Let's make 2016 anti-corruption election

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Fri, 23 Oct 2015 Source: Kwesi Gyan-Apenteng

Election 2016 has started in earnest. The internal clocks of the political parties have started their countdowns and politicians know that the early bird truly catches the worm.

The two frontrunners, President Mahama and his main challenger, Nana Akuffo Addo, use every opportunity to coin new slogans and hit the road. Thus, President Mahama’s Changing Lives and Nana Akuffo Addo’s Rise and Build.

For the President opportunities to inaugurate things and cut sods have come in abundance and apparently at the right time while the opposition leader is making frantic efforts to raise the morale of his seemingly fractious fold. It is the start of the long home stretch of the marathon electioneering campaign.

Not to be outdone, the smaller parties are also getting on their marks. The CPP has had its elections and the not-so-new Chairman and the General Secretary have raised the party’s communication tempo.

And if you have any doubts that the season is truly upon us, here is proof positive: a newspaper report about Dr. Henry Lartey’s Great Consolidated Peoples Party – it happens once every four years!

Election is the oxygen of democracy; without it democracy would be as meaningless as it is in the countries whose presidents regularly change the constitutions to flout constitutional term limits.

In Ghana, every four years we give full airing to our democracy by giving ourselves the opportunity to elect our leaders and representatives.

However, elections are not only about choosing people; the choices should also extend to the policies the people we choose will pursue in office. On that particular front we are not doing very well.

The media focus is more on the people than their policies so we end up electing people without knowing in full what they stand for.

Of course, all political parties will launch their manifestos sometime in the second or third quarter of next year. Two weeks after they have been launched nobody will remember what the manifestos say because the campaigns would return to what they do best: make promises about infrastructure.

All political parties take Ghana on a trip through an infrastructure hall of mirrors. They promise to build schools, roads, hospitals and even airports. They tell every constituency the same things because we all want the same things.

Politicians like that because such promises are easier to make and perchance, easier to keep. It is easier to build a school than deliver education; you can build a hospital but not guarantee good health.

The deluge of infrastructure promises deflects attention from our real problems, which are more serious than shortage of roads, schools, water or even electricity. We need to talk about fundamental issues such as the Constitution and how we are governed; we need to focus on the quality of leadership and representation; we need to pay close attention to character, public morality and commitment.

However, for the 2016 election, I would propose that we focus every ounce of collective being on the one problem that beats all other problems: CORRUPTION. Ghana's massive advantage at independence has been whittled away by corruption; corruption is our waterloo - that is where we lost and continue to lose - the battle every time.

The 2011 National Anti-Corruption Plan defines corruption as “misuse of entrusted power for private gain”. So defined, corruption includes bribery, embezzlement, misappropriation, trading in influence, abuse of power, abuse of office, illicit enrichment, laundering the proceeds of crime, concealment, obstruction of justice, patronage, nepotism and conflict of interest. (NACAP 2011).

That definition should sober up all of us who have been caught up in the hoo-hah of the Anas video frenzy; corruption is not only bribery and definitely not something judges do. It is so widespread that for the most part we don’t even recognise it as such.

It has become interwoven in our cultural fabric but we are paying too high a price for tolerating this unhealthy spectre that has haunted us since independence. According to the same NACAP report, theft through ghost names on the public payroll alone costs GH¢30 billion every year.

Estimates vary but some experts put the cost of corruption to Ghana at several hundred billion dollars every year, but when the wide range of corruption activities such as absenteeism and bad timekeeping are included the cost goes beyond imaginable zeroes.

But apart from the cost in money terms, the perception of widespread corruption among all sections of society has undermined trust in both private and public institutions and such perception is even more severe in relation to the institutions that are meant to save us from corruption. In this way, corruption is a far bigger threat to our democracy than most people perhaps realise.

According to an Afrobarometer Survey of 2011, 58 per cent of Ghanaians believe that SOME officials at the presidency are corrupt while 29 per cent believe that ALL are corrupt; 61 per cent of Ghanaians believe that most or all metropolitan, municipal and district chief executives are corrupt.

Members of Parliament may have to summon millions of Ghanaians to the Privileges Committee because the same Afrobarometer Survey found that 58 per cent of Ghanaians believe that MPs are corrupt.

By every calculation, the majority of Ghanaians see corruption as a major problem and the recent Anas video has shown that the cancer has infested even the most sacred parts of our body politic.

We cannot play the ostrich about this anymore. Corruption cannot disappear on its own as a by-product of any other ancillary activity. It has to be tackled head-on and be the subject of an intensely focused battle. In other words, we need to go to war against corruption.

It is easy to declare a war but not when the generals to lead the troops are all perceived to be in the enemy’s pay. The very institutions that have the mandate to fight corruption are all perceived to be corrupt and therefore, to drive the war analogy further, are unlikely to inspire confidence in the ranks.

In Ghana the only language that works is the language of politics, voting and power. Therefore, if we are to have any chance of defeating corruption it has to become a political issue.

Speaking recently to his party members at Techiman, Papa Kwasi Nduom, the leader of the Progressive Peoples Party said that a PPP government would tackle institutional corruption in a more proactive and responsive manner that would stimulate or inspire the ordinary citizen to contribute significantly in the fight against the menace.

It is a good start but not enough. Let us make corruption the MAIN issue for the 2016 election; let us plead with the political parties to spare us the infrastructure fairytales. Even the colonialists built schools and roads.

For 2016 let this nation approach the election with only one agenda - to stop corruption. Let us demand a blueprint from every party for eliminating corruption and tell us how it would be implemented in practice.

This blueprint must be subjected to rigorous analysis to ensure that it can be implemented in a transparent way. If we fail to do this, we will be getting into more debts and mortgage more of our future in a corruption-infested marketplace.

Indeed, one of the points often raised by anti-corruption campaigners is that corruption often drives more new projects instead of continuing those started already or repair broken infrastructure.

We must put corruption as first, second, third and last on the election agenda. This ought to be the national agenda.

Seek ye first a corruption-free Ghana and all other things shall be achieved with relative ease.

Columnist: Kwesi Gyan-Apenteng