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Ghana Lawmakers Propose Salary Increases as Anti-Corruption Effort

  • Drew Hinshaw

Ghanaian lawmakers say they have found a novel way to curb corruption, by doubling their own pay. The proposal has provoked a debate in this West African country still searching for ways to manage its newfound oil wealth.

The 2,000 Ghana cedis that the country's parliamentarians take home each month could buy you roundtrip airfare to London or Cape Town, or about $1,300 at a foreign exchange bureau.

But if you are looking to stay in office in a country where politics is pegged to patronage, the country's lawmakers want you to know that you would have a tough time surviving off that amount, too.

That is why a seeming majority of Ghana's parliament is saying that if they are going to fight the temptation for corruption, they need to double their pay.

The new monthly salary about $4,500 a month is about three times what the average Ghanaian earns in a year.

The executive director of the policy group Imani Ghana, Franklin Cudjoe, says that is just too much. "We do not believe that giving them the almost 169 percent pay raise makes sense at all. They swore an oath that they were going to diligently pursue whatever they are going to pursue in the interest of Ghanaians and for that reason they knew emoluments that were there and so it should not be seen as if they are pursuing a most sacrificial job," he said.

But Charles Hodogbey, an parliament member from the lush riverside district of North Tongu, says outsiders like Cudjoe just do not know the kind of pressure lawmakers are under to share their salary.

"Parliamentary work pro bono? No," he says, "You go to the constituency, you take 2,000 Ghana cedis, before you come back within three days it is gone. If you are a Ghanaian Parliamentarian, if you do not take time you would come become poorer than the way you came in."

Hodogbey says the country's lawmakers are badly compensated compared to their counterparts in regional neighbors like Nigeria. Senators there make $198,000 a year in salary and allowances, according to figures reported by Lagos-based news magazine Business Day.

Ghana also boasts a significantly less corrupt government, the 62nd least corrupt government in the world according to Transparency International's 2010 rankings of 178 countries. Nigeria scored 134th on the list.

If lawmakers want to fortify the idea that public service is a noble gesture, not a staircase to wealth, David Tetteh Assumeng says they should cap, not raise their salaries.

Assumeng is the lone parliamentarian calling for a salary freeze in a chamber prepped to give itself a raise.

He says, if lawmakers want to win the loyalty of their constituency, they should do so through official channels.

"I think that it is very important for us to do well to freeze any increment of our salaries at least for two years for us to raise revenue to develop our communities. We cannot continue to rely on external funds, we must also take initiative," he said.

In December, Ghana pumped the first of 600 million barrels worth of oil estimated to be sitting below its continental shelf. The country's revenue service expects to collect $207 million from oil taxes this year alone.

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