By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
September 29. 2009
The bribery scandal involving the British construction firm, Mabey and Johnson, and some Ghanaian government officials (past and present) has confirmed my long-held opinion that singing “Halleluia” everywhere does not prove piety. Our political leaders have for far too long stung our ears with their cacophonous chorus of fighting corruption when indeed that vice persists, especially in the corridors of power from where they make the loudest anti-corruption noise. Now, the truth has emerged, and it hurts.
Most of us expected the verdict that the Southwark Crown Court in London reached last Friday against Mabey and Johnson. Don’t ask me why. The certainty with which the proceedings were being tackled clearly indicated that Mabey and Johnson would plead guilty to charges of corruption and violating sanctions and that it would expose those Ghanaian government officials who took from it a total of £470,000 in bribes in the 1980s and the 1990s.
This scandal has added another hot potato to what President Mills and his NDC government have already lost much sleep over. It cannot be swept aside by any political rhetoric. The truth is that it has the potential to worsen the NDC’s political standing as well as damage Ghana’s image abroad. Undoubtedly, the scandal makes nonsense of any claim by our leaders to be fighting corruption. Knowing very well the extent to which this bribery issue has already gone in public discourse, it will be irresponsible on anybody’s part not to participate in the conversation. I want to slot myself into this discourse purposely to castigate the culprits, former President Rawlings, and the NDC leadership. In the end, I hope President Mills will shake himself up to do what Ghanaians put him in the corridors of power for. He appears not to know his true bearings; hence, the accusation of dormancy and lack of coordination in government business and the poor performance by his appointees.
Shame on all of the bribe takers and all that they stand for.
The culprits should by now have resigned from government and made themselves available for further scrutiny. Why is it that many days after the verdict, they have remained quiet? Are they happy that their names have been soiled and, therefore, see no need to react to the matter? Those of them in government give much cause for worry because they are still where they shouldn’t be after this humiliation.
In countries that seek to develop, such characters will not be tolerated in government a second after the exposure of their misdeed, contrary to what President Mills appears to be doing to them. The doors to the corridors of power would be banged shut on their faces! They are not pampered at all. Unlike the massaging of feelings that is going on in Ghana regarding this case of arrant bribery and corruption, they will be made to suffer a heavy penalty. But what do we have instead? A disgusting political rhetoric from President Mills and JJ Rawlings, asking that the matter should be investigated. All this happening while those people continue to be in government?
President Mills should have pushed them aside by now to ensure that their bad image doesn’t wash off on his government. But the dormant character that he is, he hasn’t taken any practical action so far to allay public fears and confirm the claim of fighting corruption. Aren’t we already fed up with all that tired political rhetoric? In this matter, it is not empty talk that anybody wants to hear. It is practical action to isolate the culprits for specific punitive attention.
It is becoming clear that the mere political rhetoric about fighting corruption that comes from officialdom has lost its value. The people are no more interested in it and this message must sink deep into our leaders’ heads. All through Ghana’s political history, all the leaders have rushed to issue statements announcing their grand design on paper to stem corruption only to end up either presiding over it on a massive scale or colluding with the perpetrators to escape punishment.
President Mills’ intention (or is it a statement) that the matter should be investigated will end up in smoke the very way all others have. Where is this investigation going to start from, anyway? What sort of evidence again does he need to prompt him to action?
The incontrovertible evidence that the British court gathered to enable it to arrive at that verdict is available for all to access. Who in Ghana will doubt the veracity of the evidence except the bribe takers and their supporters in officialdom?
Here comes my concern. In his usual hot air-blowing element, former President Rawlings rushed to issue a press statement on the scandal. That press statement deserves to be treated with abject contempt because it lacks any merit. In any case, did these acts not take place under his Presidency at the time? If with all the security and intelligence network he established to strengthen his hold on the administration of Ghana he couldn’t get wind of this deal, then, he may be asking for more public scrutiny of what really happened under his rule.
Instead of rushing to issue that empty press statement in which he pushed the onus to President Mills, he should have told Ghanaians something more reasonable, especially in the context of how his P/NDC administration dealt with its functionaries who committed acts of bribery and corruption. He cannot use the CHRAJ’s investigation of Col. Emmanuel Osei-Wusu, Ibrahim Adam, Paul Victor Obeng, and Isaac Adjei-Marfo and their consequent departure from government as an achievement. It won’t wash with anybody because all that happened was a matter of removing them from the public domain to settle down in their private lives to enjoy their booty. Which of them did the government’s White Paper ask to be prosecuted or divested of the ill-gotten wealth? None!
The NPP government pursued some of those alleged to be corrupt and punished a number of them, although its manner of tackling the matter could be said to be politically motivated. Considering what has happened in the Mabey and Johnson case, will we now say that the Kufuor government was right in accusing the NDC government of corruption? Does the fact that no member of the Kufuor government has so far been prosecuted over corruption by the Mills government suggest that there was no corruption under Kufuor? I leave the judgement to Ghanaians.
What I can confidently comment on is that this scandal is a big blow to the NDC. By their own public posture, the NDC leaders (from Rawlings down to any other functionary on the bottom rungs of the leadership ladder) are already dimming the party’s future hopes. Take for, instance, the reaction of the NDC leadership to this Mabey and Johnson scandal.
The press statement from Dr. Kwabena Adjei, the NDC Chairman, is sickening. It lacks any substance to warrant its being discussed; but I will attempt raising some aspects of it to suggest to the NDC leadership that they are a big part of the problem that the party will have to solve before positioning itself to ask voters to renew its mandate at the next general elections.
Dr. Kwabena Adjei’s statement indicated that there were what it called “inaccuracies” in the prosecution’s statement, principally because of the wrong designation of some officials connected with either the NDC or the Rawlings government at the time. Here is what the statement had:
“For instance, former First Lady H. E. Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings has never been a member of the NDC’s Finance Committee; Mr. Kwame Peprah (former Finance Minister) has never been Chairman of the NDC’s Finance Committee. In the case of Mr. Baba Kamara, he was a Deputy Treasurer and not the Treasurer of the NDC; neither was he a Political Overseer of the Ministry of Roads and Highways as claimed. Indeed, the position of political overseer has never existed.”
What a shoddy way to do damage control? It is nauseating to read such a statement, which dampens hopes instead of raising them that those in authority will support concerted efforts to fight corruption in Ghana.
The NDC’s statement raises very serious questions. Does the wrong designation of those people nullify the fact that Mabey and Johnson did pay bribes to Ghanaian public officials? Does it reduce to absurdity the act of bribe taking? How about the bank records that were adduced as concrete evidence against the culprits? Then again, this part:
““Records available to the party do not reveal receipts of any such funds from the said company or its agents.”
This is an instance of paralyzing stupidity, to say the least. Dr. Kwabena Adjei is either being wickedly mischievous or is simply behaving like someone who has lost his bearings. How can anybody who willingly takes bribe from a company keep receipts of the transaction? What for? The truth is that those at Mabey and Johnson who gave the money out made sure that the records at the banks on the transaction remained intact. These were the very traces that exposed all of the bribe takers. Who in his/her proper frame of mind will think the way Kwabena Adjei and the NDC leadership are doing?
It irks me very much that the NDC (as a party and a government) is doing things to damage itself more than anybody would ever expect. Apart from the obvious failings of the Mills-led government at many levels, the sad reality is that the NDC leadership have also lost their focus and are behaving as if there will be no more general elections in Ghana.
In this entire debacle, I foresee danger ahead. The fast rate at which public goodwill for the Mills government is eroding and the lightning speed with which Rawlings is doing acts and making unguarded statements to create tension in the NDC’s own ranks is an obvious harbinger of doom. It is only those who cannot see anything beyond their noses who will sit back to say that all is well within the party.
Some of us can see clearly the Herculean task that lies ahead. At this time, the only effort that can save the situation is a drastic move by President Mills and his appointees to rein themselves in and deliver the promises they made Ghanaians. If things continue to roll along in this flim-flam manner, no amount of prayers or greasing of voters’ palms can save the NDC from total disgrace. At a higher level, one expects the government to be honest enough to ensure that its intention to fight corruption is actualized through practical support for the institutions that have been established for that purpose. Take, for instance, the Ghanaian version of Britain’s Serious Fraud Office. What has happened in this Mabey and Johnson case makes a huge mockery of our own Serious Fraud Office and Kufuor’s ludicrous Office of Accountability. Why are they not at the forefront of fighting corruption?
Ghanaians will be willing to support the government in its bid to stem corruption if it demonstrates that strong will power to clean its own stables first. If people know that government officials are corrupt, no amount of political rhetoric will change the situation for the better.
For now, those who have been bruised by this Mabey and Johnson bribery and corruption scandal may want to be left alone to lick their wounds; but it shouldn’t be so. It is time for our own government to take drastic action to inflict more harm on them to serve as a deterrent to any like-minded future bribe taker. The day of reckoning will definitely dawn for anybody who thinks that holding public office is a panacea for personal economic problems. Mabey and Johnson, welcome to Ghana’s Hall of Shame!