Scapegoating Parliament

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

The government may be right and sincere about the fact that revenue inflows cannot sustain expenditure. There could be difficulties in the implementation of the single spine salary structure, but it must be noted that the government has presented the policy as one of its major achievements. That is why the government must meet its obligations in that regard.

This is crucial, for as Mahatma Gandhi has postulated, if you take pride in something which brings you honour, then you cannot resile from the same thing when it is fraught with difficulties. We all condemned such posturing in the past, including the infamous statement attributed to Gen. I. K. Acheampong: “Me ye nyame?” meaning, am I God?, in times of difficulty, when he had appropriated claims for success when things were good.

The average Ghanaian sometimes behaves like the proverbial ostrich, which closes the eye when moving towards an object. In such a situation, what is the legitimacy in saying that your vision is blurred?

The various labour groups, which have been agitating for the payment of their arrears or approved market premium, did not just wake up to their ‘dysfunctional’ actions. Particularly in the case of the Ghana Medical Association, the agitations have been on and off,  exciting public appeal each time.

The refrain has been that life lost cannot be regained. In the end, they get something even if it is not all that they are looking for.

So, if we know that they deserve what they ask or what is negotiated and approved, including orders directed by the National Labour Commission (NLC), then we have to act appropriately to prevent the possibility of any lives being lost. Prevention, they always say, is better than cure.

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In the case of the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG), we should not forget that they have a sustaining power, we may want to find one from those who went to the universities in the mid-1990s, where it took some six, five or four years to complete their programmes at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels although they never failed a subject or delayed in submitting their thesis. There was also the concomitant backlog of students aspiring for university admissions.

That is why all those trying to bring oil to fire must be cautious. Everyday that any of these workers do not go to work, the nation loses immeasurably. We have to have the interest of our nation at heart. However, laws and policies, to have meaning, must always attempt to strike a balance between individuals and the collective. The rights and interests of individuals cannot be unjustifiably and aimlessly sacrificed because of the collective.

What it means is that, merely because patients could die does not mean that doctors must not seek their interest when we fail to recognise and appreciate them.

The refrain that workers who withdraw their services must get back to work because such actions hurt others, is like the story of the boy who killed both parents and goes to court to plead for leniency because he is an orphan. We do not have to create problems and when we are engulfed and enmeshed, turn round to plead any alibi.

This is where the scapegoating of the parliamentarians comes in. At a critical point of national crisis and labour agitations, somebody gave out the information that GH¢47 million has been paid to MPs as ex-gratia. Whoever opened the lid might have felt that letting Ghanaians know that our MPs, who are across party lines, had been paid that amount, when all that UTAG was fighting for is said to be around GH¢10 million, would pitch public hatred against the MPs and win sympathy for government.

But the information that members of the executive have not been paid, rather exposes government to public anger. For, who authorised the payments and why did government authorise the release of funds to parliament when it felt members of the executive had to sacrifice or was it that government was under duress from MPs to pay the money, but government could not negotiate to pay by installment.

And is it true that the GH¢47 million paid to the MPs, include salary arrears and outstanding allowances for committee sittings? It appears somebody always wants to present parliament as a lame duck and, unfortunately, there are MPs who fall into the trap and cause public anguish, such as attributed to Mr Kofi Jumah, who is reported to have apologised for the comments that those agitating must not compare themselves to MPs.

It is important that we respect facts. All other categories of Ghanaians cannot be compared. We are all important in our unique ways. The reality, however, is that all Ghanaians deserve what is due them and we have to be fair in discharging national obligations.

The sad fact though is that MPs are made up of all manner of professionals, which means that whereas others could become MPs, it is not that easy for MPs to become doctors, accountants, lawyers, journalists, teachers and all others. The bottom line, however, is that not everybody can become an MP. Therefore, while MPs deserve what has been provided them by the constitution, so also should doctors, lecturers, teachers and all others be given their due.

Thus, at a time that government is insisting that the national coffers are empty and, therefore, arrears cannot be paid in bulk, it is not only teachers, doctors and those classes of workers that have to sacrifice. It also means that arrears and ex gratia due MPs and members of the executive will equally be staggered and not paid in bulk since that offends the sensibilities and sensitivities of the people and could end up in misdirected aggression and animosity against the MPs.

In the face of all these, government must take decisive action against civil and public servants who might have failed in the discharge of their obligation and led to this chaotic situation.

For if the President and the Chief of Staff have to enter into routine negotiations that points to only a failure of the institutions set up to deal with such matters.

Before adding my voice to the appeals of the doctors and lectures and all others contemplating industrial action, to tamper justice with mercy and return to their duties in the interest of mother Ghana, it is necessary to ask that since majority of ministers of state are MPs, have those been paid or not.

Article by Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh