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Opinions of Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Columnist: Ofosu-Appiah, Ben

Can We Learn a Thing From the the Japanese?

Personal Responsibility and Social Responsibility: Can We Learn a Thing From the Japanese?

I have often wondered aloud if the Japanese do not take the concepts and the principles of personal responsibility and social responsibility too far. Imagine a twenty year old employee of a city council goes drinking after 5 and causes traffic accident which unfortunately leads to the death of three little kids, the whole press in Japan descends not only on the boy but also the city council he works for being socially irresponsible. You will think that is the personal responsibility of the boy who drove drunk and caused the accident, but in Japan it goes beyond that. His employer, his family, and every social group he belongs to bears responsibility for his actions. The city council in question had to organize a press to apologize for their employee's action even though it happened outside working hours. You may know the deep bow associated with making a public apologies here. You take a very deep bow and maintain that posture for about a minute to show how remorseful and sorry you are.

You and I may find more than enough reasons to question this but this is what has made Japan so stable, so disciplined, and has suppressed the crime rate here to such low levels. Your responsibilities and obligations to a group always force people to stay in line and behave appropriately to fit the prevalent social norms here. If you don't you embarrass not only yourself but also your employers, your family, your friends, and any social group you are a member of.

Can you imagine the head of Ghana Broadcasting Corporation or for that matter any State organization stepping down over a misconduct of a junior officer of the corporation way down on the corporate ladder? This is what happened to the head of Nippon Hosoo Kyoiku (NHK) the state broadcaster. About two years ago, one producer of NHK was found to have embezzled funds meant for the production of his show, of course he was fired, and criminal charges filed against him, but not only that the President of NHK (equivalent of the Director General) resigned to take responsibility for such lapse that enabled the culprit to misuse state funds. He organized a press conference to render an apology to the nation before resigning to take responsibility. He knows that as the Head of the Corporation the buck stops with him.

Only last week again two employees of NHK were found to have engaged in insider trading at the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Again you would think that this is their personal problem and they have to deal with it but not in Japan. Again responsibility has been extended to the organization (NHK) because the two work on a News program and they used the contents of an interview they conducted to engage in insider trading to benefit themselves. The new President who replaced the one who resigned two years ago under similar circumstances and his vice have both resigned to take responsibility for the latest scandal. the press here are already calling it a scandal involving NHK. People here take their responsibilities serious and any lapses are not tolerated at all….you give up your position, no lame excuses given nor accepted for poor performance or bad supervision or plain corruption.

I was surprised by the lame excuses offered by the Ghanaian grounds keeper for the CAN 2008 for leaving the grass so tall for the opening game of the tournament which the coach Claude LeRoy described as the worst pitch he has ever seen in his 20 years in Africa. All that the guy was saying was I could not cut the grass because they placed carpet on the pitch for the opening ceremony, and just as I was about to cut it the brass band arrived and they started playing the national anthem. What bullcrap !!! Such is the irresponsibility, laziness, and incompetence we have in Africa, it is a massive problem. The government that won the right to host, the Ministry responsible for the Local Organizing Committee, all contractors involved must all take responsibility for their failures. No passing of the buck here. If we take our individual and social responsibility seriously we will see a dramatic rise in our societal well being.

The ex-Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe who became the youngest PM of Japan and its first post WWII born PM resigned barely a year in power to take responsibility for the many scandals that his cabinet ministers were involved or accused of. These are a few of the events that force him to resign and juxtapose it with the Ghanaian situation and see if any Ghanaian minister or President will resign in a situation like that.

Abe was appointed PM on September 26, 2006. On December 21st, 2006, Masaaki Honma, handpicked by PM Abe as the head of government’s tax panel resigned after allegations of living in a government subsidized housing with a woman other than his wife. (emphasis mine) Will any government Minister ever resign his position over such allegations in Ghana?

On December 27, 2006, Administrative Reforms Minister Genichiro Sata resigned over political funds report scandal. He solicited money from inappropriate sources for his political campaign. On January 10th, 2007, allegations surfaced about inappropriate office management expenses of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka. He was alleged to have used his own house as office and charged the government for it. Ghanaians are most likely to see nothing wrong with such a thing. In Japan ethics are uphold. Many Ghanaian Ministers live in government houses for free why they have rented their own houses for foreign cash. Minister Matsuoka committed suicide over this allegations on May 28, 2007. On January 27 2007, the then Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa stirred up controversy by describing women as “birth machines”. That was a silly comment and nobody knew what he intended to achieve with that. Was that meant to reverse Japan’s declining birthrate? Anyway, it was to cost him his job later on in the year. He was forced to resign in March 2006.

On July 3rd, 2007 the then Defence Minister Fumio Kyuma resigned over another silly comment about A bomb victims. In Japan anything about Atomic Bomb is a very sensitive issues. On July 5th, 2007, allegations emerged about inappropriate handling of office Management expenses by the new Farm minister Norihiko Akagi.. Meanwhile the Japanese voters who are slow to embrace change were watching all these scandals about the Abe government and handed his Liberal Democratic Party a crushing defeat in the Upper House elections in July 2007. On August 1st, 2007 Farm Minister Akagi resigned over the allegations stated above. His replacement Takehiko Endo resigned after only one month on September 3rd, 2007 over allegations of misuse of Farm subsidies. On September 5th, 2007, new allegations emerged about two other ministers, the PM decided he has had enough with corrupt politicians in his cabinet and he decided to resign to end his political career. So on September 12, PM Abe announced his resignation. In all these Abe himself was not involved in any corruption but when minister after minister is accused of this and that, he taught it wise to resign to take responsibility for it all. The PM as the head of the cabinet and the head of government, the buck stops with him.

All the allegations were allegations that were uncovered by the media and reported in the Newspapers but in Ghana we have a Supreme Court that recently ruled that the state established institutions to check corruption and abuse of office like SFO, CHRAJ, etc cannot investigate allegations made against public officials in the newspapers and in any of the media outlets. This ruling is a slap in the face of our efforts to fight corruption and greed in Ghana. Elsewhere as in Japan, such allegations can force a Minister to resign and the state prosecutor's office will investigate it accordingly and prosecute it if there is evidence to support that line of action. Why can't we do the same in Ghana If we are serious about fighting corruption.

Ben Ofosu-Appiah,
The author is a senior political and social analyst and policy strategist based in Tokyo. He welcomes your comments.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.