Cape Verde was so barren and so poor that its viability as a state was questioned by World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) economists at independence in 1975.
By 2007, under the Presidency of Mr Pedro Verona Pires, it had become one of only a handful of African countries to graduate to middle-income status.
In 2011, after he stepped down – despite calls on him to change the country’s constitution to stay on - the former President was awarded the $5million Mo Ibrahim prize for good governance in Africa.
The citation that accompanied his cash prize said this about the transformation of the island-nation:
"Cape Verde is now seen as an African success story, economically, socially and politically."
How did this happen? For an answer, check on the Internet. However, what blew me away about this man is the near-legendary status of his frugality and honesty. A former CEO of Vanguard Assurance and a friend, Mr Emmanuel Baba Mahama, told an Integrity Forum organised in Accra last year by the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International for top Civil Servants, what he saw during his visit to Cape Verde.
He was there for an international conference that was to be opened by President Pires. At exactly the advertised time for the start of the conference, the President entered. What first struck Mr Mahama was that he had heard no sirens. What nearly lifted off his seat was the fact that the President had arrived at the venue for the event in a motorcade of only one car (the President’s ordinary Toyota saloon car) led by one outrider! That, he was informed, was the norm.
So what is it I hear about Vice-Presidents of Ghana being so important that the cost of putting up a mansion for their use is US$13.6 million (dollars!!!) equivalent to more than GH¢60 million. From the artist’s impression published in the newspapers, the facility is like Michael Jackson’s ranch (where he hosted the wedding reception of legendary Elizabeth Taylor!).
The figures being quoted for a residence for Vice-Presidents in Ghana is simply jaw-dropping, so much so that even the man who is going to be the first occupant of the house ( Alhaji Bawumia) wondered if the gates and the pavements were to be made of gold!
As it stands, the cost of a Vice-President’s residence is equivalent to (and in some cases, more than) the whole year’s budgetary allocation of some ministries.
And what did I hear two weeks ago? That our Members of Parliament (MPs) desire to fly First or Business Class! Can we afford US$4,500.00 each (to US) or US$5,400.00 each (to China)?
In Tanzania, under President John Magafuli, all state appointees, including Ministers on state assignments abroad, fly Economy. Their dignity has not been assaulted. Their importance has not reduced in the eyes of the Americans, Russians and Chinese with whom they sit to negotiate bilateral deals for Tanzania.
What is it about democracy in Ghana that makes our elected (and appointed) representatives think that they must be carried in palanquins!
I know that MPs pore over volumes of documents to be able to argue wisely on the floor of the House; many technically worded agreements come before them; they sit extra hours into the night sometimes. Our Ministers work hard, yes; but what about the nurse (Diploma holder) who not only empties bed-pans, who not only fights off the overpowering stench of human putrefaction (faeces) of stroke patients?
So why are we paying MPs/Ministers in excess of GH¢10,000.00 a month in a country where the majority of public/civil servants take home less than GH¢1,500.00? Our elected leaders must be paid well, but so must we all.
No one wants Presidents or MPs to go in grass-skirts, live in hen coops or walk in ‘Moses-is-a-soul-man’ footwear; no, but this irrepressible desire for perks is frightening.
In 2008, as Editor of Ghanaian Times newspaper, I led my team of journalists on what I had conceived in my mind as a crusade. We did not think it made sense for the state of Ghana, just out of the woods after HIPC, to be burdened with two houses for former Presidents, plus a number of vehicles, man-servants and maid-servants etc. ex gratia for MPs/Minister every four years. For one week, my cellphone got overheated from the resultant phone calls.
Today, the reality is hitting everybody. The Ghanaian Vice-President’s residence, even in America’s Hollywood, is way out of this world. The next you hear, we must put them on the moon! You and I have no say in the matter. They determine the President’s perks and vice versa. This is rape!
My happiness is that it has taken the sitting Vice-President himself to question the wisdom in this display of profligacy. Such desire by leaderships to shun opulence has its own way of affecting the rest of society without sermons. It obeys the Percolation Theory.
Call me a prophet: if such public display of servant-leadership continues – and we reduce the cost of corruption by even one-half - it will take Ghana less than four years to give every district a factory and every village in the North a dam.