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Opinions Mon, 31 Aug 2020

Licenced and institutionalised thievery of our time

There is a saying in pidgin: “Small man thief, e steal; big man thief, e take”. - Author unknown.

Thievery is a very common societal issue; more common than recognised or acknowledged. It is a massive ‘industry’ employing hundreds of thousands of people - both as perpetrators who engage in the act and also as people working in preventive roles. Thieves touch the lives of many people, directly or indirectly, either as victims or as witnesses, in various ways.

Thievery comes in different shapes and sizes.

Generally, the obvious culprits are the ‘petty’ thieves, the struggling poor people, desperately looking for a way to survive in the harsh societal conditions they find themselves in. They typically come as muggers, shoplifters, pickpockets, fake goods peddlers, fraudsters, etc. Some go after small everyday stuff such as food items, clothing, small electronic items and tools, while others (burglars, robbers) go for more expensive items.

Sometimes, some unfortunate or careless thieves get caught in the act and are dealt with within the judicial framework of the land, while some others face mob justice. There are yet those who risk facing the supernatural justice system of the Nogokpo deity in the Volta Region or Antoa Nyamaa deity in Ashanti Region.

Those employed in the preventive roles include police or security officers, land guards, lawyers, magistrates, judges, weapons producers, security gadget producers and installers (security doors, barbed wire, electrified wire fences, CCTV units), spiritual protectors, charm makers, etc.

Large scale thievery, the greatest societal burden, is hardly noticed. Some of their operators are endorsed and protected by the state and the corporate community.

They steal openly and mercilessly with impudence, without fear or favour, mostly, from the society’s poor, in the conviction that they are untouchable. They are everywhere. They play major roles in our daily lives, yet we don’t notice them.

Their loots termed ‘profits’, run in millions of Ghana Cedis. We, sometimes, applaud them for their contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). They act like the bloodsucking tsetse fly that slowly sucks your blood, while simultaneously blowing cool air onto the spot to soothe or prevent you from feeling any pain.

These industrial thieves don’t just steal, they loot as well. Stealing is “taking something that doesn’t belong to you or doing something in a quick way, hoping not to be noticed” (yourdictionary.com). Looting is “to steal goods from a place, typically during a war or riot or disturbance” (Oxford Dictionary). Stealing is covert and looting is overt.

In Ghana ‘looting’ happens even when there is no war, riot or disturbance. This is due to the apparent absence of non-functional law and order, monitoring systems, instruments and watchdogs to check corporate excesses.

Some of these corporations include providers of utility services, telecom services, healthcare services, construction companies, faith-based institutions, various public office holders and politicians - just to name a few. They devise various tactics to effect their looting. Here are a few:

Zoomlion Ghana Ltd charges households monthly fees for weekly rubbish collections. Sometimes, however, rubbish bins are left in the streets uncollected for up to 3 weeks, thereby, attracting rodents, endangering lives and polluting the environment at the same time. That is looting.

Ghana Water Company does it differently. They provide water after midnight when most households are expected to be asleep and unable to make use of water. Households still have to pay charges.

Fortunately, the government is currently absorbing the bills for now due to Covid-19 to promote ‘enhanced hygiene’ and ‘washing your hands with soap under running water’ which only happens in customers’ dreams.

Telecom services providers adopt even more ingenious tactics. They entice clients with mouth-watering, value-for-money promotions - extra data for use between 12 am and 4 am, or bonus airtime that is only valid when used for calls to a specific network. Of course, between the specified hours, most sleeping subscribers cannot use mobile phones or data, (except in their dreams!). Some detective work is required to know the network your contacts are on to be able to benefit from the bonus airtime.

These promotions are normally valid for 7 days from the date of purchase. Rumours have it that some ‘Sakawa boys’ only operate at night and sleep during the day, either because of restrictions imposed by some attendant spiritual rituals or powers to enhance success in the business or, possibly, owing to differences in time zones between Ghana and those countries in which the target clients live.

In that case, the night time data allowance serves this clientele. Vodafone Group Plc, the parent company of Vodafone Ghana, would not run such schemes in the UK, where their global headquarters is based, but allow such operations in Ghana.

Some faith-based/religious leaders are even smarter at looting. They sell handkerchiefs, holy water, anointing oil, stickers, etc. to their congregants for personal protection or healing. Meanwhile, these leaders themselves have armed security guards, CCTV system installations on their properties and travel abroad for treatment when they fall sick, often funded by congregants’ contributions.

Some health care professionals divert or sell off vital medical equipment, medicines or PPEs meant for use by frontline health workers in hospitals to privately owned institutions or businesses for personal gain, as exposed by a recent BBC Africa Eye investigation.

They spare no thought for those, whose lives they could be putting at risk or even ending through their looting.

The shoddy work of some construction companies in road and infrastructure construction is all too apparent. Newly constructed roads and buildings don’t stand the test of time. Gutters dug along the roads during construction are left unfilled.

The rains come and the newly constructed roads, along with the gutters, wash away. This looting by cutting corners endangers lives.

Apart from the 'dumsor’, the ECG charges all customers connected to the electricity grid a set fee for street and traffic lights provision, irrespective of whether they are served with those services or not in their communities. This is robbing from the poor to benefit the affluent communities.

When DVLA officials advise DV plate applicants to contact ‘goroboys’ to obtain one, because the plates are finished, or if desperate, to ‘give something small’ extra to obtain one officially, through ‘special means’, they are looting.

The great looters, sadly, are the state functionaries. Some of our leaders commission substandard services and projects in Ghana which they have no faith in (e.g. schools, hospitals and other infrastructure). They and family members run abroad for medical treatment and send their children to be educated in institutions abroad, often funded with taxpayers’ money.

It was recently announced that all ‘Year of Road’ projects will be completed before the end of the year 2020 (with less than 5 months to go!). Over one hundred hospitals are scheduled to be commissioned and built within one year! The rush is on to fulfil election promises before the upcoming general elections in December. But at what price or quality?

The lack or ineffectiveness of functional watchdogs and instruments to monitor and ensure corporate accountability, corporate social responsibility, equity, fairness, ethics; the lawless, disorderly and corruptible jungle of ‘survival of the fittest (or richest)’, all go to make the flourishing business of looting endemic.

The few privileged, rich, powerful and influential individuals have huge stakes in the ‘profits’ and greed: they unscrupulously and inhumanely participate in the loot and share at the expense of the poor masses.

Looting impoverishes a nation and kills the poor people of the society, who are forced to spend the little money they have for services they do not get. This leaves them with even less money to spend on necessities, such as food and drink, shelter, clothing, medicine, to survive. This is corporate murder. These poor people, in desperation, are then forced to steal to survive. The vicious circle continues.

This rot and silent corporate killing must stop!
Columnist: Michael A Horlorku