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Opinions Fri, 10 Aug 2001

A Benign "Zero Tolerance" Policy?

by Dr. Kofi Ellison(Washington DC)

When Mr. John Agyekum Kuffour came to power, he said he would bring a different tone to governance in Ghana.

"There will be, under this administration, zero tolerance of corruption," he assured, in his inaugural speech. As if to reinforce that conviction, the president later told a durbar of Chiefs and people at Kintampo, thus: "Government will not allow any minister of state or official to take the law into his or her own hands. Anyone, even including President Kufuor, who falls foul of the law will be dealt with according to the tenets of the Constitution".

It was a welcome relief to Ghanaians who had endured nearly twenty years of corruption, abuse of power, and a trampling of their civil and human rights under the Rawlings regime.

But as the saying goes, the sweetness of the pudding is in the eating! The first test of the president's 'zero tolerance' regimen, came in the form of responses to actions by two ministers.

The first case seemed rather incredulous!

Malam Yusif Isa, the Minister of Youth and Sports, lost US$46,000 state money that should have been used to pay Ghanaian footballers who had gone to the Sudan on a national assignment. According to the published reports, he put that money in a suit case, handed it over to an official, for it to be checked into the luggage-hold of a commercial airliner. For his incredible lapse in personal responsibility, Malam Yusif Isa was fired from his post by the president.

That was the least of Malam Yusif's misery. The former minister was arraigned before the Fast Track Court which was established to expedite cases of alleged corruption. When it was all said and done, the Court "found him guilty on two counts of stealing and causing financial loss to the state".

As punishment, he was sentenced to four years in prison plus a fine of 10million cedis. In addition, he is to refund the 46,000 dollars within one month, or in default serve an extra twoyears. It bears noting that Malam Yusif Isa was the Chairman of the People's National Convention, one of the political parties that contested the recent elections. He was brought into the government to underscore a broad-based approach to the NPP administration.

Any conviction that the Malam Yusif case would sound a warning to overbearing government officials was quickly dissipated by the bizarre behaviour of the Central Regional Minister Isaac Edumadze. Mr. Edumadze felt it necessary to deliver his own brand of 'power justice' to a taxi driver whose car "crossed" his state-issued four-wheel drive vehicle at Suhum in the Eastern Region. According to news reports, affronted by the erratic movement of the axi, occupants of both cars exchanged harsh words.

The upshot was, the minister's bodyguard started firing warning shots which made the taxi driver and his passengers (unaware of the identity of the probable assailants) bolt from the scene to save their lives. That was prudent considering the spate of armed robberies in the country.

The minister's aggravation did not end with the mere firing of warning shots! The taxi cab was effectively seized at gun point, filled with 10 gallons of petrol (apparently from the minister's state issued funds), and then Mr. Edumadze had his state-appointed driver, drive the taxi from Suhum to Cape Coast where the car was parked at the minister's (government-issued) residence! All, for Isaac Edumadze to show that he has POWER!!

When the story became known, thanks to The Ghanaian Chronicle newspaper, president Kuffour summoned his errant minister to Accra to express 'displeasure and disapproval' at his actions.

According to one report, in reprimanding Mr. Edumadze , the president told him, "Over enthusiasm is not an acceptable excuse of a possible breach of the law."

Mr. Issac E. Edumadze received a private reprimand. Malam Yusif Isa lost his job, was thrashed in Court, and sentenced to 4 years in prison, with more to come if he failed to refund the money. It bears noting, that Mr Isaac Edumadze, unlike the Malam is an NPP member.

These two cases of official corruption, and the punishments meted (or not meted) underscore some of our moral priorities. The media was fixated on what they called "the colossal amount of 46,000 dollars" lost through the actions of the minister. Of course that is a good amount of money which would have gone to pay football players' bonuses! Yet, lost in that fixation, is the sense that, to all intents and purposes; the effects of the political corruption of the Central Regional Minister, far outweighs that of the condemned Malam Yusif's financial corruption, on the Ghanaian body politic.

Mr. Edumadze brazenly misused his power.

And, misuse of political power, signals abuse of democracy; an insidious canker to the stability of the nation. Where there is political openness and rule of law, financial corruption can hardly be sustained. By misusing his powers, Mr. Edumadze undermined the rule of law, and caused more potential damage to our fledgling democracy than did Malam Yusif.

It is responsible for a citizen to make a 'citizen arrest' of an individual who has broken the law. However, that act must be reported to the Police immediately for proper adjudication. If the citizen making the arrest decided to provide punishment for the crime, then, that citizen has broken the law. Mr Edumadze broke the law. Using a gun to intimidate unarmed, law-abiding citizens, and then seizing a car and driving it past the Suhum Police Stations and several other Police Stations between Suhum and Cape Coast, smacks of armed robbery; and that is unpardonable. The minister's actions thereby undermines the authority of the police whose powers were emasculated under the previous regime.

Importantly, Mr. Edumadze's bizarre show of power underscores official abuse of power that Ghanaians in general have been subjected to since independence. It is this abuse of power that leads to corruption in all facets of our national life. The private reprimand does not augur well for 'zero tolerance'. There is no doubt that the president has good intentions; but several are the leaders with good intentions who have been brought down by the weight of their corrupt supporters. The quality of democracy depends very much on the quality of individuals who are assigned as leaders. It was not "over enthusiasm" that drove the minister to take that action.

Otherwise, he would have reported the matter to the police, who are better trained to deal with such cases. Rather, the minister sought to deprive the poor driver of his means of livelihood by showing the driver 'where power lies'. The minister used brute force, by virtue of his official position to commit a crime.

It is reminiscent of the Machoman justice of the Rawlings era!

Mr. Edumadze's tantrums did not end with this show of brazen power towards the driver. He reportedly went into the offices of the newspaper and radio station that broke the story to demand a retraction of the story. He reportedly had his gun-toting bodyguard with him!' Lord Acton, the English historian wrote more than a century ago, that: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Mr. Edumadze's animus provides further confirmation of the hubris of the African (Ghanaian) political elite. A little power intoxicates some of them into delusions of grandeur. Their authority is ever hardly questioned; and when their actions are questioned, the elite is rather contemptuous of the 'audacity' of the individual raising the question.

The minister's attempt to intimidate the media is an example of how government officials use the colour of their offices to undermine the growth of democracy and the rule of law in Ghana. There cannot be true democracy where one of the fundamental pillars of freedom, a free press, is under assault. Whenever a government official, sworn to respect and obey the Constitution, feels himself so aggrieved, his ego so deflated at a little infraction; that he must abuse his power, then the rule of law is endangered.

When I contributed to an Internet discussion, that the minister should at least be suspended for two months or demoted, to serve as a warning to future abuse of power, I was roundly criticized for being soft on the minister.

The overwhelming majority wanted him fired.

John Adams, the second president of the USA, had this to say upon signing the Declaration of Independence: "they (the people) have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers."

If Ghana is to become a nation of laws, and not of men, then, not only must the abuse and misuse of power be checked; but also, that those officials like Mr. Edumadze who defile the trust reposed in them by the people, must be deemed unqualified to be guardians of the law. Unless this is done, we risk making "zero tolerance", a mere slogan at our own peril.






Columnist: Ellison, Kofi