You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2004 07 01Article 60772

Opinions of Thursday, 1 July 2004

Columnist: Abrefah, Kwame Attakorah

Evaluating The ?Zero Tolerance For Corruption?

The problem of corruption and the search for policy framework to fight it and its impediments to economic and social development has gained prominence as the basis by which Ghanaians evaluate the effectiveness of their political leaders in post-colonial Ghana. Consequently, many Ghanaians particularly, the opposition parties have scrutinized the ruling government?s commitment and attitudes towards ?The Zero Tolerance for Corruption?- the campaign promise by the ruling National Patriotic Party to combat and root out corruption in Ghana.

Certainly, corruption is present to some degree in every society and it will persist to some extent, regardless of government efforts, policies and political will in Ghana. However, it is imperative to examine the extent to which the government?s zero tolerance policies have succeeded in reducing corruption in Ghana to enable Ghanaians make informed decisions.

This article evaluates the government?s anti-corruption strategy and suggests that public participation; sensitivity and education are crucial to significantly reduce corruption in Ghana. The government has attempted to entrench good governance policies as the primary anti-corruption strategies to address the underlying causes of corruption in the country rather than its symptoms. Towards this end, the government has focused on economic reform to eliminate conditions that foster corruption, restraint on political power, commitment to the rule of law, the strengthening of our law enforcement bodies and reform of public sector management.

However, there has been little or inadequate attention paid to the social environment and values that support and promote corruption in the country. This article maintains that for zero tolerance for corruption to succeed, the government must adopt comprehensive and sustainable approach that includes and promotes public vigilance, participation and education to make corruption more costly to engage in and the consequences inescapable.

The core of my argument is premised on the interesting doublethink that exists in our society. On one hand, we have a written constitution that guarantees individual rights and freedoms. We have laws that prohibit corruption, nepotism and bribery. Additionally, we have institutions like Serious Fraud Office, Human Rights and Administrative Justice, the Police Services and the Judiciary to assist people to seek redress when their fundamental freedoms and rights are infringed upon and penalizes those who abuse state authority for personal gain.

Yet, our attitudes ? the set of believes usually associated with securing our rights remain entrenched in assumptions that are grounded in ignorance and apathy. For example, why should a poor retired pensioner pay bribes or depend on goodwill of a public servant who is paid by taxpayers to process her insufficient monthly entitlements? Or why should parents pay bribes before their children are admitted into public educational institutions? Worst still, why should motorists bribe the police, who are entrusted with our security and represent the power of the state?

Furthermore, there is an entrenched perception that developmental projects are pursued and distributed out of benevolence from our political leaders rather than social justice and human rights requirement. Thus, construction of a road in a region or electrification of a community is viewed by the government and the people as some form of kindness. Subsequently, communities that benefit from government projects are required to show their gratitude to the government through electoral support. Failure to do so is equal to ungratefulness, which leads to the withdrawal of government services. In effect, we have traded our fundamental human rights for state, individual and institutional benevolence and given blank cheque to those that manage our tax money.

The notion that the enjoyment of our fundamental human rights is based on the generosity of the government and powerful individuals has contributed to the establishment of the personality cults in the country. For example, it is a common practice for people to use the name of the president or their relationship with a government official to intimidate their opponents or gain personal advantage over others. While the office of the presidency continues to warn the public to be bewaring of such people, the existence of personalization of government operation clearly encourages people to have confidence in their connections with powerful individuals than our constitution and its independent bodies. This sad phenomenon has created social environment, values and attitudes that support corruption. They have also made people more forgiving of corruption and raised the incentive to be corrupt. Thus, the government?s approach to fighting corruption will remain an illusion unless it tackles our attitudes and believes that support and promote corruption and seek to instill confidence in our public institutions by depersonalizing government operations.


What accounts for the rampant corruption in the country? To understand the existence of this difficult and complex social canker, we must examine its historical character. Our colonial masters designed colonial economic and political structure that was geared to expanding primary commodities export to feed the industrial machinery of Britain and ensured submissive labour force that supported the supply of cheap raw materials to the industrial machines of the mother country. For administrative support, the colonial masters depended on expatriates and few local notables such as the District Commissioners to keep the machinery of government running. In addition, through the system of indirect rule, the colonial masters relied on chiefs, whose allegiance they secured through inducement to maintain a lid on any political opposition

However, the overwhelming majority of natives were excluded from the formal structures of the colonial state. The only remaining avenue to sustain life for the local people was to engage in manual labour. The experience of the indigenous created the perception that the only way to escape the drudgery of the farm and to live comfortably like the colonial official was to be employed in the public service. Consequently, the state was seen as the means for social and economic upward mobility. Having been employed in the public service, the civil servants who were stilled tied to their kinship; social and cultural practices within the state were compelled by our extended family system to extract benefits for their families, communities and friends

Furthermore, the refusal of the colonial masters to share equitably the material resources of the land was bitterly resented by the local people. Thus, the repression associated with colonialism created reasonable suspicion in the minds of the locals that the ultimate goal of the colonist was to exploitation. The resentment towards these colonial practices created the belief among the natives that to cooperate with the colonizer or to dutifully work for the public good was to help the colonial master exploit and repress the people. In effect, the state as the avenue for self-enrichment was not only justified; it also encouraged disruptive attitudes among the native civil servants aimed at sabotaging the colonial state. The emergence of this stratagem within the infant public/civil service hampered the development of public service culture dedicated to serving the national interest. Thus, the excessive bureaucratic corruption that exists in our country today and the lack of commitment to national interest within our public institutions is inherently linked to colonial system we inherited at independence.

At independence, our new leaders maintained the political, social, economic and administrative culture of the colonial system. For political support, the new government relied on the rural folks and chiefs, whose allegiance they secured through system of inducements. In the name of national unity and nation building, all pluralistic tendencies were stifled. Press freedom was curtailed, one party system of government was adopted and centralized economy programs were adopted. The absence of political opposition and independent media to fully examined the government?s policies and demand transparency and accountability, contributed to the development of the culture of indifference on the part of our citizens as they became hopeless and voiceless thereby accelerating the moral decay of our society.

In response to the need for economic and social development in the country, the new leaders expanded the civil service under centralized structure headed by local authorities, government ministers and all-powerful president, who used system of patronage to maintain allegiance to the political elites. Inexperienced political cronies were appointed to fill key positions on corporate boards and vital sectors of the economy, which created inefficiencies, mismanagement, corruption, nepotism and total collapse of the economy.

As the commodities boom of the 1950s and 1960s slowed down, the resources to support huge bureaucracy and the patronage system that maintained loyalty to the political elites became very thin. The ensuing economic deterioration and scarce resources was capitalized on by the government to strengthen its intervention in the economy through excessive regulation of the private sector, introduction of foreign exchange controls, price controls, tax exemptions and export/import controls. Then again, these policies created conducive environment for more corruption as officials used the opportunities to elicit bribes and kickbacks. For example, hoarding became common phenomenon as artificial shortages were created to manipulate prices. Import licenses were given to the cronies of government officials who monopolized the importation of items such as flour, toothpaste, sugar and raw materials for exorbitant profits.


The repulsive manners by which our officials have looted the country have not gone unnoticed by the people. Thus, the anger and hunger for change by Ghanaians have been sometimes difficult to quench. The once powerless and voiceless Ghanaian has risen up and through strikes and demonstrations has demanded an end to corruption in the country. Unfortunately, in many cases, the genuine frustrations of Ghanaians and their demand for an end to corruption have been exploited by a few adventurous military personnel to stage coups.

Regrettably, changes in governments because of the public demand for an end to corruption have not led to comprehensive strategies to combat the social canker in any sustainable fashion. More often than not, our new governments have adopted politically motivated strategies aimed at humiliating the previous regime in order to gain political support to entrench themselves in power. Worst example of this strategy was the ?House Cleaning Exercise? of the AFRC government, when many people lost their properties for allegedly engaging in malpractices while others lost their lives without any fair and impartial trial. Unfortunately, the ?Zero Tolerance for Corruption? is at risk of loosing its steam and being perceived as rhetoric.

It is not surprising that our citizens have become cynical of public officials and politics. Campaign against corruption tends to be strong during election and transition periods when every politician attempts to hold the moral high ground. However, sustained strategies to mobilize our people to fight corruption at all levels become rhetoric after elections when politicians have consolidated their hold on power. Thus, the sporadic approach to combating corruption has created the perception that our anti-corruption policies are merely a sham for politicians to gain political control to enable them to engage in similar practices (Obiaa ba saa!). The sad reality is that, unless we take sustained and holistic approach to combat corruption, our democratic process stands the risk of loosing its mass appeal.


Many people share the view that low levels of wages, high levels of material deprivation and desperation that exist in our country account for the rampant corruption in the country. While these claims are valid, they tend to elevate the symptoms of corruption and mask its underlying causes in the country.

In recent years, the donor community, civil society and many Ghanaians have identified bad governance as the major problem that fuels corruption in the country and by inference, good governance as the perceived antidote to corruption. The question then becomes what is good governance and how does it eliminate corruption? Basically, good governance is the process by which various actors in governance manage public institutions and resources in the most inclusive, equitable, transparent and accountable manner. From this simple definition, it is obvious that good governance is broader concept than corruption as it covers wide ranges of government activities. However, corruption occurs within the process by which governments, corporations and non-governmental organizations formulate policies, and the process by which they implement them. Therefore, to prevent corruption, it is imperative that government targets these processes of decision-making and implementation by instituting mechanisms that eliminate the opportunity for corruption.

Since 1984, the P/NDC government under the direction of the International Monetary Fund and donor community began to implement the economic reform program. The central goal of the economic reform program was to reduce excessive government intervention in the economy, which created conditions for corruption and mismanagement. Towards this end, the P/NDC government privatized many state owned industries to eliminate corruption, inefficiency and mismanagement and to introduce competition into productive sectors of the economy. For example, the PNDC government legalized forex bureaus to eliminate corruption within the management of foreign exchange controls and neutralized the black market operations. Trade liberalization policies led to huge influx of essential commodities thereby eliminating the monopolies and rent-seekers, which in turn ended the long line ups for basic necessities such as soaps etc.

However, to create the necessary foundation for private sector development and to reduce corruption of all forms, there is the need for strong and effective judicial system, fair and transparent rules, effective banking system, restraint on political power and promotion of rule of law. In these regards, the P/NDC government?s abysmal human rights record, disregard for rule of law and assault on successful local business people undermined its ability to create sustainable anti-corruption policies.

Thus, the challenge facing the NPP government is to develop effective infrastructure to lay the foundation for sustainable anti-corruption policies in the country. Consequently, the government has adopted transparency, accountability, effective management of public sector, rule of law, and ?all inclusive government? as the cornerstone of ?Zero Tolerance Policies?. With regard to public sector management, the government has passed legislation to strengthen the independence of the Central Bank to keep the government at arms length from the management of the Central Bank. The government has also continued with the court computerization program to make the judiciary more efficient. In addition, the government has equipped our law enforcement bodies such as the police with new vehicles and the tools they need to enforce our laws. More importantly, the government has adhered to rule of law in its exercise of power. For example, while others may disagree with the imprisonment of the ex-ministers of the state for their involvement in the financial loss to the state, the reality is that these ex-ministers were tried within the laws of the land and by an independent judiciary as demanded by rule of law. In my opinion, the Peoples Parliament provides not only a forum for deliberation and discussions of the government policies and stewardship, it creates the opportunity for the public to hold their leaders accountable.


The ?Zero Tolerance For Corruption? policy requires effective delivery system through independent bodies such as the judiciary, parliament, tender boards and auditor general etc. to translate government?s anti-corruption policies and values into specific rules and standards. Accordingly, the NPP government has focused on strengthening theses institutions by either reforming or enforcing the existing rules on corruption. However, the problem with this approach is that, most of the institutions entrusted with combating corruption are themselves corrupt and cannot be relied upon to implement the government?s policies to achieve the desire outcomes. In view of this, it is the imperative that the government creates a watchdog to oversee these institutions without creating another bureaucracy. This is attainable through sustained public education and increased vigilance to exert pressure on corrupt public officials to refrain from their opportunistic behaviours. For example, public education campaigns against overloading empowered commuters to demand respect and value for their fares thereby forcing drivers to stop their overloading tactics. In essence, by educating the public to be the watchdog of these institutions, people will appreciate their stake in democratic process and fight against corruption.

In addition, the development of anti-corruption policy is but the first step towards ensuring that the policy objectives are achieved. Thus, while good governance policies provide the general direction for combating corruption, the government must express in specific language the desired outcomes with the assessment tools to monitor its success in a given time period. So far, the government has not demonstrated an organized approach to combating corruption. This has created the perception that the ?Zero Tolerance for Corruption has lost its steam. Therefore, the government must translate the general principles of its anti-corruption policies into specific language that appeals to the public and challenges them to participate in the fight against corruption. This includes educating the public about their rights and how to seek redress. Making law enforcement bodies their operations less intimidating through community relations activities.

Clearly, the principles inherent in good governance practices reflect Western values. Ideally, good governance principles postulate that the fundamental unit of our society is the individual, not our extended family system. Additionally, it suggests that the means by which we can maintain our rights is through the courts by means of adjudication. However, over reliance on such values as primary anti-corruption strategy in a country that has diverse cultures, classes, religion, tribes and identities is problematic. In our country, individual rights and responsibility tend to be subordinated to the rights of tribes or social groups. This has enabled corrupt officials to hide behind their membership in a particular social organization or ethnic group to defend themselves against charges of corruption, thereby creating division and unnecessary tension in the country. For instance, some people have argued that Mallam Issah was imprisoned because he is a northerner and he belongs to a different political party. These defenses tend to obscure the facts for punishing corrupt officials and portray our governments as biased and undemocratic, which undermine public confidence in the government.

In light of this, it is absolutely important that the government takes into account the stages of our socioeconomic development, culture and social attitudes towards corruption in its implementation of the zero tolerance for corruption policies. This requires sustained and extensive public education campaign to strengthen our people?s acceptability of universal principles of morality. In other words, it is important to stress that honesty, fairness, compliance with the law, and respect for others etc are set of moral principles that are applicable to everyone irrespective of their gender, tribe, faith, class or political affiliation. Additionally, by emphasizing that it is the duty of every citizen to uphold the moral principles and values of our nation by challenging deviant behaviours, it will empower our citizens to deny populist and opportunistic leaders the safe haven to divide and exploit us.


Obviously, our pre-colonial societies had established rules, customs and laws that governed public conduct and social relationships. For example, our pre-colonial societies believed in the powers exercised by our gods to punish corrupt people. And given the belief in the omnipresence of our gods, it was believed that no deviant behavior could be hidden thereby imposing fear in the people to refrain from corrupt practices. Judging from what our elders say about the moral decay of our generation, it is fair to infer that the natural laws, customs and believes that held our society together made that society reasonably less corrupt than ours.

However, our contact with Europeans, our advancement in knowledge and science and integration into the global economy has unraveled the foundation of our society. Rights and justice have been redefined on the basis of Western values. For example, the constitution is the basic law of the land and all powers are derived from it thereby marginalizing our traditional rulers. In addition, few people are afraid of the god?s ability to punish them for their deviant behaviors.

Therefore, to succeed as a nation in the fight against corruption, we need to educate our people, particularly, our children about the new ethical and moral values that govern our conducts. The public education campaign against corruption must target our children from primary school to our tertiary institutions to instill strong moral discipline and patriotic values into them. This will help to change fundamentally our attitudes and believes towards the state from what ?WE CAN GAIN FROM THE STATE TO WHAT WE CAN DO FOR OUR NATION?. Corruption is difficult to root out because the mindset of our generation is based on what we can get from the state and not what we can do for our nation. The fight against corruption, poverty and economic deterioration will be illusion unless we reverse this mindset through a comprehensive public education campaign.

Prepared by:
Kwame Attakorah Abrefah B.A, MSW.
Regional Social Worker, NT Canada.

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