An evening news item telecast on 9th April, 2009 by Metro TV, which highlighted the appalling state that some of the medical equipment at the La General Hospital are in, caught my attention – and made me ponder the disconnect between many in our political class and ordinary Ghanaians. Earlier that day, I had been listening (with a great deal of incredulity at his arrogance and petulance) to former President Kufuor’s spokesperson, Frank Adjekum, on one of Accra’s many FM radio stations – who said that the former president was apparently unhappy about the “piecemeal” manner in which the new Mills administration was dealing with his retirement package.
I was dumfounded when Mr. Adjekum, who was clearly irritated by it, said there were some people who even made the point, when referring to former President Kufuor’s (overly-generous in my humble opinion) ex-gratia retirement benefits, that there were many ordinary Ghanaians who had worked for their country for a “hundred years” but only had miniscule retirement benefits. Do our politicians not understand that the unfair society they have succeeded in creating, in which there are such huge disparities in wealth, is one that sits on a time-bomb of social discontent that could explode at any time – if the large underclass that has grown so rapidly over the last eight years finds a demagogue who decides to champion their cause in order to ride to power?
Did they not hear the disenchantment with officialdom and our political class expressed in media interviews by some of the Ghanaians recently deported from Libya – many of whom are currently stranded at Accra’s international airport? How can politicians in a nation so poor that in the 21st century ICT age mothers can die during childbirth because of the inadequacies of our healthcare system, be so insensitive as to argue endlessly about the purchase (at hapless taxpayers’ expense) and allocation of expensive luxury cars and office accommodation: particularly at a point in time when our homeland Ghana is in such dire straits? Why are some of them trying to stampede our country into giving a former president a million-dollar “seed-money” to set up a charitable foundation – just to help him cope with the “withdrawal pangs” of leaving office: when that sum could make such a huge difference in the quality of life of many rural communities?
Surely, ordinary people do not force any of Ghana’s politicians to enter politics, do they? Since those benefiting from those overly-generous ex-gratia payments appear so determined to have their pound of flesh, are we to conclude that most of our politicians enter politics just to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of society? Our political class must stop using legal technicalities to enable some of them get away with outrages such as those obscene ex-gratia payments recommended for payment to a number of retired high public officials. It is important that they understand that in the long run ordinary people will become disillusioned with a system in which only the elite benefit from the so-called “democracy dividend.” They should not be surprised if the events of June 4th 1979 are repeated again someday - and the 4th Republic and its iniquitous system are abruptly swept away (together with its predatory political class).
They must not continue to be so insensitive about the plight of our nation and the poor quality of life endured by the vast majority of its citizenry – who daily have to struggle to survive against such great odds: due largely to their being ruled by such an incompetent and unimaginative political class, over the years since Nkrumah’s overthrow. Former President Kufuor and his spokespersons must remember that he admonished Ghanaians to learn to cut our collective coat according to the size of our cloth, in the early days when he first assumed power – at a time when he too did not see how he was going to be able to fulfill his many campaign promises to Ghanaians because having then come into power he had suddenly discovered how financially-challenged we were as a nation.
Nothing has changed and he must be reasonable and accept to take away a smaller retirement package. Has he not heard his many critics say that he and some of the members of his regime helped increase the net worth of their own family clans (as well as that of their cronies) sufficiently enough during their tenure, to be able to provide for themselves comfortably for the rest of their natural lives as it is – without them seeking to bankrupt our impoverished country with those outrageous ex-gratia retirement benefits?
Do they know that the cynics amongst us say that they specifically designed those benefits for themselves – with the connivance of the hand-picked Chinery-Hesse committee (which they say was jam-packed with the well-paid sycophants he chose specifically for the purpose)? Isn’t the real truth that if they had had the slightest inkling that there would be regime-change after the elections that would see the return of a National Democratic Congress administration, they would not have dared ask for the “Chinery-Hesse-moon” contained in that committee’s monstrous recommendations?
With respect, former president Kufuor and Co. ought to be a great deal more reasonable and agree to have their retirement benefits trimmed drastically – and let that help them get rid of some of the great harm, which the widespread perception amongst ordinary people that their regime was underpinned by an ethos of unfathomable greed, never seen in our history before, will do to their legacy (such as it is). Surely, if they want to be regarded as statesmen in their retirement years, it is important that they put the interests of our nation and its people above their own creature comforts – and avoid getting a reputation as retired leaders who insisted that they should be allowed to live the life Riley at the expense of the hard-pressed ordinary citizens of a poor developing nation that can hardly afford such profligacy? A word to the wise…