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Opinions Fri, 14 Nov 2008

A new government in Ghana: A new ethics rule?

In about two months, a new administration will be ushered into the brand new presidential “palace”, even as the nation’s accountants and auditors are working to figure out the cost of the palace. Both sides of the NPP/NDC divide will agree that all Ghanaians yearn, and are hoping, for a new government that will be more transparent, less corrupt and that will put more resources into developing the nation’s infrastructure: education, health care, transportation, and improving sanitation.

A recent survey conducted by the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD, Accra), revealed that most Ghanaians perceive their public institutions to be corrupt. According to Baffour Agyeman-Duah, Associate Executive Director of CDD-Ghana, the survey also established that “the main reason for donating to political parties was for the individual to gain personal favours, kickbacks, win government contracts, and gain political appointments.” But even the government is less corrupt than perceived, it is needless to that such perceptions destroy individuals’ trust in public institutions and their willingness to work together with the government.

There is no question that Ghana’s growth will remain fragile if the government does not act in ways that restores confidence and trust in the citizens. For example, no one speaks of Botswana’s economic success without a mention of the first President, Seretse Khama, and the tone he set in promoting good governance; and consequently, the trust that the people of Botswana have in their government. Today, Botswana has transformed itself from one of the poorest to a middle-income country.

But corruption has been tough to defeat in our neck of the woods. And as we search for the holy grail, the new government could take a cue from Barack Obama. His presidential transition team announced last week a “new ethics rules” for lobbyists that clearly signals a break from the past. An abridged version of the rules is included below, together with comments from the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute. Obama Transition Co-Chair John Podesta says of the new rules: “[they] are the strictest, and most far reaching ethics rules of any transition team in history.” When he was asked about the potential for these rules to discourage smart and talented people from serving in the new president’s administration, Podesta looked straight into the reporter’s eyes and said: “So be it.”

******************************* Obama Transition Announces Rules for Lobbyists in Transition Washington, DC: During a briefing today at the Presidential Transition Team headquarters, Obama Transition Co-Chair John Podesta announced the strictest, and most far reaching ethics rules of any transition team in history. The rules are:

• Federal lobbyists cannot contribute financially to the transition.

• Federal lobbyists are prohibited from any lobbying during their work with the transition.

• If someone has lobbied in the last 12 months, they are prohibited from working in the fields of policy on which they lobbied.

• If someone becomes a lobbyist after working on the Transition, they are prohibited from lobbying the Administration for 12 months on matters on which they worked.

• A gift ban that is aggressive in reducing the influence of special interests.

Statement of Thomas Mann

Brookings Institution

"The ethical guidelines released today for the Obama transition are tough and unequivocal. They will prevent some honorable people with rich experience from serving in the transition. That is a real cost but it is more than balanced by the strong signal sent by the President-elect. He aspires to attract to government able individuals whose highest priority is to serve the public interest. This is a very constructive step in that direction." Statement of Norm Ornstein American Enterprise Institute "Restoring trust in government is a prerequisite to enacting good policy and the tough choices the country needs. This ethics policy for the transition is a far-reaching, bold and constructive step to do just that. The policy may exclude some good people with deep experience in their fields, but it will also exclude those who see government service as a springboard to financial success, or who are more intent on pleasing future potential employers or clients than making tough choices in the public interest. As much as anything, this ethics policy is a statement about the tone and tenor of the Obama administration. It is a good sign."

Statement of John Podesta Co-Chair of President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden's Transition Team "President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to change the way Washington works and curb the influence of lobbyists. During the campaign, federal lobbyists could not contribute to or raise money for the campaign. Today, the President-elect is taking those commitments even further by announcing the strictest, and most far reaching ethics rules of any transition team in history."

Edward Kutsoati

Columnist: Kutsoati, Edward