Editorial : Paying assembly members in the midst of bloating public sector wage bill
Former President John Dramani Mahama, who is also the flagbearer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), at his recent Facebook Life Q &A, promised to pay monthly salary to assembly men and women because they are the “the bedrock of our local governance system.”
According to the NDC flagbearer, his administration has plans to decentralise the registration of births and deaths, and that assembly members will be trained to coordinate the localised registration.
“For providing the service, our intention is to pay Assembly Members so that they can earn an income to be able to look after themselves. This policy is going to be contained in our programme on governance. So this thing about having a new voter register and all that will be a thing of the past, because we will get in real-time who has turned 18 and we can just transport them onto the electoral register.”
Though The Chronicle is not seeking to condemn the NDC flagbearer for coming out with this proposal, since he has the right, as an opposition leader, to tell Ghanaians his vision and how he is going to implement them, we completely disagree with his proposal, and, indeed, any politician who may be contemplating implementing the same policy.
The President of the Chamber of Local Governance, Dr. Richard Fiadormor, according to a Kasapa FM report has, however, backed the position held by the former leader, saying the assembly members deserve better. “It’s possible to pay assembly members, because, don’t forget, they’re agents of development at the local level. If former President Mahama is championing this cause, it’s important that we give him the support so he can make this a reality and improve the local governance system,” he said.
The Chronicle cannot once again fault Dr. Richard Fiadormor because, as a leader of an institution that is going to benefit from this idea, the paper cannot expect him to say something different or oppose the idea. We must, however, take note that one of the major problems confronting Ghana today is how to deal with the ever-bloating public sector wage bill, which is consuming almost half of our tax revenue every year.
Indeed, on May 1, 2018, The Daily Graphic reported that in 2017, when tax revenue totalled GH¢32.2 billion, wages and salaries for public sector workers rose to GH¢14.4 billion, equivalent to 44.7 per cent of the year’s total taxes. This meant that of every one cedi collected in taxes last year (2017), 44.7 pesewas was used to pay public workers, leaving behind some 55 pesewas for debt servicing, statutory payments, capital expenditure and social intervention expenses, among others.
Ghana, currently, has a population of approximately 30 million, and if half of our revenue generated in a year is spent on just 650,000 out of the projected 30 million people, then, indeed, we have a serious problem on hand. Since the 650,000 workers on government payroll have been bandied around for some time now, we will not be surprised if the figure has now moved to 700,000 and even beyond.
Having 700,000 people on the payroll of a small country such as ours, who are consuming half of the revenue generated by the state and leaving the remaining half to tackle debt servicing, statutory payments, capital expenditure and social intervention expenses, among others, is a major issue that can never be swept under the carpet. Let any government official visit any of our villages, and the major concerns they would raise are bad roads, lack of access to quality health services, water and education.
Our road sector in particular, is in a mess, because half of the revenue the state generates goes into the payment of wages and salaries, leaving little money left to solve problems in other sectors of the economy. In our view, we, as a country, will be exacerbating the situation if Mahama’s policy of paying assembly members is to be implemented.
At the moment, Ghana has 260 metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies. If these 260 assemblies have, say 25 assembly members each, we are talking about 6,500 assembly members across the country. Again, if each of these assembly members is to be paid, say, GH¢1,000, which we know will be higher than that, the state is going to spend GH¢6,500,000 each month. We have not spoken about the other fringe benefits that will accompany the employment of these local law makers.
The framers of the 1992 Constitution might have taken the issues we have just raised into consideration, hence, their decision to make the work of the assembly members, which is not a full time job, a sacrificial one. The state cannot simply shoulder additional responsibility of paying assembly members, as Mr Mahama is suggesting.
But, should the NDC flagbearer insist on implementing the policy if he becomes president in future, then we suggest that the local assemblies be made to shoulder the payment responsibility from their internally generated funds.
Because of the District Assembly Common Fund, most of the assemblies are not performing well when it comes to revenue mobilisation. Though we concede that some of the districts are so poor that revenue mobilisation is almost a difficult thing to do, something can still be done if the District Chief Executives and their teams think outside the box, which they would be motivated to do if Mahama’s idea is pushed on them.
Paying assembly members, we insist, should not be considered for now. The resources that would go into the payment should rather be channelled into expansion of our health and educational infrastructure in the rural areas. Our health officials and teachers are refusing postings to the rural areas because of lack of proper amenities such as decent accommodation, water and electricity. This development has made the dichotomy between education in the rural and urban areas very unbalanced.
In our view, the leaders of this country should be focusing on this and how to improve upon them to ensure the balanced development of our dear nation, instead of rushing to pay assembly members, though this is not to suggest that the work they (assembly members) do is irrelevant. The Chronicle, nevertheless, suggests to the state to pay the assembly members end of service benefits, which, in our considered view, would not be anywhere near the amount the state would have spent on them as salaries and emoluments for the four years they would be in office.