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Opinions of Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Columnist: Anzagra Ziema Bertrand

Corruption, public behavior and the public purse in Ghana

Corruption in Ghana is so conspicuous and has been on public domain for decades. It would be bewildering for any concern citizen to doubt this. The term corruption is generally seen as the abuse of power, most often for personal gain or for the benefit of a group to which one owes allegiance. Corruption is a pervasive phenomenon that can be found in every government or ideology.

Although some governments are more vulnerable than others and may suffer more devastating effects, no government can claim full immunity from corruption. However, corruption in Ghana’s public life occurs in some key arenas or positions of trust which is worrisome. Positions in public procurement and contracting, licensing activities, business registration offices, and especially the Judiciary are such sensitive offices that cannot be toyed with by corrupt tendencies of officials.

Society is however too quick at judging corrupt practices on the public official because it seems the easiest thing to do. Afterall, who asks for the thief when the stolen item is already seen in someone’s hands?Though not to justify their action, most public officers can barely make it with their current wages vis-a-vis the current cost of living in the country and very few can afford to get by. Unfortunately, those whose salaries can do for them are also those who seem have overwhelming power over the system and hardly account to anyone on their management of public funds. In their case, it is mere greed and nothing else.

Our attempts to fight corruption over the years has shown that no single approach to curbing corruption is likely to be effective. Instead, success involves a wide range of strategies, working together as much as possible in an integrated fashion. In general these strategies must include:

One, the work of individuals should be evaluated against objective performance indicators. Promotion should clearly be linked to performance with incentives available to reward superior performance within a fair, equitable and transparent salary scale. Example of this strategy is Singapore. The country’s anti-corruption strategy included gradual pay raises and fair salary structures. Now Singapore civil servants are among the best paid in the world and their productivity and effectiveness is widely recognized.

Secondly, in the fight against corruption,passing laws is no answer by itself, because attitudes can shadow legal definitions. Public cooperation in reporting and investigating offences is needed.

In addition, leadership at the top within the body politic will always be the greatest single factor in achieving fundamental change. Enforcers of laws, rules and codes of conducts must know they are expected to perform their functions without fear or favour. Leadership within civil society is also vital. If the corrupt are treated with contempt rather than indifference or envy, and if honesty is accorded respect then the key building block is in place for curbing corruption.

Furthermore, declaration of assets, liabilities and income by public officials before and after leaving office is one of the key instruments to curbing corruption and the recent campaigns in that regard is only appropriate. Public servants who are in high positions of influence like chief directors, ministers, high ranking security officials and the president as well should be required and abide by a law to declare their assets, liabilities and income.

There is need for the establishment of an independent anti-corruption commission to supersede the fight against corruption. Although anticorruption strategies should focus on priorities, they should also be comprehensive. The commission must be free of internal corruption and outside interference and capable of operating on corrupt practices both in the public and private sectors.

All agencies designed to fight corruption whether in prevention, investigation, research, education or law enforcement, must work in concert, harmonized their efforts and complement each other to develop one strategy. The fight against corruption is neither simple nor straight forward, the process has to be gradual, and programs call for overnight changes are bound to fail.

Combating corruption is not an end in itself. Rather it is instrumental to the broader goal of more effective, fair and efficient government which in turn is associated with greater economic development.

The author, Anzagra Ziema Bertrand, is in the Faculty of Integrated Development Studies of the University for Development Studies, Ghana. Email: