Tales of 'Hero-Ananse' , our worldviews and the fight against corruption

Corruption Customs file photo

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 Source: Elorm Kodzo Mawulikem

By Elorm Kodzo Mawulikem

Our generation was that which enjoyed the intrigues of the popular African folktale character Kweku Ananse. Maame Dokono’s (as Grace Omaboe is popularly known) popular childhood TV series ‘By the Fire Side’ which told most of those stories was a no-miss, or at least for those of us with a modicum of taste in most things artistically Ghanaian.

Ironically, although Ananse’s character was nothing short of a selfish, greedy, envious, corrupt, tricky, and lazy kind, we admired him, and thought of him in rather positive terms. Despite the fact that the repercussions of most of Kweku Ananse’s tricky and cunning escapades have been cataclysmic to him, such acts cover almost 90% of the stories while less than 10% of the entire story time is spent on the effects of his bad deeds.

In most of those folklores, Ananse is portrayed as a smart character who outwits his victims to achieve what he wants. Indeed, so prevalent is this chicanery in much of Ghanaian oral literature that it found scholarly expression in The Marriage of Anansewa, the well-known play by the great Ghanaian playwright and theatre torchbearer Efua Theodora Sutherland.

In that short drama, Ananse is portrayed in his unmatched, cunning best, outwitting a number of unsuspecting prospective suitors, fleecing them of money under the pretext of marrying off his daughter to them, and walking away with their wealth. Truth be told, the hilarious moments aside, a generation with much of such childhood orientation (without the caution to see the evil inherent in such ways of life as Ananse’s) may always look for means to beat the system rather than work genuinely within it.

Shall we make a connection, however tenuous, with Ananse, worldviews and corruption? I had an amazing National Service experience with Students Loan Trust Fund during the 2013/14 service year. There were three of us who were sent to the Legon Zonal office of Students Loan Trust Fund. After serving for three months, we were finally paid in the third month of service, with arrears from previous months duly paid.

However, at the end of the fifth month of service when we were all expecting our allowances after we had gone and signed for them at the Metropolitan Office, something unusual happened; the other two of my colleagues were overpaid. One got paid four times and the other got paid three times what was due her. I happened to be the unlucky one then, or so I thought.

However, we were all aware that they could be called to refund what was overpaid them. Though my male colleague spent his instantly, the lady amongst us was circumspect, perhaps timid, and so kept hers for two months.

It was after two months that she also decided to go for the then trendy Samsung Galaxy S4. Eventually, we ended our service. The error was never detected and they were never called to refund those monies.

It was during this same service period that the huge fraud, in which a staggering GHC7.9 million was paid to some 22,612 non-existent service personnel and was supposedly shared among some management and staff of the scheme, was uncovered.

Though I am not trying to imply that my knowledge of some of these overpayments in any way absolves and exonerates those found culpable in this crime against the nation, it broadened my horizon and has taught me to be measured in my commentary on some of these issues.

First, I realized that it is sometimes not what is there on the now-famous ‘pink sheet’ that depicts the entire reality on the ground. I consider these questions: how many other service personnel were overpaid during this period and how many of them were able to go back to the office voluntarily to report this? Could those overpaid monies be part of the GHC7.9m fraud exposed? Was it even unraveled that some personnel were overpaid? Could it be an orchestrated move to hang the albatross of misappropriation and embezzlement of public fund around the neck of mere system failure?

Could there not be a way of auditing accounts of all service personnel to determine overpayments? Why did those persons overpaid not voluntarily refund the monies paid to them? Why did I not report these people for the right thing to be done? Anyway, for the last question, I would have been considered a ‘Babylon’ or ‘brown boy’, which in itself is not a bad label for someone bent on a good cause; but then again, we, this writer inclusive, seem to be embroiled in the system, with all the culpability by silence that is evident even in this case, and which is partly the bane of the dysfunctional system we all have become accustomed to.

With all these, coupled with some personal experiences, I have come to the conclusion that the Ghanaian, for the most part, corrupts what is placed at his or her disposal: the procurement manager who takes kickbacks for awarding contracts; the HR officer who demands Ghs100.00 to help fast-track your mechanization process onto government payroll; the trotro driver’s mate who intentionally delays giving you your balance hoping you forget it; the National Service person who gets paid five times the right amount and calls it luck; the pure water seller on the street who intentionally delays your 30pesewas balance hoping that the red traffic light changes to green so she could keep it; indeed all of them, genuinely, think their acts are not tantamount to corruption. However, it is corruption of what is corruptible by them.

This tells of the fact that, we all have the potential and indeed act to outsmart the system given the least chance. As I see it, there may be only very few exceptions. We are involved in our small ways in the breakdown that is the system.

Columnist: Elorm Kodzo Mawulikem