Beating the air: Ghana's weak fight against corruption

Thu, 24 Apr 2014 Source: Adjei-Kyeremeh, Nathanael

We just celebrated 57 years of Self-rule. What has become topical these days is the matter of corruption, how pervasive it is and how we have largely failed to deal with it. Through the revelations of Anas (corruption at the Ports, DVLA) and Manasseh Azzuri (GYEEDA, sad SADA story), we have overwhelming evidence of corruption at our public institutions.

Ghanaians over the years have witnessed how various Presidents attempted to make fighting corruption a priority.

We don’t have to look far to recall, Former President Kufuor’s ambitious mantra of 'Zero Tolerance for Corruption' but in the latter part of his reign ended up with an infamous statement, 'Corruption has been with us since Adam'. Years earlier President Rawlings as a Junior Officer had led a ‘revolution’ to rid the nation of corruption, executing some former Head of States, publicly punishing many others involved in perceived corrupt acts, but corruption still persisted. Recently a news magazine Africa Watch has described Ghana as "the Republic of Corruption".

For the purpose of this piece, I will adopt the World Bank definition of corruption as: “the abuse of public office for private gain.”

Our History of Corruption

Years before our Independence, our colonial Masters entertained the fear of massive corruption in the Gold Coast. The Watson Commission in 1948 reported: "It would be idle to ignore the existence of bribery and corruption in many walks of life in the Gold coast admitted to us by every responsible African to whom we addressed the question. That it may spread as further responsibility devolves upon the African is a possibility which cannot be denied."

One might brush aside the Watson commission's proclamation as a colonialist doomsday prophecy, but it wasn't long that many prominent Ghanaians began to lament about the high prevalence of corruption.

A lecturer said in 1966, "The whole society is corrupt: corruption for us is a way of life. Everyone from the big man down to the small is out to get his and a people who have had little in the past will take advantage of opportunities with a feeling of why shouldn't we as long as no one gets directly hurt."

During the Busia Regime, Mr M. Archer (MP, PP—Wasa East) in a Parliamentary debate bemoaned: "Any time I stand up and say that people are corrupt, Members in this House think I am joking. I am not joking at all. I say that with all seriousness. What we saw and what we listened to during the deliberations of the Public Accounts Committee is evidence of the fact that people in this country—infact many of them—are corrupt... one thing that I should like to say is that many people in this country think that it is only politicians who are corrupt... But those who are most corrupt are civil servants and people in the public corporations.... Only heaven knows how much we are losing in this country through the practice of corruption."

A citizen in 1971 expressed it more frankly: "We Ghanaians are so accustomed to bribing our officials, and they to stealing our rate-moneys, that it would be considered odd if we didn't bribe and they didn't steal."

From the above one will appreciate that we have lamented about corruption since the dawn of our independence, however actions to stem corruption have been largely ineffective. We have had Public accounts sittings, numerous commissions of inquiry but little effect on reducing corruption. Loose Anti-corruption laws

Victor T. Le Vine in his book "Political Corruption: the Ghana case" writes of why our laws have had little effect on corruption. "In Ghana statutes have had relatively little effect thus far on corruption. One reason may be that in Ghana those charged with eliminating corruption were themselves tainted with it; indeed, under such circumstances both investigations and remedial legislation tend to be ineffective and pointless, or to become elaborate exercises in hypocrisy.

The Ghanaian novelist Ayi Kwei Armah presents the nations failure to fight corruption succinctly:

There was a lot of noise, for some time, about some investigation designed to rid the country's trade of corruption. Designed by whom? Where were the people in power who were so uncorrupt themselves?... The head of it was a professor from Legon. From Legon, they said, in order to give weight and seriousness to the enterprise. In the end it was being said in the streets that what had to happen with all these things had happened. The net had been made in the special Ghanaian way that allowed the really big corrupt people to pass through it".

Because of this special Ghanaian net, we can have ‘untouchables’ squander and misappropriate SADA funds only to tell those who demand accountability that “I account to the president and not you Manasseh and Joy FM.”

The Cultural dimension

We have largely failed to fight corruption also because there seem to be a culture that makes corruption thrive. We have had an evolving structure of values that had the effect of rationalizing if not legitimizing corrupt behavior. Corruption has come to be seen as a survival tool.

Again primary group loyalties which in modern industrialized nations have undergone serious erosion are still the prime focus of trust in Ghana. An official could say in an interview "I see first my mother, my uncle, my father; my brothers, my countryman and I help them first. I know them but do I know Ghana government or Ghana court?

The family, the clan the village even the ethnic group encompasses those people who are most apt to be trustworthy or at least those with whom social intercourse is likely to be possible with minimal friction. Correspondingly, certain obligations — of reciprocal trust, loyalty, service and perhaps obedience— in each circle of affiliation, becoming specific or generalized according to the expectations of the group. This fuels nepotism and corruption and explains our voting patterns over the years as well.

What is the way forward?

Prof Gyimah-Boadi of CDD-Ghana on fighting corruption asserts in a briefing paper that "Specialized anti-corruption agencies lack full independence and government support. They are denied resources, and their leaders harassed, especially if they assert too much independence from political authorities.

We will need to strengthen our institutions to really bring perpetrators of corrupt acts to book. Over the years the Auditor General's reports have been largely repetitive, same findings year in year out. We will need to apply the rules firmly so as to deter others. Obama's words before Ghana's Parliament hold true that Africa needs strong institutions not strong men.

We must begin to see ourselves more as Ghanaians and appreciate that our actions affect the nation. Sadly after 57 years of self-rule many Ghanaians still see themselves less of Ghanaians but more of their tribe. This year the theme for our independence celebration was on Patriotism.

We should begin work earnestly to remove bureaucratic structures and simplify public service operations. We will need to work on creating a comprehensive anticorruption legislation that will make corruption a high-risk and low-gain activity.

An important step towards fighting corruption is a strong political leadership. When acts by leaders clearly aim at preventing corruption and those who are culpable are quickly punished, it sends good signals. Chinua Achebe will say one shining act of bold, selfless leadership at the top, such as unambiguous refusal to be corrupt or tolerate corruption at the fountain of authority, will radiate powerful sensations of well-being and pride through every nerve and artery of national life. In this regard let the president take bold and decisive first step of ridding his administration of all persons on whom the slightest wind of corruption and scandal had blown.

Ghanaians should really show they hate corruption by exposing corrupt acts and voting against corrupt politicians. The usual support corrupt Politicians get from the citizenry is worrying. It only assures other politicians that you can loot as much as you can, your party people will support you.

We can’t continue on this road where corruption is gradually becoming part of our culture. It is dangerous to our national development and caustic to our national cohesion. President Mahama paints it more aptly that corruption amounts to mass murder. We will be on self-annihilation if we allow Ghana to become a Republic of Corruption

By: Dr Nathanael Adjei-Kyeremeh adjeikyeremeh@gmail.com

Columnist: Adjei-Kyeremeh, Nathanael