Public Housing Ought Not Be Free

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Garden City, New York

Justice Emile Short’s call for the scrapping of the age-old policy of free accommodation for civil and public servants, ought not be confused with the all-too-healthy policy of the government’s bounden obligation to providing publicly owned housing facilities for essential public workers like doctors and nurses, lawyers, teachers and civil-service administrators, among several other categories of government employees (See ” ‘Free Accommodation’ Policy Must Be Scrapped – Emile Short” / 11/26/14).

The call by Ghana’s first Commissioner for the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) comes in the wake of public outcry over the decision by the current CHRAJ Commissioner to rent an admittedly quite expensive hotel suite as a temporary official residence, at an estimated yearly cost of $200,000 (Two-Hundred-Thousand US Dollars), while her government-assigned bungalow undergoes extensive renovations.

While, indeed, Ms. Lauretta Lamptey’s taste in the choice of a temporary residence may be aptly deemd to be at once extravagant and patently unethical, at least vis-a-vis the moral implications of her professional designation, nevertheless, the CHRAJ boss has been able to equally aptly rebutted that in deciding to rent a quite costly hotel suite while her official residence was livably upgraded, she did absolutely nothing wrong and rather acted strictly within established guidelines and protocol.

If the well-known lawyer and investment banker is, indeed, apt in her rebuttal, then it well appears that the blame for her apparently unduly long stay at her rented hotel suite ought to be squarely placed in the courtyard of the Minister for Water Resources, Works And Housing and his associates and/or any contractors assigned to the job of renovating the CHRAJ Commissioner’s official residence.

The preceding notwithstanding, where Justice Short ought to have placed his emphasis, if, indeed, fiscal discipline is the issue at stake, is for the critic to have called for the payment of rental fees by all occupants of publicly owned housing facilities. Such rental fees could be proportionately fixed in accordance with the current value of the real-estate property concerned, plus the cost of maintenance per year of the same. Then also, practical consideration could be taken of the salary scale of the occupant to offset any undue economic pressures and thus ensure an optimal level of productivity from these civil and public servants.

Merely calling for public servants to be “well-paid,” so as to enable them to afford decent housing accommodation for themselves is rather vague and tentative. On what basis, for example, is the compound adjective of “well-paid” to be reckoned? We need to also appreciate the fact that in the late colonial and immediate postcolonial eras, the policy of rent-free public housing was deemed to be necessary because the pool of well-educated government employees was woefully inadequate. To be certain, the public and civil service was dominated by European expatriates, upon whose temporary residential status in the country such rent-free policy was squarely predicated.

Nearly 60 years on, in 2014, the situation has dramatically changed. Indeed, where any shortage of highly trained professionals has been experienced anywhere around the country, this has largely come in the form of what social scientists describe as a “brain-drain,” a phenomenon which is the direct result of gross administrative incompetence on the part of governments, almost invariably manifested in the form of rank corruption and experienced in the form of economic hardship by the individual public employee, an effective disincentivization of otherwise dedicated, diligent and responsible professionals, who are then forced to seek the proverbial greener pastures abroad.

It is the attendant reversal of the phenomenon of brain-drain that often results in the “Lampteyian” extravagance that is being bitterly decried by the likes of Justice Short. On a larger scale, it is the otherwise all-too-salutary and even savvy attempt by progressive governments to re-attract highly trained indigenous economic exiles as a means of resuscitating a badly contused economy at a considerably reduced cost than would be the case were the government to target non-indigenous professionals and experts. In the case of CHRAJ’s Ms. Lamptey, such otherwise savvy economic kick-starter seems to have completely backfired and morphed into a virtual national contretemps.

But, of course, this is absolutely no happenstance. For in citizens like Ms. Lamptey, what we get are veritable “Afropeans,” or “Orioles,” in New York City’s African-American community parlance. They are African only in name, looks or demeanor. At heart, the Afropean is an irreparably psychologically damaged xerox copy of his/her upper- and middle-class European or Euro-American original. The typical Afropean is thoroughly alienated and bereft of any remarkable sense of sacrificial patriotism. It is all about business in its rawest form; all about dollars and cents and the bottomline.

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