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Opinions of Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Columnist: Kwesi Biney

Corruption in Ghana

Any time Ghanaians raise the issue of corruption in the Ghanaian society, a section of Ghanaians, particularly public office holders, raise the issue of perception and the argument has always been that those who allege corrupt practices against others in the society, particularly, public servants must provide the evidence to support their allegations.

Ironically, all governments since independence have talked about corruption in government or among the populace. The belief in the existence of corruption in Ghana, particularly among government officials and private business people have attracted some of the most drastic measures in the past against people suspected to have engaged in corrupt practices. Most of these drastic measures aimed at ‘bringing an end’ to the phenomenon, were seen in the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) era and the eleven year period of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC).

The use of violent and extra judicial methods to deal with suspected corrupt actors, did not address corruption. Subsequently, under the democratic dispensation, some other more civilized institutions were put in place to address the canker of corruption and its myriad of tentacles which has and continues to suffocate the economic and social lives of the people, particularly the poor.

These are the Commission on Human rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), the Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO) and the National Procurement Authority (NPA) all through the Parliament of the Republic. While former President Kufuor promised zero tolerance in the fight against the canker, the late President Atta-Mills pledged to investigate corruption should allegations of such appear in the media.

It is very obvious that almost all governments have at one time or the other identified corruption as a major challenge to development and the improvement of the living standards of the majority of Ghanaians. As to whether the methods used to deal with the canker have achieved results or not is very clear for all Ghanaians to see. The pervasiveness of the economic and social ill has become a major political tool in the nation’s democratic dispensation.

It is in this light that the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), in November/December 2015 undertook a corruption survey to unearth the nature, levels, causes and motives behind corruption in Ghana. The survey revealed that corruption levels are considered very high by 72.1 percent of the respondents. Fifty percent of the respondents stated that their major sources of information on corruption in Ghana are through the media -T.V., radio, newspapers and the internet while another 21.3 percent cited personal experiences of having had to part with gifts and cash payments or other favours for services to be rendered.

The above statistics indicate that the media’s highlight on acts of corruption is creating major awareness about the phenomenon in our society than it used to be. The personal experiences by individuals also indicate how widespread the problem is.

In the opinion of 40 % of the respondents, corruption is about taking or receiving money or sex from people before helping them or delivering services to which they are entitled while 13% of the respondents indicated that corruption is about embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds or diverting the nation’s resources for personal gain. The survey revealed that 96.7% of the public identified cash payments as the most common form of corruption.

The above findings must be a source of great worry to the general society in its efforts to fight corruption. The reason being that most Ghanaians are much more concerned about the monies they pay as individuals to public officers or private citizens before services are delivered, which goes on in their lives on a daily basis than the grand corruption of embezzlement and misappropriation of huge public funds.

Even though petty corruption engaged in by public officers on a daily basis is so bad and unacceptable, most Ghanaians do not focus on the fact that the huge monies the state loses through embezzlement and misappropriation are the reasons why the state cannot provide adequate social facilities and infrastructure like good schools, hospitals, water, roads, electricity and housing among others to the citizenry. Discussions on grand corruption is seen by most citizens as distant occurrences that should not take their time. They are more concerned about the GH¢5.00 the Policeman collects from the driver or the GH¢10.00 he has to pay to the office clerk to retrieve a file from an obscure corner in the public office on a daily basis.

There are always motivating factors for such behaviors, and the survey identified greed and selfishness as the major causes of corruption which 27% of the respondents’ agreed on, the get rich-quick attitude among the youth was 26.3% while 22.7% said low salaries and income levels were the next major causes of corruption in Ghana. Corruption is viewed as alternative source of income to those who benefit from it while those who pay monies see it as the only way things or services get rendered as acknowledged by 12.2 % and 24.2% of the respondents respectively.

The survey put the Police Service on top of the Corruption League table, recording 28.6%, a jump from the 23% in 2014. The judiciary placed second in the race to achieve the highest medal in corruption. It recorded 18.4% according to the survey. These two institutions have contacts with the public every day for one reason or the other. 60% of Ghanaians believe that there is no alternative for them to obtain critical services from institutions other than offering bribes to those whose jobs it is to deliver such services.

The other worrying outcome of the IEA survey was the Office of the President which recorded 12.9% of the respondents as a very corrupt institution in Ghana during the year 2015. The Office of the President is the machinery that oils the machinery of the state, that is where the national cake is distributed for development, and if 12.9% of Ghanaians believe that there is such level of corruption in the Office of the President, then it stands to reason or to conclude that the Office of the President could not fight corruption. The army was the least corrupt institution in Ghana, recording 7% of the respondent’s assessment of corruption.

There is the hope that the canker can be dealt with since 54% of the respondents believe that citizens could help reduce corruption if the public abstains from paying bribes to public officers. This contradicts the belief by 60% of the respondents that the only way services can be obtained is through paying bribes. There is also the hope that two-thirds of Ghanaians are ready to report a corrupt act.

The worrying aspect of our efforts at fighting corruption in Ghana is the legal regime which makes the giver and the taker all liable for the criminal conduct. A citizen who is overtly or covertly compelled by a public officer to pay monies before a critical service is provided is considered an accessory to a crime. What then would motivate a victim of corrupt practices of a public officer to report the incidence when he or she could be dragged into the criminal net for committing a crime of corruption?

The survey also admits the fact that the fight against corruption is a daunting task because only 4.8% of the respondents were hopeful that corruption can be eradicated completely in Ghana, 25% of them opined that the canker cannot be reduced at all in Ghana, 19.9% thought that corruption can be reduced substantially while 45% said corruption can only be reduced to a limited degree.

The challenge is, how do we as a people address this canker that is a drain on us as individual citizens as we part with ‘coins’ every day when we do not have to, and the state is bled through the massive embezzlement, misappropriation, over invoicing, under invoicing and outright dissipation of public funds without a blink?

Sadly, the three arms of the state mandated to deal with these crimes were themselves seriously embroiled in corruption, namely the Office of the President, the Police Service and the Judiciary. Where cometh our salvation then?

Daavi, please give me three tots of mahogany bitters.