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Opinions of Monday, 13 March 2006

Columnist: Asumadu, Kwame Dr.

Corruption In Ghana: Is It Just A Case Of Perception?

The recent comments by President Kufour and Transparency International?s (TI) Project Coordinator, Mr. Stephane Stassen, on corruption in Ghana, reported in Ghanaweb of 10th February, prompted this article.

While the President?s comments were unfortunate (i.e. indicating that corruption in Ghana was just a ?perception? in people?s minds), I believe that it must be seen in the context within which corruption is viewed in the Ghanaian society. By this statement, I am not in anyway condoning corruption or supporting the President?s view. I believe that corruption in Ghana has become a major challenge to address because of the fine line between what most Ghanaians consider a bribe and a gift. Gift-giving is part of almost every society and culture. However, whether a gift can be construed as a bribe or not depends on the motivation (i.e. the reason or intention) for giving the gift in the first place.

Since the President made his comment, I have interviewed several Ghanaians (those resident in Ghana [referred to as ?resident Ghanaians? in the article] and expatriates), and used a story or scenario to obtain an understanding of what they might consider a gift and a bribe. The story/scenario goes like this: assuming you are a public servant in Ghana, with a responsibility for approving import licenses. I am an importer who requires my goods to be cleared speedily. Previously, you have approved several of my shipments without asking for money. One day, I come to your office and hand you a brown envelope full of cash to thank you, and you accept it. Is this bribery or not? All the expatriate Ghanaians I interviewed considered this to be bribery and corruption whereas the resident Ghanaians did not consider it a bribe or corrupt behaviour.

The position taken by the resident Ghanaians is supported by the gift-giving culture in our society. Our society encourages appreciation and indeed, there is an Akan proverb which supports this cultural norm. Translated literally, it says ?a good Samaritan deserves appreciation.? It is not surprising that all the expatriate Ghanaians I interviewed considered the scenario presented above to be corruption. The differences in what constitute bribery and corruption between the two groups arises from the cultural norms of the society in which they live and work. In Ghana, it is acceptable to accept a gift, irrespective of the value, after a good deed or an act has been done, whether or not the deed or act is part of a person?s normal duties for which he or she is remunerated as an employee. So long as whatever is being given as a gift was not ?demanded? before the deed or act was done then it is considered acceptable in the Ghanaian society.

In a society like Australia where I live and work, any act or deed aimed at influencing a decision or behaviour for the benefit of another party is corruption. Thus within the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct, it is a requirement for everybody (from the messenger to the head of department) to declare any gift given to them in the course of their duty. The policy requires the staff member to report the gift to their superior and for the superior to assess and make a decision as to whether or not the staff member can keep the gift or not. This applies to gifts given to public servants while on overseas assignments and representing the Australian Government in an official capacity.

The same principle applies to politicians. Several years ago, a politician won a very luxurious BMW car in Australia through a commercial promotion organized by the national carrier, QANTAS. The promotion involved completing the back of an airline boarding card each time a passenger traveled on a QANTAS flight. The politician won the car but had to return the reward because the ticket on which he won the car was paid for by the Australian tax-payer. If he had paid for the ticket with his own money, he would have been allowed to keep the car. Benefiting personally from the tax-payer is considered corruption in Australia. I believe that many resident Ghanaians would not consider winning a reward through public expenditure is corruption.

As part of my research for this article, I have become aware that there exists an ?African Union Convention on Corruption? to which Ghana is a party. Article 4 of the African Union?s Convention of Corruption, which describes the scope of application, defines the acts of corruption and related offences, among others, as ?the solicitation or acceptance, directly or indirectly, by a public official or any other person, of any goods of monetary value, or other benefit, such as a gift, favour, promise or advantage for himself or herself or for another person or entity, in exchange for any act or omission in the performance of his or her public functions? (http://www.africa-union.org/Official_documents/Treaties_%20Conventions_%20Protocols/Convention%20on%20Combating%20Corruption.pdf)

Mr. Stassen is absolutely right. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is a commodity these days, which is traded on international markets just like any other physical commodity such as cocoa, timber, gold, diamond etc. To be successful in attracting FDI, countries must have a competitive advantage. While infrastructure and democratic governments are important ingredients in the assessment of the competitiveness of countries for FDI, international public perception of whether or not a country is corrupt is equally important. This is particularly so now because of the increasing importance of ethical investments in the overall global mix of investment products. This explains why many multinational corporations are spending millions of dollars to demonstrate to their investors of their adherence to the principles of corporate social responsibility and good governance.

While not the only explanation, perceptions of high public corruption in Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the reasons why official development assistance (ODA) i.e. aid is still the main source of external resource flows for investments in Africa. Between 1999 and 2003, net official aid from all donor countries increased by $US10.2 billion, from US$15.6 billion to about US$25 billion, representing an increase of some 67%. FDI flows into Africa have also increased in value terms in the last few years from around US$15 billion during the period 2000-2003 to US$18 billion in 2005. However, the total FDI flows to the whole continent represent only 3% of such investments globally (www.allafrica.com/stories). Remittances from Africans working overseas are replacing FDI and ODA, and during the period 2000-2003 averaged about US$17 billion per annum ((www.allafrica.com/stories).

For Ghana, and indeed Sub-Saharan Africa, to be taken seriously as a competitor for FDI, it is important that the country and the Sub-continent are viewed positively by the people who make decisions in the major international financial capitals about whether there is corruption in the country or not. As pointed out by President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and reported by the BBC news on 2nd February 2006, corruption, in all its forms, costs African countries 25% of its combined national income i.e. some US$148 billion (www.news.bbc.co.uk) . The sad situation is that the majority of this is not retained on the continent to create multiplier effects within the respective economies.

The solution lies in effective and concerted public education. There is need to educate all levels of the Ghanaian society about what the international community considers to be corruption rather than what we parochially define as a gift or a bribe. Bribery and corruption is similar to communication. It involves a ?giver? and a ?receiver.? It is just as important for the givers to be educated about their behaviour as the receivers. Ghana is not an island. We are part of the international community. Consequently, we cannot define rules and principles which suit ourselves when it comes to issues like bribery and corruption. Public education is vital because, as it became obvious through my interviews, influencing behaviour through gift giving is steeped in our culture. Like any undesirable cultural norm, it takes real leadership, underpinned by unflinching commitment to eradicate it.

To erradicate corruption in Ghana, we must also address its root causes. Convoluted and often unnecessarily complicated government processes are part of the problem. Simplified and streamlined government compliance requirements will go a long way to undermining bribery in corruption in Ghana. For example in Australia, nearly a decade ago, the Federal Government implemented a policy whereby all government forms were required to be written in ?plain English? so that the ordinary person can understand it. In addition, government forms were simplified to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, with a focus on only the minimum information required for a public servant to make an assessment and take the action necessary. This policy has also been taken up by the private sector, and today in Australia, the legal profession, one of the protectors of tradition, has embraced the practice of writing bills and legal contracts in simple plain English, as against the convoluted ?bureaucratese? which existed in the 1970s and 80s. Another root cause of bribery and corruption in Ghana is the low wages paid across the board. As one resident Ghanaian respondent to my interviews commented to me, ?how can I resist a ?gift? of money when I am the only educated member of my family, and everyone in the extended family looks to me to provide financial support? My salary alone is not enough.? This is understandable, and it is a major issue, but it does not justify becoming involved in both an immoral and a criminal act. Official Australian Government sources valued Ghana?s GDP at $US10.1 billion in 2005 compared with Australia?s US$692.4 billion. Both countries have similar populations at around 20 million but Ghana?s GDP is only 1.46% that of Australia?s GDP. Many people argue that Ghana does not have the resources to adequately remunerate both public and private sector employees. In Ghana, while the headline salary figure may be low, there are many ?hidden? payments in the form of allowances and perks (e.g. car, housing, travel etc). In Australia, not even politicians are given public housing. The only public figures who have tax-payer funded housing are the Prime Minister, the Governor General and the State governors. One way of increasing salaries in Ghana is to include these hidden payments as part of the official remuneration. Not only will it increase transparency in official remuneration but it will increase government revenue as all these ?hidden payments and benefits? are not currently taxed.

Bribery and corruption can be addressed in Ghana to bring significant socio-economic benefits to the whole society, but it requires strong political leadership on the matter. It will also help if as a society, we do not continue to use culture to justify unacceptable behaviours. Culture is not static. It is an organic evolving phenomenon, which takes into account continually changing societal values. Capital punishment was once considered an effective method for addressing heinous crimes such as murder. Today, many societies consider this form of punishment ?uncivilized.? The emphasis now is on rehabilitating individuals convicted of murders in many societies rather than institutionalize state-sanctioned murders. Bribery and corruption in Ghana can equally be eliminated, if as a country, we are committed to doing so.



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