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Opinions of Thursday, 20 December 2001

Columnist: Akwasi Osei Asibey

Biting The Hand That Feeds You!

The former Deputy British High Commissioner to Ghana had a big mouth. And this was unusual for a diplomat. His tour of duty ended controversially just this year. The Deputy High Commissioner never minced his words when he spoke about certain delicate issues even at the risk of incurring the displeasure of his host government. The issue that concentrated his mind the most was corruption. In several fora, the British diplomat openly chastised the previous government for not doing enough to combat corruption in high places and within the public service. For instance, he once appeared on Sky FM in Takoradi and boldly said something along the lines of "your government is corrupt but the donor community continues to support it because we are being sympathetic to the people of Ghana". All hell broke lose!

Like the proverbial ostrich, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) government stacked its neck deep in the sand and decided to play the nationalist card. The operatives of the government went about town beating their chest. They accused the good diplomat of interfering in the internal affairs of the country. A prominent lawyer, who is a known supporter of the then government, threatened to haul the diplomat to court for his undiplomatic behaviour. This is the usual trick in the arsenal of African governments when they are cornered. Some of us scratched our heads in disbelief. Here is a government that depended on donor inflows to make up the short fall in the national budget and yet, could not read the warning signals emanating from the diplomat. He was just saying in public what the country's development partners had been speaking about in low tones in private. Without balance of payment support and project funding, there would hardly be any money for development projects across the country. It was true then and it is still the case that key sectors of the Ghanaian economy such as transport, health and education would suffer without donor infusion of funds.

It does not take a brilliant political advisor to realise that when a country is in such a fix - an extreme case of donor dependence, one has to thread very carefully. It should not even take outsiders to let us realise that the resources that are generated internally and externally should be judiciously used. The misappropriation of national resources results in poor educational and health infrastructure, high maternal and infant mortalities, rampant malnutrition, poor roads and the spread of poverty generally. And these distortions should not happen. We should aim at building a society where people work hard to support their lifestyles and, where the majority, are able to meet their needs.

Using one's position to feed from the public trough with abandon cannot be justified. This is what makes President Kufour's declaration of zero tolerance of corruption significant. He has read the mood of our development partners very well and has taken steps to win back their confidence. He knows that at this critical juncture of Ghana's socio-economic development, the country needs all the support it can get. Therefore his giving assurance to our partners that the money they give us will be protected and put to a good use is just the right thing to do. It shows that the Government is not cynical and that it is sensitive to the concerns of its international development partners as well as the preoccupations of the Ghanaian public generally. After all, the donors take the money they give us from taxes paid by their citizens. Therefore, it should not be too much for them to encourage us to use it efficiently.

The zero tolerance policy appears to be bearing some fruits. A sitting Minister was sacked and jailed for his inability to account for funds entrusted in his care. A former Deputy Minister has just been jailed for fraud. Numerous investigations are underway. Significantly, neither of the two ministers had to endure public humiliation by having their heads shaved with broken bottles or having "identification hair cut" even before they were pronounced guilty. Using the judicial system to combat corruption is a key plank in entrenching human rights and the rule of law.

However for the anti corruption campaign to succeed, the Government may also have to tame the rampant corruption within the public and civil service - from the Chief directors down to junior staff. Without such a move, the process will just be window dressing only, resulting in poor implementation of key government programmes. If this happens, it could have negative political and economic implications!