“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt, former American President
It is one thing to travel hopefully and quite another to hopefully travel. We shall deal with the semantics later. Whatever the difference, ministers and political appointees in the current NPP administration will not enjoy either ‘travel’ until the office of the President lifts a temporary ban it recently placed on foreign travels. Chief of Staff Frema Osei-Opare was very clear in the pellucid piece of communication she sent to all political appointees, announcing the ban. The Foreign Affairs Minister is, however, not affected.
Akua Donkor in Italy
As is usual with presidential communication, the Chief of Staff did not give any reasons but we know the decision was not accidental. Even if it was by accident, it was all planned by the President and his cabinet, Roosevelt tells us. Did somebody travel and never returned? These travels cost the tax payer lots of money and we don’t seem to be benefitting from them anyway. Perhaps, the President wants us to save the money and stay home to work hard. It may be part of the ‘Ghana Beyond Aid’ agenda.
A conference in Japan, a seminar in London, and another crucial meeting in Geneva, it has become a fad to sponsor expensive travels by government appointees and top civil servants. We don’t get to see conference reports when they return and nobody appears to be interested in finding the outcome of these many travels. We have inconveniently agreed that it is their turn to enjoy the perks of public office. In Canada, a Minister of Development was sacked for consuming a glass of orange juice worth $16 when she travelled overseas. Use government money wisely, she was told.
In one of those travels, Ghanaians were alarmed and angry that the leader of the Ghana Freedom Party, Akua Donkor, had been included in a government delegation of trade experts to Italy. She made us angrier when she returned to share tales of her experiences, which included her sudden discovery that Italians eat bread with tomato ketchup. She told us she regretted for not bringing a few samples of ketchup home. We are not sure what the trade experts on the delegation found. They would know about ketchup.
Mo Ibrahim on useless travels
We don’t have a ketchup manufacturing factory in Ghana. We import tomato from Burkina Faso, where better varieties are grown. Do we need to embark on expensive foreign trips to develop our country? At a conference in Washington in 2014, Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim told Joseph Boakai, then Vice President of Liberia: “Tell your president Sirleaf that I will buy her a video conferencing equipment so she sit in Liberia and talk to all these western and Chinese leaders. African leaders should stay back home and think and solve problems instead of junketing about.”
He continued: “First of all, we didn’t need a summit to know Africa is ripe for investment …no one went to China and Brazil to call them to come invest in Africa…so you American businessmen and women, you are being lazy. Get off your bums and walk to Africa. Listen African leaders, enjoy the weather and good meal tomorrow, but know that development starts at home and no handouts should be asked from anyone to Africa…Africa is rich and everyone is welcome…we have everything…what we don’t have is good governance.”
Travelling is no fun
Is it fun to travel? When I worked in the public service, my schedule included processing requests for foreign travels from officers who worked for agencies under my ministry. As a trainee junior officer, I envied the officials whose requests were approved to travel. Sometimes, I wondered whether the meetings and conferences were necessary. It was one of the few ways these poorly paid civil servants enjoyed some additional income. One of them bought me a nice shirt from his many trips. Another gave me a book.
I didn’t monitor how their work improved when they returned from the conferences. I didn’t know whether they met their targets or completed any performance appraisals, but they were promoted to higher positions. The public service had a lot of intelligent and dedicated professionals who deserved better wages, like their contemporaries in other professional callings. Not all of them enjoyed foreign travels; my boss hated them and sometimes found clever ways to dodge them or pass them over to junior colleagues. She preferred staying behind to work because there was always so much to do.
Ban V8 and free fuel
Contrary to public suspicion that ministers and other public officers will be hurt by the ban on foreign travels, some of them will be relieved. Shortly before the ban, one of the ministers who is a personal friend lamented the many travels that came with the job and the frustrations in waiting never-endingly at airports for connecting flights. He told me some of the meetings abroad were boring and the per diem was not enough incentive. He turned away many opportunities to travel to what he calls the ‘cold world.’
How much money will the ban on foreign travels save us? A similar ban at SSNIT reportedly saved the pension management body some millions. With this new directive, Nana Akufo-Addo has joined the club of African presidents who banned their people from travelling abroad. Namibia and Tanzania started it. We have been sleeping for too long. If a ban is the only way to wake up the African lions to roar alongside their Asian tigers, then let’s ban our V8 guzzlers too. We need to rebuild… all over again.
Tissues of the Issues
…with Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin (firstname.lastname@example.org)