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Opinions of Saturday, 26 October 2013

Columnist: Akoetey, Francis

Attitude change: The solution to Ghana's socio-economic woes

Have you ever taken bribe, paid bribe or enjoyed an undue advantage to get something done for you (like skipping the queue at the “trotro” station, bank or even at the food joint). Did it occur this week or during the month? If you are sincere and you answered a yes to this and you are a Ghanaian, then you are certainly part of the problem of Ghana.

I say this because as a people who have leaders sucking and looting state property, civil servants, public servants and the private sector are all taking bribes, evading or underpaying tax. Such unpatriotic behavior and attitude have contributed in deepening our own wounds, thus, creating a state that does not have a vision for the future. The level of greed and moral bankruptcy we have are those that have been collectively created by the leadership and state and executive employees. The government is quoted to spend an estimated 70 percent of its generated income on paying salaries. How can a nation be developed on 30 percent of generated income?

Very often, state revenue institutions help both local and international firms to either evade or underpay taxes. Custodians of state properties who are paid to serve the interest of the nation rather helping unqualified people to cheat us by paying monies of which they do not merit. These are the same people who go on strike at the least chance just because they have some unpaid bonuses (not their main salaries). How can we develop if we see the government as an individual entity instead of a collective one. These same people will never treat their properties the way they treat state ones. Why can’t we do same by caring for the state the same way we care for ourselves?

I have lived outside Ghana for just under two years and have come to fully understand how sad and bad a situation we have as a people. It is so difficult to understand why some people can have systems that work close to perfect whiles after more than five decades, we keep loosening up almost everywhere. We travel to other countries and adhere strictly to the rules there but when we return home, instead of changing the bad system we adapt to the rotten situation. Why should this be the case? I have friends who are foreigners and are so eager to know and even visit Ghana. They ask you questions about your own country and you begin to feel so uncomfortable talking about the reality that exists.

I am not saying here that we do not have a leadership issue. It is a fact that our leadership is just an institution that exists because it has to be there and not one that exists to give good directions to its people. We have had occasions where the likes of Mr. John Aguddey have passed all tests to vie as president of the land whiles he had an organization that underpaid taxes and refused to pay social security benefits for employees. How can we allow such a thing to happen? I am not only using him as an example here for political reasons but to show that we celebrate corruption as a people. There are more examples from which we can relate corruption to. Whose money should be used to pay people if they themselves avoid paying what is due the state? Your guess is as good as mine.

Until we overhaul in our attitudes as a people, we will continue to change government upon government and nothing will ever change for the better. This is because we will still have that same man somewhere in the district, taking money on behalf of ghosts, that same man somewhere in the informal sector underpaying taxes, that same man in the export and import industry either evading or underpaying tax, that same school boy skipping the queue to join the “trotro”, that same father begging to have his child who failed terribly in the just ended WAEC exam to be admitted into Uni of Ghana, that same girl taking a free ride on a metro mass bus because she knows the conductor. How then do you stand somewhere and hypocritically only blame the leader?

Attitude change can only happen when we punish people who commit crimes either through corrupt practices or by giving and taking bribes. Recently, we have the sole commissioner of the Judgment Debt Commission, Mr. Justice Appau who has come out with very clear issues of people involved in varied levels of corruption, state property looting, and negligence, underpayments and overpayment issues to private institutions who do not even merit them. Also, the fact that people responsible for defending the nation refuse to even show up in court. This is a very worrying trend for us as a nation. Yet, there is no clear sense of a will to punish those people. All what is done is to transfer people from one state institution to the other instead of uprooting them entirely from the system. If issues like these go unpunished, how will we move forward as a people?

It is very clear that Ghana does not only have a leadership problem but an attitude and moral problem. The problem has been created collectively and let no one say he or she is not part. Our problems have to be tackled from the root and this is where leadership has to be involved. We have to ensure that as a people, we don’t vote for leaders because they are handsome or we just like them. Vote for contents and not the container. One way or the other we have received undue advantage somewhere because we knew someone or had more money to spend than others.

It should be a collective task if we want to go forward as a nation. Having good democracy alone is never enough. The problem was created collectively and the only way to get out of it is to solve it collectively. There is no superhuman to do this for us. It will be solved if you wait for your turn in the queue without skipping it, if you pay the right tax, if you serve someone because he has to be served and not because he has paid some money or you know him. It will only change if people are punished for committing crimes and not praised or allowed to move freely with impunity.

Written by: Francis Akoetey
Lappeenranta University of Technology