Feature Article of Thursday, 2 November 2006
Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka
Influence peddling is an age-old human phenomenon. It is pervasive and common in almost every society. There are numerous reasons why people seek help from others to get their business done. In a society like Ghana where law and order has virtually broken down and basic services are a luxury, you can’t get far without favors and connections. Indeed, some will gladly offer their name as a way of opening doors for you. In Ghana, we go to our parents, aunts, uncles, old boys, old girls, parliamentarians and chiefs, among others, to get our wishes met. While this practice seems innocuous and often convenient, is it not time to take a hard look at its impact on society? Have we not read reports or heard stories about politicians squawking over requests from their constituents? Often these request borders on asking for school fees for one’s ward(s), payment of medical bills for self or family members and compulsory funeral attendance. How can we hold the feet of these officials to the fire if we continue angling for favors?
In a country where poverty has gained a permanent beachhead, one may not expect anything short of the experiences narrated above. Why do we use folks with power and influence to get us something we may not deserve but must have? Is it because our governmental institutions don’t work, especially at the local level? Is it because of scarcity? For example, a constant delay by a particular judge on a troubling case, could possibly force a subject to go to his chief or relative who has enough influence to spend. If the judge and this so called influence peddler are from the same tribe, this practice may even go down smoother than expected. If the peddler is a chief to the bureaucrat, this may also oil the request. In the end, the citizen may or may not get relief. However, how does this practice undermine our democracy and rule of law? Are we really a nation of laws or men? If put to the test, will the law prevail over influence, power, tribe and perhaps social status?
Remember when you went to that uncle or aunt of yours asking that they bypass all the laid down regulations and requirements and give you that cushy job? What was your reaction when they rebuffed your appeal? Did you hate them forever? What was your reaction when they got you the job knowing that you were not qualified? Did you feel sorry for Joe Blow who actually applied for the job, interviewed well but did not get it because you’ve already been shoehorned into the job? Is it really easy to refuse help to your own flesh and blood when they need you most? Think about this, how does this kind of practice impact Ghana in the long run? Are you happy you got a job for which you were not the best qualified? I can imagine you saying this: it is a doggie dog world and I am not about to worry about the next guy in line. Well, is that not human nature? However, can you still tell me how this is helping to build Ghana? Are we helping to build a nation of laws when we seek help and influence that helps create a system of ineffectiveness, waste, bitterness, tribalism, favoritism, cronyism and all kinds of anti development malaise? As a kid, I remember very well when some would say certain tribes help each other very well while other tribes do very little of the latter. Little did I understand the implication of these perspectives on national development. Is helping your tribesmen killing us nationally?
Let us distill this practice of influence peddling further down to the tribe level. I am sure all of us read Tagor (Mr Amaning), the now alleged infamous drug baron, claiming that as a thoroughbred Asante, he did not need intermediaries to go see his now seemingly embattled King. Fair enough! What did he go to his king for? Well, it is private you may say! Fair again! How many people go to see their king and over what? What really does this practice tell us about our state of affairs? Will some data from these interactions help us gauge the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of our people with the services that our government provides? On the flip side, if an alleged cocaine baron should go to his or her King or relative for that matter and beg that this influence peddler intervene on matters relating to cocaine or criminal business, does the king or relative have a responsibility to report the matter to the police? In other words, is a king or for that matters any citizen, required by law to report knowledge of ongoing or past crime to the authorities?
I understand confidentiality is important in such need-help consultations. You see, in the state of Virginia, Mediators for example are required to maintain confidentiality. However, they are also by law, required to report issues of domestic violence and child abuse if they should come up in mediation. Any thing of a criminal nature must be reported to the authorities. So, can we import this value into these need-help consultations that go on with our chiefs and influential folks? Before you go for your cudgel or shout Afropean naively, let me tell you this. I saw a picture of Asantehene in a suit yesterday. So I said this, if the Asantehene can wear a fine European suit, why can’t we introduce good ideas that originate from Europe or the West into our culture without being called unprintable invectives? Fair enough? For sure they are not making suits at Bonwire! Are they? Please don’t call the Asantehene Afropean because he is in a biting mood. If you haven’t seen the fangs of chieftaincy yet, go ask the sub-chiefs who were scolded and are now singing the Asante national anthem without missing a blessed beat. As my friend says all the time, “you go talka for sergeant”. The King is on a warpath and all better take heed!
I am curious as to how tribalism aids or plays a part in influence peddling in Ghana. Imagine that you are ACP Boakye. Imagine also that your chief, some claim he is the most powerful on earth, calls and asks for a favor. He, at this point, has at least two things going for him. One, he is your tribesman and two, he is your all-powerful godlike chief. Perhaps a third is his authority and hopefully his age. Did the Asantehene not remind us of the latter lately? So, what do you do if this undisguised request for favor is placed squarely in front of you? What do you do if you know this favor will force you to break the law and also make the requesting party an accessory to crime? Do you say no and get tattooed with a bite or say yes, with the hope that your back will be massaged in many ways in the near future? What I find fascinating is when some of these hardcore traditionalists create the impression that bureaucrats cannot be trusted. We can’t trust them with our lands they bullhorn all over the place. Well, where do bureaucrats come from? Are they not born in the same villages we do? Don’t they eat the same food? Don’t they have the same blood? Do they not have needs like everyone? Bureaucrats must be human beings right?
What really is the difference between a bureaucrat and the non-bureaucrat if they both come from the same tribe? Formal education? Who said formal education really makes a difference? Does it really? My point here is that, bureaucrats are what we make them. They are no different from the non-bureaucrats. It is our desire to seek favors and have things our way, even when we are wrong that leads to the kind of bureaucrat that we detest. If we let these bureaucrats do their work meritoriously, there will be nothing to worry about. So long as we seek undue favors, exploit tribe, flex our age advantage, muscle our authority through, and flash the cash, we must expect a bureaucracy that cannot be trusted. Bureaucrats do not have the corner on corruption. The folks in the villages can be just as corrupt. What they may have over the bureaucrat is notoriety for tribal loyalty and I am not about to blame them for that. That is what they’ve been fed and nurtured to believe and uphold.
One of Nii’s rules of leadership is that leadership abhors vacuum! If and when those charged to lead abdicate their responsibilities and assume doing nothing is more democratic than making tough decisions, others will step in and lead. When the institutions of government fail miserably, others will step in and do what they are supposed to do. I believe strongly that this is what we experience in Ghana today. Indeed, this is especially true of local government. Whether it is by design or accident I don’t know. I have my suspicions but will hold my guns for now. I don’t want to distract from the message. Why do I say this? Well, so long as local institutions, vital to any democracy, continue to be on leave or out of existence, people will fall back to what has worked for them in the past. So men and women will continue to go to their chiefs or relatives who may be more receptive to them than the institutions that dot our local and indeed, central bureaucracy. If most institutions don’t work people will be forced to seek favors rampantly.
How do we stop or at least dent this practice of seeking favors from our chiefs or influential relatives by getting our democracy to work? What really are the forces driving us to seek influence through others? In Ghana as we speaks, the local courts, local banks, local government offices are all in disarray. The rural folks cannot find justice and relief where they live. Even when they find their way into the urban maze, their frustrations grow tall by the minute. No one is speaking up for them. For those of us who think chieftaincy ought to go, we lose a lot of steam when we come face to face with the failures of democracy locally. This is not to remotely assume that we are doing well nationally. The current NPP government does not show any signs or interest in shoring up local government. Of course its penchant for local aristocracy was spelt clearly in the edicts of the 1954 NLM charter that was read at the banks of the sacred Subin river.
How does this government expects local government to function effectively and democratically if it continues to pour resources into chieftaincy while the democratic infrastructure rots away locally? How can democracy gain any credibility if we make a mess of it locally? All politics is local and we must take local government very seriously. We must strongly improve local governance if we want democracy to survive. If it requires changing the constitution, let is do so. The constitution as it exists now is totally convoluted when it comes to local government. If the recent voting experience at the local level is anything to go by, we are in deep trouble. Should we consider partisan politics locally? I don’t think it makes sense to assume that a local representative that does not belong to the ruling party will be inimical to its plans. We need a lot of political growing up to do. If our local and of course central government works well, it may and I mean may, just help put a dent in influence peddling. It certainly won’t cure or stop it but will go a long way to stop us from asking favors for every little thing.
Like many other changes that we desire, it starts with us. The next time you think about putting pressure on your relative, chief and/or political leaders for favors you don’t deserve, please consider mother Ghana in your equation. If we all cut down on the favors that we seek, and instead, work to shore up democracy and the institutions that support it, we stand a better chance of fighting the spate of corruption and erosion of the rule of law that we witness daily. A country that bottles up the rule of law, nurses metastasizing corruption and rampant influence peddling, is not going anywhere too fast. If you are the person being asked to use your power or position to peddle undue influence, please find creative ways to educate those asking for favors. In the end, seek to do no harm to the rule of law by refusing to peddle influence