By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK October 3, 2014
The level of theft and day light robbery of scarce state resources by management and staff of the National Service Scheme (NSS) as reported by the Daily Graphic is simply, bewildering. That, an amount of GHc7.9 million was paid to 22,612 non-existent national service personnel each month and shared among some management and staff is unbelievable (see, “Fraud at NSS: About Ghc7.9m paid to ghost personnel in a month”, Graphic/Ghanaweb, October 2, 2014). I am sure this revelation has not come as a surprise to many Ghanaians except the amount involved because corruption by public officials and individuals is systemic, endemic and pervasive in Ghanaian society. In fact, it would not be an understatement to say that what happened at the NSS is just the tip of the iceberg. The purpose of this article is to contribute to the debate on corruption and how best Ghana can reduce this canker to the barest minimum. Personally, I believe that corruption cannot be eliminated completely by any society. Even in the developed democracies, corruption exists but the difference is that they have effective systems and institutions to check it and deal with perpetrators when caught, which is lacking in Ghana.
What is really sad about this case is the fact that one of the rationales for the establishment of the NSS was to instil a sense of patriotism and national pride in the youth of Ghana by way of serving their nation in return for minimum reward. Today, one can say without doubt that the management and leadership of the NSS have made it a symbol of national sabotage and shame. The questions Ghanaians must seek answers to include for example, for how long has this stealing been going on, where were the Board members, what have they been doing? What were the other external institutions such as the ministries of Education and Finance, the Controller and Accountant General’s Department and the bank/s of NSS also been doing? I pose these questions because this level of stealing could not have been possible if any of them were working effectively.
If reports in Ghana that the BNI began investigating this matter as far back January 2014 are true, then one wonders why the management and Board of NSS are still in place? Again, if the President ordered this investigation, then, why has he not suspended the Director of NSS or even dissolved the NSS Board? I also heard Dr David Percy, a past NSS Board member say in an interview with Citi FM that the old Board was aware of rot but nothing happened when it was reported to the appointing authority. I worked with Dr Percy in 1980s and knew him to be a principled person but disappointed that he did not resign from the Board over the failure of the authorities to act, though it is not surprising because the word resignation is alien in Ghana (I give credit to the Board Chairman of the Electricity Company of Ghana who recently resigned from his position.
Ghana’s public institutions are full of corrupt officials and politicians. In fact, in my view civil servants could be more corrupt than politicians and could be causing more financial loss to the state than politicians. This is because the number of civil servants who engage in corruption by stealing from the state is far bigger than politicians. From example, in the civil service, corruption could be from junior officers to the Directors, so the numbers are huge and their stealing activities are daily. It cuts across all, especially, the staff of Ghana Education Service, heath care providers in the public and private sector making fraudulent claims from the National Health Insurance Authority, staff of Ghana Revenue Authority, Ports and Habours Authority, Immigration Service, Ghana Police Service and many others.
The matter of ghost workers is also not new in Ghana. Almost every public institution, including even the Presidency is full of ghost workers. Every month, millions of taxes are paid to non-existent workers with the money going into the pockets of corruption officials. These are schemes well orchestrated and oiled with connivance from national to district. Mr Ebo Mends of New York posted an article on how District Education Officers have become millionaires in Ghana through the late payment of salaries of newly appointed teachers (see, “Want to be a Millionaire in Ghana?”, Ghanaweb, November 22, 2013). In fact, I suspect that at least, 30 percent of Ghana’s public sector wage bill goes to ghost workers. In some institutions the figure could be as high as 40 to 50 percent, yet governments after government do nothing about the problem.
Ghana does not need IMF to reduce the huge public sector wage bill through redundancies. That is the wrong approach and a waste of public funds because money would be spent on compensating those made redundant. Instead, the first approach must be to identify the ghost names and remove them from the pay roll, arrest all those who have been benefiting from such criminal activities and prosecute them as well as recover the money received illegally, including recovery of assets obtained with the money. It is only after this exercise that any need for redundancies could be considered. This approach would be more cost effective and value for money than the impending IMF imposed retrenchment programme.
Some readers may blame politicians for the high incidence of corruption in Ghana, especially, the current Mahama led NDC government. Of course, whilst I agree that the appointing authorities cannot absolve themselves from blame for what is happening, corruption should not be debated along party political discourse. Corruption has no political colours. If corruption is increasing, it is indicative of the level of poverty, income disparities, a growing economy as well as acquiescence by politicians and the lack of any effective leadership and accountability. The Director of NSS who appears to be the architect of the armed robbery is not a politician. According to sources, he has been working at the NSS Secretariat for over twenty years and rose to become the Acting Director before he was appointed to the position by President Mahama. He is therefore a career civil servant.
Moreover, the World Cup rot was not perpetrated by politicians alone. The GFA Chairman used mathematical language to illustrate how a system of payment was designed to cover up corruption. Do you remember the figure seven as coefficient for the number of GFA Management Team that were entitled to receive fees but more than seven officials were paid allowances, yet only one person signed for the bulk amount? That was a perfect recipe for corruption and cover up. How can GFA pay individual allowances but those individuals do not sign that they have received X amount of money as fees or allowance? I was disappointed the media reported the GFA Chairman performance as having mesmerised the World Cup Commission. Was the word coefficient impressive when in reality, it was a deception? It only means a constant number.
One expected that decentralisation would have reduced bureaucracy and corruption in Ghana. Sadly, decentralisation has expanded the frontiers of corruption because of weak management and leadership supervision. At NSS, all the supervisory bodies from the Board to Ministry of Education failed abysmally to exercise any accountability functions over the activities of NSS.
How can Ghana reduce the high levels of corruption that the President has described as mass murder? The answer is simple and I have said it over and over again in my articles. Corruption thrives in societies where institutions of governance and accountability are weak, therefore, the laws, rules and regulations are not enforced. Again because there is always a giver and a taker in corruption, as long as citizens are willing to pay bribes and not demand what is right, the fight against corruption will fail. In other words, the citizenry also contribute to corruption by their failure or unwillingness to comply with the laws, rules and regulations of the state.
In the midst of institutions unable or unwilling to enforce and the public unable or unwilling to comply with the laws, rules and regulations, Ghana has almost become lawless with the consequences of increasing high levels of corruption in every fabric of society. Unless institutions of governance and accountability enforce as well as the citizens comply with the laws rules and regulations, the fight against corruption would be in vain. The President’s ad hoc orders to BNI to investigate incidents of corruption in public places would not be sufficient to fight corruption. The fight against corruption must be a national task with all hands on deck. For example, if the bank/s of NSS had questioned why huge and bulk withdrawals were being made by NSS District Managers, perhaps, this massive theft could have been stopped earlier than BNI uncovering it.
The societal, management and leadership failures must also be addressed. For example, these District Managers might have been living beyond their means and people in those communities must have noticed their new lifestyle such as driving new cars, putting up or acquiring new properties, etc. Why did no one question their sources of wealth and alert the appropriate authorities? Was it because no one is free from corruption? Since it was the NSS management that perpetrated this crime, it could not have checked it but were all members of NSS management involved or benefited from the scheme and if not, why did those who were not involved or benefiting not report it to the Board? As for the Board, their negligence is unpardonable. Whilst I know from experience that it is possible for management to conceal mismanagement and corruption form the Board, if the Board members asked the right questions and probe further such mismanagement and corruption could have been nicked in the bud by a proactive rather than reactive Board. Did the Board pay visits to the regions and districts?
Ghana is rich enough to pay for quality education, health and infrastructure development without having to rely on loans and grants from the donor partners such as the US, UK, EU, China and others if all the taxes that are to be paid are paid to the state and public officials do not steal and waste them. Ghanaians are their own worst enemies through corruption. A country that is unable to pay its statutory bills when due, where children go to school under trees, basic health care services are lacking with poor roads but can afford to allow a few officials to steal Ghc7.9 million a month, then where is the nation heading to?
I hope this matter, unlike GYEEDA, SADA and others would be pursued to its logical conclusion because it is only when corrupt officials are prosecuted, jailed if found guilty, dismissed so that they lose their benefits as well as the money stolen recovered from them that corruption will come down. When the only sanction is a transfer as was in the case of Mr Samuel Nerquaye-Tetteh who was bribed by Woyome, then this BNI exercise is another waste of public funds and could be a big deception by the President.
Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK