Waiting for four years

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
We seem to have a President that wants to flower once in four years

I have an orchid that flowers once every two years. I am always tempted to throw it away because it seems to me there is too much investment and trouble just for three to four weeks of flowers in two years.  

Last year, President John Dramani Mahama got into a lot of trouble when he addressed a gathering of Ghanaians abroad and promised he would not be blackmailed into spending unbudgeted money during election year. 

He used rather colourful language to emphasise the point he was trying to make. He was a dead goat, he claimed, seeing as he had already had to endure more strikes and threats of strike than any other Ghanaian leader and therefore he was so used to the pressure that he would be able to withstand the predictable election year pressures of strikes and demands for pay increases.

I was sceptical of the President’s pronouncement then and I said so. But I was ready to be proved wrong and I resolved to wait. As I waited, I ruminated over the 2012 election campaign that President Mahama had waged and in which he had been so reckless with expenditure that it had left the country with unprecedented budget deficits and a full-scale economic crisis. 

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I don’t recall that the then newly moved from Vice-President to President position had been under the “No Road, No Vote”, “No Light, No Vote” pressure that usually faced incumbent governments. There seemed to be an unstated understanding that President John Evans Atta Mills having died so suddenly, President Mahama deserved some sympathy even though he had been an integral part of the Atta Mills administration. 

I don’t recall that he was met with placard-bearing students at the entrance to any university campus asking him to give them laptops. In other words, he was not under any pressure to distribute laptops to university students or those nippy little cars that we saw being given to favoured students on campuses during the 2012 election campaign. 

The President and his advisors chose to distribute those goodies, in the hope the recipients would be swayed to look favourably on him and vote for him in the elections. 

I don’t remember that there was any clamour from the population for the frenzied activity in SADA in the last five months of 2012 which led to the scandals that have bedevilled that organisation. The President and his advisors decided that SADA would be a convenient vehicle to use for the distribution of goodies and that is what they did. 

Nobody pressurised the President to take the measures that earned him the vote and plunged this country into an economic crisis. It might well be that other incumbent Presidents have been pressurised during elections to do things they wouldn’t normally do. President Mahama is not one of those.

The President’s campaign

I am now looking on and watching the President campaign and wondering what to make of it all. I am quite prepared to believe that he wouldn’t allow himself to be blackmailed in this election year, but he has a strange way of demonstrating this. 

If there are city roads that have been impassable for the past three years and suddenly with a few months to elections, there is frenzied activity and money has been found to asphalt such roads, surely the message to everybody is that there is money available and we should all try and get some. 

If for three years there has been a freeze on the recruitment of staff in every government department and agency, and suddenly with a few months to elections, we are told that teachers are being recruited and those who have finished training colleges would be posted to schools around the country, we have a right to ask a few questions. 

Suddenly the police are recruiting, new youth programmes are being announced and government officials say there is no freeze on the hiring of teachers in the universities. For the past two to three years, there have been loud complaints about a freeze on the hiring of staff in the universities;  University Teachers Association of Ghana(UTAG), has led the cry. Are we to believe that the authorities in our universities have been crying wolf all this while? 

Government spokespersons have been patiently explaining to us for more than three years why the nursing training allowances had to be stopped. Suddenly we are being told that the allowances would be restored, or at least partly restored. 

I am not quite sure where or under what circumstances he said it, but the President is often quoted as having said that Ghanaians have short memories; but could it possibly be that he thinks if he fixed the roads in 2013, 2014, 2015 and the early part of 2016, we would forget his good works in December 2016? 

Do we really have to go through three and a half years of suffering and six months of goodies to appreciate that President Mahama has been working for us?   

I notice that the President has been distributing outboard motors to fisher folk all along the coastal regions. Is it possible that there has been a sudden increase in the stock of fish in our waters? People did not need to fish last year or the year before that? 

Giving and receiving gifts

I am not questioning the propriety or otherwise of the President giving outboard motors to selected citizens. However, he has to accept that there might be some who would interpret it to mean he is only interested in buying votes and not necessarily in promoting fishing. 

And if those pans are really so critical for the development of our country, why could some not have been distributed two years ago, for example, when small businesses were collapsing all around us?

Then there is the vexed question of how the President decides who gets the goodies he has on offer.              

I am trying to work out how you qualify for a car gift from the President of the Republic.

Having received a car gift himself from a Burkinabe contractor, which is causing him some local difficulties, President John Dramani Mahama appears to be in a mood to be generous with giving away motor vehicles. 

The latest one is the presentation to the regent of the Abudu Royal Gate of Dagbon, the Bolin Lana Mahamadu Abdulai. True to his own stated preferences, the President did not give a Ford vehicle but has given a Japanese car, a Toyota Fortuner, to this chief. 

I am a bit puzzled by the explanation being offered by one of the President’s spokespersons that the car was procured through the President’s own personal resources, when other chiefs and personalities have received vehicles from the President’s official sources. 

I wonder what type of chief qualifies to be given a car gift by the President. I have a list that I would dearly want to present to the President for consideration. 

We seem to have a President that wants to flower once in four years. The presidency is expected to deliver every day. We need to feed regularly and not once in four years. 

At least it looks to me from afar to be all and sundry.