Opinions Fri, 11 Oct 2013

State Condoned Thievery and Indiscipline

; Keys to a failing State

“….What do we have now? A thieving political and business elite who have not raised a dime of their own capital conniving with our civil and public servants to steal Ghana’s scarce resources under all sorts of rotten deals.….”

I am constrained to cite these concluding lines from my tribute to B.A. Mensah because quite a few people, including two anxious Professors from the UDS I met at the funeral of the academic and (not-greedy) asute businessman and friend, Sam Aboah at Adukrom urged me to write an article premised on these lines. That paragraph forms the basis of this attempt to discuss the insidious matter of unashamed and barefaced thievery going on in Ghana.

If you’ve read or watched the proceedings of the hapless sole Judgment Debt Commissioner, you will understand his pain, anguish and frustration. He must be having sleepless nights tossing in bed over the magnitude and reckless impudence with which these callous crimes are carried out. The sheer impetuousness of the evil, greedy collaboration between senior civil/public servants, politicians and judges and the nonchalance of public officers to the loss of state funds must be gnawing at him. I pity him. He and his team need our unceasing prayers.

Dear Ghanaian, especially educated Ghanaian who can read and understand this article. Stop for a moment, forget your personal travails, personal pursuits and personal goals and examine the matters I will attempt to discuss here. We (you and I) cannot allow the plunder, rape and waste of our scarce and diminishing resources by the above catalogued bandits to continue. ‘Dzi wu fie asem’ will not help. We must insist that Government charges responsible State institutions to immediately take action to investigate these nefarious acts of collusion and corruption; prosecute those involved and jail them if guilty. The catalogue of unconscionable greed, recklessness and thievery enumerated in the GYEEDA Report and the proceedings of the Judgment Debt Commissioner must be the cause of real and not just passing concern to you.

Let me state at the outset that I’m neither a moralist nor idealist. Not a saint or a pious person. I’m not filled with religious (in my case Christ-like) virtue. I’m not a good example of a Christian or an upright person. I’m not even a ‘good’ person. But I am concerned at the thievery going on. It’s killing our poor country. How can the State, acting through the Attorney General and the Ministry of Finance pay the unfathomable equivalent of $200,000.00 in “judgment debt” in a case in which a police vehicle damages a secondhand Hyundai Mighty worth $20,000 (the truck used for ferrying sachet water). The $200,000 (ten times the value of a fairly new Hyundai Mighty) was paid for the damage to the truck and loss of earnings whilst the truck was being repaired. Strangely the fully-paid-for truck was returned to its amazed and gleeful owner? How? And this case is one of the ‘smaller’ ones.

Worse, this thievery is supervised by lawyers who are sworn to uphold and defend the law and the truth? How come up until now, the Attorney General’s Department has not taken any action against the willfully negligent, colluding, conniving and thieving lawyers within its set up? $200,000 will build at least four ‘posh’ public toilets in four small, deprived villages and help nail the sanitation problems there. I’m ashamed at my criminal colleagues at the Bar driven by inordinate greed to conspire and commit such low-life white collar crimes. My dear friend Marietta Brew-Appiah, A-G, please investigate your department. It stinks.

Because we have blurred the functions and distinction between State and Government, we clothe everything in political robes. Therefore our state investigative bodies like EOCO, CHRAJ, Ghana Police and BNI which must investigate politicians, public and civil servants and judges connected to these cases, their lifestyles, bank accounts, travels etc., are unable to do so. I’ll cite a somewhat inappropriate example. A couple of months ago some NDC youth in Tamale were reported to have vandalized state property. The police arrested and detained them as they should do. While they were being arraigned for court and likely remand in prison, the NDC Regional Chairman, (according to the police commander there) “pleaded” with the police and they were released! I doubt that they will face justice. Both the regional chairman and the police do not seem to realize the gravity of the matter; that remand and jailing would have had a deterrent effect on other would be hoodlums with an inclination to misbehave. Then there’s the case of the youth who burnt state vehicles somewhere in the Volta Region. They have not, and will not be punished because “their votes count” and someone with political authority doesn’t want to alienate them; people who should be in prison. What happens to these youth? They become ‘untouchables’; acquire greater impunity and brazenly disregard even the simplest of laws because they have ‘protection’. You see; every cause has an effect. In these cases a hardening of these negative practices makes society suffer.

But these isolated acts of physical vandalism carried out by angry, inebriated youth, pale next to the carefully planned and intricately woven economic vandalism being perpetuated by my “learned friends” (I’m using that phrase hesitantly) at the A-G’s Department in collusion with crooked businessmen, other learned friends and technocrats at the Ministry of Finance, the lawyers and technocrats at the ministry, department or agency that incurred the debt and the politician who supervises the rot. The immoral, bloodcurdling (yem shishie) contracts entered into by GYEEDA with Zoomlion and the AGAMS Group warrant thorough investigation, prosecution of the state officials involved, and heavy custodial sentences if the accused are found guilty. The sums involved can build major, permanent infrastructure of benefit to all Ghanaians. But a few greedy businessmen with cronies in government sign bogus, lopsided contracts which enable them to pilfer our cash for their personal comfort. Come on, how can we pay $2,035,000 to a semi-literate person (no disdain meant) to negotiate a World Bank loan for Ghana? The loan was not granted but we paid him in full for “financial engineering”. How? Tell me!! In any other country the directors and management of African Automobile would be under microscopic investigation by the State and the IRS for tax evasion and the fraud they are visiting on our country. But this is Ghana. Our leaders go to them for handouts.

Dear Ghanaian, these are grave matters. They are not NDC and NPP matters. It’s not a matter of Ashantis against Ewes or Gas vs. Ashantis. Your patriotism to Ghana must go beyond support for our football teams and flying our flag during football tournaments. Our scarce resources are being plundered by a few “greedy bastards”. Soon there’ll be nothing left. You, your children and grandchildren will suffer.

Our country is currently plagued by an almost total non-observance of our rules and regulations. We cross roads anywhere and anyhow, jump red lights, litter the environment with plastics and human waste without remorse, drive recklessly and when drunk, park anyhow, circumvent processes for acquiring certification, violate all planning and building codes, illegally connect electricity and water to our homes and steal from our offices and workplaces. Gangs of motorbikes hold traffic up daily with impunity and the State cannot confront them and say “we will not tolerate such B…S… anymore!”

Our leaders use state facilities, resources and cash anyhow and without control. How can we explain how almost every ‘big-shot’ state functionary stayed at the expensive Golden Tulip Hotel, Kumasi for the recent World Cup qualifier with Zambia? Why? They flew there, at state expense, wined and dined and lodged in utter luxury. Their V8 Toyota Landcruisers’ had gone there ahead of them. Why? Who checks how much the politician or government appointee can spend? Must the politician appointed to head the ministry determine what perks he gets, what luxuries are due him and how contracts are awarded and cash spent at his ministry? Don’t we have guidelines and mechanisms for ensuring that we split hairs over these “little things” with a view to protecting our state purse? Shouldn’t we be tightening up and refining our processes with a view to improving our state institutions and our country?

Our governments and state apparatus seem helplessly resigned to the false conclusion that rapid urbanization, the electronic age and the embrace of modernity must come with a capitulation and unchecked erosion of our fine values, precepts, laws and conduct as a nation and a people. They are content with negatively supervising our spiral into utter lawlessness. We appear determined to allow indiscipline to flourish in our country as part of modernization. I disagree. Even in sprawling European cities like London, Hamburg and Rome with millions of inhabitants, millions of cars, cities on the move, where the people DO NOT FILL THEIR CHURCHES AND MOSQUES, three or four times a week, they MOSTLY obey the rules. They don’t deliberately or negligently litter. They cross at Zebra crossings, don’t run red lights or overtake slow moving traffic. They drive in a controlled, responsible manner and do not drive with children on their laps. They do not go to church as we fervently, routinely and regularly do, but their general civic sense of right and wrong behavior and not any Bible or Koran sourced edict, guides their behavior. They do not rely on religion, “God’s grace” or regularly seek the views of the clergy in purely secular matters as we do. They just do the right thing. We do not! We are ‘religious’ but we are not disciplined. They are not religious, don’t go to church and do not live “By His Grace” but they follow simple rules and regulations. We don’t.

A casual, sporadic case has been made for the re-introduction of Civic Education in our schools. I support that. But that alone is insufficient. If we re-introduce it our kids will gain immeasurably. But it won’t permeate the current crop of mad, murderous drivers, ignorant pedestrians, hawkers, profit driven priests, thieving civil servants and politicians; all of us regular lawbreakers, included.

The strong invisible hand of the State must intervene and with the firm unflinching support of Government insist that our country, its institutions and the people function as they should. That law and order prevail, and that political allegiance, cronyism, social status, religion, old school ties and other factors which conspire in the wrong way to undermine law, order and justice and which promote lawlessness do not hold sway. That we are re-orientated: (not indoctrinated) and that we realize the value of obeying small, seemingly intangible dos and don’ts in our society. Ask yourself what the simple do’s and don’ts that regulate our conduct. None! You can park anywhere, urinate anywhere, litter and overtake slow moving traffic without feelings of guilt or any sanction being applied for your infringement.

It will require radical, sustained reform and the use of the impartial, coercive powers of the State and its agencies to halt our decline. The Police MTTU, NRSC and DVLA, in collaboration with NCCE, TV, Radio and telecom companies should be able to carry out a sustained nationwide programme on mandatory, safe, acceptable and unacceptable driving and pedestrian practices, spell out sanctions for infringements and promptly, and when required, severely sanction erring motorists and pedestrians. Idiotic, impatient and drunk drivers jump red lights and kill pedestrians; speeding, reckless mini bus drivers slaughter dozens and get away with negligible fines for “careless driving” when they should go to jail for “manslaughter”. There is so much to be done. In every successful nation, the State wields power. “Even” in next door Togo, the State’s unflinching hand coerces all into positive compliance; you cannot park anyhow, build anyhow or put a container-shop anywhere. Rising from this dark pit, will take the iron will of the State and all Governments: NDC, NPP, GCPP, PNC, CPP, without exception. A bit like moving a mountain… But hey, parts of Japan totally obliterated by the tsunami three years ago are being rebuilt….

I hope I’m not being idealistic or Utopian. I’m by no means advocating an eradication of corruption. But we must try. Or I’m I just too naïve? At least, though I’m concerned about the freefall of our dear nation into a lawless abyss, I manage a few hours of sleep at night. I doubt that Justice Apau does. Pray for him.

Johnny Blukoo-Allotey, Accra, Ghana.

Columnist: Blukoo-Allotey, Johnny