ANALYSIS: No one builds a house for the weaver bird!! – By Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

The writer, Dr Michael J.K. Bokor
The resurgence of controversy over the resettlement of Ghana’s former Presidents is unnecessary. In sum, of all the problems facing this country, that of resettling the former Presidents is the least important. It is not worth anybody’s attention at all and must be treated with the utmost disregard it deserves.

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But because President Mills’ suggestion that instead of putting up buildings for them they should be paid a 20% rent allowance to cater for their residential needs, the matter has rebounded into public discourse and assumed dimensions that are justifiably annoying. Away with these so-called Article 71 office holders!

President Mills’ recommendation to the Ewurama Addy Committee indicates that the rent allowance will reduce the burden on the national coffers and give the beneficiaries the opportunity to manage their own affairs. Support for this recommendation is swift, coming from across the political divide, although some views have been heard to suggest that the rent allowance should be reduced to 10%. Some have also suggested that nothing of the sort should be done, which I support. Many factors don’t justify any over-compensation of these former Presidents. We may provide offices for them but not cushion them forever.

As is to be expected, however, some contrary views have also emerged. We’ve heard Professor Mike Ocquaye’s strident opposition to the recommendation, which he thought would belittle the status of the former Presidents and create the impression that Ghanaians are ungrateful. Mike Ocquaye is completely off-track and I want him to know that his opposition is misguided. He is a perfect example of those who left their chosen careers for politics and can boast of “making it big time.” Unlike politics, such careers have proved to be too dry for them to milk.

Over the years, our politicians have flippantly used national politics as a means to self-discovery, self-fulfillment, and self-enhancement with little or no compunction. In our 4th Republic especially, our politics has been turned into a goldmine and exploited with unprecedented alacrity by these politicians. Any genuine analysis of the situation shouldn’t leave anybody in doubt as to how these politicians have mismanaged affairs, making it difficult for the country’s economy to improve or the living standards of the people who put them in power to change for the better.

We have every reason to protest against any preferential treatment for any of them (especially the two former Presidents under whose watch the economy deteriorated). It is irritating for anybody to insist that the state should bear the brunt of their lifestyles. Just like any salaried worker, weren’t these former Presidents paid all the time that they were in office? Or aren’t they still being paid to be able to stash away part of their earnings to support themselves? Who builds houses for retired and dedicated workers?

Is the state to provide a house for Kufuor because he doesn’t have any? We know that Kufuor has his personal residence, which he spent more than 41 million Cedis from the national coffers to refurbish in 2001; he used that house as his operational base even when he was ruling Ghana. What is wrong with that house now that he is out of office for him to demand to be housed elsewhere by the state?

Or should the state house Rawlings because he couldn’t build a house for himself? Rawlings has lived at the Ridge residence all these years until fire gutted part of it last year. He also has one at Adjiringano, even if he plays hide-and-seek with us over it. What is it that he lacks and must get from the state to live comfortably before he pays his dues to Nature?

President Mills has his own house in the Spintex Road area and cannot tell us that it is only when the state provides a new house for him that he can live his post-office life in comfort. He seems not to rely on the state in that sense, though.

After abolishing the End-of-Service Benefits for public sector workers, what justification is there for these former Heads of State to award themselves hefty packages and still turn round to ask the state to provide more for them? When push comes to shove, we may consider some options for implementation in future:

Option 1: No house to be provided

Under this option, the state shouldn’t take it upon itself to provide any house for any former President. That’s where the need for each to live in his own house emerges. Before becoming President, where might they have been living that they can’t return to? Or, during all that time that they were in office, why couldn’t they save anything to put up roofs over their heads? It should be a lesson in good citizenship and responsible behaviour for them to manage their affairs properly without depending on the national coffers.

Option 2: Provide houses with conditions

One may support an option to build houses for the former Presidents on specific conditions. Any of them under whose tenure the country’s economy improved and living conditions enhanced should be considered for such a facility. Even then, upon his death, the building should revert to the state and be managed as such, not bequeathed to any family member or friend. It shouldn’t be a personal property. Rawlings, Kufuor, and Mills haven’t fulfilled this requirement to merit the facility.

Option 3: Provide houses with strings attached

A President who serves only one term, seeks re-election but is rejected at the polls shouldn’t be housed by the state. He is a failure. This condition should inspire a serving President to be up-and-doing if he wants to enjoy the largesse of the state in his post-office life.

If he wins the re-election bid, indicating public trust and confidence in his leadership style, he should be considered for support at the end of the eight years in office. Even then, when he dies, the building should be taken over and managed by the state.

I foresee much jockeying by these former Presidents and their lackeys for undue public sympathy, especially given the current happenings surrounding the Trassaco Valley mansions that Rawlings and Kufuor are reported to have spurned for various reasons. We in Ghana shouldn’t allow these former Presidents’ peculiar tastes or foibles to bog us down. We must rise above such petty personal interests to do what will not take us out of the woods.

One may be worried that not providing a resettlement package for such people might force those now in office to relent in fighting corruption because of the urge to exploit the system while in office to provide the safety net for themselves in their post-office lives. From hindsight, we can all tell the extent to which our leaders have failed to fight corruption despite loud pontification on rooftops. Whether they will continue to give their blessing to corrupt practices or not shouldn’t be the determining factor in our search for measures to deal with them when they retire. We should consider the state of the national economy.

As a country with abundant natural and human resources, Ghana shouldn’t have been so under-developed as it has been all these years; but it has been so just because it lacks the requisite leadership to galvanize the people for national development. Such a lapse doesn’t warrant any move to spend so much money resettling those who should have fought hard to change the narrow circumstances but failed. Not until the economy improves, and not until the millions of suffering Ghanaians can make ends meet, we shouldn’t waste resources resettling those who have for many years enjoyed life at the expense of the tax-payers.

For how long haven’t Rawlings and his household or Kufuor and his family depended on the state? They did so in various capacities while in active service and are still doing so. The time has come for us to draw the line somewhere. Our economy is still weak and can’t support such grandiose ventures.