The first time I wrote about a strike action, I made many enemies. That was in August 2013, exactly two years ago. The University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) announced strike on August 1, 2013, to protest unpaid salary arrears. Within 12 hours, the government resolved the issue and started paying their arrears that were pending since 2012. Impressive, isn’t it?
Despite the swift response, UTAG was not prepared to call off its strike until the book and research allowance was also paid. Book and research allowance? That was where I had an axe to grind with the cult called academia. I set my fingers to work on my keyboard. On August 2, 2013, I published an article titled, “Manasseh’s Folder: Do our lecturers deserve their research allowance?” Of course, I provided the answer. I thought they didn’t deserve it. And I still think majority of them don’t deserve a pesewa of my tax as book and research allowance.
Lecturers at the Political Science Department of the University of Ghana boycotted all Multimedia platforms because of that article. They would not speak as resource persons because a certain Manasseh had said they carried out no research. When I later met the lecturer who engineered that boycott, he was furious and said I was acting as if I was speaking for government. That was a diplomatic way of telling me he “knew where I belonged”.
Joy FM’s Northern Regional Correspondent, Hashmin Mohammed, later told me some lecturers of the University for Development Studies (UDS) were also mad at me. I received many emails from lecturers who were displeased about my article.
The government was, however, happy about that article. It was in the said article that I suggested that the research allowance should be scrapped. Instead of giving meager allowances to the teachers, I proposed that a Research Fund should be established to fund those who really had researches to conduct. Even if no government official will be honest enough to admit it, I believe the idea for the proposed Research Fund was taken from that article. That was two years ago, and it was my first experience in writing on strikes.
The second article I have written on strikes was published two weeks ago when the Ghana Medical Association started striking in demand of a condition of service. In that article, I criticized government’s approach to dealing with the impasse. I suggested a tactful and diplomatic way of dealing with the doctors instead of unleashing government communicators to insult them.
The backlash that followed was predictable. The Chief Executive Officer of the National Youth Authority, Mr. Ras Mubarak, said, like executive members of the GMA, I had lost credibility. Coming from such a person, I considered it as a compliment. Many have also decided to take the battle to my social media space. But I have developed a “dead goat” syndrome to those lame minded political tagging. A man who farms at the wayside, our elders say, must not fear greetings.
Unlike the university teachers’ strike, I have chosen to support the medical doctors in this strike.
I have said it before and I will say it again that I subscribe to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s philosophy about neutrality. The anti-apartheid fighter once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If the elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
I don’t need anybody to tell me who the oppressor and oppressed are in this case. I know the medical doctor is the oppressed. For many years, we have emotionally blackmailed them into accepting maltreatment from various governments and we show no gratitude for their servitude. Yes, I know who the oppressed are.
If, in this 21st century of human civilization, a young medical doctor at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital is dismissed for demanding a condition of service before writing an acceptance letter, then I know who the oppressed are. If the GMA gives government eight months to resolve a situation that must be resolved within 20 days and no one seems to care, I know who the oppressed are.
If the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission rules in favour of medical doctors and cannot enforce it but can enforce the ruling when it favours government, then I know who the oppressed are. If the government goes to court to quash a ruling against it in a labour dispute and the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission does not enter an appearance to defend its own ruling in favour of the doctors, then I know who the oppressed are.
If my media company will pay my medical bills, but my government will not pay the medical bills of the medical doctor, who is predisposed to all manner of ailments, then I cannot pretend to be neutral. When Ebola strikes and we are ill-prepared and the medical doctors are forced to face it without any insurance cover or assurance of treatment like their counterparts elsewhere, then I know who the oppressed are. If a man who lives by the riverside is forced to wash his hands with spittle, I need no one to tell me he is the victim.
So I support the doctors’ strike. Yes, I do. I am not immune to illness. I may collapse as I write this piece and may be rushed to a hospital, where there is no doctor, but I still support the doctors’ strike. I am prepared to stand by my principles. Even in death.
I have no social contract with the medical doctors. My social contract is with my government. The head of that government is my president. I voted him into office. I pay him well. I fuel his convoy of vehicles. I feed, house and provide him with security because he promised to address challenges of my healthcare, security, power and general wellbeing.
If the government cared about my health, it would have followed the dictates of common sense in dealing with the striking doctors. If the government cared so much about the lives that would be lost should the doctors go on strike, it would have considered itself a victim; and since the cripple does not start a war song, it would have been more tactful and diplomatic in dealing with the doctors. But far from that.
They win elections with propaganda. And they govern with propaganda, thanks to an indescribably gullible electorate who will fall for that cheap and thoughtless propaganda.
When the doctors presented their document, the heading was “Proposal for Negotiation.” We all know that when you take your dog to Bongo market and you want to sell it for Ghc200, you don’t mention GHc200 to a Dagao (Dagaati) buyer. You mention GHc400 or more. At Kantamanto, if a seller says a pair of shoes costs GHc 500, you can end up buying it for GHc50 if you are good at bargaining.
So it was wrong for the man who is closest to President Mahama to publish the proposal and create the impression that the doctors were greedy. At worst, what he could have published was what government was offering them. With that we could say, “This is what the government is offering and they still say no.”
But feeble minds and gullible hearts fell for that propaganda. Public opinion weighed heavily against the doctors and everybody is insulting them.
Adolf Hitler was right when he said, “All propaganda has to be popular and has to accommodate itself to the comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach.”
And the world’s biggest terrorist was again right when he said, “By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise.”
The propagandists have succeeded in making the doctors who sacrifice to take care us villains, and our the government a hero. The government communicators prepared the grounds for President Mahama to make an ill-informed comment, which some have mistaken for a bold statement. Permit me to explain why the comment was ill-informed.
When he addressed members of the Ghana Registered Midwives Association, at the launch of their 80th anniversary in Accra, the President said he would not make payments that would further raise Ghana’s budget deficit.
“Any agreement that are reached in respect of allowances or conditions of services would have to be appropriately captured in the budget,” he said.
“And I want to say for emphasis I will not authorize any expenditure on wages and compensation not provided for in the budget.
“Fiscal discipline requires that not a single pesewa is spent on remuneration outside what has been budgeted for and this goes for both Article 71 Office holders and those on the single spine.
“It goes for the president as well as the lowest public sector employee. I am determined to hold the line no matter the political cost,” he said.
According to the Ghana Medical Association, government had earlier agreed to start implementing the terms that would be agreed when negotiations on the condition of service was completed. The government later appealed to medical doctors to suspend the implementation of the agreement to 2016 when it will have been captured in the budget. The doctors agreed to this, so if the president is talking about expenditure not captured in the budget, which budget is he talking about? Why is he not on top of such critical issues?
Some have been asking why doctors should strike when their condition of service is for 2016. The 2016 budget is being prepared and will be submitted to Parliament. If the negotiations do not end early, Oga JM will tell them in 2016 that he won’t authorize any payment not captured in the budget.
It is clear that many have allowed their emotions to set them against the doctors. Others also think with their stomachs and hearts because of the perception that the strike will make a certain political party unpopular. But in all of the this, the insults and negative comments will not help the situation.
Those who argue that the doctors were trained with our resources should know that ALL of us had our education subsidised. Studying medicine is not cheap. It is not free. A first year law student today pays about GHc4000 but the a first year medical student pays over GHc10,000 while continuing medical students pay about GHc9000. Multiply this amount by six years and add the cost of books and other requirements of the medical programme and you will stop saying doctors were trained with our money. Every Ghanaian who went to school in Ghana was trained with our money. Or do lawyers and other professionals work without any meaningful condition of service because they were trained with our money?
The medical doctors are not heartless beasts. One medical doctor shed tears in the studio of Joy FM last Friday when the desperate voice of a patient’s handler was played.
President Mahama is talking about holding on despite the political cost. This is a bold statement uttered at the wrong time to the wrong people. Were he this brave against corruption and other misdeeds of his appointees, this nation would not have sunk this low.
His position and those of his appointees have made negotiations difficult. Doctors and the security services are essential services and are not supposed to go on strike. But the government is always quick to sort out the security agencies. The reason is simple. If the police or armed forces are unhappy, the politician can be toppled. But if the medical doctor or health worker is unhappy, they can go to hell. The politician can afford private doctors and even fly abroad to access healthcare.
I strongly believe that the average medical doctor cares more about my wellbeing than the most compassionate politician. So I will support the medical doctors. Supporting President Mahama’s perceived boldness is like supporting the crab to boycott the services of the curer of headache. He will not suffer it.
We cannot continue to crucify our medical doctors on all media platforms and expect them to be compassionate. We have to appreciate the sacrifices people make. For me, Dr. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng remains the most dedicated and sacrificial health professional this country has had. After all his sacrifice, he was chased out of the Cardiothoracic Centre like a thief.
President Mahama’s action on the strike is just like a certain Goodluck Jonathan. When Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 girls, he seemed not to care. If it were his daughter, it would have been different reaction.
But it seems our leaders, who seem immune to the suffering of the masses, don’t learn. When P.V. Obeng was struck by illness in the middle of Spintex Road, the President said he ordered a team of doctors at the 37 Military Hospital to standby and resuscitate him. But the taxi driver who dragged the dying P.V. Obeng from his car took him to an obscure hospital.
Does that teach you any lesson of our collective vulnerability?
I hope it does!
The writer is a Senior Broadcast Journalist with Joy 99.7 FM. To read more of this column and his other writings, visit his personal blog at www.manassehazure.com. You can also write to him on firstname.lastname@example.org