(Swans - February 28, 2011) That there is even a debate about increasing the pay and allowances of our members of parliament (MPs) shows how totally unserious we are as a people. It also betrays a total disconnect between those ruling us and hoi poloi. We face so many challenges as a people and as a nation that any visitor to our shore, when confronted with the zeal with which we are busy debating non-issues like MPs' pay and allowances, will only shake her head in amazement.
Last year's unusually heavy rains brought vividly into our cozy living rooms the abject poverty most of our compatriots still live in this dear republic of ours. We all saw our own people, women, men, and children -- old and young -- struggling against the elements as flood washed away their mud houses. Many of them perished in the acts of rescuing their loved ones and their belongings. Many of our communities were cut off from the rest of the civilized world when the rickety bridges linking them got washed away.
From the north to the south, east to west, many Ghanaians still exist (forget live for now) in primitive conditions that are unfit for pets in many countries. And today we sit in our gleaming capital, in the comfort of our homes and offices, and all we do is talk about how to improve the lots of our fat cats in parliament!
The rains have abated awhile and like the little children that we are, the agonies our people experienced just last year have disappeared from our radar. The images are no longer on our giant made-in-Korea LCD or plasma TVs, so they no longer register on our consciousness. Until next time, that is.
Like grasshoppers, we refuse to take thought for the morrow. We no longer ask or care what happened to the thousands of our people who were victims of the flood just a few months ago. Have they been properly relocated? Are they getting enough to eat? Are the children back in school? No, that's no longer our concern. Our primary concern has shifted to how we can make our politicians more comfortable!
Where is our priority as a people? Where is our sense of fairness? Where is our common human decency?
If we have the money to increase the salaries of our elected officials, our debates will begin to make sense. We don't have the money, yet we are energetically busy debating how we are going to disburse that which we do not have.
Oh, sorry, there is always the "donor support," those much beloved words we cannot do without.
Of course, our sense of shame is long gone. We are now among the world champions when it comes to going around the world with a cap in the hands begging. We are no longer shamed or affronted to be considered a begging nation. The sight of our leaders begging for outside help only seems to elate us and redouble our penchant for self praise. If we have any shame at all, we ought to be asking ourselves what our leaders have done to deserve their present pay. What did our MPs do, apart from ratifying loan and grant agreements?
Yes, we are HIPCed (heavily indebted poor country) and, like little mindless children, we believe that the rest of the world owes us a living. We continue to think that the rest of the world should continue to give us handouts, which we would splatter on making the lots of our MPs better rather than invest in productive ventures. We need handouts like an addict needs her fix. We gleefully announce how much X and Y countries have agreed to donate to us, without giving a thought to the simple fact that the donors would have no money to give us if they waste it on their officials like we do.
So, the argument is being promoted that our MPs need more pay to enable them to earn like other professionals.
It has never being made clear why Ghana MPs need more than they are already taking from the national kitty. Maybe it's to allow them to change their US$50,000 four-wheel-drive jeeps bought with loans from the national treasury. It might also be that they need to update the mobile phones they dole out to their akpushkeles (women of no virtues).
Honestly, methinks we ought to be affronted and galled by this suggestion that our MPs deserve better pay. Many for whom thinking has become sheer encumbrance argued that compared to other professionals MPs are badly paid.
And that, precisely, is among the problems. Problem starts when we begin to look at politics as a profession. It certainly isn't. My Encarta defines profession as "an occupation that requires extensive education or specialized training."
"One of the principal qualifications for a political job is that the applicant knows nothing about what he is expected to do," once said Terry M. Townsend.
Politics is not a profession and should not be considered as such. Not only does it not require any training or education, it also needs no certification of any kind. Anyone can wake up on the wrong side of his bed and decide to go into politics.
This is what I wrote in "Politicians and other scoundrels":
Since human began to organize themselves into societies, they have strove to moderate their conduct by making laws and ordinances to govern the affairs between their members. They have also strove to protect members from unscrupulous shacks by requiring those who want to peddle any profession to acquire some knowledge, gain some diplomas or certificates, get some apprenticeship and obtain a license before they begin to peddle their trade. That explains why even recruits at the lowest rung of the security services and other organizations are required, by law, to have some minimal level of qualifications. That's how it is; and it's exactly how it ought to be.
But, wait a sec! Theirs is a profession where neither skill, experience nor a diploma is required, demanded, or expected. No, not farming! It is POLITICS.
Are you serious, Femi? Yes, I am serious. Absolutely!
This explains why a complete buffoon (in the truest sense of the word) could wake up one morning and stagger to his pito bar and put some of the potent stuff in his stomach. Inebriated to a good measure, our fellow staggers to one of the FM stations and announces his intention to run for the presidency. This is a guy who has never seen the inside of an SSS! Okay, he has money from his numerous shady land deals, but is that all one needs in order to lead? Or more correctly, should money, and plenty of it, be the only qualification for high offices in our land?
We begin to have a problem when we start to see politics as just another profession to be remunerated like any other. There are several issues with this manner of thinking. We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that politicians are the only ones with the power to determine their own pay. And human greed being what it is, we will be opening a Pandora's Box when we begin to consider politicians as, say, lawyers or accountants.
Secondly, we ought to see politics as a calling and not as a profession. Other professionals -- lawyers, architects, bankers, etc., on whom life has been a little kinder -- should see politics as a call to give something back to the society that has been so kind to them. And that is precisely how I think it should be.
I, personally, would consider it such a great honour indeed to be elected to serve my people in any capacity that I would not even consider accepting pay.
We should refuse the temptation to see politics as a profession unless we can somehow eliminate natural human instincts.
In years gone by, many people in our clime went into politics after making their fortunes elsewhere. Their sole motivation was to serve their community.
Alas, gone is that type of altruistic idealism. Our present crop of politicians see politics as the fastest avenue to attaining the good things of life. And we pretend not to know why politics have become a do-or-die affair!
Another thing that's wrong with the argument is that politicians campaign on the promise of helping their community. Most of them claim that they are self-made men and women motivated only by a desire to serve. How do they then end up demanding the moon, the sun, and everything in between?
And the way forward? To be honest, I don't see a way forward for us unless we start looking at our situation as the dire emergency it is, and begin to treat it as such. We simply cannot continue with business as usual.
Rather than debate how to take command of our economy from the agents of neo-colonialism or how to improve the lot of our people who are living in great deprivation, we are busy talking about increasing MPs' pay!
For over fifty years, we have been plodding and muddling through without making any headway. Despite all the proclamations and impressive, if fanciful, statistics our policymakers continue to churn out, we remain mired in economic morass. Basic services like water and electricity are still beyond the reach of many of our people. Our economy continues to be controlled and dictated to by outside forces.
We have to begin from the premise that no man whose economy is controlled by another is free. No nation can claim to be independent when outsiders control the commanding height of its economy. Rather than waste breath talking about sharing the pitifully little we have, we should join hands to create a bigger pot from which everyone shall be amply rewarded.
We can do this by a collective decision to defer our gratification. Rather than awarding our lawmakers' fantastic pay from borrowed money, let's use the little that we have or borrowed to launch a massive educational programme and give ourselves say twenty years before thinking of any other thing.
I have said it times without numbers that the gods cannot be blamed for our woes. By endowing us with vast mineral wealth, the gods did their best for us. The fault as to why we are not benefiting from our god-given resources lies squarely with us. Take our gold for example -- for over a century, the imperialists have been mining our gold and carting it away in its raw state to their refineries in Europe, where they proclaim their cities "Diamond" or "Golden" city. They have been paying a pitiful (insulting in my opinion) 3% of accrued revenue to us as royalties. The imperialists have been reaping 97% of the revenue from OUR GOLD. That explains why they have been able to make their cities golden, whilst our gold-mining towns are in abysmal states. What do you do with 3%?
Again, we are going to receive 10% of the revenue from our newly-discovered oil. Our leaders signed agreements that stipulated that the oil has to be shipped out as raw crude for twenty years, whilst our refinery in Tema sources crude from the international market. Our leaders signed the stupid and clearly unbeneficial agreements, beat their chests, patted themselves on the back, awarded themselves golden decorations, and demanded that we pay them ex-gratia. Ah!
I advocate that we declare a twenty-year emergency, which we should utilize to put our economic and political houses in order. I suggest we go about this with an amendment to our Constitution. We should have a government put in place for twenty years compromising the political parties that score at least 10% in a national election.
During the twenty years, politicking should cease and all efforts should concentrate on working assiduously to improve the economy. No nation has developed its economy that had to deal with the rancorous noises of modern democracy. India might be an exception.
The priority should be on massive investment in education. Both the old and the young should be brought on board. Emphasis should be on mathematics and the physical sciences. Special attention should be paid to the teaching of African history and culture.
History is important because we are the only people without a good grasp of our history. We appear to be a confused people because we don't know who we are. Knowledge about our history will enable us to develop the self-confidence to face the world as EQUALS, instead of our confronting the world as slaves and beggars.
We need to educate ourselves in all the sciences so that we can start to use our own brains to process our mineral wealth, add value to them, and start reaping maximum benefits from them.
As it stands today, outsiders come to us claiming to be investors. They armed themselves with knowledge to take advantage of our ignorance. When they offer us 3% of the revenue from our gold, it was with the knowledge that we have nowhere else to turn to. They know that we lack the capacity to do anything with our raw gold or timber or diamonds. They know that without their scientific knowledge, all our mineral wealth is just a lump of earth. If we have sufficient number of Ghanaians trained in the sciences, engineering, and the technologies, the need for outsiders to come and dictate terms to us will simply vanish. The outsiders will be coming to us as supplicants instead of as the lords of the manor.
This is what the Chinese did and we can learn a great deal from them. The Chinese took their time to get the required education and training from all over the world. Armed with the acquired knowledge, they returned to their land and transformed their poor nation into a global behemoth that shot to the 2nd position of the most important economic nations on earth.
Today, haughty Europeans go to China as poor beggars!
It is worth remembering that China up till today operates its multi-trillion-dollar economy with part-time legislatures, whose members are paid only sitting allowances.
HIPCed Ghana, on the other hand, operates a very expensive presidential system of government that not only maintains a full-time legislature but pay them salaries, allowances, car loans and, to cap it all, ex-gratia!
Up until recently, Chinese leaders were to be seen in their Mao jackets and funny looking cars. Rather than bicker about how they can collar the lion's share of their nation's resources for themselves, they strategically planned to invest in the future of their nation by massively investing in the education of their people. It was a strategy that paid off handsomely. Today, China has enough money to remunerate its leaders whatever it chooses. With about US$2.7 trillion in reserves, China has better things to worry about than the issues of salaries of MPs.
Are we ever going to learn?
A voice from Africa worth hearing... Please consider a
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About the Author
Femi Akomolafe (see his profile on Swans) is a computer consultant, a writer and social commentator, an avid reader, and a passionate Pan-Africanist who lives in Kasoa, Ghana. Femi is known to hold strong opinions and to express them in the strongest terms possible. As he likes to remind his readers: "As my Yoruba people say: Oju orun teye fo, lai fara gbara. It means that the sky is big enough for all the birds to fly without touching wings." Femi Akomolafe's views, opinions, and thoughts can be accessed on the blog he maintains: http://ekitiparapo.blogspot.com/. (back)