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Any “angel” in Ghana’s Parliament?

Sun, 16 Mar 2014 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My good friends, there is enough reason to say that any talk of fighting corruption in Ghana annoys me more than giving me hope that the vice will ever be successfully fought to improve governance.

Good citizenship is not achieved through appeals to conscience but through verifiable decent conduct as far as the handling of national affairs is concerned.

If you are one of those bothering yourself about corruption in Ghana and why it can’t be tackled despite official assurances, you needn’t do so anymore. Corruption cannot be stemmed. Lip service here, lip service there, lip service everywhere cannot tackle it. But that is the most preferred strategy: lip service and more lip service!! The chorus is set to be sung.

Let somebody tell me where exactly there is any provision in our legal code that specifically defines corruption for what it is and prescribes requisite punishment for it. Then, let somebody tell me whether there have not been infringements of that injunction and what has specifically been done to prove that there is a legal code on corruption that binds or bites culprits.

We are not talking about criminal dissipation of public funds which, in our time, translates into everything rolled into one as the judgement debt payments! We are talking about bribery and corruption going on day and night in public service. Call it by its more harmless euphemism—palm greasing—and you will be unpacking it in its subtlety.

“Wetting the ground” is its appropriate characterization in the case of those seeking opportunities to do business with government. Be it at the Ministries, Agencies, or Departments, the one looking for the opportunity has to “wet the ground” before something happens. It is beyond question.

Don’t even talk about the poor retired workers looking for their pension payments. If they don’t wet the ground, their files will continue to elude them till death do them pass.

Ordinary workers at the Ministries have sharpened their skills at getting desperate callers to wet the ground before any service is rendered. Along the line up the ladder in that hierarchical order, the ground wetting magnifies till it reaches the top to be blown out of all reasonable proportions.

It is endemic in the public sector in Ghana. Nobody can tell me otherwise.

Believe it or not, the searchlight is now on Ghana’s Parliament. Former Majority and Minority Leader in Parliament, Alban Bagbin, has opened the can of worms, alleging that some MPs take bribes in the performance of their duties. He said so at a two-day seminar in Koforidua for representatives of 40 non-governmental organizations.

His allegation has rocked the boat and the immediate vitriolic reaction from his colleague MPs suggests that they are peeved instead of supporting him to clean their image. And Bagbin is no new face when it comes to controversies.

Bagbin says he is ready to appear before the Privileges Committee of Parliament or the Leadership of the House to defend his allegation. He says he will be ready to provide evidence to the committee or the leadership for their perusal. He says although he only relied on circumstantial and anecdotal evidence to make his claim, he nonetheless believes the phenomenon exists and must be talked about.

(Source: http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=303210)

And Bagbin is being supported by a former MP for Chereponi (Samuel Jabanyite) who has strongly alleged too that all MPs are given money by institutions and organizations that seek to re-shape their minds toward getting them to support amendments of laws in Parliament.

He described as “charitable” Bagbin’s allegations that some MPs take bribes. The situation could be worse, which is why no one should attempt sweeping Bagbin’s allegation under the rug or intimidating him into recanting.

“Within the corridors of Parliament and amongst all the 275 Members of Parliament, yes, it is true, that MPs take money aside from their official sources from such programmes so there’s no MP who can say he’s never taken such money unless maybe the MP has never been a member of any Committee and there’s no MP who can tell me he doesn’t belong to one or two or three Committees and so to me, Honourable Bagbin was more charitable in his presentation when he said some MPs take money.

“Indeed it is all MPs who take money but the question is ‘what bribery, what is the rationale behind those sponsoring or those creating the opportunity of wanting to meet the MPs to understand the situation and argue for them?’ Is the food an inducement? Is the transport an inducement? Is the accommodation an inducement for you to take a decision which you would have otherwise not taken?” (Jabanyite’s views).

That is where we are now. Who will really stand up to lead the fight against corruption and ensure that he or she is neither already corrupt nor can be corrupted in the process of fighting corruption?

Politically motivated civil society groups doing anti-NDC politics and hiding behind the smokescreen of their “civil society” garb are long on accusing the government of corruption but short in offering any assistance to solve the problem.

Take, for instance, what the West Africa Network for Peace (WANEP) is reported to have revealed in its National Human Security Early Warning report released on Tuesday, courtesy, Isaac Banor, National Network Coordinator for WANEP:

“Ghana faces a future of violent demonstrations and general political instability if government fails to deal with the worsening economic conditions and public discontent over corruption.” A statement that will be incomplete without reference to endemic corruption under an NDC administration. But what solution has WANEP given to tackle it? None!!

Sadly, our Ghanaian situation runs counter to what is happening in democracies designed to improve governance. Here is just one example:

The former governor of Virginia and his wife have been charged with illegally accepting lavish gifts from a businessman while he was in office. Bob McDonnell, a Republican who left office this month, and his wife Maureen face 14 counts of accepting items valued at $135,000 (£81,955) in total.

Prosecutors say they accepted the gifts from a businessman who sought political favours. The couple have denied wrongdoing. If convicted, they face decades in prison and fines in excess of $1m.

(See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-25836639)

Against this background, I welcome Bagbin’s allegations and the rationale behind them, as he put it: “We don't have to run away from problems or challenges. We need find lasting solutions to them. That is what policy is about and as you get feedback you review it to improve. If we keep running away from challenge then they will keep haunting us," Bagbin said.

He said as a country, Ghana would have to confront the issue and find lasting solutions to it by putting in place policies.

I support him wholeheartedly and wish that the authorities will take advantage of his audacity to initiate appropriate measures to solve the problem. But who will bell the cat? There is ample reason to be pessimistic that anything concrete at all can be done.

We are already being given an inkling to know what lies ahead. Instead of hailing Bagbin, his colleague MPs are jumping on him, insisting that he be hauled before Parliament to prove his allegations or face the “gallows” that the so-called Privileges Committee of Parliament has turned itself into.

From Bagbin’s unwavering stance on his claims, I can foresee some “war-war” situation in the House if ever he is taken to task. And I expect him to confirm his allegations to shame his detractors or to help us know the extent to which palms are being greased and how to stop that act.

Of course, lobbying is acceptable in politics, but if it is not streamlined or regulated, it will turn out to be a major liability that unscrupulous elements always complaining about meager salaries will take undue advantage of to fatten themselves.

The painful aspect to consider, though, is that these 275 MPs aren’t even performing their duties to warrant their being “bribed” to consider laws in favour of those bribing them. This crop of MPs is made up of much deadwood, and one wonders why anybody or institution will give any of them money to influence deliberations in the House.

You see, when immorality dominates national politics, this kind of misplaced largesse is the outcome. The MPs have to come out clean so we can help them redeem themselves and put things right for good governance.

Any attempt to intimidate Bagbin will backfire with unpleasant repercussions for them. How can we ever be proud of such a Parliament?

I shall return…

• E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.