President Mahama takes on corruption
17TH November, 2013
Last Friday, President Mahama delivered one of the most consequential speeches of his presidency--- on corruption.
Contained in the speech were directives to various persons and agencies to take certain measures. Since then, the speech has been dismissed by many as insignificant. For instance, the Executive Director of Ghana Integrity Initiative, Vitus Azeem said, “The Isofoton judgment debt, the Waterville, these are things that he has already instructed the Attorney General and we still have not seen any results, there is no action taken against the officers that were responsible for some of these judgment debts.” Spokespersons for the opposition parties have also dismissed the President’s directives out of hand. That is unfortunate.
While given the serial broken promises of Presidents/leaders from Nkrumah to Mills on corruption, we ought to be skeptical; the President’s speech should not be dismissed out of hand. Corruption obviously remains a significant drag on our development and the president, any president is very important in our collective efforts to address corruption. This is particularly so given the nature of our constitution and culture. The President said, “Succeeding in the fight against corruption requires agencies in various autonomous institutions—the executive, legislature and judiciary—as well as, the general public to play their part and play it well and we must think outside the box because the old ways will not meet the expectations of our people.” That indeed is correct. Unfortunately, while the President identifies the judiciary and the legislature as important institutions in the fight against corruption, he specifically requires little of them. He states, “Two important instruments in the fight against corruption are still pending in Parliament: One is the Right to Information Bill. I hereby call on Parliament to treat this bill with the urgency it deserves. I undertake to give my accent expeditiously as soon as this bill is approved.” That is the same thing Presidents Kufuor and Mills said about this bill. The idea that a President who has a majority in this sycophantic Parliament cannot pass this bill if he wants to is BULL. If the President is serious on this bill, he can and must pass it in a matter days. The same goes for the National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP).
On the Judiciary, the President asked for nothing. Here are two things he should have asked for. First, he should have joined my call and that of the NPP for the Chief Justice or some judicial body to remove the cloud hanging unfairly on his presidency by investigating the allegations that the Supreme Court panel that decided on his election was influenced by money or other things. A court that can find someone in contempt for accusing it of bias risks its credibility when it is silent in the face of accusations that it is corrupt. Such a call from the President will be particularly appropriate given the Chief Justice’s own publicly announced desire to rid the country of corruption. Charity, after all, begins from home. Second, he should have asked the Judiciary to work with the legislature to shorten the judicial process. He needs not look beyond the election petition for an example of an unnecessarily long judicial process.
While the President’s call for strengthening CHRAJ etc was all reasonable, the President’s problem now is one of credibility. He must stop talking and take bold action. The public will start believing him when those in high places who are manifestly corrupt lose their jobs. Amongst these will be Ministers and those implicated in the Anas tapes and the various judgment debt incidents. Furthermore, the President must address the widespread perception that he and his family are involved in corruption and/or the allegations that he may be shielding family members from the law. While these perceptions may be untrue, they deny him the credibility he needs to be a genuine anti-corruption crusader. Before leaving the President, he should consider launching a phone complaints platform rather than an online platform. More Ghanaians have access to phones than to the internet.
Surprisingly, the President mentioned neither the Police/Customs/Ports nor the Accountant General’s Department. To discuss corruption without mentioning these bodies is the equivalent of discussing how babies are made without mentioning sex.
Our opposition parties must stop criticizing and join the fight against corruption. Let the NGO’s that have been making noise, the media practitioners and the political parties all march to Parliament to demand the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill and refuse to leave for days and IT WILL PASS. Also, when the President finally develops some backbone and starts acting against corrupt public officials—past and present-- let nobody accuse him of partisanship.
Finally, let our faith leaders join the fight against corruption. It is an indictment of them that we fill mosques and churches every week-end and yet are so corrupt day-in, day out. They must not rest till we all become the examples against corruption that we aspire to be.
Let us move forward—together.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy