Monday, May 28, 2012

The Wobbly Foundation of the House at Ridge


(Picture borrowed from graphic.com.gh)

Don Quixote’s Battle

There is a contemporary affair raging on in Ghanaian politics which is quite quixotic to my mind. It is about the sale of real estate by the Lands Commission (of the Government of Ghana) to a former Minister of State. The property is located at Ridge – a gentrified neighbourhood.

The issue has taken on the badge of a battle between the ruling NDC and the main opposition NPP. Another measure is the seeming unremitting disfavour of some self-said devotees of the ruling NDC (and by weak extension the executive) for the judiciary. A third scope of the scrimmage is the insistence by some NPP adherents on an amoral application of the ‘law’ to give back Jake (the aggrieved Minister) the house which the government is loath to do.

This article is a deviation from my normal fare, and an attempt to appeal to Ghanaians to keep their eyes on the real issue and to resist the NDC-NPP cacophony that is clouding the perfidious asset-stripping that is bedevilling our country.


The Political Class



Every fourth year, since 1992, we have held elections. Three times have we changed presidents. At least five times, we have substituted many members of government. Two parties have shown realistic chances of winning, and have won at least twice. This year, NDC or NPP will win again. PPP has shown signs of making a first bleep on the radar for a third force. Whoever wins, it is the same ‘TV’d’ faces that will form the next government. It is this colossal, cross-party cabal of influential people which decides which scandals will cloud the civic conversation at any time. Let us call it the ‘Political Class’.

Dangerous Departure


The current rumpus exposes a dangerous departure from convention – dangerous to the Political Class, salubrious for the people. It emerged in the public domain, no doubt, from a personal score to settle. For as long as only God knows, there has been a scheme urban redevelopment, and it involves ‘redistributing’ antiquated State property to the Political Class and the para-Political Class. The prices are sometimes ridiculously low, but that is a separate conversation.

The principle has been tacitly established: on a regular basis, official residents of State houses can acquire those houses. So can others with the right information or connections. Some members of both the NPP and the NDC have benefitted from this principle.

So, this not-so-public ‘dibi na me’ndibi’ has now become the news because somebody went ‘personal’ against Jake, who was only following an established policy.

Side Attraction Distraction

There have been (perhaps deliberate) distractions from the main issue. Again, the main issue is asset-stripping by the Political Class. There have been media wars, court contests and cabinet repudiations. In my opinion, the racket about these events misses the main issue.

Many have been ‘red-herringed’ off the real scent. If every other Minister since independence had acquired their official residence, would the State have any more to house officials?

The main business of the State does not include construction of accommodation (though it might include facilitating same). Do Ghanaians want to see their taxes used to house the president and his men in hotels when State-owned houses run out?

Pots & Kettles, Law & Morality and Democracy

The pot-and-kettle arguments about morality and legality do not impress me. The Supreme Court has given its decision on the lawful observance of procedure in the acquisition (but not on its morality). The government wishes to look beyond the legal into the moral – the old law-and-morality argument. That is fine too.

The courts do not lay down administrative procedure for the Executive. They only look (by judicial review) to make sure the exercise of administrative power and discretion is fair and lawful. Therefore, if there is an established underlying principle (no matter how morally flawed) the curative duty is somebody else’s, not the court’s.

The morality argument impresses me. I just wish it could be pursued without adding this to the list of matters in which the government takes a posture of jousting with the judges.

If the house at Ridge was not unlawfully acquired, the cabinet has made a decision not to sell. I have tried to wrap my mind around the repercussions. In the main, I do not see a flagrant violation of the authority of the Supreme Court (although there may be disrespect). Instead, I see a government making a stand on high moral ground and risking a private lawsuit for breach of contract or specific performance (an order to perform the terms of the contract to sell the house).

Most importantly, I see a bleeding democracy. We should not accept the immorality that is asset-stripping. We should not accept the executive finding ‘convenient’ means around the Judiciary (or worse affiliates of the party in power threatening the judiciary as has happened in the not-too-far-off past). We should not praise the NDC’s position, if it is merely to score political points. We should exalt the NDC’s position if they are saying “We have been tacitly complicit in this. Now, we realise that it is wrong and must not continue it”. That is a position I could stand in the sun for five hours in December to defend with my thumb.

New Political Principles

Shall we then make a new compact between Ghanaians and the Political Class? Shall it be a continuing document we can all add to and subtract from?
The first principle could be “Let there be no more asset-stripping”. The second might be “Political appointees cannot acquire any assets they controlled or were associated with on the job”. The third principle may be “Let there not just be the actual absence of conflict of interest or minimisation of corruption. Let it be seen that there is none”.

Let all the acts of the Political Class be characterised by fellow feeling and respect for the people. They will not sit down until all the assets are stripped. We should pray that they react by speaking the same words the spokespersons of the Political Class obfuscate the issues in the media every day. But, if the masses do not have words (by reason of unfortunately low – or no – education), they do have hands: connect the dots for yourself.

The house at Ridge is our democracy. Let us be reminded of the wobbly foundations it yet stands on. Let us be reminded of the work and recommitment we need to put into it. What principles would you like to hold the Political Class to?


20 comments:

  1. Mawuli Tsikata28 May, 2012

    I can imagine other not-so-public ‘dibi na me’ndibi’ activities/policies that politicians in GH are taking advantage of to the detriment of the nation...

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    1. You can't keep a rubber ball underwater forever...is all I'll say.

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  2. Ofeibea Afari29 May, 2012

    You are very objective.
    I share in your New Political Principles.
    Ghana needs more people like you

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    1. Awww thanks. But not to feel special, there are many many people who also feel this way.

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  3. Kwame Mensa-Bonsu29 May, 2012

    NY...well written as always. But our politicians are more focused on stealing than having a vision. 20 years of democracy no one has seen fit to come up with rules governing these things. I'm sure even the corporate world in Gh has rules about the use of corporate property when one exits. How much more the State! In any case as I always suspect, people know the right thing but won't do it because it'll cut their own monopolising pig-like mouths from the national trough!

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    1. I like the idea of transferring some of the good corporate governance rules to politics.

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  4. The head and tail of the whole exercise is WINNING VOTES. In our country, it is easier to win the public sympathy thru 'MORALS' than established principles. Personally, I can't wait for some 'IDIOT' to show up and go back 20 yrs to retrieve all the state properties so acquired at no or little cost to the state.
    The more we restart, the higher the probability that we will get a right start ..... someday...!!!

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    1. Personally, I feel (and agree with you) that Ghana is due a popular uprising of sorts (maybe civil disobedience) before a decade is up. I veiled it in the statement about the 'masses' having no words but hands.

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  5. To my mind,the problem has nothing to do with asset stripping. It has everything to do with the scoring of cheap political points on the back of that very sorry word - morality. Indeed, I do not see the issue of asset stripping at play in this matter at all. Why? How can the State take the benefit of USD400,000 from a person in consideration for a 50yr lease of State land and the rest of us turn around to say it is asset stripping? To digress, if I were him, I will give up the lease, in light of the cabinet decision, and demand a full refund of my money with interest over the 4yr period. It can only be asset stripping if the land was gifted to him or he appropriated it dishonestly, unless we insist that State property should not be sold under any circumstance.
    The problem, it seems to me, is that we are too quick - when it suits us - to call in the word morality (which none of us can define)to mudsling our opponents.
    If we perceive that when the Constitution uses that word, it is merely an admonishing to avoid a perverse or absurd interpretation and application of the law, we will save ourselves the hiccup of always lassoing ourselves into confusion with the word "morality". Seriously, what does it mean?

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    1. I am going to have to stand my ground and disagree with you on 'asset-stripping'. It is not not asset-stripping because he paid 400K for the property. Asset-stripping is certainly not 'stealing'. I suspect that that is why the opponents of the lease call it 'immoral' and not 'unlawful'. It is asset-stripping because the State is losing this asset (and others). At one level, should every individual with 400K be able to buy some State property? At another level, would every individual with 400K even know about the availability of such an asset if they are not well-connected or (even worse) if they are ill-connected? How about the State properties that went for 8K or that neighbourhood? Even I could have done something to something and come up with that 8K. But would I even hear of it in time?

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  6. And I'm thinking of the policy that permits public servants to buy their official cars for ridiculously low prices upon retirement. Same principle, if ever there was immorality (whatever it means).
    And I'm also thinking of seized and forfeited cars "sold" at the ports in darkness without public notice.
    What am I even saying. Morality? Mtcheeeewww!!!

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  7. And it is this conception of asset stripping that led the plaintiffs to institute that unhappy suit. If a person's action is not unlawful or a breach of law, why go to court?
    And that is why I said we do ourselves a great deal of harm by fetching the word "morality" whenever it suits us, without appreciating that it is merely an admonishing to avoid perverse and absurd interpretation and application of law.
    Certainly, everyone with 400k cannot demand to buy State property. I agree with you on that. And I also agree that the sale of that particular property should have been publicized than what was done. And like you, I have grave - very grave issues with assets that are purportedly sold but in fact, gifted.
    Your conception of asset stripping suggests that the State should not sell any of its assets to any person, since the State will lose that asset. But Karl Max himself will envy this concept of communism.
    As long as the State takes the benefit of the commercial value of the asset, it may physically have lost that asset but it has gained its commercial value.
    If I sell my car to you at a commercial rate, I have lost the car so to speak, but I have cash, or whatever consideration you gave to show for it. That cannot by any stretch be a construct of you stripping me of my car.
    Same analogy applies to the State, which by law is characterized much like a private person in the context of commercial transactions.
    I will totally agree with you if he hadn't paid something in the region of the commercial value of the property.
    On another score, although the initial transaction was not advertised, it was advertised in the Times that the land was being leased to him and all objectioners should register their objection.
    Instead of mounting a legal challenge properly so-called to the advertised lease, they go to court screaming their version of morality.
    To humour all those who think this is asset stripping,I propose that we make a law to bar the State from selling any of its properties, including a perpetual injunction against diversifying State-owned companies that are making huge losses. That way, the State can keep all its assets intact.
    I liked your piece, though.
    I think you should explore the academic writing thing. You have the natural gift for it.

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    1. But my point is really quite simple. If I pay you money for a house and you don't give me the house, I would ask the court to compel you to give me the house; I won't ask for my money back as money is not easily convertible to land (especially in Accra today).

      My point is even if the building has lost its value and the State sees no good use for the house, would it not be better for the building to be pulled down and another built in its stead and used by State officials?

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    2. All these thoughts should be in the public domain(in terms of access lol), incredible thoughts Kissi and Nana Yaw keep it up

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  8. Nana your piece resonates my sentiments exactly. The morality issue is not so much about good or bad as it is what is in the best interest of the nation. Only a certain approach to leadership, weak or not, enables certain issues that have been "business as usual" to become issues about which the "common" citizenry could exercise some influence.
    Citizens must call the political and elitist classes which are always bed-mates no matter the government to book

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    1. Akuya,

      Thanks for seeing things my way. I strongly feel that 'selling' away land together with now-cheap buildings on them is wrong. I am not saying Jake in particular should lose his investment. I am saying the policy is egregious.

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  9. Interesting to see you explicitly enter the debate...I would like to award the title "honorable" only to the politician who declares his or her assets before taking up office so that we can all be very sure no self-enrichment takes place. Standing up for service, not asset-stripping, is "honorable".

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  10. interesting read...................

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  11. Indeed mo matter how impressive the design of a certain house if the foundation is shaky ,still the house can pull it of together, the same holds true for any political system of any country.

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  12. I'll lean on Kissi's shoulder and tug on Nana Yaw tie to balance. I am not sure what the procurement laws are in this country, but I am of the opinion - opinion ooo- that if public office doesn't give a state official a first right of purchase in a bungalow (they deemed disposable at the time as is done in many corporate establishments) then we are making governance more difficult in this country. True, there are many dishonest politicians, but there are many deserving ones as well. Same way we wouldn't want all lawyers defending perceived criminals to be seen as 'paid for', let's leave the dignity and 'morality' of the politician's profession to the dictation of Rule of Law.

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