Looting in The House: MPs’ New Booty

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This article was first published 10 years ago in The Founder

By Nana S. Achampong

Before John Adams became America’s second President, he served as the country’s first VP. He was very concerned about parliamentarians. He said: “The principal difficulty lies, and the greatest care should be employed in constituting this representative assembly. It should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason and act like them. That it may be the interest of the assembly to do strict justice at all times, it should be an equal representation, or, in other words, equal interests among the people should have equal interests in it. Great care should be taken to effect this”. Adams made this observation in his essay ‘Thoughts on Government’ way, way back in 1776. It is as if he knew that it was in the nature of man to corrupt whatever great ideals it set for itself. Earlier this month, Ghanaian parliamentarians proved him right.

I heard on the radio that the founder-leader-sole member of a political group known as the Ghana Freedom Party was threatening to place some injunction of sorts on Ghanaian Members of Parliament. The furious Akua Donkor’s anger seemed to be directed at announcements made regarding a retroactive salary increment approved for the parliamentarians. According to the news, monthly salaries for MPs are to be increased from GhC3, 000 ($1,500) a month to GhC7, 200 ($3,600). And that’s not all: this increase takes retroactive effect from 2009, thereby bringing the total outstanding amount to about GhC44 million ($22 Million). Needless to say, the bill will be paid by the hungry people these fattened people are supposed to be representing.

Don’t get me wrong: the adjusted amount of GhC7,200 may not seem too unreasonable from outside looking in; after all, it doesn’t even hit the proper middleclass salary in countries such as Adam’s. But like the retired diplomat K B Asante described in his Joy FM interview, the move at this particular time was “inappropriate in the condition the country finds itself”. As percentages go, UK MPs take home less than a quarter of the annual per capita income in the their country; our MPs are going to take home salaries that are over 20 times better than their UK compatriots, illustrates IMANI-Ghana Executive Director Franklin Cudjoe.

For that kind of money, Ghanaian MPS have to serve their constituents: they have to provide rain, bumper harvests, electricity, motor-able roads, schools for all, opportunities across the board, guarantee them heaven…you catch my drift. After all, what is the job of an MP? An MP’s job is to represent and champion the interest of constituents. By definition, MPs are servants of the people they represent. As politicians, their main reason for entering public service is to focus on working behind the scenes, lobbying, twisting arms and using their connections to fulfill socio-economic aspirations of their representatives. There is no provision for ‘enrichment’ in public office.

Their argument for salary increase falls under two categories: first, they claim their constituents are all beggars who incessantly hustle them for alms. Therefore they need to be paid more money so they can give more alms to their beggar-class constituents. Secondly, they insist that the nature of their job and the level on which they find themselves must put them in the category of industry and corporation heads and thus must attract like compensation. Of course, both arguments are ignorant as hell.

First of all, what special qualifications are needed for anyone to represent others? It is true they shout a lot and promise heaven, and feel mighty pompous, and drive 4-wheelers, but are these specialized skills that place them on the same level as industry heads? How strategic are the decisions they have to make to deserve this fat check? With this deal done, MPs return to the House after 3 solid months of rest (what from, I wonder). And guess the most important items on their agenda for the rest of the year: oil money and the budget. And this is why we the people have to pay them GhC44 million, enough money to take care of the first phase of free education for our youth.

So, let’s agree that this pay increase for parliamentarians is daylight robbery. How can we prevent such looting from continuing? First, an oversight commission should establish transparent and measurable performance standards that we the people can and should monitor. All salary adjustments must be in line with these standards. Second, each MP’s salary must be tied to his/her constituency’s median income: the understanding here is that, when he improves the lot of his people, his own lot shall improve too. At the very best, the levels of any increase in the salaries of MPs must be in line with increases in the Civil and Public Services. Period.

It is amazing that greed and thievery are able to bring together these warring factions in parliament. I doubt if there were any disagreement between the major parties while they connived to swindle the people. You would think that after taking more than decent care of their interest, they would return to the business of our interests. Alas, they will be talking about oil and budgets for the rest of the sitting. For 130% pay increase, some roads need to be fixed; some schools need to be built; some lives need to improve; and some MPs better do their work.

Each MP is taking home at least $100,000, adding onto the exploding government budget outlay which is almost at the 70% mark as we speak. And in addition, they will enjoy the perquisites of additional $50,000 each as Ex-gratia all to be paid by we the people. As my calculations stand, MPs take-home pay and perks are over 70 times the Ghana national median income. This has to be unacceptable to any normal thinking being. Mind you, I am not advocating a reduction in incomes for hardworking folks; I am advocating that workers who are employed to improve the lives of others be paid according to how successfully they achieve their goals. Thus increase salaries of the people, and increase your own alongside [First published October, 2012 in The Finder].

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