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Less we forget - Ghana's day of tragedy and shame: Part 1

Tue, 8 Sep 2015 Source: Dery, Francis

The recent tragic loss of life, arising from the combined destructive forces of floods and fire, must go down as one of great tragedy and shame. Not to minimize the senseless, tragic and avoidable loss of life, but this is not one of those "Onyame naay?"(it’s God’s Will) type of tragedies; this was no freak accident either. This was a Ghanaian made disaster. It was contrived, cooked and served from a Ghanaian kitchen using the worst of Ghanaian social recipes - bribery and corruption. A kitchen populated by all kinds of "kitchen staff" – “Executive Chefs, Sous Chefs, Chef Sauciers, Chef Grillardins, Chef Potagers, Chef Entremetiers, Chef Poissonniers, Pastry Chefs, Cooks, Waiters/Waitresses, Butchers, Tasters, Wine Connoisseurs, And Pot Pans” of the worst kind ever known to mankind, wheeling and dealing. They cook in the day and nocturnally, 24/7; and they serve it to us, the people of this republic called Ghana and we gobble it down voraciously. They have fed us with these morally degenerate morasses for a long time now, and they are just about killing us. Enough is enough!!!

Such is the sorry backdrop to the tragic and shameful events of June 3, 2015, when our dear country woke up to ask why? Why there were so many dead people in the streets and why there was so much carnage and destruction, one that will posit moral questions, and public policy questions, and political questions, many years henceforth, if as a nation or as individuals we had a functioning moral conscience. Indeed, this tragic event leaves such a ghoulish memory, that even time would be incapable of erasing. How we react to this event and the steps we take to resolve the problems in its wake, including the country we undertake to build for ourselves and our children, will become the vector by which we are defined henceforth.

But I believe we all know why there was so much carnage. This is not some curveball from the blind side. We saw it coming years ago. We participated in originating, fomenting, enabling and perpetrating it. From ordinary citizens, through public and civil servants, to politicians, businessmen and businesswomen, and the highly placed in society, “men and women of God”; we have all taken actions or refrained from taking actions, directly or indirectly, individually or collectively, to subvert our national laws and policies, for selfish gain, bringing us to this ignominious and tragic moment. From greedy captains of industry, through crooked public and civil servants, to selfish, pompous, corrupt and inept politicians, we all contributed to writing this requiem, which we must now see to its deathly conclusions. In doing so, we must either perish with it if we choose the path of stupidity and greed we have long since followed, or rise like a phoenix from the ashes of this shameful and tragic chapter, re-charting a more perfect (yes, perfection is a positively desirable goal and we should strive for it at all times), inclusive, just, equitable, prosperous and law-abiding republic for ourselves and our children.

WE ARE CORRUPT

We are corrupt, extremely so. It is true. We are quick to point to the Nigerians, but the truth is, we are either as corrupt or more corrupt, not less and this has simply worsened over time. So degenerate have we become as a nation that this character flaw is no longer a rarity. It used to be that the poor were generally viewed as “unsmart” regards to a penchant for dishonest money-making. However, readers will agree it is difficult to engage even the most casual laborer(s) and not be apprehensive that you are more likely to be swindled than not. In a sense, you can’t blame them. The so-called poor have watch the so-called rich and educated gobble up our collective resources much to their exclusion, and have rightly come to the conclusion that they either get a piece of the action by hook or crook or perish in abject poverty, hence their recourse to corruption as well. I don’t mean some generalized corruption characterization which obfuscates the extensity and intensity of this canker. I mean individually. Those who ascribe corruption to a single entity or institution are over-simplifying the malaise or grossly under-estimating the extent of this malignant societal blemish. Yet, an unqualified admission is a prerequisite exercise in exorcising this disease from our midst. It always starts with the individual, with some unspecified jargon such as “connection” or some other innocuous term; yet, from such a lame and lone start, it may quickly become an assemblage of the most vociferous kind if there is a “meeting of minds”, when operators realize that the success of the diabolical scheme requires the involvement of some other person or persons. Thus, we are corrupt and corruptible. Yes, this goes on, among us; it is homegrown, it is shameful, and it has gathered and grown over the years.

This THING called corruption is like a giant vampire squid, jamming its huge tentacles into every facet and corner of Ghanaian society, engorging itself with the blood of Ghanaians, like those who died on June 3, 2015. It has a voracious appetite, with a capacity to instantly ravage anything in its path. It can morph seamlessly into anything and anyone it wants at short notice. It becomes your friend, mother, father, uncle, sister, brother, aunt, grandfather, grandmother, grandson, granddaughter, son, daughter, niece, nephew, in-law - you name it - even a casual acquaintance; it becomes YOU. This is why it is so pervasive. This strong associative character is one reason why the corrupt act of a non-public person is immediately – sometimes dubiously so – associated with his/her public or high-profile relative or acquaintance. This THING IS KILLING US, LITERALLY and no one is spared.

Some citizen somewhere, acting out of the self-imposed pressure to show the rest of society how well he/she is doing versus others, or pure greed and avarice, or some other such nebulous affliction, simply often materially driven, sat down to cook up a diabolical plan to make money illegally, gain access through the back door or game the, well, “shit-stem” - and brought us all to this day of shame and suffering. It could be approval for anything: gutter or culvert construction, permit or license to site a petrol or gas station, an environmental impact assessment, permit to build a place of domicile, connecting electricity, water or telephone services to a property, a driver's license, a road-worthiness certificate, a police report, an inspection certificate, customs declarations, paying taxes, company registration, police doctoring of evidence, paying an electricity or water bill, an immigration form or letter to be signed, the leakage of WAEC BECE test papers, the falsification of documents for friends, family, or even total strangers, for advantage, monetary and material gain; pastors scheming to acquire diplomatic passports and driving around with police security detail for protection when they are telling the rest of us that we are “Protected by the Blood of Jesus”; or others claiming miracle-making powers, like commanding the cedi to rise against the dollar, curing childlessness or our many superstitions through the healing powers of a bottle of water or oil for which the recipient must first fork out some serious money. Thus, we have become a nation of saboteurs and ravenous vampires, cannibalizing on each other with relentless greed – money, land, cars, everything and anything. Public officials on government assignment who bill the public purse for any and everything, or who, in the middle of a road trip, can purposefully veer off into the bush to have sex with a female companion because hotel trysts are simply no longer safe enough; contractors and masons who dress up walls to look like concrete pillars with steel when in fact they are just sand and cement, crumbling at the touch of a finger; which is why so many concrete fence walls collapsed in the wake of the flood of June 3, 2015. They are still falling.

At this point when even pastors are in on the action, you realize that not only has our nation lost its moral compass, but it has also lost its very soul (I return to the subject of pastors in future). This disease is massive. It is a cesspool of filthy practices and scum who, like vultures above carrion, feed fat on the pain and suffering of others, and it has been gathering and growing over the years. Virtually everything in the formal sector (public and private), and lately, the informal sector, is infested with this diseased motley of underhand deals and crooked people, knifing each other in the back, drawing the precious blood we lost as a nation that fateful Wednesday. In fact, in most institutions, the only door is the back-door, and we are all hurtling towards it. Officers of the Lands Commission are alleged to sometimes drive around with printers in the boots of their cars, service-on-wheels, printing out official land documents for crooked customers. Would it that they served their country just as zealously and as aggressively. Raise the issue and everyone immediately laments about it; yet place the same person in a challenging situation and the immediate default recourse action is NOT to follow the law or policy but to subvert it; it seems almost natural. If there is a God who created us, He did not mean this to be so. Alas, the flood of June 3, 2015 was the metaphor of our collective social degeneration and shall so remain, unless we change for the better.

WHY ARE WE SO CORRUPT?

To answer this question completely is in and of itself a PhD Thesis. But here’s a shortcut – look to ourselves, the individual, for the answer. We individually populate the institutions in our nation, public, private, formal and informal. A few real examples to further make the point, but I am sure you can come up with numerous examples of your own. A retired teacher who had never checked on her SSNIT pension decided to check up on the account. For SSNIT staffers, once they looked up the account and realized there were never any withdrawals made from it and the holder was old and retired, this was a goldmine to pillage. A few days after the pensioner’s visit, they called her up to say there was a problem with her account – the Government of Ghana had overpaid her pension by Twenty Thousand Ghana Cedis (GH?20,000.00). She needed to come to SSNIT to resolve the matter. The Pensioner arrived at SSNIT, cheque book in hand, asking which government ministry, department or agency she should make the cheque payable to. The SSNIT staffers told her that seeing she is a pensioner and a widow, they wanted to help her. Instead of paying the full amount they were “working out a way she could pay only Ten Thousand Cedis; the only catch for this “help” was that the money would have to be given to them in hard cash. The pensioner was adamant she would pay by cheque to a government entity. The SSNIT staffers realized they had a problem – how to pry the Ten Thousand Cedis in hard, cold, cash out of this retiree’s hands. After a whole day at SSNIT during which SSNIT even got a Hausa-speaking staffer to speak to the pensioner without any success at getting the cash, they sent the pensioner home. Two weeks later, they called up the pensioner to say the matter had been resolved – out of the blue; just like that!!!

In another example, a “reputable” private investment banking and funds management company in this country, cannot account for complete reports on investor funds over the years. Yet its founder, a soft-spoken man, who would least come across as a conniving, thieving, gangster, is actually a conniving, thieving gangster, and much more. He claims to be retired but is still in the game of fleecing unsuspecting investors and pillaging the resources of public entities, including those of SSNIT. He still walks free and may one day wind up as a government minister. Such people deserve to languish in jail for the havoc they have wreaked on our dear nation. They have bled this country dry with their schemes; church-attending, tongues-speaking gangsters in designer suits, suspenders and cufflinks to match, wielding bibles and crosses, who never miss an opportunity to proselytize; beneath all that, they are just snake oil salesmen.

In other instances, civil servants own cars they cannot even drive to work. Yes, cars of the highest luxury class – Range Rovers, Land Rovers, BMW X6s, Mercedes Benz 2015s, etc. They drive them half-way from home, park somewhere and catch a taxi or trotro the rest of the way to the office. I am not suggesting our civil servants should wallow in poverty and not enjoy the finer things in life. However, some of them clearly live beyond their earnings, which raise questions as to how they are able to support such lifestyles. One story alleges that a recently deceased very senior police officer built such a huge mansion, way above his pay grade, that he couldn’t visit the house normally, let alone live in it. He resorted to very short visits at midnight. And why go through all this trouble just to hide something we already know you have? I could provide vehicle registration numbers, but it is idiotic to assume that no one pays attention to what you drive on weekends. These civil servants are the gatekeepers of all the laws and policies that are supposed to regulate and enforce social order, in fairness and justice. They are the same ones who provide critical services on behalf of the governments we elect; yet many of them are just so corrupt and corruptible. Others have said that if our civil servants were half as efficient at their jobs as they were at receiving bribes, creating loopholes in the system and stealing public resources, our country would have been better off.

Another example - it is intelligent financial planning to prepare budgets with a reasonable buffer for upward changes in prices. Conservatively, and in an economy like ours where we don’t make anything and prices are highly sensitive to the dollar, usually upwardly, doubling the prices of line items could be considered appropriate – that is, a 100 percent hedge for price increases. However, what we get from our civil servants is a hedge 15 times larger – a 1500 percent buffer, most of which is then available for stealing. The few honest ones who point out the obscenity of these practices risk ostracism or outright loss of employment and a smear campaign that makes the person a pariah. It is part of the reason the reconstructed Flagstaff House wound up costing the Ghanaian taxpayer over 100 Million Dollars. The related costs arising from bribery, corruption, over-invoicing and under-invoicing, social dislocation and future costs from present subversion are simply incalculable. It is disgraceful; it is immoral and it is criminal. Some people ought to go to jail for a very long time, in hard labour, plus a hefty fine, for this. Yet, they are walking free today, and glorified as the nouveaux riches of Ghana.

BRIBERY IS CHEAP, CORRUPTION IS COSTLY IN THE LONG RUN

The cumulative material value, in any currency, of bribes given and taken, pales in comparison to the death, destruction and social chaos that results, such as we saw on June 3, 2015. And all for a bribe in what? A goat? Perhaps a sheep or cow; a million dollars or more, car, parcel of land, airline tickets, cell phone, an iPad or any of the electronic devices? How much do you think a human being's life is worth? A million dollars, or perhaps a billion? More? Make your pick, but I bet none of that mattered when dead bodies floated on the streets of our cities. No amount of money can bring any of the lives lost back; lives in their prime, contributing productively to this relatively young nation, all swept up in the storm of our greed and avarice, perished in faecal infested waters of our own making, that may soon choke us all to death.

No professional class is spared. Bank tellers who shamelessly pinch the pesewas portions of a Western Union Transfer without the slightest courtesy to the drawer of the funds; banks, through their employees, which shamelessly steal Pesewas on withdrawal transactions with the excuse that they don’t have the required change, when in a reversal of the transaction they will not accept deposits which fall short of the same amount in Pesewas. A bank whose primary business is money says it has no money for change? Why then is it in business? That’s like a doctor without medical training who is allowed to practice medicine. Doctors, so rude and heartless on the job, quick to go on strike on the slightest pretext of poor working conditions, when in reality they are simply gouging a population perpetually afraid and ignorant of the fact that death is a necessary end, and will come when it will come – they really make the Hippocratic Oath stink; teachers deliberately underperforming in order to manufacture the basis for imposing fee-based extra classes on parents, the latter many of whom are themselves part of other professions gouging others; accountants cooking the books to make a lousy company look good; professors in colleges trading exam questions, grades and admissions for money and sex; contractors undercutting projects to expand their profits; lawyers using anything but the law to practice the law; justices presiding over cases in ways that demeans the title “Justice ”. Planners and surveyors colluding to falsify documents that impose offending and unsafe structures on us, like those ugly “Villaggio” boxes masquerading as high-end, high-rise buildings. And my favorite – politicians who do nothing but lie, such as dragging a hapless entertainer to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee, in a vain attempt to whitewash their image because a “spec of marijuana ash fell on their well-pressed suits”. If all these “jokers” spent half the same amount of time on the nation’s real problems, all of us would be better off. The list is endless, but the defense often is that it is not all of us; it is some of us. But how do we know and how can we tell for certain. The disease is simply so pervasive everyone is at once innocent and guilty at the same time.

To be continued…. Watch this space for Part 2 of GHANA’S DAY OF TRAGEDY AND INFAMY.

Francis Dery

Email: dery.francis@yahoo.com

Columnist: Dery, Francis