Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ghana: The Audacity Of Looting - Update

In "Ghana: The Audacity Of Looting" (Swans, March 9, 2009), I wrote about how Ghanaians were "sufficiently discombobulated when it emerged that, a day before the hand over to the new government on January 7, 2009, a mind-bending and super-extravagant presidential and parliamentarians' retirement package had been approved by the outgoing parliament. The package was so excessive in its generosity that it left Ghanaians totally flabberwhelmed (a contraption of flabbergasted and overwhelmed)."

Thankfully, the hoopla surrounding the mind-bending ex-gratia are gradually simmering down, but it was not without serious confusion. It took about three months of acrimonious debates and angry ripostes, but the new government can now begin to tackle the problem it was elected to do: offer an alternative to the excesses of the past eight years when those in power got totally carried away.

The officials of the former government boasted that theirs was a property-owning democracy and they ensured that they lived up to their slogan. They did not only acquire all acquirables (sic), they decided to sell their official cars and houses to themselves. The poor nation of Ghana must (once again) go around the world with a begging bowl to get money to build new houses for her ministers and also to get them new cars. It's shameful really.

Mercifully, the new president, Professor Atta Mills, suspended the scandalous ex-gratia award and charged a committee to oversee its review. Ghanaians see it for what it is: a bureaucratic ploy to take it out of the public domain to allow simmering emotions to calm down.

In the meantime it has emerged that ex-president John Kuffuor, the man with the boundless ego and insatiable greediness, has taken away eleven of the cars he was using while in office including two BMW cars custom-built for the presidency. This act considerably raised the ire of some powerful people in the new government. National Security Advisor Lt. Col Gbevlo-Lartey (rtd), vowed that the ex-president would not be allowed to keep the cars because they were specifically imported for the protection of the president. The new government gave a deadline for the BMW cars to be returned to the state in exchange for Chryslers. Friends of the ex-president saw persecution and they cried foul.

But Mr. Frank Agyekum, spokesperson for the former president, begged to differ. He considered the government's action unconstitutional because according to him, it amounted to varying the terms of the conditions spelt out in chapter 8, article 68 of the 1992 Constitution. Mr. Agyekum maintained that said cars were part of his boss' fleet while in office and so changing them at this time will be detrimental to his comfort and at variance with the tenets of the Constitution. The Chryslers, with which the government seeks to replace the luxury BMWs, according to Mr. Frank Agyekum, are of a lesser value than the German-made cars.

The saga dragged on for weeks with constitutional lawyers firing salvoes after salvoes of lethal legal projectiles. The whole country was engulfed in the ensuing saga. A totally peeved ex-President Kufuor finally rejected the state's offer of Chryslers as replacements for his beloved BMWs. He, however, made himself scarce when state security operatives went to retrieve the vehicles.

Then a group calling itself the Concerned Friends of Kufuor came out to pledge a brand new, custom-made BMW 7 Series as gift to the former president. The gift, they say, is to put an end to the protracted controversy over state vehicles allocated to the ex-president.

The issues of cars and ex-gratia succeeded in polarizing the country. It also exposed the ethnic fissures in the land. Much so when it emerged that the ex-president has also taken over a state bungalow in Accra to use as his office. This did not go down well with the Gas, the tribe where Accra (the capital of Ghana) is located. They felt cheated that their lands, acquired ostensibly for state use, are been parceled out to individuals. A Ga youth association threatened to forcibly remove the ex-president from the bungalow. This caused a lot of ethnic stir as the Asantes, ex-president Kufuor's ethnic group, believed that he's being unjustly persecuted and vowed to "advise themselves."

It has since emerged that ex-president Kufuor was not the only one with a huge proclivity for grabbing state assets. On vacating his official residence, the former Speaker of Parliament Ebenezer B. Sakyi-Hughes literally and figuratively cleaned the place! He stripped the official residence of the Speaker of Parliament of all furnishings.

What's most baffling about these greedy politicians is that they are rich, very rich by anyone's standards. Before he became Speaker of Parliament, Ebenezer B. Sakyi-Hughes had a successful law practice in Takoradi -- the beautiful and picturesque twin-city capital of the western region of Ghana where he's one of the wealthiest people. He's said to own one of the plushiest houses in town. He has been in law practice since 1966 and was a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court. His family was not starving either, as they own chains of very successful businesses including fuel stations across the land.

No one can remember what Mr. Sakyi-Hughes's greatest contribution was to the parliament. He was a lackluster performer with eyes only for the good things of life. On leaving office, this stupendously rich man stole every damn thing he could carry away from his official residence. From the kitchen, napkins, cutlery, and cooking utensils were carted away. The bedrooms were equally ransacked. The curtains, the bed sheets, the washing machines, the flower pots were not spared. Even the soap dishes were stolen. According to the Majority Leader of Parliament, Alban Bagbin, the stolen items amount to over four billion old cedis -- about US$350,000.

And this is in a poor country groaning under a heavy debt burden and one that relies on "donor support" for more than half its entire budget!

Ghanaians were not amused to learn of this gigantic theft. They continue to be baffled by the propensity of their moneyed leaders to want to steal the little that's left in the national kitty. The ex-speaker refused to speak out but those close to him gave the totally unconvincing explanation that he was under the impression that a proposal before the Parliamentary Service Board (of which he was chairperson) about the speaker's retirement package had been approved and so in his mind everything in the official residence became his when his tenure came to an end.

So in Ghana, we have President Kufuor sitting down with an advisor, Chinery-Hesse, to discuss awarding himself a truly fantabulous ex-gratia package. And we have Speaker of Parliament Sakyi-Hughes sitting down with his pals in a Board to decide how he could loot his official residence.


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