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Ex gratia, public service

BY: Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
Nana Otuo Siriboe — Council of State Chairman
Nana Otuo Siriboe — Council of State Chairman

It has been a rather busy political landscape for the last month or so as the nation has gone charging breathlessly on a variety of issues with the speed and vigour of a bull in a China shop.

As my friend Yaw Nsarkoh wrote on Facebook last Thursday, “In about only three weeks – the Ghana chatterati has flitted from: Achimota Forest and wills to floods, flogging of young people in Wa, management of public lands, tweets by High Commissioners and four-page responses by the IGP.

“To the sources of funding of cathedrals. To now, media wars over Togbe Afede's refund of ex gratia. My limited antenna has detected no clearly communicated resolution roadmap for any of these issues.

“We just hope to the next one. Do a people with such a lack of civic stamina deserve democracy?”

Ex gratia

Perhaps one of the most derided concepts in our political landscape is ex gratia payments, seen as part of the end-of-service benefits for a certain defined class of public servants.

Particularly at the beginning of a new Parliament when these payments are made to all MPs from the previous Parliament, whether or not they have been returned to the House after the election, the nation rises in collective angst and breathes fire through its nose at the payment of such mouth-watering figures.

The civic stamina that Mr Nsarkoh alludes to does not go that far though, and eventually, we shrug and move on – until the next payment cycle, that is, when we express shock once again.

It appears, however, a letter by Togbe Afede XIV, the Agbogbomefia of the Asogli State, President of the Asogli Traditional Area and former member of the Council of State from 2017 to 2020, which recently found its way into the public space and in which he stated he had returned his ex gratia benefits to the State, has sparked yet another national outburst on the matter, way ahead of the usual peaking point in our political cycle.

Whatever the merits or otherwise of the several issues the letter raised, with its attendant media wars, it is undeniable that Togbe’s GH¢366,000 ex gratia letter touched the raw nerve that ex gratia is and always has been.

However, the whopping sums involved and our particularly difficult current economic situation have conspired to jangle those frayed nerves even further.

Constitutional arrangements

Article 71 of the Constitution defines a group of people popularly known as ‘Article 71 office holders’, including the President, the Vice-President, the Speaker of Parliament, the Chief Justice and the Justices of the Superior Court of Judicature.

The rest are Members of Parliament (MPs), Ministers of State, political appointees and public servants with salaries charged to the Consolidated Fund but enjoying special constitutional privileges.

Whilst the President, through a committee he sets up, determines the salaries and emoluments of certain Article 71 office holders, including the Speaker, Deputy Speakers and MPs, Parliament in return determines the salaries and emoluments of the President, his vice, his ministers and their deputies and the Council of State, again through the same committee, which comes across as a cozy little arrangement among the ruling classes.

Prof. Baffuor Agyemang Duah, a Senior UN Governance Advisor and co-Founder of the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), makes the interesting point that curiously, the Constitution which has selected what he calls ‘an elite class of people to be treated in a special way in respect of their salaries and benefits by way of Article 71, was supervised by a government that held great store by way of its abhorrence of elitism and claimed to stand for the ordinary man.

Article 71 of the 1992 Constitution was lifted, word for word, from Article 58 of the 1979 Constitution.

The whole idea, therefore, predates the Fourth Republic, even if it was never actualised for the Article 58 office holders under the 1979 Constitution, following the 31st December, 1981 coup that truncated the Third Republic.

Abolition or reform?

However you look at it, the ex gratia figures are quite princely sums and way above the dreams and means of the overwhelming majority of Ghanaians, especially when you look at the basic salaries of the various Article 71 office holders and then pit them against what doctors, nurses, teachers, lecturers and other public servants earn and also take home when they come to the end of their long service to the State.

There is no doubt the level of public irritation with ex gratia, the quantum of which is usually yoked to the qualifying person’s basic retiring salary as a golden goodbye of sorts, together with various perks in some cases.

Some even call for the scrapping of Article 71 from the Constitution in order to create a fairer system and rein in the level of public spending on salaries and emoluments.

Whether one agrees or not, what we cannot run away from is that there must at least be some important, fundamental reforms, including the rationalisation of ex gratia and the whole Article 71 architecture because it will not just go away into the sunset.

Indeed, Prof. H. Kwasi Prempeh of the CDD believes that the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) should be made to double as and take over the functions of the Article 71 committee and harmonise Article 71 "emoluments" with public sector salaries and benefits generally.

In his view, using the FWSC would also save us the additional expense of constituting a new Article 71 committee every four or eight years.

He does not believe we even need a constitutional amendment to do this. Since it is the President’s prerogative to appoint the Article 71 committee, he insists that all a President has to do is designate the FWSC as the Article 71 committee and thereby establish a useful precedent that will serve as convention for his successors to follow.

I am sure other views persist and that they can be distilled in such a manner as to be able to deal with this issue in a clear, concise and just manner.

May we have the focus and civic stamina to last the course.

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.