Was the irony lost on you? In the same week that President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo was decorated as Oseadieyor or deliverer of promises, members of the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) laid down their chalk and red ink pens. The teachers’ reason for striking was that the government had failed to fulfill assurances it gave to pay arrears owed them.
Association President, Eric Agbe-Carbonu, says the regime currently owes its members more than GHC50million in salary arrears, vehicle maintenance allowances, transfer grants, transport and travel allowances which it had failed to pay since 2013, in spite of several assurances given the association (Source: lead story, Daily Graphic, yesterday.)
Early this week, the Accra-based Adom FM radio and several other media reported that an association of Kente weavers and sellers from Adanwomase in the Asante Region had determined that the president had fulfilled his promise on free SHS, nurses and teacher trainee allowances and the Office of Special Prosecutor. That was enough for them to confer on him the ‘promise fulfilling chief’ title and to cloth him in a rich Kente as such.
Now, if the NAGRAT’s claim is entirely true, if you consider the teething problems in the free SHS provision, conflicting promises and goal-post-shifting going on around the district enterprises, village dams and other government flagship projects; you become hesitant on the Oseadieyor coronation. Maybe, it should have been shelved for a more auspicious time in the future, you are tempted to say. Do you now see the paradox clearly? Well, that is just a microcosm of our whole life as a nation. We virtually live in a hoax. We pretend. And as is often claimed, it is business or politics as usual. We are not real enough. We do only what is convenient and what will benefit us as individuals, associations or political parties. We are uncomfortable, most of the times, to face the whole truth. Just look at the teachers’ case more closely.
The NAGRAT chose no worse time than the eve of this year’s West African Senior School Certificate Examinations. Obviously, they are hitting you where it will hurt worst. Ordinarily, you would say, well, strikes and demonstrations are legitimate tools for individuals and guilds to press home their demands. If you did, you must add that rights go with responsibilities. Is it not the responsibility of (graduate) teachers to train their pupils and students to pass their tests, and, more importantly, become useful and responsible citizens? Whether our teachers have, over the last several decades, been performing their duties creditably or not; I leave it to your good judgement, cherished reader. But, what is undeniably true in this society is that citizens and public servants insist on their rights, without for once thinking of the corresponding responsibilities. The lopsided expectation has become worse in these days of Western-style democracy.
Yes, we love representative government and this whole package called Democracy, for which thousands of our people fought and for which dozens of family members and other good relations lost their lives. But, either for inadequate understanding or abuse of the liberties of democracy to be irresponsible; most Ghanaians have turned too negligent for comfort. As I wrote this piece, a discussion that was running on Adom FM was on some townsfolk accusing government of failing to provide them places of convenience. “We have eased ourselves so much and for so long in the bush; we entreat Nana Addo (the President) to come and build a tor-ret for us.”
Wednesday, angry voices sounded on radio from people being pushed back from selling on pavements and other unauthorised places at Kasoa in the Central Region. “We are parents and married people with heavy responsibilities. We pay taxes and we voted for NPP. Nana Addo should intervene for us to stay where we are to trade; else we won’t vote again at all,” was the type of vituperation that came from people being stopped from breaking the law. Now, if you have that kind of attitude, you aren’t going to make much progress, even if you managed to get Jesus Christ, Mohammed or Okomfo Anokye to become your leader.
In the pre-colonial and colonial eras, towns and villages built their own toilets, with very few offices and residences having water closets and bathhouses the type that abounds today. Under the early republics and especially the military juntas when the law worked strictly, people didn’t complain they had no place to answer nature’s call; they built them in their houses, communities and villages. They also did periodic communal cleaning so their water sources, refuse dumps, drain, streets and other public places remained tidy. Today, we are in a democracy, civilized, enjoying liberties and some of the results are irritating! “Medie, metwa meto wor abonten na mframa fa me ho a, na meye free” is a popular refrain now. It typically comes from those who hung at the edges of the Korle, Odaw or other rivers to defecate into the water and the environment. That is the catchphrase of those who ease themselves at the beaches and in the bush. As a reporter and news editor, I am even aware of cases of people defecating in school classrooms and on the tables of headmasters. “Well, we don’t have a public toilet and teachers here are chasing our girls…” The laws have taken a sabbatical; no wonder such crass impudence!
What is the purpose of this article? This episode of Ghana Today says all we, like sheep, have gone astray; turned each to his or her own way. Unless we have a psychological rebirth, Ghanaians will continue to live in an illusion and reap worsening conditions as the fruits. Using the two conflicting claims of two associations cited above to illustrate my case, I suggest that: 1) the government should stop “the orchestrations, tactics, artful maneuvering and manipulations” it keeps employing, as NAGRAT alleges, to drag its feet and possibly refuse to pay the arrears at all. Tell the realistic time you can pay all such arrears and do all it takes to honour all your promises. Call a spade a spade and honour your pledges.
2) Government should have one voice on the promises it makes; and those pledges must hinge on party campaign promises, which must be and in tune with the National Development Planning agenda. The contradicting claims and shifting of posts tend to erode the confidence reposed in government. 3) The lesson should go for all individuals and political groups seeking political or other public office: promise only what you can deliver. 4) A time has come, and it is long overdue, for the electorate to wizen up, to determine what campaign promises are deliverable and what are mere hypes that must be rejected. 5) This and subsequent governments should enforce all our laws rigorously, holding all Ghanaians accountable in the roles they must play in the contract entered into on election days.
6) For example, our Education Service, Education Ministry and governments for that matter, should make every teacher earn his or her keep. Their productivity should be measured. They should produce more than they are paid. Even though they and some other service providers produce intangible goods, if you set realistic targets for them and you monitor closely, you will be able to separate excellent ones to pay them bonuses, average ones to pay them regular salaries and bad ones to reform or boot out of the system. Not all teachers are owed salary arrears, transfer allowances or car maintenance allowances. Must we allow all teachers to take indefinite holidays in the probable name of solidarity? Are we serious?
7) It begs repetition that the laws should be enforced according to the letter and spirit. If the law says every house owner should provide a toilet in their home, enforce it stringently; don’t build so-called public toilets, unless they are strictly meant for people in transit at the terminuses. The only way to stop open defecation is to arrest offenders and get them punished in deterrent forms.
8) Our chiefs, institutions and influential people who rush to shower praises on our national leaders should wait to crown their hard work at the end of their stewardships. If you consider the doctorate degrees conferred on Kwame Nkrumah, Kutu Acheampong, Jerry Rawlings, Agyekum Kufuor and the ‘revelations’ that foreign and local bishops poured on them, you wonder why they failed to leave Ghana a paradise. We must give praise where praise is due; but, we must be hesitant so not to come across as sycophantic.
Let’s reawake from our slumbers and get real. At the end of the day, neither the NAGRAT pound-of-flesh positioning nor the Kente weavers’ flattery is what we need at the moment!
…with A. C. Ohene (firstname.lastname@example.org)