Good Table Manners

Feature Article of Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Columnist: Damoah, Nana A.

Kwame Emerepabeba was a political activist in the Brahabebome constituency. He was always on the case of the serving Member of Parliament (MP), questioning most of his actions and highlighting what he should really be doing for the constituents. He was the voice of the voiceless. The people impressed on him to stand against the MP. He told them he wasn’t interested in parliament, only in their welfare, to ensure they got their due. The delegation of the chiefs and opinion leaders finally made him relent and reluctantly accept their nomination. He won in a landslide and entered parliament.

Months passed and Kwame wasn’t seen in the constituency. When he finally visited, he spent a couple of days, explaining that he had to rush back to attend to some urgent issues of national importance.

The opinion leaders sent a delegation to Accra and managed to corner him for a quick meeting. They minced no words in expressing their surprise that he wasn’t making time to engage with them and hadn’t also heard him advocating their cause. His response was succinct too: good table manners, he explained; when you are chopping, you don’t talk.

Our politicians fight to serve us, but seem rather to be asking us to pay them back for that privilege. The best example is the issue of ex-gratia. But first, even in deciding their salaries, there is a deviation from norm, in my humble view.

In most public sector departments and even in private companies where workers are unionised, three parties decide on salary increments: the employer, the employee and the union/facilitator. I was privileged to serve on such a committee on behalf of the employer. Negotiations are tough and go back and forth. Factors such as inflation, performance of the company, health of the company’s finances, productivity and industry benchmarks are considered. The asking rate is high, and the starting offer is low, and the two parties ‘dance’ (as it said) around the issues gingerly, helped along by the facilitator, until a middle ground is reached, which is usually a compromise position. Such is the practice as I know it.

Except when parliament and the executive are fixing their salaries and allowances in Ghana. The executive approves on behalf of the legislature and the legislature does the same for the executive. No third party is involved. And, oh, they can chose to backdate and pay promptly.

What irks me most about the emoluments of MPs is the 4-year cycle of paying themselves end of service benefits (ESB). Take note that ESBs have been abolished for a greater percentage of public servants. According to information from the public affairs directorate of Ghana’s parliament, some of the MPs received amount ranging from GHC211,000 to 275,000 each.

Apart from the fact that most workers in Ghana do not enjoy ESBs and our MPs gleefully do, when there are supposed to be serving us and not lording over us, I have two fundamental questions on my mind: how is are the ESBs calculated and why should we pay even continuing MPs every four years?

The retrenchment packages used in most private companies I know are worked on the basis of a number of months’ salary per year for each year worked. In one of the companies I worked for, it is 2 months of every year worked. Some do 3 or 4 months. At GHC200,000 per MP as ESB, that translates into GHC50,000 per year. So how were the ESB calculated? Was it done on basis of amount per month, meaning GHC 4,167 per each month works or if we go with the current salary of GHC 7,200, they were paid 7 months’ salary for each year worked?

Who are the Article 71 office holders?

Article 71 of the constitution of Ghana lists the following officers of the state whose salaries, allowances, facilities and privileges are to be determined by the President on the recommendations of a committee of not more than five persons appointed by the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Council of State:

(a) the Speaker and Deputy Speakers and members of Parliament;

(b) the Chief Justice and the other Justices of the Superior Court of Judicature;

(c) the Auditor-General, the Chairman and Deputy Chairmen of the Electoral Commission, the commissioner for Human Rights and Administrative Justice and his Deputies and the District Assemblies Common Fund Administrator;

(d) the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and the other members of

(i) a National Council for Higher Education howsoever described;

(ii) the Public Services Commission;

(iii) the National Media Commission;

(iv) the Lands Commission; and

(v) the National Commission for civic Education;

The same Article also states that “the salaries and allowances payable, and the facilities available, to the President, the Vice-President, the chairman and the other members of the Council of State; Ministers of State and Deputy Ministers, being expenditure charged on the Consolidated Fund, shall be determined by Parliament on the recommendations of the committee referred to in clause (1) of this article.”

Section 3 concludes: ‘For the purposes of this article, and except as otherwise provided in this Constitution, “salaries” includes allowances, facilities and privileges and retiring benefits or awards.’

What is the definition of ‘service’ especially the period? If an MP serves for 12 years, shouldn’t the entire period constitute one service for which we pay him/her end of service benefits at the end of that period? Why should we have 3 service periods? Does this conundrum ala MPs apply similarly to other Article 71 office holders like the Justices and Chairpersons of the various commissions? I doubt it, very much. For instance, is a two-term President paid twice, after the first four years and again at the end of his tenure?

Former MP PC Appiah-Ofori was quoted as saying “MPs pay the school fees, hospital bills, funeral bills among others for their constituents but if you refuse to foot these bills, they will vote massively against you.”

According to a report on Joyonline, Rashid Pelpuo, MP for Wa Central, disclosed on Metro TV’s Good Morning Ghana that most MPs are in “serious debt and find themselves under intense pressure to satisfy numerous demands on them from their constituents.” Hear him: “MPs pay their drivers, maids, rent, buy their own fuel and manage their constituencies. Ask them how many did not have to borrow money to manage their constituencies. Before the end of the month they are broke.”

So are we paying MPs to be philanthropists and to help them pay their debts, which include loans they took to fight to serve us? Or, are they serving us?

Who says what the cap of these increases and burden on the public purse will be?

Meanwhile, a few people are at the table. Dinner is served – no talking please.

Chop time.

Nana A Damoah