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Opinions Sun, 6 Dec 2009

I don’t like fish anymore!

What an eventful last couple of weeks we’ve had, ticked off by Mabel, sorry … Mabey and Johnson et al. Let me point out from the outset that this piece shall take literary license and give free reign to wild imagination and speculation. After all, what is a man’s life worth if he cannot freely dream?

Who doesn’t know that the NDC came to power on the wings of a massive anti-corruption campaign? At its height, we were treated to wastage of public funds under the eagle eyes of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, audit into NHIS accounts and the spectacle of school children choking on gogomi-infested food.

Now the NDC is in power and true to God’s sense of humor, the first “concrete” allegation of corruption arises not from within the ranks of the opposition NPP but from within the ruling government itself. It would appear that the ghosts of Mabel (ooops, I mean Mabey) have returned to haunt the government from fifteen years ago. Have the fathers eaten sour grapes and set the teeth of their children on edge? The President seems speedily willing to defer to CHRAJ for an answer- which is how the whole spectacle commenced with the ruling government under siege and visibly reeling on the defensive.

The hunter becomes the hunted.

With government apostles lauding the President for quickly “cracking the whip” as promised, opponents will not be convinced though none will dispute that we have gone beyond the days when the accuser would be asked to produce the evidence. If like me however you are not given to happenstances of coincidence especially in the context of ruthless high flying partisan politics, then you must have been held spell-bound by the follow up events in the Ghanaian media.

An armed hunter under attack is dangerous.

With government at risk of losing the moral high ground, a few covert counter insurgency measures with adequate doses of psychological operations and propaganda would swiftly be initiated. It would be called “Fight back!” So successful is ‘Fight back’ that by the end of week two, Mabel and Johnson would virtually be consigned to the back burners, if even temporarily as a series of well-coordinated corruption scandals were unleashed on the insatiable Ghanaian public. There is the salacious GT/Vodafone deal-Ghana gets far less than the 900 million dollars announced. We also salivate on the alleged corruption in the Ashanti Regional NHIS of gargantuan proportions. This hurricane is too much for the media-it sweeps Mabel aside. Proximity and controversy are in ample supply and the media laps it all up with Tarzan’s three day show at the Ghana @ 50 Probe fanning the flames on the side.

And then the wounded but armed hunter goes into overdrive; dummy companies are set up to massively hemorrhage the state of funds within the PSC Tema Shipyard in our recent past, it emerges. Big names are dropped all over. And then the Minister of Works and Housing tightens the noose further. Apparently, there is a powerful dossier which kisses and tells which former government Minister acquired which bungalow, at what price, using which procedure and on and on…The kitchen is certainly heating up. The investigating committee then affirms that “The executives of state who are caretakers cannot allow the bungalows they are occupying to be sold either to themselves or to any other person. This is breech of Article 284 of the constitution”

So obviously there is a lot of money and property flying around. My question then is how do I tap into the loot to improve my personal wealth? I cannot for the life of me understand why such sweet honey hasn’t flowed into my gaping mouth. Well, not unless you count the days of the house job training in Korle Bu.

Back then I recall how a colleague was given a fresh pair of designer trainers by his patient. On hindsight, I was not lucky at all. On both occasions that my patients decided to show me love, it was smoked fish they resorted to. This cycle repeated itself when I went to Dzodze-more smoked fish! Haba! Am I the only lover of ewokple and tilapia? In the light of the foregoing events, I protest vehemently and give up the immense gratitude I initially felt for these gifts.

I don’t like fish, not anymore. I want British pounds and American dollars too. And while we are at it, I don’t want these foreign notes to be delivered into any account. I prefer it in a black polythene bag (Ghana @ 50-style) and I want it delivered in a crowded place…like Sodom and Gomorrah. It must be done under the cover of darkness. No cameras, no receipts, no recording devices and certainly no press. You hand over the heavy wad to me alone. If alarm blows it automatically assumes the stature of your word against mine. I didn’t collect, not even for school fees!

Our culture has in-built corruption with all the creative ways in which thank you may be said, some argue. One day, my completion of ward rounds coincides with the presentation of a corpse to the morgue. Doctor is required to examine body and certify death. My response is swifter than usual mainly because I meet the family on my way home. Now apparently, so pleased are relatives with doctor’s swift response that they think they must show appreciation.

“Doctor, thank you for preserving our body.... Please take something small…” and with that they dig deep and offer a magnificent GHC 2. Do I laugh or cry? Folks are grateful and it is touching that obviously limited resources notwithstanding, they still feel able to give. We settle after a long winding explanation about how the prompt response was purely coincidental and everything is okay…just pay the mortuary bills to the hospital.

On hindsight however, I should have asked for pounds.

But my lawyer friends don’t think so which brings me to where gifts end and bribes begin? The learned profession does indeed draw a fine line. “Did the money influence you to act in a manner that you would otherwise not have?” To get a sense of international ‘corrupt’ corporate practices, I consult my international legal counselor who puts it all into drastic perspective.

“Many Western States have a regulation similar to what the US has called the 'Foreign Corrupt Practices Act'. It basically prevents them from offering bribes to public officials in foreign countries, prohibits them from doing some of the illegal things e.g. kickbacks which have become customary transactional business practices in foreign countries. Since all regulations are written by man, there are usually loopholes here and there... to ensure that they can still get contracts, perhaps follow the local practices, but still exonerate themselves from wrongdoing if found out. One thing that differentiates us from the West is this... In Ghana, when you do wrong, whether in secret or in public... it is still wrong and the public outcry is the same. In the US, based on my own personal experiences and accounts that I have heard from people, so long as you do it out in the open .aka disclosure, you are almost safe. Now what does disclosure mean? Ah, so you will see documentation e.g. receipts, you will see things like 'premium processing fee' aka bribe on their books. They will simply say that you the official told them that they needed to make this payment to facilitate the contract processing so they paid it legitimately. When you are confronted… OYIWA? What exactly did you collect the money for…?” asks Great Adols from her American Chambers.

When all the drama ends however, the President must demonstrate beyond doubt that his avowed commitment to fight corruption is not tokenism. Ghanaians will tolerate neither excuses of ‘cover ups’ or “witch hunting” as a basis for allowing fleecing of national resources to continue. Let us strive to the point where every public official clearly understands just where gifts end and bribery begins. Corruption is way too expensive for Ghana and Africa.

But President Mills may yet be ruthless and pass the test. Having watched his demeanor awhile, I have reached the conclusion that the man is probably more dangerous than he appears. When the President talks, it is as if he can’t hurt a fly. But I have seen a few people like that whose soft exterior often belies a steely inner resolve.

I observed candidate Mills at the IEA Encounter. A simple question on his position on the death penalty was put to him. With all his soft-spoken, humble, God-fearing asomdweehene branding and somewhat expected to pander to the public as opposition politicians are wont to, you would have thought he would say that “death penalty is bad, it doesn’t deter people and we should focus on reform etc” Rather I watched as Prof. Mills calmly looked the questioner in the eye and told him…”Well, as for me, I believe in the death penalty…that the State should have the right to take the lives of criminals…!” No frills, no shouting, no show boating! With just a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders, here was the asomdweehene threatening to kill you! His close aides speak of an irrepressible streak of stubbornness. President Mills carries on about how the wheels of justice grind slowly albeit exceedingly well and in the Eastern region, how wrong doers will be punished and not spared.

It is not a good feeling I have in my tummy whenever I hear the President talk like this. I fear for public officials (past and present) who may be caught. The smoked fish I collected from my patients is also beginning to haunt me. My gut feeling is that as breooo, breooo as this President sounds, when he has patiently built a certain case against you and sinks his talons into you, walahi, nobody can save you. Very soon, people might be running for cover without mercy.

Should my suspicions bear out, the days of corruption in all its shades and appearances may be numbered. Hopefully.

Trouble is coming…

Sodzi Sodzi-Tettey

Columnist: Sodzi-Tettey, Sodzi