Kufuor defends Ghana's worsening corruption rating
Ghana's President John Agyekum Kufuor, who declared a "zero tolerance for corruption" in his inaugural speech in January 2001, is under pressure to explain worsening corruption in the West African country, after a survey showed corruption in Ghana increased in the past year.
The 2003 Corruption Perception Index released by Transparency International shows that Ghana came out 72nd on a table of 133 countries. Its score was 3.3, the same as 1999, and down from 3.4 in 2001 and 3.9 in 2002.
"It is a disappointing record," noted David Batidam, Executive Secretary of Ghana Integrity Initiative, a Ghanaian wing of Transparency International.
"It is a sign that we are not doing enough to check corruption," he said. "We are at the same point we were in 1999. We are really in trouble," he added.
The indices were based on data from a survey conducted by six institutions including the World Business Environmental Survey of the World Bank, the Economist Intelligence Unit and the World Market Research Centre.
Kufuor and his New Patriotic Party (NPP) campaigned on an anti- corruption platform and used to their advantage several media reports which claimed that members of the former government were corrupt.
Indeed, the President proved his resolve to check corruption when his first minister of youth and sports, Mallam Yusif Issa was jailed for stealing about 46,000 dollars meant as a bonus for the national soccer team in a World Cup qualifier.
His government has also ordered forensic audits into many organisations, arrainged several former ministers and government officials at courts for causing financial loss and at least three ministers are serving jail terms for that offence.
But current statistics show no concrete and tangible steps have been taken to tackle corruption.
"This is a reflection of the performance of the current government. The initial policy of zero tolerance for corruption, the conviction of Mallam Issa, and forensic audit reports seem to have been blunted. It remains paper work," he said.
The zero tolerance for corruption statement has to be translated into a strategy or programme to tackle the problem.
And the cause of the worsening rating is not hard to find. Several media reports alleging corruption on the part of government officials have not been taken seriously.
Kufuor himself said he would not rely on reports claiming corruption by his ministers and government officials as sufficient grounds for taking action. If he relied on such reports, he said, he would not have time to perform the functions of president.
Any member of the public who has concrete information on corruption should come forward, he added.
Attorney-General Papa Owusu Ankomah, who is responsible for prosecuting offenders, echoed the views of the president when he said the government was not worried about the Transparency International report.
"The government is by no means embarrassed because the ranking is based on perception. What it means is that the government should strengthen its work against corruption," the Attorney-General said.
But the views of the president and his officials have drawn sharp retorts from members of the opposition and the public who say the government's response smells of cynicism and arrogance.
"The President is merely paying lip service to his declared war on corruption," said Nii Josiah-Aryeh, general secretary of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC).
"Acts of corruption have been so condoned that they are affecting other areas beyond financial transaction," he said.
Even the World Bank Country Director, Mats Karlsson, disagrees with the comments of the government.
"The worsening rating should be of concern to the government," he said. "The perception held by business people and individuals led to the poor rating and it must be taken seriously."
He said perceptions become reality, adding that if Ghana wants to engage in the global economy and become a middle income economy, it would have to reduce the perception.
That is a task for the government which faces elections in just over a year. The opposition is already playing up the corruption claims against the ruling party as the campaign begins in earnest.