COMMENT: Parliament must lead fight against corruption

General News of Sunday, 7 April 2013

Source: Thompson, Kofi

Parliamentsession

…to justify ex-gratia payments & salaries

By Kofi Thompson

A friend emailed on Friday (5/4/2013) to say she hoped I would add my voice to the millions of Ghanaians condemning the “vulgar ex-gratia payments MPs are receiving. Ghanaian mothers and babies are dying due to lack of equipment and poor transport infrastructure while these people shamelessly take money they don’t deserve.”

I wrote back to say that I had actually written against it in the past – until I realised a few years ago, that our nation was literally ‘owned’ by a few powerful and wealthy individuals, some even foreign, who ‘controlled’ many of our leaders.

In my view, the most effective way to prevent the powerful few who seek control over our elected leaders – whichever political party is in power – from dominating our democratic nation, is to make sure that the honest ones amongst Ghana’s members of Parliament (and those in the executive branch of government and the judiciary) can live comfortably on their salaries, and also be able to look forward to leaving office with a resettlement package that gives them a comfortable retirement.

Financial independence will maintain their loyalty to the Ghanaian nation-state and its people.

So pay them well, we must, alas – for the sake of the sustenance of Ghanaian democracy: and to ensure that they protect the national interest, at all material times.

If we fail to pay members of Parliament (and those in the executive branch of government and the judiciary) well, some of them might end up being bought by vested interests. And that cannot be good for our nation and its people, can it? It is that simple.

It is alleged by some, for example, that one of the reasons Vodafone was successful in taking over Ghana Telecom, was because they paid the majority side in Parliament at the time US$5,000 each – apparently for staying up late to vote for approval of the agreement by Parliament.

At a time of economic hardship for many, one can understand the sense of outrage felt by millions of ordinary Ghanaians, when it comes to the issue of ex-gratia payments recently made to parliamentarians and members of the executive.

However, as long as the constitutional provisions referring to the subject remain as they are at present, we must let our heads rule our hearts, when it comes to the thorny issue of ex-gratia payments to members of Parliament, members of the executive branch of government and the judiciary.

We must never forget that there are always powerful vested interests, which constantly seek to influence legislation and the formulation of government policy in their favour – even to the detriment of ordinary people and the Ghanaian nation-state.

That is why, for example, today Ghana is losing billions of dollars in potential revenue from the production of oil – revenue that could have been used to fund the modernisation and expansion of our nation’s infrastructure

Those who negotiated those one-sided oil agreements did not insist on production-sharing agreements with foreign oil companies.

And for their part, those who signed them, happily agreed to agreements stipulating royalty payments to Ghana – in order to benefit personally from those inimical one-sided agreements (it is alleged).

So, today, we have what are undoubtedly some of the worst oil agreements on the surface of the planet Earth in place in Ghana. Pity.

In yet another instance of high-level corruption, a sale and purchase agreement for the sale of the Volta Aluminium Company Limited (VALCO) to a non-existent company, International Aluminium Partners (IAP), was railroaded through Parliament by the then New Patriotic Party (NPP) parliamentary majority, led by the Hon. Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu, now the Minority Leader in Parliament.

In that shabby and fraudulent deal to rip-off Ghana, those who masterminded it from behind the scenes, falsely claimed that Norske Hydro of Norway, and VALE of Brazil, had agreed to buy VALCO.

Yet, the two companies strenuously denied either being in partnership as International Aluminium Partners, or ever agreeing to purchase VALCO.

According to their critics, those behind that IAP fraud were hoping to repeat the sleight of hand that gave two Ghanaians not previously known to US tax authorities for being wealthy US residents a stake in oil blocks in oilfields off our shores.

They were allegedly acting as a front for powerful political interests in Ghana.

Although those two individuals did not pay even a pesewa upfront, they ended up with shares in oil blocks in oilfields off our coastline – merely for helping Kosmos Energy Inc. to successfully set up in Ghana we are told.

It is because of examples like the above that our nation must pay members of the legislature and those in the executive branch of government and the judiciary, well – to prevent such corrupt, nation-wrecking and short-changing-Mother-Ghana deals.

If our nation does not pay those who pass laws in our country, and those in the executive who formulate and implement government policies (and those in the judiciary) well, some of them will invariably end up doing the bidding of vested interests, to the detriment of ordinary Ghanaians and their nation.

For their part, to justify such payments, parliamentarians must take the lead in plugging the many loopholes through which sundry crooks in the public-sector siphon off taxpayers’ money.

Let the relevant Parliamentary Committees ask the Attorney General’s Department to prosecute all those against whom adverse findings have been made in the Auditor General’s annual reports to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament.

And to show that they are turning over a new leaf, and will be more responsible going forward, let members of Parliament demand that all those alleged to have stolen public funds, in the recent scandal to hit the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA), are swiftly prosecuted and jailed – to serve as an example to other public servants in Ghana.

The time has come for Ghana’s Parliamentarians to find ways of plugging all the loopholes through which corrupt public officials siphon off taxpayers’ money in sundry rip-off schemes.

The Hon. Samuel Okudzato-Ablawkwa’s wise suggestion that foreign trips by public servants ought to be vetted, should be acted upon quickly – and Parliament must work with the executive branch of government to do so. Our nation can save money if that is done.

Parliamentarians can justify the huge sums of taxpayers’ funds expended on them, by taking the lead in ending public-sector corruption in Ghana. A word to the wise…

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