Tuesday, October 26, 2010

MPs should pay for their own laptops

Two weeks following their return to parliament, Ghana’s MPs were handed out laptops by the Communication Ministry. The laptops handed out to the 230 parliamentarians fitted with moderns, according to Communication Minister Haruna Iddrisu, is to help the MPs do research to help in their work.

Mr. Iddrisu again justified his ministry’s decision by saying, “Parliament is such an important institution and if we are serious - in the 21st Century – we should be talking about e-Parliament, e-cabinet.” A lot of people disagreed with the decision to handout the gadgets for the MPs for free. I am one of them. But there are others like my friend and colleague blogger Kajsa(www.kajsaha.com) who disagrees with me. She thinks the MPs deserve the gadgets because it will help in their works and also push the boundary of accountability a bit.

But before I come to her I’ll like to first respond to Mr. Iddrisu’s explanation that the laptops will help the MPs undertake research exercise. I want him to come and tell the public which of his colleagues or even himself have been conducting research into any of their works, and how that has impacted in their work.

This bare face attempt to hand in laptops to himself and colleagues under very cloudy circumstances is not true. And in any case what kind of research is he going to conduct? Any potential person wanting to become an MP does so because of the money-and it has nothing to do with any serious parliamentary work-no wonder they fight during campaign periods. And the evidence(s) is not too difficult to find-the sale of Ghana Telecom, the accusation of a jet etc.

Now back to Kajsa’s argument. MPs like any other politician or citizen deserve to get their fingers tune on to the things of cyberspace else risk becoming insignificant. It is the trend over the world and they must follow the same trend. I agree with that. My point is that it should not be the state funding or paying for the laptops.

If the MPs want laptops to help them in their work they should pay for them. They collect hefty sums of money at the end of their term (and this is apart from the sitting allowances at committee levels, those collected from organisations and individuals before they even submit their petitions to the committee levels) as ex-gratia, for huffing and puffing in the house on partisan lines, at the detriment of the nation. At the close of parliament in 2008, each MP collected more than US$30,000 as ex-gratia. And this also excludes their car loans and the many per diems most of them receive on travel trips.

An MP is currently using a vehicle worth more than US$ 20,000, free accommodation and all the trappings that come with his office. It will therefore be politically incorrect for one to say they cannot afford laptops. They should get their own if truly they need them to undertake research.

Secondly, I find this excuse about constituents demanding accountability from the MPs pretty strange. Prior to standing for elections, the MPs themselves tell their constituents of their readiness to be open and transparent in their dealings.

They surely knew at the time that they did not have laptops and so I’m wondering how a new laptop in their hands will help constituents demand accountability from their MPs. How many of their constituents know how to use emails?

It is a fact that more than 60 percent of our rural communities, where most of these MPs come from, are not ICT savvy, so how do they demand accountability from their MPs via the email? A constituent who has no running water or has bad school structure does not need an email address to inform the MP(and its said people are asking them to do roads and build schools just because they promised such things on their campaign platforms, though theirs are to make laws).

The MP should be visiting the constituency every weekend to interact with their people and not sit in Accra and lavish in ‘profligate enjoyments’ with their own. After all what matter to the ordinary folks are how to address the bad road networks, energy supply and safe drinking water. Those are the essentials people want and which, unfortunately, the MPs are not talking about at all.

They’ll rather sit in parliament and see their constituents walk up to them begging for handouts; school fees, funeral donations, weddings etc-And they go through all because they promise them.

Some even find it frustrating going back to their constituents because of the poor nature of the roads- but are quick to pitch camp there during elections. Accountability for me will when they hold government accountable for every single bill or money spent, irrespective of their political affiliations.

I’m confident these laptops will end up either in the rooms of their girlfriends, kids or even wives. Or at best become a toy on which they watch their lousy movies.

There are serious crises in our education which require that we spend money to resolve that and if our priority is about getting laptops to save the parochial interest of the MPs, then God help us.

I rest my case!

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