What is Charles getting from this Bogus Democracy?

by Ernest Armah

I’ve been feeling terrible this morning. Pondering how harder it has been to climb the socio-economic ladder through legitimate means. And nothing brings me much heartache than seeing how some of my friends have to endure and overcome structural impediments and corruption on the road to economic prosperity. The situation of my friend, Charles needs telling. Charles isn’t just a man from an extremely poor family; in his early 30s he acts as a father, brother and breadwinner for a rather big family. Not a family of his own. I’m referring to the one his father left behind. He had to relocate from Hohoe in the Volta region to Accra to make a decent living to support his family. He spent several years under apprenticeship before eventually moving on to establish his own tailoring business. Charles is working extremely hard to get out of poverty. But then he has competitors working equally hard to keep him out of business and keep him in poverty. These competitors aren’t other tailoring businesses. They are his Assembly Man, MP and the Leviathan called government.

The little he gets, the government collect levies, taxes (direct and indirect), electricity bills, etc from. Whilst this parasitic transaction persists, whilst Charles honors his part of the social contract, his Assembly Man, MP and the overall government architecture hardly do their part. For instance, Charles had to cough up thousands of Cedis to make a 2-year rent advance payment for his shop and house. A 2-year rent advance is illegal but Charles was compelled to pay because there are no alternatives and effective mechanisms to seek redress. His representative in the district Assembly prioritizes events management over balanced development; his MP prioritizes salary increment, appropriation bills and party politics over the lapses in the administration and management of the rent act; and the government is all over the place pursuing an affordable housing programme he cannot afford.

At best what the tripartite union (the assembly, legislature and government leadership) has given him is corruption and mismanagement.

Corruption and mismanagement of public funds were the principal reasons adduced by the Military led by Colonel E.K. Kotoka for the overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah on 24th February, 1966. A few years after this significant event, most of our legislators (MPs) were born (about 70% of our MPs are between 40-59 years). Those who were witnesses to the tenure and eventual toppling of Nkrumah’s regime are divided on the transformational impact of his leadership. One of such is the Speaker of Ghana’s Parliament, Professor Mike Oquaye who recognizes the visionary qualities of Nkrumah on different sectors but describes as “palpably false” the assertion that Nkrumah is the founding father of Ghana. Well the debate on whether Nkrumah is the founding father of Ghana or not becomes insignificant, irrelevant and trivial when placed within the context of the present circumstance of Charles.

After all, after showing socialism, dictatorship, the perceived misery, suffering, tyranny and all thinkable ills of Nkrumah’s government the exit door, what liberation, political and economic, has subsequent leaders and public servants brought to Ghanaians like Charles who break their backs on a daily basis? Have they ever learned from the omissions and commissions of Dr. Nkrumah?

To whom much is given much is expected, the saying goes. Yet what prevails here is the opposite. Public servants take more from us. We pay them more. And in exchange, we get less. Permit me to walk you into Ghana’s Parliament. Of the 79 bills passed in the Sixth Parliament of Ghana, 31 bills (39.2%) were “Tax Bills” introduced to increase taxes, customs duties and levies. Of the seven appropriation bills introduced to approve the budget, revenue mobilization comprised 50.7% of the Sixth Parliament’s legislative agenda. MPs take home around GHS 270,992 (US$63,021) in ex-gratia every four-years alone (altogether GHS 74,522,800 (US$ 17,330,883) for 275 MPs and that amount can pay about 17,000 of the highest paid public sector workers (in government ministries and agencies); and about 34,000 Psychiatric Nurses). Yet, the Right to Information Bill, with which we can accurately measure the level of self-enrichment, remains unpassed 20 years and counting. Yet less than 60 MPs of the 275 are active in Parliament.

These facts does not only provide a glimpse into what goes on in Parliament. They also tell us how MPs fight for good conditions of service for themselves without commensurate improvement in the performance of their oversight, legislative and representative functions. When those at the intersection of power and our collective interest serve at best with “yeah…yeah” and “nooo…nooo”; when our collective interest is lost in the noise of partisanship and high-flying ideologies, then we have a debate significant, relevant and critical in our present circumstance.

What is Charles getting from this bogus democracy?

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