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Ghana’s President Mahama targets corruption and high salaries

Reacting to recent criticism, Ghana’s president John Dramani Mahama has announced anti-corruption measures are to be stepped up. In addition, the president and his ministers will take a 10 percent salary cut.

The announcement of the imminent pay cuts for politicians was made by Finance Minister Seth Terkpe during his presentation of the 2014 budget.

"His Excellency President John Dramani Mahama, his vice president, ministers and appointees have decided to take a voluntary 10 percent pay cut for 2014." Terkpe said, adding that the money deducted from the salaries would be paid into a special fund for community health and planning services, with the focus on maternal health.

The measure is one of several introduced by President Mahama in order to curb high spending and mobilize revenue for the country's economic needs. The government says almost 70 percent of total revenue generated is currently used to pay public sector workers. This means that only limited sums are available for urgently needed development projects.

Ghanain toddlers in a health center Photo: Monika Hoegen

Money deducted from politicians' salaries will help improve health care for mothers and children

Ghana is now a low to middle income country and no longer receives the large loans and grants it previously obtained from its donor partners. Fears had been expressed by Ghanaian economists that if nothing were done to curb state spending, then Ghana would soon run into serious economic trouble.

'Populist measures'

However, the president's proposed pay cuts for himself and his team have not met with universal approval. Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu, Minority Leader in the Ghanaian parliament, who speaks for the main opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), dismissed the move as "cheap populism."

President Mahama has come under considerable criticism recently for his perceived reluctance to take up the fight against corruption and for not prosecuting public officials suspected of fraud. He now seems to have gone on the offensive with the announcement that he has instructed the minister of justice, the attorney general and the Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO) to achieve specific goals by the end of 2013. These include "secure refunds of money wrongfully paid to or appropriated by any individuals or companies." Mahama added that legal action would be initiated "against individuals to secure these refunds."

However, Ghanaian economist, Professor George Ayittey, says it is not the business of the president to chase after corrupt officials. Such matters are best left to the country's institutions, he told DW. “Let's suppose that, after the auditor general brings out his report, the attorney general doesn't do anything. It is then the responsibility of the public accounts committee to call in the attorney general and say ‘why didn't you take action?' This is how it is supposed to work. You don't get the president involved in these things,” he said.

Former Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings Photo/Elias Asmare)

Jerry Rawlings was president of Ghana from 1981 to 2001

Doubts about Mahama's determination

Support for Mahama's initiative has come from former president Jerry Rawlings. "President Mahama concedes that the corruption issue is one that requires the support of all and has called for our involvement in fighting it. The president can only succeed if we help to expose the weaknesses in his government and offer concrete advice. You have an equal responsibility to help develop your country by refusing to sit on the fence doing nothing," he said.

Among the population at large there has been a general welcome for the measures to curb corruption mixed with skepticism about the president's determination to see them through.

Accra resident Seth Adjie told DW's Ghana correspondent he was not optimistic that corruption would decrease. Yaa Baafi, also from Accra, said it was not up to the government alone. "Corruption also depends on individuals. We, the individuals, also have to fight corruption," she said.

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