see Ghana as a wealthy nation, why is the nation struggling to provide common drinking water for the citizenry? Are our MPs telling us that their work as Parliamentarians are more difficult than my aged mother in my village, who has to battle it out with drops of dew on her way to farm, stand in the scorching sun for her farming activities, come home late to prepare food, sleep in darkness, and encounter difficulty in conveying her farm produce to the marketing centres? If MPs think their work is so difficult, why have some people remained in Parliament for over 20 years and collecting this ex-gratia every 4 years? Which rational being would repeatedly fight his way out into a danger zone?
Surprisingly and sadly when the issue of free secondary education came out, I never heard any patriotic MP, especially from the majority side, who referred Ghanaians to any of the Articles or Clauses in the Constitution to show that Education is a right but not privilege and as a result, must be provided by the State. None of them also called for a Referendum as it is being espoused by some of these MPs with regard to their emoluments. I’m more disturbed by NPP MPs who have taken a lead role in defending this “political criminality” from Mahama’s government. How do we differentiate ourselves from the NDC as a party, especially as we are in opposition?
What our MPs must be told in “full plain” not “half plain”, as a friend of mine usually says is that, they cannot continue to “rob” our nation in the name of partisan politics. It’s morally and legally wrong for our MPs to accept such payments in the face of the current challenges bedevilling this country. They must also be told if not educated that they are not the only people who pay funeral donations, hospital bills, or school fees for their constituents. All manner of people, including those of us in the diaspora are victims. I, for instance, have been taking care of orphans and needy students in my hometown. The MPs therefore cannot use their presence at social gatherings and payments of fees to justify the abnormal increase in their salaries and other emoluments. They do so because they need the votes during elections. If the MPs collaborate with the District Assemblies, the Executive, Opinion Leaders, NGOs, Communities, Traditional/Religious Authorities and more importantly, the Government, in initiating and implementing developmental projects, create job opportunities, and help bring the free education policy into fruition, how many constituents would queue on their doors for school fees?
It’s my fervent hope that when the opportunity falls on my way to represent my people in the Bekwai Constituency one day, God willing, I would be spared the temptation of being money-conscious at the expense of the welfare of Ghanaians in general, and my constituents in particular. Let’s strive to put Mother Ghana first at everything we do, for that is the only major way towards the eradication of abject poverty among our people.
God bless Ghana! God bless the NPP! God bless Kufuor!!!
Katakyie Kwame Opoku Agyemang, Enfield, London. (Free SHS Ambassador) Official blog: (www.katakyie.com) [email protected] 07577626433 A native of Asante Bekwai-Asakyiri