Whose neutrality is considered not important to the State?
With breathtaking bluntness, Professor Stephen Adei seems to have summed up aptly the view of many people about the controversial ‘neutrality allowance’ that the Civil Service union is demanding from the Government.
He is quoted as saying: The “neutrality allowance makes me sick; it’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard in my life” (Joyonline, April 29).
On April 21, 2022, the Civil and Local Government Staff Association of Ghana (CLOGSAG) started a strike action, citing their frustration over the Government’s delay in paying the allowance. Their case is that it was to take effect from January, 2022, and sealed with a Memorandum of Understanding, but payment has not commenced, despite reminders.
A source explains that, in summary, the neutrality allowance is to ensure that civil and local government workers discharge their duties professionally, without getting involved in partisan activities.
Not surprisingly, news of the Government’s acceptance to pay the allowance, has generated not only huge disapproval, but increased rumblings on other fronts, demands by other groups.
Personally, the very idea of civil servants asking to be paid to guarantee their neutrality seemed so preposterous that I thought there was another side to the issue, which somehow had been left out of the information available to the public.
Thus, I have been waiting for the ‘further and better particulars’, to clarify matters and calm the agitations.
Still, no such clarification has come. Instead, we now have Prof Adei’s blistering opinion.
Prof Adei, a former Rector of the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, better known as GIMPA, asked: “so if they’re not paid, they’re not going to be neutral? That’s what they mean? ….”
In his view, instead of civil servants threatening to lay down their tools over the non-payment of the said allowance, they should simply have asked for increased salaries, because of the current economic situation.
He also criticised the Government for agreeing to pay it, because in his opinion and experience, it’s not appropriate.
Another critic is Franklin Cudjoe, the Executive Director of public policy think tank IMANI Africa. He, too, has expressed forthright criticism of such an allowance.
As reported by Citi FM, Mr. Cudjoe believes the Association’s demand also doesn’t reflect the Civil Service’s Code of Ethics.
“Conditions are dire for everybody but to discuss neutrality and give it a name and an allowance is quite frankly insulting to the principles undergirding the Civil Service.”
However, the Head of Local Government Services, Dr Nana Ato Arthur, has reportedly confirmed that the Government has agreed to pay the allowance.
According to Dr Arthur, it will now be paid during the last quarter of 2022, as agreed with CLOGSAG on April 22.
Nevertheless, he reportedly indicated that the name, ‘neutrality allowance’, “doesn’t sit well with us as Government. So let’s have a team to look at how it is going to be called.”
Anyway, there have been indications that the strike is over, or will soon be over. As reported by Joyonline, on April 26, Dr Arthur said that CLOGSAG had agreed to return to work
In the discord generated by the CLOGSAG demand, I have been asking myself why on earth the Government found the term acceptable, when the understanding has always been that by their very position civil servants are supposed to work with neutrality and professionalism right from their appointment letter!
Indeed, part of the Code of Conduct, from the Office of the Head of Civil Service, states:
The standards of conduct generally required of any member of the Civil Service would be leadership, selflessness, competence, integrity, impartiality, fairness and honesty in matters affecting work and status in society.”
In any case, even though they are, understandably, especially required to be neutral in their work, the question is: whose neutrality is not important to the State or to the Government? Wherever they may be working, whose obvious partisanship is acceptable?
Should journalists, for example, demand an allowance to guarantee that they will do their newsgathering and reporting from a neutral position?
And what about the officials of the Electoral Commission? The police?
What I’m wondering now is: which official, or Minister, approved and committed the Government to such an outlandish demand?
Even if the strike is over, that person surely has questions to answer!
In my view, it is these kinds of decisions and agreements which give others on the State payroll the impression that the Government can afford to pay them much more, despite the explanations about the sorry state of the economy – resulting in the now almost weekly strikes and threats of strike.
Well, it’s no secret that times are hard. Like many other countries Ghana is experiencing galloping prices, a cost of living crisis, hence the calls for the Government to put in measures to ease the situation.
Little wonder that at the May Day Parade in Accra last Sunday, TUC Secretary-General Dr Anthony Yaw Baah, made a passionate request to President Nana Akufo-Addo to offer workers a ‘meanwhile measure’ of a 20 per cent Cost of Living Allowance, pending the general salary reviews.
Even though there is apparently a proposal to find a new name for the CLOGSAG demand, I think that a new name is not the remedy. Given the current hardship, everybody needs some financial cushioning!
Moreover, everybody’s impartiality, fairness and ‘neutrality’ counts towards a harmonious, democratic society. Furthermore, the populace, too, need some cushioning against the spiralling cost of living.
So whatever it is that will enable the Government to pay any top-up allowance to CLOGSAG – but hopefully not as a ‘neutrality allowance’ – should also be spread to benefit other workers; as well as other measures to ease things for all.
As far as I’m concerned, agreeing to pay the allowance under that label, was and is, a serious error of judgment.
That is why whoever committed the Government to pay it, should be sanctioned.