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Opinions Sat, 27 Jul 2013

No More Bush Allowance for Ministers!

In his/her ministerial, political or personal roles, the Minister is expected to act lawfully and behave in a manner that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards in relation to the President, his duties and the people of Ghana including integrity, respect, probity, transparency, accountability, ethics, propriety, commitment and loyalty. Ministerial Code of Ethics

One has got to score the President an ‘A’ for effort: getting his Ministers to sign performance based contracts, rolling out a code of ethics for Ministers and political appointees, and organizing a three day orientation for deputy Ministers facilitated by seasoned politicians and governance experts. But as in all such matters, it is the ability of such interventions to produce incorruptible high performing appointees that success or failure will be judged by.

After all, the introduction of such standards is not exactly novel in our constitutional democracy. The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) has issued its own guidelines on conflict of interest for public officials. If this had stopped conflict of interest, the code would not even have been issued. Infact, it could be argued that Ghana has gone beyond prescribing standards and even set up institutions for investigating potential infractions and taking punitive action. Apart from CHRAJ, our Auditor General year after year, issues these damning reports of serious leakages in public sector finances. Not once, as far as I recall, have these incidents of mismanaged public funds attracted anything other than scorching editorials and despondent cries of citizens. Our so called ugly noises have not been heard. Perhaps this year will be different with President Mahama’s directive to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to set up a special desk to investigate and prosecute all offenders who have squandered state funds and assets. We will be watching keenly.

Beyond the actions of statutory agencies, politicians have also come up with one initiative or the other. I recall President Kufuor’s Accountability Office in the Castle which if you were to ask me what corruption they prevented or identified and punished, I will not be in a position to say. Infact given the unhelpful posturing of its head, that the office was intended to prevent corruption from within away from prying public eyes and in the midst of questionable external displays of potential acts of corruption by appointees, the effectiveness of such an office was highly debatable.

So yes, commendable though the issuance of a code of ethics by President Mahama may be, but it is absolutely no guarantee that it is going to become the panacea to corrupt practices - real or perceived - if he also falls into the trap of shielding his appointees in the name of protecting his government. We will also be keenly watching President Mahama. If his Excellency truly believes that he owes his allegiance to the good people, then he should be fearless as the people will most certainly reward any genuine strikes against this canker.

Reading through the code, I am constantly seized with the question of what systems have been put in place to proactively preempt corrupt acts daily as opposed to exhortations.

Take the section on budgetary allocations for example where ministers are called upon to employ appropriate internal controls over financial operations. One would assume that this is a given, but when one boxes this against the auditor general’s finding that Ghana lost “GH¢118.8 million as a result of irregularities at the Ministries, Departments and Agencies …in 2011” then the systemic nature of these practices dawn.

“The Minister is forbidden from acting in his/her official capacity in a way that might provide some special benefit to family members or personal friends e.g., by attempting to intercede on their behalf on some official matter or by proposing family members for some appointments.” This is interesting to the extent that it has massive sociocultural dimensions and implications. A person is appointed Minister and overnight, all manner of relatives develop new expectations. A glimpse of the queues lining up to see Ministers should give you a clue. Public education on how we can be good relatives to the honorables is due! Now if you have such a good system for succumbing to conflict of interest, what makes you think the book will change anything unless you redesign?

The provisions on gifts are also quite interesting. Any minister who is given a gift of less than GH?200 may keep it, gifts of between GH?200 and GH?500 “may be retained while in office but be declared in the interest of the individual’ while gifts above GH?500 “must be relinquished on leaving office” unless the express permission of the President to keep them is obtained. And so, those Ministers, especially the Minister for Local Government who might be in the habit of being given and receiving bush allowance on field trips e.g. plantain, cassava, grass cutter, smoked fish, akonfem, aponkye, bush rat etc. should all remember the new threshold! Also, since the code proscribes “soliciting or receiving from any commercial enterprise”, I am tempted to query what the President is going to do about any appointee on the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament who may have been part of the financial solicitation effort from Rlg, a commercial entity?

Anything less than vigorous enforcement – apology, being reprimanded, resignation, termination, prosecution – and the code will be consigned into the dustbin, barely read and soon forgotten.

Sodzi Sodzi-Tettey

www.sodzisodzi.com

Sodzi_tettey@hotmail.com

11th July, 2013

Columnist: Sodzi-Tettey, Sodzi