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Opinions Thu, 15 Dec 2011

African Democracies Are Indeed Tragic – Corruption - XXX

Corruption by the Executive and the Legislature

So much for the judiciary that the executive and the legislature cannot be left out of any issue bordering on corruption. In 2009, a sitting member of parliament, P.C. Appiah-Ofori (NPP Breman-Asikuma) accused his colleagues of receiving US$5000 in bribes before approving the sales of the national telecommunication provider – Ghana Telecom – to the UK-based Vodafone. The then Minority NDC in Parliament, urged on by a large section of Ghanaians, strongly opposed the sale, on grounds among others, that the sale was shrouded in secrecy, fraught with irregularities, ignored time-honored procedures, contravened the laws of Ghana, did not guarantee value for money, therefore, was not in the strategic interest of Ghana.

The whole transaction, from its commencement, was highly contentious, attracting protests and counter protests from pro-sales and anti-sales groups. For anti-sales demonstrators, it was one of the only surviving national assets with telephone lines spread across the country, offering employment to thousands of Ghanaians. The contention provided the platform for the so-called capitalists and the socialist to once again lock horns to contest their ideological differences. The most striking line of argument from the anti-sales group was not actually the ideological inclination; rather it was the fact that telecommunication around the globe today has become a powerful source of income for both private and public sector companies with investments in telecommunication.

A typical success story in the telecom sector has been Carlos Slim Helu, the richest man in the world by the end of 2010. He is reputed to have seized the opportunity to buy Mexico’s national telephone company when it was being privatized in the 1990s and turned his fortunes around on the back of the network to become the richest man in the world.

But what economic sense does it make when the assets of the company, the pro-sales protestors argued, are outmoded, unable to face up to the stiff market competition from private operators who have entered the Ghanaian telecommunications market. Obviously, the company needed new technologies and proper management both of which required investments government was unable to provide. Interestingly, one of the pro-sales groups was made up of employees of the company. As the case normally is, opposition or minority groups can have their say but not their way. Therefore, in the final analysis, the company was offloaded to the UK-based Vodafone. A year down the line, the company began a restructuring exercise and interestingly, the axe fell on some of the individuals who were advocates for divestiture of the company. Perhaps they were under the false impression that their positions were hedged or girded by their open support for the divestiture of the company, since it was going to be sold anyway.

As usual, this case provided another shell in the arsenal of the then opposition NDC. From the highest echelons of the party, the corrupt nature of the Kufour-led NPP was echoed and reechoed, with a promise of a wide ranging investigation and reversing the divestiture if the NDC wins political office in 2008.

In honor of its campaign pledge, the NDC government formed a ministerial review committee to review the Vodafone transaction. The committee’s terms of reference, among other things, was to examine the sale of 70% shares of Ghana Telecom (GT) to Vodafone, details of the contract, and other after sales issues.

When the committee’s review finally was released, it was obvious that government may not after all be prepared to investigate in order to prosecute or retrieve what was stolen from the state. Three important aspects of the report leave lingering questions about the integrity of the holders of the state’s power of the purpose under their thumb. First, the committee reported that a former Minister of State responsible for Finance, Dr. Akoto Osei, and the immediate past Chief Executive of GT Dickson Oduro Nyaning, star witnesses who were vital to any review or investigation refused to avail any information to the Committee. While the former was reported to have flatly refused to honor invitations from the Committee, the latter could not provide the information and explanations the Committee required for “personal reasons.”

In both cases, one would wonder what the duty of government was, especially when one of the then ruling party’s own continue to testify before the committee that sitting members of the legislature on the majority side received bribe before voting to endorse the Vodafone agreement, against the constitutional provisions: Section 240 and 244 of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29), which prohibits corruption of public officers. Interestingly, the Committee concluded that it did not have the POWERS and the RESOURCES to investigate the claims of fraud and corruption and, therefore, refrained from making findings on these specific allegations.

Undoubtedly, if the Committee had asked Ghanaians to resource its activities through individual contributions, a single philanthropist in her 25 million people might have found the resources to support its activities, or perhaps the citizens could have made donations available to support its operations. Sarcastically, the resources must definitely be “the dearth of will power” to proceed with investigations and never financial resource. On the issue of power, the buck rest on the table of the appointing authority, and the inability of that authority to grant extra powers to the committee to continue its work, makes this failure the authority’s indictment.

To encapsulate the rest of the transaction into two aspects that question the credibility of the new government and its commitment in fighting corruption as we have seen in the Mwai Kibaki case, firstly, the Committee found out that the 70% stake offloaded to Vodafone could have been sold for more than US $900million, which Vodafone paid to the Ghana government, especially when Telekom South Africa offered US$947 million for a lower stake of 66.67%. The foregoing, coupled with executive interference in the sale, with the former President, John Kufuor, being the principal negotiator who agreed on the transaction price, technical considerations and the underlying legal assumptions of the Vodafone offer, were irregular and raises questions of institutional capacity of anti-corruption institutions such as the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) in a democracy such as Ghana’s to spot and deal with these glaring breaches by the president for personal aggrandizement and probably gain.

Secondly and most interestingly, the government’s waiver of any legal proceedings that may be brought against the new owners of the company relating to the period prior to the closing, thus including the proceedings involving the sales, may only pass as hedging a crime. There are many other aspects of the transaction that equally raise worrying questions about the integrity of those in charge of the national purse and direction of state policy.

Obviously, despite the entrenched political positions, it is not in the interest of the ordinary Ghanaian, the foot-soldier, the cadre, and the action troopers (these are all names for the rank and file of the two political parties) when a glaring theft of national resources goes uninvestigated and unpunished.

When crimes go unpunished, they fester. The culprits and others who, otherwise, would have been deterred by punishing the culprit, become embolden. This manifested itself to the extent that a bill passed by the legislature was altered on its way to the presidency for presidential assent. The Ghanaian legislative assembly had approved a bill (section 8) that was to empower the Governing Council of University Councils to elect their own chairpersons. On the return of the Act to parliament, now assented by the president, it was observed that the assented document had been doctored to hand the power of appointment to the president instead of members of the council.

Questions abound as to who doctored the bill en route to the presidency, who conveyed the bill to the presidency, how come the president and his advisors/ aides did not detect the fraud in the bill? Although the speaker of the house had ordered an investigation into how the document was altered, precedent in other areas of governance, especially with regard to the tackling of corruption and theft of state property and for that matter the Ghanaian people indicate these investigations do not get anywhere, especially when the culprits are establishment felons and known to the powers that be.

Unfortunately, African presidents, in the exception of Nelson Mandela, do not even leave a memoir for their citizens to even understand or appreciate the context within which they made certain decisions. Perhaps, this might even help to clarify certain decisions but nay, that cannot be, as a memoir would rather be another forum to massage truth and deceive a gullible and weary public.

Upon leaving office in January 2009, Sekyi Hughes, the speaker of Ghana’s parliament (2005-2009), the third most powerful citizen of the land, purportedly “cleaned” his official residence, carting away all the furnishing including floor carpets, electric bulbs, and anything movable or removable. The total value of items carted away by the ex-speaker was said to have amounted to US$400 000. As a commentator puts it “in everyday language, Sekyi-Hughes cannot run away from being labeled a common thief… What is the difference between Sekyi-Hughes and the riffraffs who pick pockets?” Another writer referred to it as “Audacity of Looting,” in parody of malfunctioning democratic institutions that fail to make its leadership accountable, creating despair instead of hope.

On the other side of the Atlantic, in the US, the first African American president was giving meaning to his convictions: hard work and hope in the face of hopelessness, which are key ingredients for reclaiming the American dream, as we learned in his memoir, The Audacity of Hope. It is a title derived from a sermon delivered by Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Wright had attended a lecture by Dr. Frederick G. Sampson in Virginia, in the late 1980s, on the GF Watts painting Hope, which inspired him to give a sermon in 1990 based on the subject of the painting – “with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God… To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope … that’s the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt’s painting. Having attended Wright’s sermon, Barack Obama later adapted Wright’s phrase “audacity to hope” and paraphrase it to “Audacity of Hope: which was to become the title for his 2004 Democratic National Convention Keynote address which propelled him to national prominence, and subsequently the title of his book, and a pathway to the US presidency.

The message on the Atlantic shores of the West African country was rather despair. Those with golden harmonica, who should lead the chorus in offering hope to the less fortunate in the face of great adversities and bleak economic outlooks, are the ones fleecing society’s resources, who like leeches, only know how to sap the very life blood of their host, their nation. They woefully, demean their own essence and the value of public life to the lowest abyss imaginable, especially when they can afford what they steal in multifold.

Considering what other legislators and influential people go to jail for in other democracies, their acts may pale into insignificance. For instance, the case of money laundering against the former US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay , once one of the most powerful Republicans in the US Congress (1984-2006), who resigned as a leader when criminal charges of money laundering in connection with campaign financing was brought against him. He was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to three years in prison for illegally channeling US$190, 000 in corporate donations into 2002 Texas legislative race.

The essence of this comparison should not be simply seen as evaluating which of the two men was more corrupt. Rather, its essence derives from the judicial continuum. Delay was indicted by a grand jury, and this was followed with an arrest warrant from the county sheriff, making him turn himself in. More importantly, this was happening irrespective of the fact that his Republican Party, led by Bush, was still in power. It was a trial that spanned beyond the Bush administration until justice was served to the American taxpayer on January 10, 2011, two years into the Obama administration. This is what strengthens the judicial system. The obverse is true, too. When prosecutions are time bound, implying a public official is protected once his party is in power, it weakens the judiciary, the sacred institution that should serve as a moral compass for society to measure each and everyone of its member’s act and apportion justice accordingly.

With corruption binding the elite in many African countries including Ghana, it is unimaginable to think that they would be held accountable for their deeds. After all, if even the President is a recipient of kickbacks, and a major player in some of these underhand dealings, who would have the guts to proffer charges against his underlings, and before which courts or judges? But from the Watergate scandals and the resignation of Richard Nixon to the modern-day trial and conviction of the former Israeli president, Moshe Katsav, and the recent charges against Silvio Berlusconi, retribution is definitely an inbuilt mechanism within democracies by which they remove the cancerous parts which may threaten its very existence – no matter your social or political standing, every citizen is just as answerable for their actions.

Up to a point, in other countries, corruption has been tolerated as a “cost of doing business.” In Africa, it has had no positive features at all. The stern Tanzania founder, Julius Nyerere, near the end of his life, was said to be fond of telling in a well-worn tale of the difference between Asian and African corruption: The story began with an African minister who visited a colleague in Asia and was impressed by the man’s lavish home. “How did you afford all this on a minister’s salary?” he asked. Pointing through his living room window, his host said: “Do you see the large bridge in the distance?” “Yes,” replied the African. “Well part of its budget came my way,” the Asian explained. The next year, reciprocating the visit, the Asian minister asked the same question. “Do you see that road down in the valley?” asked the African. “No,” he replied. “I see nothing.” “Exactly,” explained the African. “I financed this house instead.”

This is your Africa; it is mine; and it is ours! We have a responsibility to make it better.

The above-title is serialized into 30 articles covering issues of politics, corruption, education, migration, the economy (Ghanaian economy), unemployment, land tenure, dearth of policy innovation, and stories from the frontlines – Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, ECOWAS and the AU. The series are syndicated and media houses/outlets interested in enriching the national debates in Ghana for the 2012 are free to publish all the series.

By: Prosper Yao Tsikata Email: pytsikata@yahoo.com Blog: http://theafricanmessenger.blogspot.com

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao