Columnist: Sakyi, Kwesi Atta
Overcoming Corruption in Ghana – A New Dimension -Towards a Model
By Kwesi Atta Sakyi 9th December 2012
Corruption, they say, is old as the hills. We should all be angels in heaven if the world were totally free of corruption. Threat to self interest or self preservation makes people stoop low and engage in auto-corruption. Where high morals meet with the reality of self preservation, the latter may take precedence. There are words or terminologies which are associated with bribery and corruption. Some of these include graft, sleaze money, money laundering, fraud, high-powered hot money, extortion, malfeasance, misapplication or malappropriation of funds, theft, grease money, golden handshake, among others. In Africa, where our traditional cultures run deep, giving gifts is normally acceptable.
When can we draw a fine line between a gift and a bribe? It depends on the context. Most corrupt practices in a country are fanned by political corruption, which emanates from the seat of power. In Ghana, our military leader from 1979 to 2000 tried to stamp out corruption but at long last, he failed because corruption is endemic, systemic and has a deep tap root, so cutting the stump does not get rid of it. Someone has written somewhere that corruption is also like diabetes which can be controlled but cannot be totally eliminated. In countries with high populations and fewer natural resources, corruption is naturally high. Think of countries like India, China, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Pakistan. China ranks 80th and Greece 94th in the world in terms of corruption perception ranking.
Fighting corruption is like using a water hose pipe to douse a petrol tanker which is on fire. Many writers have associated corruption with winding bureaucratic procedures in the civil service. Corruption may also be entrenched by our cultural values, whereby we place emphasis on material acquisitions and ostentatious lavishing of gifts on members of our immediate and extended families. In some societies in West Africa, it is what you have (wealth) that matters, and not what knowledge you have acquired or your moral values or status in society. Think of cultural festivals, paying of heavy dowries, and expensive funerals and weddings, and you have an idea where the celebrants get their money from for the spree binge of lavish spending.
People worship wealth and equate possession of vast material wealth with success. This is where we need to critically examine our social and cultural norms. Sages and people of sapience admonish us to look for enduring values in life, but this seems to fall on deaf ears as people want shortcuts in life and want to be rich without working hard, especially in this age of high consumerism, driven by the internet and spam. In some of our societies, corrupt and criminally-minded people who corruptly obtained filthy lucre, are adored and worshipped in public.
Today, 9th December 2012, marks the anniversary of World Anti-Corruption day. It is also the day Ghanaians are anxiously awaiting the results of polls cast on 7th and 8th December 2012. All the omens point to the fact that a new wind of change is about to sweep over the land. As they said in a song a while ago, ‘scent no ooh ooh, agye beebiara’. The stench of corruption can be smelt everywhere, what with the Woyomegate, STX-Koreagate, Isotofongate and all the judgement debts which the country has been yoked with!
However, Ghanaians hope and pray that if NPP’s Nana Akufo Addo ascends the high seat, he will eschew the ills of the past and the spendthrift syndrome, and that he will be his own man to rid Ghana of all those evil and corrupt elements. It will be indeed a herculean task for the new leader to clean the Aegean stables. Should the incumbent, John Mahama, win, then he will have a headache getting rid of the ‘evil dwarfs’ or ‘greedy bastards’ in his own NDC party. We are tired of corruption at the Castle, corruption at Tema Harbour, corruption in the ministries and immigration, and corruption at the motor vehicle licensing offices, corruption in the boarding schools and universities, corruption in the award of government contracts, and indeed, corruption at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital and all the health institutions in Ghana, corruption at the entry points of Ghana, and corruption at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where passports are issued to cocaine dealers and foreign nationals from Nigeria, Liberia and Togo.
A few days ago, I boarded a taxi in Lusaka and struck a conversation with the taxi driver. I learnt a valuable lesson from him on the issue of corruption. The driver told me that when he was a student, his teacher told him that corruption is like sex, because it takes two people to have sex, and since both parties mutually enjoy it, who is going to report it or work towards eradication of sexual intercourse? Hmmmm, some hard and practical lessons there for you! It reminded of me of twin prime numbers in mathematics which always occur with a difference of 2 i.e (3,5), (11, 13), (17, 19), (29, 31). I shall return to the twin primes in my modeling in my next series. It is said in the Great Book that the oldest profession in the world is prostitution. Seeking sexual pleasures could also be one of the root causes of corruption in Ghana.
Some men want to make money by hook or crook so as to splash on their numerous wives, concubines, paramours and sweethearts, especially with Christmas around the corner. Some men who cannot afford to please their spouses and hangers-on, may deliberately quarrel and sever relations with them, especially during this festive yuletide. In the Great Book, we also learn that the second oldest occupation is spying or intelligence business. These moles or undercover agents were sent out to go and study the lay of the foreign land and come back to report to their principal or leader. As corruption is endemic and rife in Ghana our new leader needs to beef up our CID, BNI and other undercover agents so that these sleuths can catch corruptors red handed and in the act, and hand them over to the law enforcement officers. CHRAJ (Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice), otherwise the equivalent of the Ombudsman or Administrator-General or Public Complaints Commission, can be the right outfit for the public to report malfeasance and maladministration to.
My nephew is a director there so I know what I am talking about. However, the outfit of CHRAJ seems to be poorly resourced and it is thin on the ground. However, after the spies have done their work and handed over the culprits to the police and the courts for prosecution, there could be problems whereby exhibits go missing, the police, lawyers, magistrates and judges work hands in cahoots to corrupt the system by denying justice (miscarriage of justice/travesty of justice/misprision of treason), and accepting hefty bribes to let the culprit off the hook. If the culprit gets sentenced and imprisoned, he may bribe the prison wardens and escape from the jaws of justice.
If imprisoned, he may not serve the full sentence and he may be let off the hook. In the recent past, cocaine exhibits impounded at KIA in Accra have turned into cassava flour in the law courts, just because some of the investigating wings and officers are corrupt. Of course, because of self interest threat and self gratification, corruption may be absent only in heaven. This does not mean that we in Ghana cannot excel and become like one of the leading relatively corrupt-free countries such as Finland, New Zealand, Singapore, Denmark and Japan. Some of our law enforcement officers become corrupt because they have low self esteem or they seek external or extrinsic motivation rather than enduring intrinsic motivation. These corrupt elements in our national fabric lack patriotism or altruism.
What we need to do is to improve their conditions of service and to give them adequate resources to fight corruption. The government should pay proper attention to the work and reports of the Auditor-General and Accountant- General, as these outfits audit both private and public institutions, and submit their reports to the parliament and the Executive. We need proper controls in the disbursement of public funds. There must be adequate reporting lines, checks and balances, due process, due diligence, integrity, probity, transparency and accountability. Our civil and public servants should be constantly educated and sensitised about the evils of bribery and corruption. In the 80s, I arrived in Ghana at night from my sojourn in Nigeria.
I met a Ghana Air Force officer at the Winneba Junction and he wanted to entice me into a deal of smuggling diamonds to Nigeria by using live parrots which are flown. I flatly refused. At another time, at Lome/Aflao Border, I met an elderly person who wanted to entice me into a gold smuggling business, which he said he couriered by inserting the nuggets in his body.
Well, I may not be a risk taker but then the civic lessons I took in school in the early 60s had had the better part of me, especially regarding the qualities and role of a good citizen. Someone has opined that the only man who is not corrupt is a dead man. Hmmm. Another hard lesson there for you. But then, it all depends upon your level of greed, your own value system, your sense of honour and propriety, your home background and level of education, your age, your tribe, your level of exposure, your financial circumstances, peer pressure, your life style and aspirations in life, your religion, among others.
To me, corruption is rife in Ghana because of the high level of unemployment and poverty, on the one hand, and on the other hand political corruption caused by lack of political will on the part of our national leaders to stamp out, root out and uproot the tap root and stump of corruption. Some politicians make friends with corrupt businessmen who sponsor them to power so that they can start engaging in logrolling, horse-trading and the spoils systems. This is where when politicians are voted into power, they circumvent laid down procedures for awarding contracts, or engage in single-sourcing contracts and breaching the tender protocols in government procurement.
They engage in over-invoicing and under-invoicing, off balance sheet accounting and creative accounting. We can only fight the cankerworm of corruption if w elect erect politicians. Lord Acton said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is why we need greater separation of powers and duties in government and offices, and provide adequate safeguards against the overconcentration of powers in a few hands. This is why we need decentralisation and empowerment of local governments, this is why we need a free and responsible media, freedom of information bill, and a viable and a vociferous opposition party to provide adequate checks and balances.
I have suggested it before in this forum and I will repeat it that we must consider funding the political parties in Ghana so that we obviate the need for politicians to seek sponsorship from questionable businessmen and external powers who can mortgage and compromise our national sovereignty. The Melcome Store tragedy might not have occurred if there was no corruption by the landlord, who was linked to a political party. The cost of corruption in that sad incident was the unnecessary loss of life and injuries to many innocent people.
Corruption is therefore a great moral hazard and a gargantuan cog in the wheel of national progress and development. It has the capacity to paralyse a nation as it can compromise national security. Unpatriotic citizens may obtain bribes from saboteurs to cause electricity blackouts or power failure in the country, so that armed robbers may have a field day to unlease mayhem on the public.
This is why we need a very tough political leader in Ghana to put his foot down and stop the rot in public institutions. A no-nonsense leader who will deal ruthlessly and drastically with saboteurs and treasoners. Some people opine that corruption is as old as Adam or the hills. Well, some countries have managed to tame it and bring it down to appreciable levels. In Africa, we have the shining example of Botswana which scored 65% in the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2012.
Ghana, with Lesotho, scored 45% each and placed 64th in the world, out of 176 countries, surveyed by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Bertelsmann Foundation, World Bank and TI.. Somalia scored the least of 8%, while Angola scored 22%, DRC and Libya, 21% each, Eritrea and Guinea Bissau 25% each, Guinea 24%, Zambia 37%, Zimbabwe 20%, Burundi and Chad 19% each, and Sudan 13%. The high performers in Africa are Botswana 65%, Mauritius 57%, Rwanda 53%, Seychelles 52% and Namibia 48%. Outside Africa, the countries which scored the highest of 90% are New Zealand, Denmark and Finland.
The most corrupt countries in the world are also failed states, where the rule of law and human rights are in dire danger of emasculation and strangulation. There is hardly freedom of speech or media freedom in such countries. They exhibit tendencies of khakistocracy, anarchy, autocracy, oligarchy, mobocracy and totalitarianism. These countries lack pluralism, democracy and transparency. Some of the countries perceived to be very corrupt include Congo DR, Sudan, Iraq, India, Somalia, Afghanistan, Angola, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Nigeria, Greece and Pakistan.
I read somewhere that donor aid is stolen in countries such as Niger, Uganda and Zambia. This means that some donors may withdraw or suspend their aid if they perceive that aid does not get to targeted groups because of fungibility in the aid administration process. Prof Arthur Okun once observed that aid is like a leaking bucket. Of course, giving aid may sometimes be like the case of the biblical prodigal and profligate son, who was given a share of his father’s property but misspent it. As the Chinese proverb goes, it is better to teach one how to fish than to give him a fish all the time.
Granting of aid can create a lot of corruption on the part of both the donor and the recipient, due to the politics of aid, technical glitches and lack of capacity of absorption by aid recipients. These days, donors prefer channeling aid directly to the grassroots NGOs, instead of passing through the hierarchy at the central government level, where the elaborate bureaucracy and tiers of government facilitate theft and graft of aid funds. Donors are now suffering from donor fatigue, while aid recipients need to wean themselves from aid dependency syndrome.
My own personal experience in Ghana is that some of our police personnel are doing a very good job in their duties and they deserve our commendation, support and recognition. So also are some of our officers at our entry points, especially at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA). Compared to about 20 years ago, corruption at KIA has gone down drastically, which is a very welcome relief to travellers and tourists. The turnaround time at KIA has greatly reduced to the delight of travellers. Security at KIA has also improved. I once had a very nice experience with Aviance Security Agency at KIA. The airline I used on my flight to Ghana delayed me, and I was rushed into the plane at the last minute.
My hand luggage containing a substantial amount of money given me by friends as remittances to their relatives was in the hand luggage. One of the airline officials whisked the hand luggage from me, saying I would get it on arrival in Accra. I checked several occasions on arrival for the hand luggage. About the fourth time, I was directed to go to the Aviance office located inside the airport. I got my luggage and when I checked the contents, the money was intact, despite the bag not having a padlock.
What a great sigh of relief I heaved! I thanked the officers and praised them so much. A narrow escape indeed! I doff off my hat to Aviance Security Agency at KIA. Why do people become corrupt? Poverty, lack of integrity, lack of professionalism, greed and love of ostentatious living. Some people in Ghana want goods of snob appeal or conspicuous consumption. They do not live within their means because of inordinate materialism. I wish we would start reading novels like Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautiful Ones are not yet born or Fragments or other philosophers such as Plato, Descartes, Aristotle, Confucious, among others. Why do we have to be corrupt to be able to sustain our inordinate and unsustainable lifestyles? I think we need to take our religions seriously, whatever we believe in because even an atheist believes in something!
First, if you say you believe in nothing, at least you believe yourself that you believe in nothing, which means you believe in something. Since you are human and it will pain you to be robbed or denied natural rights flowing out of natural justice, then you would believe that certain things should not be done to you, or you should not do those things you dislike to others. So whether you are a rililist, atheist, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Jain, Judaist or whatever, you believe in something.
In Ghana today, if a young and beautiful girl goes to look for a job, she may be lucky to be offered the job without being asked for sexual favours or ending up in bed with the potential male employer. At the boarding Secondary Schools, Universities and other tertiary institutions, some male lecturers are bartering sex for inflated grades to female students. This is part of the glass ceiling and gender harassment or Gender Based Violence (GBV) at places of work, which require strong condemnation and affirmative action. Our ladies have to be strong, resolute, assertive and principled to overcome such moral turpitude and corruption.
If you are a young male prospective job applicant, you may need to use your father’s old boy or political networks to get a job or be prepared to pay a hefty bribe before being offered the job. Note, the giver and receiver of bribe are all guilty of the law. It is said that if you cannot beat them, join them. Today, in some instances, if you want your daughter or son to get into a prestigious senior high school such as Achimota, Wesley Girls High School or Mfantsipim, be prepared in some cases to pay a bribe.
I think the government should make some scapegoats of some corrupt headmistresses and headmasters who indulge in this institutional and endemic corruption. I think corruption is intrusive and should be eschewed by all who are advantaged to be serving the nation in various capacities. Corruption corrupts the morals of our up and coming young adults, and it stifles meritocracy, and extols mediocrity. It sets backwards the clock of innovation, achievement, growth, recognition and self esteem.
We need, first and foremost, transparency in our national governance so that the shining example by our national leaders will trickle down to the grassroots. To fight corruption in Ghana, our media should be actively involved in disseminating the message and sensitising our people. We need to elect erect and elect people to positions of power. We should encourage our people to whistleblow or reveal corrupt elements in our midst. We need to beef up our anti-corruption institutions such as CHRAJ, Serious Crimes Office (SCO) and Bureau of National Investigations (BNI).
We will need resources, training and support from overseas outfits such as USAID, DFID, SNV, NORAD, FINNIDA, DANIDA, CIDA, SIDA, AfDB, ECA, WB, UNDP, EU, IrishAid, GTZ, among others. We will welcome job transfers, job rotation and other measures to shake up our institutions so that bad eggs are exposed. We need to set high performance targets for our employees to achieve certain quality assurance standards. Of special significance to eradicate corruption, will be much needed reforms in our Judiciary, Ministries, Internal Revenue Services (IRS), Customs and Immigration, and Motor Vehicle Licensing offices across the country.
The Passports Office should be closely monitored. There is a worrying situation at the motor vehicle licensing office in Accra, where clients cannot deal directly with officers because the officers have employed dubious Alhajis as go-betweens, who fleece clients of their money and they give them a run-around when obtaining licences. They have hatched a labyrinth and nest of procedures, which can finish all your money.
This was my experience in 2003. We need to copy the Singapore model whereby law enforcement and regulatory bodies are well remunerated and resourced so much so that they can hardly fall prey to corruption. You should try to go to our harbour at Tema to try to clear a car from the freight agents, or go to the cargo section at KIA, or go to Korle Bu Hospital for referral, or to obtain a passport from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or go for a visa from some of our embassies abroad, and you will appreciate the tardiness and ugly face of corruption. All those who are not prepared to work, should be purged or sacked, like the Apollo 569 purge under Busia in 1970.
In the USA, the Enron and WorldCom scandals culminated in the enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, to regulate public limited companies or listed companies, which are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In the UK, the equivalent is the Company Act of 2006 and the Combined Code which derived from several commissions of enquiry. Under the UK Corporate Governance Guidelines, listed companies or PLCs are properly regulated, though under a principles-based approach.
These ensure that public or listed companies are properly directed, controlled and supervised to maximize the public interest and protect shareholder value. We also have the OECD and EU Guidelines. We need the same stringent measures in Ghana to avoid corporate failure, especially in the banks where corrupt acts of top bank officials can lead to bankruptcy and insolvency. We need stringent measures of proper oversight and gatekeeping in our public and private institutions to nip corruption in the bud. These call for adequate internal controls to check fraud, malfeasance, theft and corruption. These days, some bank workers engage in electronic fraud by using the electronic devices to steal depositors’ money. They form cartels and syndicates, constituting vertical and horizontal corruption.
This is where we need to conduct due diligence or background status checks before recruiting people to work in sensitive institutions such as the banks. To fight corruption in Ghana, we need high profile public campaigns by our political leaders, who must come out strongly and boldly to condemn corruption. They must strengthen the laws on corrupt practices and encourage concerted efforts by all the arms of government to stamp it out. We will need to sensitise our people to be vigilant, through our media outlets, and conspicuous posters and billboards in all public places.
We must continuously seek to improve the conditions of service of our workers and provide more poverty interventions for the poor, such as transfer payments, youth employment funds and unemployment benefits. These could mitigate the tendency for corruption. The SSSS (Single Spine Salary Scale) has come and gone in Ghana and many workers are left dazed as the whole exercise seemed like a political gimmick to pull wool over the eyes of workers, or dangle a political carrot before them or throw dust in their eyes.
To me, it was just a flash in the pan, a nine days’ wonder or an exercise in futility. Workers, after the SSSS exercise, are left worse off than before, especially with inflation escalating near to 10%. There is no Pareto optimality. Workers need improved fringe benefits and other perks in order to motivate them to become less prone to corruption. Some of our leaders should refrain from facilitating crooks who smuggle cocaine outside so that they can gain financially from the booty if those nefarious and clandestine operations are successful. When these are caught, they do heavily dent our image abroad. The law should descend heavily on such corrupt practices, as high powered hot money distorts our economy.
Our state institutions, for the sake of transparency and accountability, should be tasked to publish their social charters to commit them to live up to high ideals. We should encourage them to publish annual social audits as well as annual league tables, showing their performance in service delivery to the public. We should encourage many of our workers to join professional bodies or associations so that they can be properly guided by professional ethics and high moral behaviour which befits their professions.
Professional bodies perform gatekeeping and oversight roles. We will need to task the doctors, accountants, auditors, lawyers, engineers, marketers and other professionals to take the issue of ethics seriously with their members. The civil and public servants should be weaned of their grinding bureaucracies, which create fertile grounds for corrupt practices. We have to intensify our in-service training programmes and our reforms. We should undertake change management in our public sector. Justice delayed is justice denied.
Also the law should not be a respecter of persons, as all people should be treated equally before it. Our lawyers, magistrates and judges in the bar and bench should avoid unnecessary delays in dispensing justice, as deliberate delays may lead to connivance, collusion and miscarriage of justice. Even though all cases should be judged beyond all reasonable doubt in open courts, we will need to speed up some prima facie cases of crime in fast track courts. Our court or judiciary procedures need to be reformed, streamlined and made simple, efficient, transparent and efficacious as the symbol of law is a blind woman with scales in one hand, and a sword in the other hand, meaning the law is blind to the use of undue influence or leverage.
The process of legal dispensation should be fair, balanced, unswayed and unswerved by status or halo effect. The law should act like a hot stove treatment. Recruitment into the civil and public services should be based on merit and not on the basis of tribe or political affiliation or on the basis of network.
Our tender and procurement procedures should be made transparent and competitive, so that only competent contractors are engaged to work on government contracts. We should not condone a situation where a contract is awarded to a contractor who does shoddy work and endangers the lives of our citizens, as we witnessed in the tragic Melcome Store disaster on Wednesday, 7th November 2012. Also, corruption occurs where we need to raise money to look after our extended family. Why do we not have to cut our coat according to our cloth? Promotion and remuneration at work should be based on productivity improvement agreements, profitability, loyalty, contribution, results and qualifications.
Those MNCs or Transnational Corporations (TNCs) which engage in transfer pricing and off balance sheet accounting, should be blacklisted when caught, because by their illicit acts, they rob the nation of tax revenue, which is needed for development. We should institute annual integrity awards to be given to our companies and institutions which excel, so that they strive to stay straight. If we minimise corruption in Ghana, we stand to gain as a nation by attracting more donor aid, more tourists and more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
Our corruption perception to the outside world matters a lot, in that, if we are perceived to be less corrupt, we will be seen as a worthy country to do business with, and we shall be in the good books of our trading partners and financiers. Corruption widens the income gap between the rich and poor, it reduces the effectiveness and efficacy of government institutions, and it entrenches poverty. It also demotivates workers who are hardworking but not corrupt.
Finally, our political leaders should be made to declare their assets before they take public office. Our political leaders should stridently declare their zero tolerance for corruption. We should ponder also over Gender Based Corruption (GBC), as more men are prone to corruption than women, so we should try to appoint more women to control sensitive positions in government and business.
As a nation and as individuals, we should consider our reputation risks as our international image is at stake. Readers should refer to my earlier article on corruption published on Ghanaweb on 20th July, 2011, entitled, The Genesis and Effects of Corruption in Ghana. Our heads of state in Africa should submit themselves periodically to the African Peer Review Commission (APRC) for performance appraisal. They should also give good stewardship of their tenure so that when they leave office, they may be considered for the Mo Ibrahim Award or the Nobel Peace Prize. Madiba Mandela has already shown the way.
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