By Michael J.K. Bokor, Ph.D.
Friday, July 4, 2014
Parliament on Thursday unanimously adopted a National Anti-Corruption Action Plan to guide national discourse on corruption. It seems Parliament is now responding to a national call. Hurrah!!
Mr. Ben Abdallah Bandah (MP for Offinso South Constituency) moved the motion for the adoption of the Plan and regretted that the various anti-corruption legislations already in existence are ineffective in tackling corruption. He cited the Public Procurement Act, the Whistle Blowers’ Act and the Financial Administration Act, among others, as not achieving the necessary result since “in spite of all these, corruption appears to be on the astronomical rise”. It is imperative, then, that for government to attract more donor support, it must vigorously tackle corruption head-on, he said.
Other Members contributed to the debate. Mr. Joseph Yieleh Chireh (MP for Wa West) urged all to avoid politicizing words like “corruption”. Additionally, he said “I am urging this House to be less protective of each other when it comes to corrupt practices”.
Mr. Joseph Osei-Owusu (MP for Bekwai) expressed concern that there was no anti-corruption culture in the country, which “creates fodder for the thriving of the canker”. (See: http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=315394)
Although we don’t yet know the nitty-gritty of the Plan, we can cautiously heave a sigh of relief here that our Parliament is now waking up to give us something with which to weigh the extent and impact of corruption in the country. Certainly, corruption is a major item on the menu of vices endangering our democracy in this 4th Republic.
We can easily recall some instances, beginning with Rawlings, wading through the Kufuor era, the Mills’ period, and the season of John Dramani Mahama; and we will be left slack-jawed at the instances of abject corruption that were exposed and punished, glossed over, or simply dismissed as evidence to confirm that corruption has been with humanity ever since the days of Adam. In effect, the half-hearted approach toward tackling corruption has created the mistaken belief that wherever a goat is tethered, there it finds its food (Everybody eats from his job)!
In our Ghanaian situation where corruption is not merely talked about but is not fought vigorously, there is no gainsaying the fact that it features in our discourse on national affairs and why public confidence in the government is waning fast. When a people lose confidence in a democratically elected government, the possibility exists that they will do things to undermine the democracy or simply resign themselves to fate. In that situation, productivity suffers and nothing goes right.
Corruption in Ghana is a painful reality that should have been addressed tenaciously but receives only lip-service. Apparently, it is so pervasive that no one knows where it begins or ends, let alone who particularly can lead the fight against it.
I am happy at Mr. Bandah’s observation that existing anti-corruption legislations are ineffective in tackling corruption. Why is it so? Apparently because of lack of commitment and moral will to fight corruption, more so when there is every indication that the culprits will escape punishment (using such levers as political connections and cunning). The loopholes are deep and difficult to plug. The existing anti-corruption laws such as the Public Procurement Act, the Whistle Blowers’ Act and the Financial Administration Act are mere paper tigers. It is one thing having these laws on paper and another strenuously enforcing them to solve the problems that necessitated their enactment.
In Ghana, the web of corruption is so intricately woven that anybody doing a yeoman’s job to expose corruption in public office is likely to end up being the accused instead. We know of how kickbacks are generated and why those who peep too deep into issues end up being punished. For those in the public sector, too much nose-poking will likely send the doer on transfer to the strangest part of the job landscape. The “fear of God” is cleverly put into those bent on exposing corruption that they even end being roped in as vicarious participants.
Corruption in Ghana is a whole game on its own with its own regimen. Those who know how to play it make it big time; only those who open their eyes and mouths too wide to expose the wrong-doing end up becoming victims of their own miscalculation and over-zealousness. When they learn the lesson, they enter the game with more circumspection and sophistication to avoid detection.
These are issues that any anti-corruption crusade must address. We have heard utterances from people like the NPP’s P.C. Appiah-Ofori (described as an anti-corruption campaigner) and many others whose revelations concerning corruption are alarming. The unfortunate rub of it all is that no institutional support is given to those who are willing to expose corruption. By an unfortunate quirk of circumstance, such people rather end up being victimized. Who will want to risk his/her career by exposing corruption when there is no protection for him/her?
The fact is that no effort at fighting corruption can succeed if it is left to individuals. It must be approached as a national responsibility. Then again, no effort at fighting it will succeed in the absence of strong institutions of state (especially law enforcement and the judiciary). In Ghana, it is incontrovertible that strings are easily pulled to free culprits because of the weaknesses of the system. If the institutions of state can be retooled and genuinely supported to clamp down on corruption, a marked difference can be made.
We often wonder why the government isn’t strengthening these institutions to help fight corruption. A common feeling is that those in government are themselves guilty of corruption (because they easily use their offices to make it big time) and won’t do anything to take food out of their own mouths and go hungry. It is said that poverty is a disease. Of course, those lucky to be appointed into offices of trust know that vast opportunities exist for them to put a wide gulf between them and poverty; and they keenly do things to reap the benefits.
In our political dispensation when appointments are revoked by radio announcements—meaning that the appointee is always apprehensive of being removed from office and doesn’t enjoy job security—there is always a mad rush to take advantage of the situation before the Sword of Damocles falls on their necks. This issue is crucial to understanding why corruption thrives and to appreciate why efforts at eradicating it from public service have failed thus far.
We note also that there is a general feeling that pressure from family members, friends, peers, and others also influence the spate of corruption. The common feeling is that as soon as one is nominated for appointment, messages begin filtering in to remind the prospective appointee of how to take advantage of the circumstances to bring food home for all to enjoy. It is a reality not to be toyed with. If you have read Achebe’s NO LONGER AT EASE or A MAN OF THE PEOPLE or Ayikwei Armah’s FRAGMENTS, you should know that this kind of pressure on the individual in public service is huge and unavoidable. And it has dire consequences too.
Now that Parliament has adopted this Plan, we hope that the various institutions responsible for setting the parameters will join the fight against corruption. I want to see action being taken, not mere ugly noise and useless promises being made by those charged with cleaning the stables. Culprits must be speedily prosecuted and punished. Corruption cases should be given priority attention and special courts on corruption established to deal solely with them.
Parliament can encourage a fuller participation in this fight against corruption if it passes the Right to Information Bill into law to motivate the citizens to probe deeply into affairs. Such a law will encourage the media particularly to dig into public officials and expose anything verging on corruption even before it festers. Will Parliament be bold enough to pass this law?
For now, we will go along with Parliament for adopting the National Anti-Corruption Action Plan. Such a Plan is long overdue, especially given the fact that our political discourse is dominated by corruption and moral decadence, which are largely responsible for the problems militating against good governance. I wish, however, that the Plan will not be limited to only guiding the national discourse on corruption but also in encouraging action to be taken against corruption. For far too long, anything concerning corruption in Ghana has been restricted to the “talk-talk” level. Action is needed to prove that the authorities are willing to fight corruption.
Regardless of whatever limitations there may be regarding this Plan, I am happy that an initiative focusing on corruption in Ghana has been taken by Parliament. For far too long, little has come from there to suggest that Parliament is interested in doing anything to tackle corruption. We note here that acts of corruption by some MPs are known, which suggests that Parliament itself is culpable and cannot expect not to be accused of doing nothing to eradicate the vice. Let’s see how this Plan will be implemented to assure the citizens that corruption will be fought with all the urgency it deserves.
I shall return…
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