Posted on: www.dailyguideghana.com
By William Yaw Owusu
Thursday, 13 August 2015
President John Dramani Mahama yesterday said he has resurrected from the land of the dead, as he is no longer a ‘dead goat’ but a living one.
“I am a living goat not a dead goat,” he said jokingly, after the backlash from his ‘dead goat syndrome’ comment.
The President, addressing Ghanaians living in Botswana in March this year, said he had become impervious to threats of strikes and demonstrations back home and adopted what he termed a “dead-goat syndrome", telling agitating labour groups and the opposition that a dead goat does not fear the knife.
His comment at the time caused public uproar and his political opponents in particular had since used the ‘dead goat’ analogy against him in almost every political discourse.
However, in an interview on state-run Uniiq FM in Accra in commemoration of the World Youth Day, President Mahama backtracked and said he had now changed from a dead goat to a living one, as strike actions by agitating public sector workers overwhelmed him.
He also sounded biblical when he was asked about the recent arrest and incarceration of Charles Antwi, the supposed mentally deranged man who was caught with a gun at the President’s church at the Ringway Assemblies of God church.
“I didn’t think much of it. God is my protector….no weapon fashioned against me shall prosper,” he said, before asking the public to allow the BNI to conduct thorough investigations into the issue.
He ripped the Ghana Medical Association (GMA) apart, virtually describing as senseless the ongoing strike embarked upon by public sector medical doctors.
He said the GMA-led action was illegal and reiterated that it “does not make sense”.
President Mahama insisted that the doctors must back down and call off the strike without further delay.
“The strike must be called off because we are paying doctors their salaries and allowances as negotiated on single spine.
“The Labour Law states that nobody must negotiate under duress. Even before negotiations began, they declared strike. Nobody must die as a result of an illegal strike. The doctors’ strike is illegal… The doctors must go back to work while negotiations continue in good faith.”
“A leader must take the decision that needs to be taken and I believe Ghanaians are discerning,” he said, adding, “I think that the time has come when we have to do what we have to do and not keep an eye on the political ball. This government has taken some of the toughest decisions."
President Mahama said singling out the doctors and giving in to their demands would have a ‘cascading’ effect that could cause ‘misalignments’ in the management of the economy.
No Work No Pay!
The government on Tuesday issued a statement that appeared to suggest that all public sector workers who were on strike would not be paid.
The statement, signed by the Employment and Labour Relations Minister, Haruna Iddrisu, said: "Government wishes to remind all public sector workers of the provisions of the Labour Act 2003 (Act 651), which states among others that a worker on strike “may forfeit his/her remuneration in respect of the period during which he/she is engaged in the illegal strike.”
President Mahama in the course of the interview appeared to endorse the minister's decision, saying, "If we don't live by our laws, we go back to the jungle."
No Love Lost
There had been a no-love-lost relationship between the Mahama-led NDC government and doctors over the conditions of service of the latter, including end-of-service benefits.
As a result, the health sector is witnessing what looks like unprecedented chaos because the government and the GMA cannot find a common ground regarding the impasse, while the strike continues unabated.
President Mahama, in the ensuing confusion, served notice that he would not authorise spending outside the approved budget while Employment and Labour Relations Minister Haruna Iddrisu said the government was already overstretched and would not be able to accede to the outrageous demands of the striking doctors.
Some NDC communication members, with support from the presidency, released a document which contained what they termed the ‘outrageous demands’ of the GMA, but the doctors rebutted and the contents of the said document, saying it was not what they presented on their improved conditions of service.
The doctors said they were even prepared to resign en bloc if their demands were not met.
The GMA members insisted that they would not return to work unless government provided them with suitable conditions of service; but indications were that the salaries of the striking doctors would be frozen by government, per the statement released by Hon Haruna Iddrisu.
President Mahama said he was yet to be ‘adequately briefed’ about the strike by the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) over the non-payment of their book and research allowances, even though the lecturers had been on strike for more than a week.
He asked public sector workers to ‘tone down’ on their demands for improved conditions of service, since the economy did not belong to him but “the entire nation”, adding that the labour groups needed to bear with the government.
On the freeze on employment, President Mahama explained that the move was to reduce pressure on government’s wage bill.
He said the wage bill continued to take a toll on government revenue, adding that “we want to bring the wages and compensation bill down. In 2013 wages took 73% total tax revenue.”
The IMF Bait
There is a moratorium on public sector employment by the government as a result of an IMF conditionality, though the government continues to deny that fact. But President Mahama alluded to the fact that his government was able to reduce the wage bill from 73% to 49% of tax revenues due to such austere arrangements.
Interestingly, the recent three-year loan agreement between Ghana and the IMF contains a freeze on public sector employment and prevents the government from increasing the wage bill to more than 10 percent - a move labour experts say is triggering labour agitations since they all want more than 10 percent on the negotiation table.
The IMF is also asking the government to eliminate subsidies on utilities and petroleum products (which is already being implemented) and the Breton Wood institution expects that the measures will lead to savings of two percent GDP.
Some Ministers Not Paid
The President said reforms at the Controller and Accountant General’s Department (CAGD) was responsible for the delay in the payment of remunerations of some public sector workers, even though some had been working for the past two years without pay.
Over 1,500 NADMO staff on Tuesday staged a demonstration at the Finance Ministry over unpaid salaries running into about 30 months.
He urged public sector workers to exercise patience because the reforms had affected other categories of public office holders such as some of his ministers.
The use of strikes to demand an entitlement is entrenching public perception that industrial action is the only language government understands.
“It is not true…it is a wrong perception and I think it is unfortunate,” Mahama said.