A visitor’s Impression of the Ghana police

Wed, 27 Aug 2014 Source: Al-Hajj

-Single Spine, Corruption & Service Dignity

Someone once said there is lot to write about corruption in our dear nation Ghana. This occurred to me as a folktale until I took a giant step to experience at first hand the living condition in Ghana.

I came with a premeditated mind, hoping to prove my colleagues who have painted a gloomy corruption picture about the country wrong because in my opinion, I thought my colleagues who sought to tout Ghana for its sordid corruption records were exaggerating.

I was at a seminar in London some time ago and I heard a colleague describing the working life in Ghana to a group of Englishmen. One of them quipped that the one busily describing the corruption depth of Ghana was exaggerating and that “it couldn’t be that bad”, which prompted another Englishman, sitting beside me, to nudge me in the ribs and remark “wait until you visit the country before you believe what he is saying.”

Ghana has a reputation, and I knew about it before I arrived last month. To my utter surprise, most of the things I heard about Ghana proved to be completely true.

Aside the trashes tossed alongside or piled in pathways, almost all the highways are in desperate need of minimal maintenance. In the midst of these basic challenges, the country is deeply enmeshed in corruption.

In fact to get a general picture of corruption, just read the news and you will not be far from wrong. There is no gainsaying the fact that corruption in Ghana has infested almost every aspect of national life. I can’t think of a single area where I didn’t encounter a scam of some sort. Some of them were pretty normal but the one that struck me most was how policemen extort monies from drivers even at night.

To be fair to Ghanaians, corruption is a global phenomenon, even UK, USA and other world big players have issues dealing with corruption, but it is the degree or extent of corruption which marks Ghana from other European countries. Understanding this concept is very important in understanding the concept of corruption in Ghana.

I narrated my experience to my Ghanaian friend and he took me through some tutorials on how the government of Ghana has tried its best to motivate policemen to wean themselves from the little monies they extort form drivers, mostly commercial drivers.

The Ghana Police Service, just like any other police service in the world, is an agency of government established by an act of Parliament, Act 350, 1970, to among other things prevent and detect crime, to apprehend offenders, and to maintain public order and the safety of persons and property.

After reading materials on efforts successive governments in Ghana have made to better the living standars of police personnel to remain professional, I concluded that is quite unfortunate that police personnel have thrown professionalism to the dogs. I am told the Ghana Police Service now has one of the finest men with integrity as its Inspector General.

My attention was drawn to his exploits when I read a story in one of the newspapers about how he has hit the road running in attempt to fish out the bad nuts giving the police institution a bad name.

I was shocked that despite the laudable and lofty initiatives IGP Mohammed Ahmed Alhassan has kick start to restore the integrity of the “men in black” some of his men (and women) have made the situation such that in Ghana today it is common knowledge that the police service is saddled with corruption of mountainous proportions. Indeed, an Afrobarometer survey in 2013 reported the police service as the most corrupt state institution in Ghana. Isn’t this sad and at the same time dangerous?

Need it be mentioned that although corruption in the police service is rife and endemic, yet still, some Ghanaian police officers conduct themselves in an exemplary manner, working in difficult and often dangerous conditions to maintain their professional standard. At least with what I have read and seen of the IGP the few days I have been in Ghana, I can vouch for him as being one of the finest police officers this country has ever had.

However, there are majority of them that have no respect for the fact that good and effective policing is the bedrock for rule of law and public safety. The police institution itself has come to accept the fact that the institution is deeply soaked in the ugly rivers of corruption. Public perception and confidence in them tells it all.

I am inclined to believe that the corrupt behavior of some police officers due to the lack of supervision by superiors was what informed Mr Mohammed Ahmed Alhasssan to have launched what was termed as the Public Confidence Reaffirmation Campaign to keep the issue of corruption among his men at minimal levels.

As part of the Public Confidence Reaffirmation Campaign, police personnel were to wear armbands with inscription, “I do not accept bribe” while members of the general public were to wear armbands with inscriptions “Do not corrupt the police” and “I will not bribe the police.”

While the IGP has employed these in-house measures to assist the existing legislations and policies aimed at maintaining police professional standard, successive governments have on the sidelines been assisting with polices to achieve this enviable feet.

One of these policies was the introduction of the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS), a pay plan whereby employees in the same pay scale are paid equally. It is interesting to note that SSSS for the police was the first to be announced in Ghana.

The Police Service, I was told, went gay as there was evidence that the government intended to use the new pay policy to assure them that government had not closed it ears to their numerous challenges. The happiness of the nation’s police personnel stems from the fact that when the SSSS was introduced, salaries of some of them went up by 300 percent.

A Ghanaian colleague said this to me “with the spate at which drivers without valid licenses, car insurance or road-worthiness certificates and criminals ply the roads with impunity, especially at night, because they know the police will graciously accept bribes due to their hitherto poor remunerations and get them off the hook, many Ghanaians thought with the great improvement in the salaries of the police, strict intelligence and uncompromising attitude towards the implementation of the rules and code of ethics of the police service without resorting to bribes will be high on their agenda.”

After carefully getting a lecture on what the SSSS is, I admitted that the introduction of the SSSS has not entirely rid the police service of all its challenges, but with government’s promise to provide them with better accommodation and logistics and other basic needs, I expected the police to stick to hard work and keep the issue of bribery and corruption to the back burner.

Regrettably, despite this laudable motivation package from government and toughness of the IGP to ensure professionalism, the police still collect bribes from drivers and other wrongdoers. Fact is bribery and corruption is still rampant even with the new and improved salary structure for the police.

When my friend and I drove in the night through some principal streets of Accra, a common phenomenon was how police personnel extort as low as GHC1 from drivers at night at almost every road block. The road blocks in the night were something that was introduced to deter and arrest criminals and other wrongdoers but the IGP men no more care about the motive behind it.

What they are interested in is how to extort GHC1, and sometimes as small as 50ps from drivers.

When the then new IGP, Mohamed Alhassan introduced and made police visibility more pronounced, Ghanaians and foreigners living in Ghana appreciated and applauded the police administration as it has greatly improved security in the country.

But like it is said by Ghanaians of every new initiative, “It shouldn’t be a nine day wonder”. This lofty initiative is already lost its steam; it is almost becoming a mockery. During the day for example, most police officers stationed at various intersections and vantage points either are seen sitting under sheds or their vehicles and chat among themselves without any sense for their purpose being there (keep an eye on goings-on to deter law breakers) or invariably seen engaged in hearty marathon phone conversations (probably with concubines and lovers) as though that was what they have been engaged to do.

But I dare say that if commissioners and deputy police commissioners of Ghana police could take the pain to assist the IGP by going round during the day and night on routine checks, to monitor and evaluate the duties of men and women in black sent on duties, some of these bad and shameful practices could be halted and, make the Ghana police, in terms of professionalism, comparable to their colleagues anywhere in the world.

Columnist: Al-Hajj