Serving as the president of a nation is one of the highest jobs anyone can ever get in a lifetime. Not only is it high in power, but also in prestige, respect, networking and if you like spirituality. The president of any nation is at the time of his term the image and persona reflector of that nation.
The endurance of the 1992 republican constitution of Ghana has blessed Ghana with three living former presidents: John Mahama, John Kuffour and John Rawlings.
The theme for this article is centred on happenings soon after the first non-John named individual was sworn into office as president of the republic under the 1992 constitution.
The controversy started with the immediate past president, John Dramani Mahama who had made a request to the transition team that as part of his end of Service Benefit (ESB) he would prefer that he is allowed to stay in the official residence of the Vice President of the Republic instead of the republic building a new house for him as recommended by the Edu- Buandoh Committee on Presidential emoluments.
This Committee was formed by himself as all other living past Presidents did under the constitution when they were about to leave office. Obviously, the idea of a Committee is to reduce the influence of the beneficiary in deciding on what to get. But the question of whether this has been achieved will be examined later in this write up.
The public has responded differently to this request when it became public. The responses have largely depended on the level of education and which side of the political divide an individual stands.
The writer is of the belief that all these views are fair in themselves under the democracy we have embraced. He was just taken aback by some of the insults that characterised the reactions from some Ghanaians.
As the Mahama residence saga was dying off, it soon came out that former president Rawlings had also requested and been granted a 4 acre land in Accra to be used to build a home and a library for him. The library would serve as Rawlings’ foundation to be used to promote some social good in Ghana and Africa. As if it was part of the normal political game, the equalisation between NPP and NDC showed its ugly head and soon Kuffuor was also fingered. He had also been granted a 2.6 acre land to be used to build a home as recommended by the Chinery- Hessey Committee and execution of which was stalled under the 8 year term of the NDC.
When you ponder over these events and their unfolding drama, you may be tempted to pity these gentlemen. You may want to pity them not because they have no homes to live in, but because you would feel sorry for the public ridicule we have passed them through. A ridicule which some have said they deserve since they have all presided over the nation and should have known better. Of course “if a free society cannot cater for the many who are poor, then the few who are rich cannot also be safe” J. F Kennedy – emphasis is mine. When many Ghanaians are uneducated, poor, unemployed and have no access to land, then their former presidents cannot enjoy small ex-gratia in the form of houses and have their peace of mind.
It is my submission that the issues of whether the state should accommodate former presidents should be discussed thoroughly and a firm decision taken. In the light of this, the following questions will serve as the basis for this discussion. Do Former Presidents deserve a house? Do they need a house? Must they live in Accra? Who must determine what to be given them? At what time should that decision be made and executed?
Do former presidents deserve a house? My answer is “WHY NOT”. Why should Corporate Ghana not be able to provide a House for its former President? Why should we not give them a reason NOT to steal public funds to build their own dream houses?
I have seen with my own eyes, how the beautiful black hairs of all three living former presidents turned grey within months after they assumed office. They must have passed through a lot of mental stress. They work day and night because the nation never sleeps. They risk their lives in many ways and take decision that are supposed to be in the best interest of the nation. We may not agree with them in all what they do but hey, we are not privy to all the facts they knew at the time they did what we did not agree with them. None of them refused to step down when their term was over and this has been a major booster to peace and stability which has allowed businesses to continue to grow in our shattered economy. I think they deserve a House. A house for a former president cannot be more to ask.
The second question is, do they need a house? Our constitution says you cannot qualify to contest for presidency when you are not 40 or above? I believe the objective of this law does not only cater for the mental preparedness of the individual but also serves to limit inexperienced persons from coming near that important office. Apart from the constitutional demand for the age 40, there are other unwritten but practiced requirements. Being able to pave your way up to the party to catch the eyes of your party delegates. You may not need to dish out cash, but you surely will need to resource your campaign. To me, a man who is able to raise all these needed resources at the age of 40 to become a candidate cannot be a man who cannot raise the needed resource to build his dream home. Therefore, I do not believe our presidents really need the house after leaving office. It is a token they deserve and not need. Like most Ghanaian parents used to do at parties, when they are served a bottle of malt because they are adults, they give it to their kids who would have been served a Fanta or coke.
Having established my view that they deserve a house but do not need it, I will then move to the question of its location. Must those houses be in Accra at all cost? Why must we build a house for Rawlings, Kuffour and Mahama in Accra? Why is there the need for them to live in Accra? What benefit will the state derive from housing them in Accra? It is a fact that land and space is most scarce and expensive in Accra as compared to every other region in this country and the reasons are obvious. Considering the need to promote industry and jobs, why should a country like Ghana provide deserving but not needed houses for its former presidents in Accra?
It is the writers believe that the nation would rather benefit if all former presidents are provided with a house and an office in their home town. Can you imagine how Dzelukope, Bole, or Nkawie would have looked if they had a former Presidents Official residence there. They would have the benefit of international dignitaries visiting that home town and its attended gains. It would have compelled the Government to do something about their roads, electricity, and water. Why must we crowd these gentlemen in Accra and leave their people suffering in poverty? Many local Chiefs will be so happy to give free lands to house their sons who have made them proud by becoming presidents of this nation.
Who must determine what to be given them? The question of the powers of the president of Ghana has come up over and again. It is not surprising that we have had problems with almost all the committee of emoluments set up by all the three living presidents. My sincere view is that Article 71 is one of the parts of our constitution that needs to be reviewed. It does not make sense to me that when a president is about to leave office, he sets up a committee and ask the committee to decide on what should be his/her ESB. My humble view is that this must be the responsibility of the parliamentary service commission.
This commission shall continuously review ESB for both President and parliament. The commission must begin building the president’s retirement home on the very day the president is sworn into office. Of course he can make suggestions into his modifications.
This is in answer to the question of when that decision should be made and executed. We need not wait till handing over before we begin to look for a place for the former presidents. If we leave this in their hands, chances are that, they will never build. For they almost always never expect to lose elections. The state must prepare for them whether they have lost or not.
My conclusion therefore is that. Yes we need to house our former presidents. But we should change article 71 and cause parliament to establish a permanent emolument body that will be in charge of all ex- gratia matters instead of allowing the president to be the one to set up a committee to determine what he wants as ex-gratia.