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February 2009

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Robert Mugabe goes on a state visit to Israel. While he is on a tour of Jerusalem he suffers a heart attack and passes away.

The undertaker tells his minders, “You can have him shipped home for US$500,000, or you can bury him here, in the Holy Land, for just US$100.”
The Zimbabweans go into a corner and discuss for a minute. They come back to the undertaker and tell him they want Mugabe shipped home.  
The undertaker is puzzled and asks, “Why would you spend $500,000 to ship him home, when it would be wonderful to be buried here and you would spend only $100? With the money you save you could buy enough diesel for a year, buy enough medicines to wipe out cholera, buy enough generators so you will never have blackouts again.”   
The Zimbabweans replied, “Long ago a man died here, was buried here, and three days later he rose from the dead. We just can’t take that chance.” – Author unknown

“I want to make a difference.” That’s one of the key phrases I picked from President Mills’ state of the nation address last week. It’s a noble desire and it’s not hard to achieve. If the president fulfils half the pledges he made in that address, he would make more than a difference. The question is: can he live up to the high standards he has set for himself? It’s hard to tell.

But in that sessional address, President Mills promised “a new way of doing things”. That could be an indication that he knows exactly what it takes to “make a difference.” You see, it’s hard to “make a difference” if you are stuck with the old ways of doing things. If President Mills doesn’t forget this principle, he just might end up making most (if not all) the “difference” he wants and, in so doing, become one of the best leaders this country ever had.
The major difference I will want the president to make is for him to do everything humanely possible to make sure that by the end of his tenure he would have invested more in the well-being of the citizens than any president has ever done in our nation’s short history. This simply means that I’d like to see the president plough a lot of money into providing Ghanaians with the basics – an efficient water supply system, hospitals that are not graveyards, schools where minds are developed and a nation that is at peace with itself.
In an era of global economic recession, is that too much to ask of our president? I don’t think so. And if the sessional address to parliament last week – and the circumstances within which it was delivered – is anything to by, I am prepared to entertain a flicker of hope that President Mills might just deliver.
I have read that address a few times and listened to it at least twice. I think it was quite a good speech, which spelt out the agenda for his presidency in very broad strokes – with a few fresh ideas and a good number of recycled ones as well as the usual pledges to build this and that. (And, by the way, what he read in parliament is slightly different from the widely-distributed text).
The manner of his presentation was relaxed, conciliatory and quite humorous. I loved it because it was a far cry from the uninspiring one he delivered at his inauguration. He also exuded a lot of confidence – no more rumbling, fumbling and tumbling. In these days of a severe economic downturn, with the accompanying gloom and doom, the President did well to demonstrate that he’s willing to provide the needed leadership – mainly by ensuring that the government machinery runs efficiently.
Listening to the speech, I got the impression that President Mills is more than aware of the urgent need to make very good use of our nation’s scarce resources to improve the lot of the people – not to surround himself with luxuries. It’s gratifying that the president promises to make “sure that expenditure at the presidency does not become a burden on the people of this country.”
Critics says the savings from cutting back on presidential travels and state protocol expenses will not be so significant as to make any different. Maybe not. But what if these add up to, say, 12 million dollars a year? That’s a lot of money that can be used to build school blocks for some of the hundreds of thousands of Ghanaian school kids who study under trees every day. It can be used to build health posts to provide basic primary healthcare for millions of our citizens. And it can also provide potable water for the millions who are afflicted by water-borne diseases because they are left with no choice than to bath, swim, fish and ease themselves (‘free-range’) in the same water bodies they drink from.
Every pesewa saved is useful and it can go a long way to help the president make the “difference” he wants. I welcome his austerity measures and if it means the president will drive around town in a single-car convoy, at a sensible speed – saving money on fuel etc – so be it. If it means cancelling the order for one (or both) of the presidential jets his predecessor wanted, so be it. If it means selling off the new presidential palace – or converting it into a hospital or a poultry farm – he gets my blessing.
Last Thursday, the president showed that he is not just going to talk but he will back his words with deeds. I hope to God he wasn’t just flattering to deceive. He came to Parliament House in a single car convoy, surrounded by a cavalry (soldiers on horseback). That’s pushing it a bit but if this is what the president deems as one of the “new” ways of doing things, he has my full blessings (which, he doesn’t really need). I just pray that he doesn’t drive into a ditch with no one around to help him out.
I think, though, that the bigger message the president wanted to send across was what he had told his ministers a few days earlier: “be modest” – live within your means, don’t expect (or extract) and demand more than the nation can afford. I hope every government official got the message and realises that as part of the “new way” we are not going to lavish luxuries on a cabal of politicians whiles most of our people live in abject poverty.
Staying on the narrow path of the “new way” demands a sharp focus and a determination to stay away from what the president describes as the “factors that detract from our efforts at nation building… the politics of vilification, back-biting and vindictiveness.” President Mills is in the driving seat, taking us on what he says is “the beginning of a new journey.” For most of us, the best we can do is sit back, watch and pray that he doesn’t take us on any of the destructive paths we’ve seen before – political arrogance, corruption, profligate wastefulness and insensitivity. All patriotic Ghanaians have no option than to wish the president well. If he fails, he won’t go down alone. 

We all know officials of the former government are keeping state vehicles that do not belong to them. Some of them have refused to give these cars up and have even put them up for sale. Government needs these cars back in its fleet and it has every right to use all legitimate means to retrieve them.

But there should be more sensible and less ‘revolutionary’ ways of retrieving the cars than what we’ve witnessed these past few weeks. Since the NDC came to power, so many people have reported of their cars being forcibly seized (the oft-used word is “snatched”) by national security agents behaving like thugs.  
One of the first victims was President Kufuor’s son, Chief. His car was ‘snatched’ at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority where it had been sent for a renewal of its road-worthy certificate. Men dressed in military gear went to the DVLA and started seizing cars suspected to belong to the government – including Chief Kufuor’s.
Then came the most embarrassing news that a plush salon car being driven by the Chief Executive of Barclays Ghana had also been ‘snatched’ on a Sunday morning and taken to the Castle. The CEO was forced to suffer the discomfort of having to hail a taxi home. The car was eventually returned him and government duly apologised.
Since then there have been numerous other car seizures which, admittedly, have helped to retrieve a good number of government vehicles. But some of these seizures have ended in great embarrassment for President Atta Mills.
The seizure of Nana Akufo-Addo’s car on suspicion that it had been stolen from the national fleet was utterly senseless. His driver presented documents to show that the car truly belongs to the former presidential candidate. Yet the so-called security agents screaming “obey before complain” seized the car and took it to the Castle. When the Castle came to the realisation that someone had acted very foolishly, the president’s spokesman was compelled to apologise and the car was returned to its owner.
But just when the dust was settling on the Akufo-Addo case, security agents were at it again – seizing a vehicle belonging to his running mate, Mahamudu Bawumia. This time it wasn’t just on suspicions that the vehicle belonged to the government. The security agents also claimed to be acting on so-called ‘intelligence’ that Mr. Bawumia was transporting a cache of arms into the volatile northern parts. Instead of searching the vehicle in the presence of the suspect, they detained the gentleman and drove the car to a far off place where it was searched to the contentment (and shame) of whoever provided the spurious intelligence that he was carrying weapons.
As would be expected, the seizure of the vehicles belonging to the former presidential candidate and his running mate has drawn outrage. Those who seemed to be in the mood to forget about Nana Addo’s incident have been incensed all the more after what happened to the harmless and soft-spoken Bawumia. People are justifiably asking: what the heck is going on? Are we back in the ‘revolutionary’ days when rampant soldiers went about seizing people’s properties on trumped-up charges or the flimsiest excuses?
I certainly hope not. The stolen government cars have to be retrieved. But not like this. Seizing the cars of opposition leaders – only to return them with an apology sends pretty bad signals that someone is deliberately trying to intimidate, harass, embarrass or inconvenience them. These people are still licking the wounds from the electoral defeat they suffered just a few months ago and their tempers are still quite flayed. Government should be helping them to deal with their loss – not adding insult to their injury.
By all means, the stolen cars must be retrieved but the operation should be conducted with military precision – get the right target the first time. Petty mistakes are not an option. The security agents shouldn’t go around grabbing people’s cars only to turn around and say “sorry, we got the wrong guy”. That’s annoying – to say the least – and it creates an “us against them” atmosphere which only deepens the political divisions in the country.
It has been suggested that the lack of precision in targeting those who have actually stolen government vehicles could motivate some criminal minds to start snatching people’s cars – using the very methods adopted by the security agents.
It seems the security agents are only working with the assumption that any posh car (particularly, those driven by former government officials) might have been stolen. VWs, Jaguars, Land Rovers, Pajeros and BMWs are particularly vulnerable. Any smart gang of armed robbers can take a cue from this, dress up in fake military uniforms (which can be purchased from any ‘Bend Down Boutique’ ), accost law-abiding citizens and seize their cars in broad daylight under the pretext of carrying out an operation in the name of the state.
What’s happening is very disheartening and the sooner it’s checked the better for the image of the government. There have been suggestions that some people close to the president are deliberately using the vehicle retrieval exercise as a pretext to hurt their opponents. The president should call his men to order and tell them to be very careful. Some people should even be sacked for going about this in such a brutish manner. It is better for the state to lose a few vehicles than for political divisions to be needlessly deepened.
Whether or not government is able to retrieve all the stolen vehicles, it is imperative that measures are put in place to make it impossible for state vehicles to be coveted with such ease. There was a time when government vehicles could be readily identified because they were registered with a ‘GV’ prefix. These days it’s difficult to tell the difference between the official vehicle of a government minister and his private car. It’s hard to tell whose fantastic idea it was to stop the GV-registration for government vehicles but I suspect it was part of the grand scheme to make it easy for politicians leaving office to steal what they wanted and, in some cases, buy their official vehicles at ‘donkomised’ or give-away prices.
To prevent a recurrence of the episodes of random car seizures, the GV-registration format should be reintroduced. In that case, former ministers and ex-DCEs will not be tempted to keep an official car after they have left office. Those who steal official vehicles (or try to do so) will be easily identified and arrested. The taxpayer will also be spared the expense of government officials using state vehicles for private errands – such as chasing some ‘nyatse-nyatse’ girls at the Volta Hall. Moreover, this regular ritual of going after former government officials to retrieve cars that do not belong to them – which often results in innocent people being hurt – will cease once and for all.

President Atta Mills is delivering his first sessional address to parliament today. I have seen an advanced copy of the speech but I am not allowed to spell it all out. All I can say is that president is going to cancel one of the orders President Kufuor placed for a presidential jet. You remember he asked for two? Mills says one is just ok for him. President Mills is going to ask for another national holiday. He is also going to announce that he will be delivering monthly broadcasts to the nation. Overall, the president has a lot of high-minded initiatives in the speech he’s going to be delivering today. Hope you can join the live blog.

Zita Okaikoi didn’t disappoint anyone when she appeared before parliament’s appointment committe, did she? She thoroughly lived up to expectation – all the negative ones, which preceded her appearance.

The last time I wrote about Mrs Okaikoi, she had gone on radio and made an utter mess of herself. My conclusion then was that she wasn’t ready (not to mention suited) for the job. Many agreed with me but those who disagreed were very scathing in their condemnation of that piece. “It was unfair,” one said. “It was too harsh.”
Her apologists said she was nervous in the interview on JOY FM and that was why she impressed very few people – if any at all. They told me to wait for her appearance before the appointments committee, promising that she would prove me wrong. I didn’t hold my breath and I am not the least surprised that when she did appear before the committee she only succeeded in proving the few who believed in her wrong.  
Zita was an utter disaster. First off, it became clear that her CV – which she had given to the committee – did meet the minimum standards you’d even expect of a fresh JSS graduate applying for the position of an apprentice grave digger. In fact, she presented two CVs – one as different from the other as day is from night – and neither met the minimum standards. So bad were the CVs that one of the MP, Christopher Ameyaw-Akumfi, asked if she prepared them herself. Most disconcertingly, she said a proud “yes”. Shocked, the MP asked her to never attempt preparing her CV alone. “Get some assistance,” he said.
Even on matters of personal facts – she seemed completely at sea. She claims to be a lawyer but doesn’t know the qualification she holds from the Law School and she doesn’t know that whatever she got from the Law School was a postgraduate qualification. I thought I was too much of a dimwit and that I don’t have the intellect the read law but after listening to Zita, I have changed my mind. I will give it a shot. I can’t fail. By the way, did Zita write her Bar exams in her drinking bar?
Zita was before the appointments committee for a little over an hour. It was the longest one hour of my life. I prayed that the session would end soon to save her from further humiliation and to spare me the agony of listening to her short, curt responses. I don’t remember any intelligent answer she offered to any of the ‘cheap’ questions she was asked. She didn’t string more than 50 words in response to any of the questions she was asked. None of her short-spurt answers lasted longer than an orgasm… Pardon the analogy but it’s the only one I can think of. Seriously, I know little girls, considered dull by their peers at the Ridge Church School, who would have done much better than Zita’s dreadful performance before the MPs.
After the storm of scepticism which followed her interview on JOY FM, someone must have advised Zita to refrain from offering long answers. Usually, this is a good strategy. But Zita failed woefully to make it work for her. Listening to her short responses, I got the impression that this is a woman who cannot coherently and cogently put her ideas across without advertising her utter lack of depth.
A few weeks ago, I thought Zita’s nomination hearing will pass off as a mere formality and that she’d sail through with little fuss. After her display a few hours ago, I have changed my mind. It will be a big shame for parliament to approve her appointment. But since our MPs tend to be utterly blind when they need to keep their eyes wide open, I won’t be surprised if they allow her to go through. If that happens, even the goats in my grandmother’s pen will feel ashamed.
I’ve also reviewed my notes on how long she’d stay in office – if she’s approved. Last time I said she won’t go beyond six months. Now, I think that’s too much and I am prepared to wager my February paycheck (which, sadly, doesn’t amount to much) that she won’t last more than two months in office.
I haven’t changed my mind, though, on the fact that President Atta Mills suffered a grave lapse in judgment when he settled on Zita Okaikoi as his information minister. If he watched (or listened to) her nomination hearing, I hope he realised he’s made a big mistake, pissed in his pants and bowed his head in shame. What the heck was he thinking? Did he see anything I am failing to see? Or is he failing to see what I am seeing? And what am I seeing? Zita is not even ready to run any of the 31st December day care centres in the country. And she’s going to be information minister? I hope not!

Information minister-designate, Zita Okaikoi is appearing before the appointments committee of parliament today. Many have been looking forward to this day for the simple reason that in her first radio interview after the announcement of her nomination she impressed very few. Sources have told me that she’s very determined to give a very good account of herself today and prove sceptics wrong. I wish her well. I think she will just about go through and her nomination will be approved. Any other result will surprise me. The real test, however, will be when she takes office. That’s when I expect her inexperience to cost her the job within six months – no more!

Dr. Yankey’s appearance will also be quite interesting because he’s an ex-convict – jailed under the Kufuor administration for causing financial loss to the state only to be granted a presidential pardon. Was it one of the “kangaroo trials” incoming Attorney General, Betty Mould-Iddrisu referred to? This might be one of the questions he’d be asked. I’d be delighted to have you on the live blog.  
 
 

‘Populism’ is a word that has gained popularity in Ghana with the raging debate over the retirement package for former President Kufuor and other very senior government officials – MPs, judges, ministers, the whole greedy lot. Many have described the public outcry against the retirement package as well as the tentative steps President Mills has taken in response as “populism” or more scathingly, “populist nonsense”.

I consulted my trusted Encarta dictionary and its definition of the word gladdened my heart. According to Encarta, populism is “politics unfavourable to elite: politics or political ideology based on the perceived interests of ordinary people, as opposed to those of a privileged elite.”
After reading that definition, I walked away, nodding my oblong-shaped head and showing my entire dental formula in what I consider to be a smile but which others see as a rather disconcerting exhibition of glass-breaking teeth. But I smiled anyway after reading that definition because it confirmed my belief that populism is not such a bad thing after all.
Populism helps to get presidents (and other politicians) elected. Every election is a popularity contest. The winners are those whose utterances (at least) show that they are in tune with the needs and aspirations of the electorate. People will vote for the guy who promises (and convinces the voters some way, somehow that he can provide) good jobs, improved health care, good schools, paved roads, potable water etc. Politics thrives on populism and most popular politicians are the ones who get elected. Show me a politician who claims to ‘dislike’ populism and I’d show you a deluded idiot who doesn’t know the rules of the game he’s playing.
After winning the ultimate diadem, the politician who refuses to continue flying on the wings of ‘populism’ will drop dead – politically speaking. Populism means doing what the people want – the very reason why they voted you into office in the first place.
If the people say don’t buy a presidential jet – you don’t (Kufuor)! If the people say don’t go to war, you don’t (Bush). If the people say stop the ex-gratia, you do exactly that! Yes, responding to the demands of the majority of the people is populism and it’s the very essence of the politics. No one has been a great, respected, revered leader without being populist. Ask Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Ghandi and even Barrack Obama.   
A president doesn’t need to ask his citizens for permission every time he feels like hopping on a plane. But then, if the citizens start complaining that the president is behaving like a nomad with his numerous travels a wise president should be populist enough and stop racking up frequent flyer miles. If, on the other hand, the president decides to be a non-populist and shows his citizens his middle finger, he (and/or his party) won’t stay in power for long. That’s just by way of an example but you get my drift?
Populism is so important that in the more enlightened societies – where politicians think less of themselves and more about their followers – they measure the performance of leaders by gauging their popularity. Popularity (or approval) ratings are nothing but a measure of how the citizens perceive their leader to be doing what is expected of them.
I once heard George Bush say something to the effect that he cannot rule a country with opinion polls. He might have had a point there. Indeed, if my president decides to measure public opinion on every issue before taking a decision, I’d call him stupid. The best leaders, however, are the ones who are able to gauge the mood of the people and take decisions that benefit the majority of their followers – who are usually the most deprived and disadvantage.
George Bush, who refused to look at the opinion polls, did as he pleased – taking unilateral decisions that dumbfounded even his most ardent critics who thought he was dumb. In the end he left office with the lowest approval rating for any departing American president – a mere 22%. Compare that with his predecessor, Bill Clinton who left office with a respectable 68% approval rating. Clinton is remembered as one of the best presidents America ever had; George Bush is most probably the worst.
If populism means providing the needs of the people, pleasing them and actively seeking their welfare so that a leader will win and keep as many hearts and minds as possible, then I’d recommend it to any politician (or political grouping). Populism is very good and I am pleading with all those who have been trying to give it a bad name to just a few steps back and think again.
In any case, if I were president I’d rather be called ‘populist’ than be referred to as the selfish, corrupt, greedy chap who threw populism out of the window and led a gang of plundering elites to loot the meagre resources of the state.

President Atta Mills needs a committee to help him review the recommendations of the committee whose recommendations are essentially an ‘upgrade’ on the recommendations of another committee.

After all the pressure that has been mounted on him to take action, that’s the best the president could come up with. It’s a rather tentative response to the public outcry that greeted the revelation that President Mills’ predecessor had ‘cooked’ up a sumptuous retirement package for himself with Mary Chinery-Hesse the head chef and the 230 elected representatives of the people acting as kitchen maids.
It’s surprising that despite the outrage against the retirement package and the accompany ex gratia awards, President Mills is reluctant to act as swiftly and decisively as he did against Moses Asaga, who inexplicably signed a cheque for huge sums of monies to be paid his fellow MPs under the controversial package recommended by Mrs Chinery-Hesse. By withdrawing Asaga’s nomination for the position of minister for Works and Housing, the president seemed to be sending a message that he has the two solid ‘balls’ to take some very difficult and controversial decisions.
However, the statement from the presidency announcing his plans to set up yet another committee to advise him on this simple matter, makes me wonder: perhaps, the presidential pair (of balls) are either not as hard as they should be or they are just too small. The president doesn’t need a panel of experts to help him realise that a poor country like Ghana cannot afford to (and should not) lavish its meagre resources on a bunch of selfish, ineffectual, greedy politicians.
A vast majority of Ghanaians (except those who will benefit from the handouts) are disappointed, shocked and angry that our politicians who are supposed to be protecting the little we have insist that they deserve hefty ex-gratia pay checks. Meanwhile, they tell us that the nation is broke and for that reason, our teachers, civil servants, nurses, police and fire officers as well as the several others who literally break their backs to build the nation – cannot get the ‘living’ wages they deserve. Through this controversy, Ghanaians have come to the realisation that our politicians are like a gang of brigands whose main delight is in looting our coffers. If we take this matter to a referendum, I will wager my life that Ghanaians will vote overwhelmingly for any decision the president takes to end the plunder once and for all. That’s why I am surprised that the president is being overly tentative – adopting measures which do not amount to much.
In the meantime, our MPs are not even making any attempt to hide their greed and selfishness. The MPs have started baring their teeth at the president, criticising him for marginally altering the ex-gratia handouts they claim they aare due. Some former MPs say the president is breaking the law and they have threatened to take the government to court. Some current MPs also argue that they are ‘entitled’ to the ex gratia handouts because they served in the last parliament. They are literally blackmailing the president by insisting that if he fails to give them their full ex-gratia they will scuttle his legislative agenda and do all in their power to sabotage his policies.
Such parochial thinking on the part of our MPs exposes a fundamental flaw in our political system and how our politicians are compensated. It seems the system has been contrived to enrich the political class whiles the vast majority of Ghanaians are left to wallow in excruciating poverty. The system has bred a very large number of parasitic politicians who need some sense knocked into their heads.
Let’s start off by explaining the true meaning of ‘ex-gratia’ to them. According to my Encarta dictionary, ex-gratia is “given as a gift, favour or gesture of goodwill rather than because it is owed”. What this means is that government is under no obligation to give ex-gratia to any MP or president or vice president or judge – not after they’ve been paid monthly salaries in addition to several other perks.
Under the current arrangement, all the MPs who served in the parliament which was dissolved at the beginning of the year – including those who retained their seats – are to get a ‘gift’ of at least GHC 80,000. The senior ones – majority leader, minority leader and deputy speakers etc – will get more. In total, this country (which the politicians tell us is highly indebted and poor) is splurging about 20 million dollars on our MPs as ‘gifts’. That is insane! And to think that this ‘gift’ is given out every four years – even to those who retain their seats – turns the whole idea into a monumental venture in national foolishness.
These ex-gratia payments should be scrapped – and soon. The president doesn’t need another committee to help him come to the realisation that we cannot afford to spend 20 million dollars (or more) every four years on ‘gifts’ for our MPs. Add the ‘gifts’ for the retiring president, his vice president, his ministers and all those so-called ‘Article 71’ public office holders and you will realise that monies that could otherwise have been used to build roads, hospitals, schools, bridges, water treatment plants and children’s playgrounds – are being used to immorally enrich politicians.  
No wonder people go to great, often absurd lengths, to win parliamentary seats. In parliament, they are sure to hit the jackpot. From the posture of our ‘chopocratic’ MPs, it is clear that they are oblivious to the fact that representing the people in the legislature is a public service, for which they should expect very little or nothing at all. No one forced any of them to run for parliament. They should not, therefore, force us (through blackmail and legislative manipulation) to give them what we cannot afford – and which they do not deserve.
I therefore stand proudly on the side of those who say that the president has the power to say “no” to the ex-gratia payments. With or without a committee, he should take the bull by the balls (the horns do not hurt enough) and tell all the ‘Article 71’ office holders that the ‘ex gratia’ era ended at the start of the Mills presidency. Otherwise, we are going to have even more nincompoops, eager to make a quick buck, running for parliament from 2012.
“Service is the rent you pay for the space you occupy on this earth. You’ll never get rich except by enriching the lives of others…the greatest idea in the world is the opportunity to be of service to others.” – Helen Keller 

 

Five nominees are appearing before the appointments committee of parliament today.

Barring any last minute changes, they will be regional minsters-designate. They include Ama Benyiwa-Doe for Central, Kofi Opoku Manu for Ashanti and Nyamekye Marfo for Brong Ahafo.

The rest are Mahmud Khalid for Upper West and Nii Armah Ashittey for Greater Accra.

 

 

Five nominees are appearing before the appointments committee of parliament today.

Barring any last minute changes, they will be regional minsters-designate. They include Ama Benyiwa-Doe for Central, Kofi Opoku Manu for Ashanti and Nyamekye Marfo for Brong Ahafo.

The rest are Mahmud Khalid for Upper West and Nii Armah Ashittey for Greater Accra.