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Opinions Sun, 3 Jan 2016

Let’s Face It: Corruption Is Destroying Ghana

By Dr Alfred B Cudjoe

When I heard President Mahama fuming over Ghana being allegedly labelled as the second most corrupt country in Africa, a wise saying came into my mind: “The truth is like a cork, the more you force it under water, the more it hops to the surface.” This is because although many may understand the president’s anger at his country being ‘wrongly’ labelled so, the crucial question arises whether our position really matters, given the level of corruption in the country.

We, as a country, have reached a stage where officials need to be concerned about the level that corruption as a social canker has attained. One can hardly trust anybody from the topmost civil servant to the common messenger in the civil service. While a junior staff member is ready to misappropriate any petty cash that comes his way, his senior colleague has the tendency to inflate figures to earn money that he hasn’t worked for. It is common knowledge that civil servants and other public service staff members, in their private life, carry out projects such as building mansions in plush residential areas, buying luxurious vehicles, sponsoring their children to attend private fee- paying institutions, and so on.

These projects involve huge expenditure which, unless by magic, by any stretch of imagination, the workers’ salaries cannot support. The situation is not different outside the government sector. Mechanics, spare parts dealers and traders of all kinds always use subtle means to dupe their unsuspecting customers.

Ironically, as if to contradict the President in his anger, a controversy surfaces – the painting and branding of 116 new intra-city buses. It has been reported that the re-branding of the buses, imported for the Metro Mass Rapid Transport (MMRT) to improve the system of transport in the country, attracted a total cost of GH¢3,649,044.75 (or GH¢31,457.28 per bus). Later, reports had it that the company that did the work involved in the branding project charged a mere GH¢100 for a sticker on each bus and not GH¢2,000 as quoted by agents of the Ministry of Transport.

It is true that the Chief of Staff, Julius Debrah, has asked the Attorney-General to probe this contract and associated payments, but the whole deal speaks volumes about how resources of this country are being used. Had the company which did the branding not come out to expose this fraud, the contract would have gone through, for it is strange that no official of the Ministry of Transport saw anything wrong with the figures involved in this ordinary contract. Even when the attention of the Minister of Transport, Dzifa Ativor was drawn to the figures in Parliament, she merely said she did not have details, without expressing her surprise at them.

The fact that this fraud was successfully hatched in one of the country’s ministries without being nipped in the bud by internal regulations raises questions of ethical nature. In particular, one wonders how many of such contracts succeed in obtaining official approval if it is that easy to swindle the state. The fraud got exposed only because officials involved were not ‘smart’ enough to give a substantial proportion of the booty to those who actually executed the contract.

Developments of this nature give the impression that corruption and dishonesty are being institutionalised and there are examples to illustrate this. When, for instance, the world market price of crude oil reached an all-time high of over $120 per barrel, the sector ministry increased the price of petrol to a record GH¢17.00 per gallon in 2014, as compared to GH¢5.00 in 2008 (world price per barrel then was a little above $90.00).

Today, the world market price of the commodity has fallen drastically and now sells at just about a third of its 2014 price. On the other hand, the Ghanaian motorist is still buying petrol at over GH¢12.00 per gallon. The official explanation for this is that there are debts to be serviced and, moreover, the falling oil price is hurting the economy of the country since Ghana is also an oil-exporting country. Indeed, the Minister of Finance, Seth Terkper, announced a revision of the recent budget projections, citing as reason the drastic fall in the price of crude oil.

What this implies then is that Ghana, being an exporter of the commodity, was gaining from the high price of crude oil on the world market. The government, instead of using the extra revenue to better the lot of the ordinary Ghanaian, rather used the situation as an excuse to dramatically increase the price of the commodity at the pump. Such price increases without a corresponding reversal when changing conditions dictate so smacks of a dishonest betrayal of the people. In the end, it also harms the economy in many ways.

Metaphorically speaking, such price increases without thinking of the long-term effect is comparable to the way we handle the issue of rubbish in this country. The incurable habit of the Ghanaian is to throw litter around without thinking of the future consequences. It is only when the rainy season comes that people realise that choked gutters can cause flooding. At the time of throwing the rubbish around, those who do so might think by some miracle it would go somewhere. We all remember what happened on June 3, and there are many other examples to cite.

A scenario like this comes to mind when officials call for price increases. The call by Dr Kwabena Donkor, the Minister of Power, for the payment of realistic tariffs for electricity is an example. This was during a stakeholders’ meeting on the local content of the power sector held in Takoradi towards the end of November. What the minister means by realistic, by inference, is dramatically high tariff increases. The minister’s stance is unmindful of the fact that the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) is incurring losses mostly because there are too many non-paying consumers, probably including himself, his family, his special aids, etc. and illegal connections. It appears that it’s easier to increase prices than to solve the problem of non-payment by some consumers.

Whether Ghanaians like it or not, chances are that electricity tariffs would be increased in addition to the recent controversial increase of over 60 per cent. Such an increase will by all means have a legal backing, since Parliament is not likely to stop it. However, those who actually pay for the services have no means to prevent it.

Obviously, since their income will almost remain the same, the multiplier effect will create a situation where those who can will find dubious means to make up for the difference while others will resort to illegal connections with the active connivance of some ECG staff members. Like the rubbish metaphor used above, unreasonable increases in tariffs do not help solve problems. They rather create a situation that will come back to haunt us all. These, I dare to submit, are some of the root causes of corruption in the country.

Columnist: Cudjoe, Alfred B.