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Opinions of Thursday, 2 October 2014

Columnist: Sarfo, Samuel Adjei

Thoughts of a native son; on the question of corruption

By: Dr. Samuel Adjei Sarfo

Last week, the editor of the New Statesman and my former student, Mr. Kwabena Amankwah emailed me stating that if I did not have a topic for my column that week, I should “consider the eerie revelations from the probe into the Brazil debacle, jointly with the obvious loot by the CHRAJ boss in the name of accommodation”. I was flabbergasted!

This is because, to allude to the Hellenistic classics, the very task of discussing corruption and finding any solution to that canker is like the Herculean task of cleaning up the Augean stables. Or, to invoke the stygian simile of Jesus the Christ, passing the camel through the needle’s eyes. Or, to reference a popular culture, rearranging the furniture of the Titanic. Or to utilize a local metaphor, removing the whole mass of the Mountain Obuotabiri and fitting the whole darn lot into the River Densu!

In the first place, what do we mean when we even talk of corruption? As Socrates stated eons ago, many a time, people talk of many terms without pausing to think of exactly what they mean. For example, we have a whole holiday set aside as Founder’s Day when we have not even asked the question as to who or what we mean by the term “founder”, and whether we have any one individual who founded our unique commonwealth called Ghana!

If I were to ask somebody who or what is a “founder” and how that expression jives with our peculiar history as a nation, I believe the answer will turn into a cackle of Pentecostal glossolalia. But no matter how daunting the task of defining terms will be for the many, we cannot proceed with any discourse on corruption without going into the basic question,“ What is corruption?”

The Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines corruption as the impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle; the inducement to do wrong by improper or unlawful means or the departure from what is pure or correct.

The Roget’s thesaurus groups the term corruption with words such as decay, decomposition, immorality, larceny, depravity, vice, degeneracy, perversion, debauchery, dissoluteness, decadence, wickedness, evil, sinfulness, turpitude, rot, putrescence, ungodliness etc. etc.

Given the sheer breadth and scope of the term “corruption”, it could be rightly seen as an all-embracing term for whatever we do wrong in the world. And viewed in this all-inclusive scope, the biblical mantra that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God has a more cogent relevance, for among us are many commonplace thieves, adulterers, traitors, gluttons, liars, freeloaders and others steeped in evil machinations.

But within the narrow confines of government, the term could be tailored from its unwieldy ramifications to imply simply improper and usually unlawful conduct intended to secure a benefit for oneself or another.

All societies try to develop means of fighting corruption because it remains the bane of many a community’s very survival. Corruption is an odious attrition against the very life of societies. Those who compare corruption to canker or cancer are not too far from right; it wreaks destruction on every society in which it is prevalent. That is why the fight against corruption ought to be seen as a fight for the very survival of our nation.

In early English jurisprudence, there existed a legal parlance known as “corruption of the blood” which is one of the consequences of attainder (that is the practice of tainting oneself). The descendants of an attainted person could not inherit either from the attainted criminal (whose property is forfeited on conviction) or from their other relatives through the criminal.

In this context, the consequences of the individual’s criminal enterprise is not only restricted to himself but also to all his progenies. To paraphrase a quote from the good book again, the sins of the parents are here visited upon the children up to the third and fourth generation. The Hindi text, the Bhagavad Gita, aptly capsules this consequence of corruption in the well-known notion of karma.

In traditional Ghanaian communities, corrupt individuals like thieves, rapists, traitors and ingrates were often ostracized from the community or beheaded altogether, and the families from which these criminals came were viewed askance for generations to come. When it came to the issue of marrying into these disgraced families, respectable members of the community avoided them like the plague.

The foregoing aside, our very history as a nation should congeal our blood in the face of the rampant corruption endemic within our present day body politic. Most of us were all alive and well when in 1979 and 1981, certain individuals took the law into their own hands and declared a section of the endowed population as atavistically corrupt.

Based on fake allegations, this junta killed and maimed many and destroyed others. Given the present fact that the progenies of these adventurers now govern the nation, the question on the lips of many people is, “What is the use of all the rivers of blood spilled in the name of fighting corruption?” And whence the cry for more blood to flow when the very architects of those pogroms of yesteryears procured government property in give-away prices and secured millions in judgment debts for themselves?

Precisely speaking, how in the world could we as a nation descend to the nadir of corrupt practices as evidenced in the case of Woyome, Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Agency (GYEEDA), Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA). the world cup debacle, and now the Commissioner for Human Right and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) fraud?

In the case of Alfred Woyome, certain high-level officials within the government aided and abetted a known party financier to bring a fraudulent breach of contract claim against the government. And betraying their fiduciary responsibility to protect the government from harm, these individuals failed to appear in court, and thereby guaranteed a default judgment on behalf of Woyome, who then claimed millions in dubious judgment debts.

Unfortunately, the latter-day attempt by the citizen vigilante to reclaim our squandered treasure is just a cause in futility since the money paid to Woyome is never going to be refunded to the government of Ghana. Those in government who paid him the money and received their kickbacks have no compelling interest to pursue the Supreme Court’s judgment against Woyome.

In the matter of GYEEDA, the government’s attempt to provide youth employment for our deprived communities ended in a quagmire when it was later revealed that the whole project was fraught with malfeasance leading to huge losses to the state of taxpayer money.

In the matter of SADA, the dream to ameliorate environmental degradation and mitigate climate change as well as create jobs for the unemployed youth is hanging in a cumulus cloud as claims of financial malfeasance bedevil the project.

In the matter of the world cup debacle, government officials inflated costs and engaged in other shenanigans to dupe the government of massive amounts of money.

In the CHRAJ fraud, thousands of dollars is claimed to have been paid to secure rental property to house the Commissioner for Human Rights and Administrative Justice. This fraud is ironically perpetrated by an institution established to prevent corruption, graft and excesses in government.

And as the architects and engineers of palpable fraud conspire to betray the trust of the sovereign people of Ghana, let them remember that they are the first casualties of their own misdeeds, since they have irredeemably attainted themselves and their own families for many generations to come.

In the record books of our national history, they will forever be mentioned as the perpetual villains and nation wreckers on whose heads posterity will develop the pastime to utter a deluge of unspeakable calumniation. As they stay awake in the night and grapple with their seared conscience, they will suffer a type of incurable psychological damage because they have murdered the soul of the nation, and therefore will they never sleep in peace.

Samuel Adjei Sarfo, Doctor of Jurisprudence, is a general legal practitioner resident in the city of Austin, Texas, USA. You can email him at

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