Our democracy encourages waywardness in public office

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Sat, 18 Oct 2014 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My good friends, I want to stick my neck out to say that Ghana can never be (re)built with the kind of “democracy” in place that is not being used to solve problems but to reinforce the inadequacies characterizing governance in Ghana or those making this 4th Republic a laughing stock.

Why am I being so brazen? Simple. There is too much theft of public funds without any prompt action being taken to punish the culprits or to institutionalize preventive mechanisms, which angers the citizens. Make no mistake. Public funds are the livewire of democracy; and when public funds are so easily stolen, the democracy itself is endangered.

In Ghana, theft of public funds is second nature to those with access to the national coffers and their dependants motivating their waywardness. So, appointment to high public office is a green light to theft of public funds; and whoever succeeds is lionized. It is inescapable. What a sick country to live in! 

News reports that Alhaji Alhassan Imoro, former Executive Director of the National Service Scheme, (NSS) has been remanded into Police custody by an Accra Circuit Court are gripping. He has been charged with stealing 86.9 million Ghana cedis, belonging to the government of Ghana, and pleaded not guilty. (See: https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=330599).

This case is more than disturbing because it adds to many others that really hurt the ordinary Ghanaian tax payer—the poor farmers, fishermen, public sector workers, and just anybody (including poor hawkers) who pays tax or produces goods and services that yield the revenue to feed the national coffers. And more disconsolating is the fact that institutions like the NSS that are supported by the national coffers hardly produce anything to feed the coffers. So, they exist just because those whose sweat, blood, and toil feed the national coffers continue to play their part toward nation-building. The wolves in such institutions are heartless thieves who should be severely punished but are let off the hook just because our system is damn useless!!

If you doubt it, just plot all the cases that have entered the labyrinth of the judiciary and gathered dust over the years. Saddening!!

Folks, the spate of corruption or plain stealing of public funds and state property is telling; it is disturbing and sickening; and it speaks volumes about the wickedness of those perpetrating it. And I have in mind public office holders (be they politicians or technocrats—or just anybody assigned responsibilities to help solve problems but who ends up creating loopholes to exploit or digging deep into existing ones for personal gains).

The history of Ghana is replete with such sordid occurrences. In those days, Commissions of Inquiry were set up to unravel the extent of the thievery so the culprits could be exposed and punished. 

Jerry Rawlings took matters to the highest level when his June 4 Revolution resorted to the physical elimination of culprits (firing squad) or imprisonment for donkey years. Many others faced what was then called "unprecedented revolutionary action" just because Rawlings sought to rid the country of corruption.

Regardless of whatever happened. Corruption thrived, even under Rawlings; and it has calcified to date. Whatever happened under Kufuor is still glaring; but what we have seen under President Mahama is frightening, not because it is new but because of the spate (the frequency at which it occurs and the indiscriminate nature). 

Is it because the loopholes have widened or that the mechanisms for preventing such malpractices are inefficacious—or simply not available? Or is it because those busily devising means to steal public funds are colluding with those charged with preventing such a theft? Or simply because the system has broken down?

Over the past few years, the brazen theft of public funds has been exposed in several schemes involving state institutions and personalities heading them. Is it the Economic and Organized Crimes Office (EOCO) itself? The CHRAJ? Or the institutions established by President Mahama in pursuit of the "Better Ghana" Agenda? And I have in mind anything connected with the Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA) and all that it has done concerning GYEEDA, SUBAH, and any entity yet to be exposed? Sickening to the core!!

Or the most obnoxious of all schemes for looting the public coffers, which is the payment of judgement debts? Or the despicable one at the National Service Secretariat? My, oh, my; what has become of Ghanaians placed in positions of trust?

I am particularly alarmed that these people heading the institutions are becoming the architects of schemes for the plain theft of public funds. Almost every institution of state is compromised. Oh, Ghana!! 

Of particular concern to me is the case of the National Service Scheme, clearly because of the impunity with which the perpetrators went about doing things. Creating a ghost list and paying themselves through such a list is the worst to have happened in such an institution, especially if one considers the noble objectives that the NSS was established to achieve and if one considers the trying circumstances under which national service personnel live.

Is it because those siphoning public funds through such schemes are irredeemably wicked or treacherous or because they know how to outwit the system? And what measure has been put in place by the governments that we've had so far to counteract any theft of the sort that is now alarming us all? Who has any supervisory function over the NSS? And why should the head of the NSS be left to do things as he wishes? And those under him too to vest themselves with the power to do things to the detriment of the national coffers?

What is the proactive role of the Auditor-General or the Accountant-General's Department? Or are these institutions in place to do things only after the fact? To audit books/records only after the theft has been successfully effected and the culprits gone into thin air?

Folks, you see, the way we do things in our part of the world cannot make our democracy grow. No democracy can grow without mechanisms for plugging loopholes, especially where public funds are concerned. We must not continue to deceive ourselves that our democracy is durable just because it continues to facilitate the quadrennial electoral ritual of balloting to choose crops of political toads to rule the country. Unfortunately, that's what we have been nursing all these two decades. How narrow-minded can we be?

Truth be told, we must know that democracy is expensive; and for the citizens to continue supporting it, they must be assured that their sweat, toil and blood (public funds) aren't abused. The citizens cannot forever remain passive or docile. When they are pushed to the wall, they will be resilient, spring back, and hurt the system, which will topple the democracy. As of now, our democracy is an albatross; it is "moribund" and can be toppled at the poke of a finger, especially when the citizens continue to live in narrow circumstances while those with access to public funds live in disgusting opulence.

I am more than apprehensive at this stage that this kind of democracy endangers the future for the citizens. It is particularly disturbing because the institutions of state that should be propping up the democracy are engulfed in filth and turn out to be undercutting the democracy instead.

There is no silver lining on the horizon. Let's be blunt to say that until the government takes the first step to clean the stables, the situation will deteriorate. The problems are systemic, meaning that not until the stables are cleansed, any new government that emerges will not be able to make any difference. I am particularly unhappy that despite the spate of malfeasance, the government isn't seriously retooling the institutions of state to make them function effectively/efficiently for our democracy to be used to solve problems. 

On this score, apprehensions abound that the country cannot be moved out of the woods anytime soon. And I cannot even imagine what a new government (assuming that the NPP gets the mandate at Election 2016) can do. It's all about taking drastic action to plug all existing loopholes being exploited and to create mechanisms for early detection of malfeasance and the stiff punishment of culprits. Not until such measures are taken and enforced to the letter and spirit, nothing can change for the better; and Ghanaians will be wasting resources sustaining this kind of albatross called democracy. 

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.