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Opinions of Saturday, 5 June 2004

Columnist: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina

"Follow the Money - Deep Throat"

In their investigation of the watergate scandal that led to the resignation of US President Richard Nixon on August 9th, 1974, journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were reputed to have been told by their secret source to follow the money as a way to unravel the issue. In the end, following the money uncovered enough evidence to force the President's resignation.

Since antiquity, the influence of money in society has led to passionate debate and reflection. While some have asserted that money is the root of all evil, others counter that it is really the absence of money that is the root of all evil. They point to the positive relationship between good economic times and decreasing crime rate amongst other things. The role of money in the public life of a nation is indeed a complex one. It is an instrument for doing enormous good. It is needed to obtain the basic necessities as well as the luxuries of life for individuals and families. It is needed by governments to provide resources for the public good.

On the other hand, it corrupts the individual and society if not used responsibly by undermining virtue and encouraging vice. Besides individuals, money affects institutions for better or for worse. These institutions include political parties, the executive, parliament, the judiciary and the press. For this article, let us focus on money and politics. I consider politics as the means by which individuals and groups contend for and keep power legally. There is a significant body of opinion that holds that in the end, power and wealth/money are linked. Thus those with power acquire money with it and those with wealth acquire power with their wealth.

To be fair, there are legitimate uses of money in politics. A political party needs money to establish and keep it's offices open, to pay staff and to spread it's message to the public. Consistent with this, a candidate needs money to set up an office, hire staff and spread his/her ideas. This helps the party and ultimately the general electorate to make an informed decision regarding his/her candidacy. " Money" as Bill Clinton said " is the mother's milk of politics". This means that the ability of a candidate to attract financial support from his/her fellow citizens is itself a measure of the viability of the candidacy.

Indeed, a few weeks ago, President Bush's campaign announced that it had become the first campaign in US history to receive contributions from one million voters. The willingness of ordinary citizens to donate money to a candidate is evidence of their faith in his/her ideas and abilities. The issue is where legitimate expenditures end and bribery takes over.

All over the world, even in advanced countries, politicians and governments periodically get into trouble for crossing the line between the legitimate raising and spending of money for political purposes and the illegitimate raising and spending of money. A few examples will suffice. In 1973, US Vice-President Agnew resigned because of kick-backs received when he was governor of Maryland. A few years ago, Helmut Kohl, perhaps the most celebrated German Chancellor since Adenauer had his reputation dimmed when it was revealed that while in office, he maintained illegal campaign funds. There have been similar instances in France and Japan. Currently, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin is battling allegations that some Quebec public relations firms were paid monies by the Liberal government for publicity work that may not have been done.

Here on our continent, besides corrupting politics with the GUN, corrupting it with MONEY is the biggest problem. From Cape Town in the south to Cairo in the north, Africa has examples galore of the effects of unregulated money on a nation's politics. Some examples from the past will suffice. During the 1978 Unigov referendum, General Archeampong's SMC regime literally bought the support of many traditional rulers with monetary gifts from public coffers. In Zaire, after President Mobutu's ouster in 1997, investigations revealed that during his long and infamous tenure, he had maintained power by buying the collaboration of everybody in sight; generals, rebels, chiefs and rival politicians! By this conduct, he institutionalized corruption, perhaps for eternity in Zaire. Back home in Ghana, after the 2000 elections, it became clear that amongst other crimes, the NDC had used the 31st December Women's movement and it's grants from world bodies as an NGO for electioneering purposes. This was a clear violation of the law and morality.

While the discussions up to this point appear to be echoes from distant lands and times, it is sadly relevant to the present time here in our dear nation. In our political parties, some nominations for parliamentary candidates and maybe a presidential candidate or two have gone to the highest bidder instead of the most talented!

Too many contracts have gone to the bidder who can give the most "something" to somebody instead of the one with the best bid! Too many press investigations into serious issues have vindicated those who can give the most "something" to journalists rather than those with truth on their side!

Too many allegations of corruption are investigated too half-heartedly despite the President's "zero-tolerance" pledge! To underline our nation's collective impotence in dealing with the moneyed interests, the Deputy Minister for Finance and Economic Planning, Mr Kwaku Agyemang-Manu made some disturbing remarks last weekend in Ho. The Minister stated in reference to corruption that "the canker is a national one permeating all facets, manifesting in homes, churches and work places". He went on to confess that those who have the responsibility to use state resources in the most efficient manner have been seeking to push through invoices with price tags that are sometimes five times higher than normal. He ended by stating that "40% of our resources could be going not down the drain but into people's pockets". Elsewhere in his speech, the Deputy Minister appealed to Ghanaians not to single out politicians for blame when discussing corruption!

While I applaud the Minister for his candor, his remarks were not indicative of a government actively fighting corruption. His remarks give the impression of a government overwhelmed by corruption and pleading for understanding from the public. None of our resources should go either into the drain or peoples pockets. Every pesewa should be going into development. Let us agree that the government alone cannot fight corruption. However, without the government leading the charge and modeling the change it wishes to see, we can never make headway in the fight against corruption.

Our failure to control the unregulated role of money in politics will endanger our democracy. As sure as night follows day, it will lead to a MONETOCRACY instead of a MERITOCRACY linked to democracy! That will be a tragedy because over the last decade, as we have slowly, painfully and inevitably advanced towards a fuller democracy, the rest of Africa and indeed the world has cheered us on and wished us well. A lot of those who yearn to live free are waiting breathlessly and hoping that the fate of democracy THIS TIME will be safe in our hands. We must not be a nation whose public offices are for sale to the highest bidder while talent not tied to money, tribe or family is routinely ignored.

Luckily, the President, Mr. J.A Kufuor has pledged a policy of " zero tolerance" towards corruption. We know that the NDC will foster rather than fight corruption. Therefore let the President fight corruption with all the prestige of his office rather than just disapprove of it. Leadership is about change and only he can lead change in this most important area. I am convinced that the greatest contribution he can make to our nascent democracy is to dedicate his presidency to the fight against corruption. If he does this with passion and sincerity, he will be remembered as one of our greatest presidents.

The government must not just ask for proof from those alleging corruption, it must seek it with all it's resources. The parties must not just sell nominations to the highest bidder, they must seek and bring talent into government. That is an obligation that great parties owe to their nation.

Journalists must seek to give voice to the poor who have truth on their side, not just those who can buy their services or their friendship. Parliament must work with the electoral commission to establish clear, realistic laws and guidelines regarding the role of money in politics. These laws must ensure that when a candidate pays millions of cedis to a party as deposit for his/her candidacy, constituents should know how he got the money. Furthermore, the laws and regulations ought to set out clearly when exchange of money between a candidate and electors is legitimate and when it is bribery.

These must clearly define the limits of legitimate fund-raising and expenditures in politics. Our religious leaders must denounce the destructive role of money in our politics and exhort us to do better. All of us must encourage our leaders to lead us away from corruption and in our lives work to put honest and talented politicians in office.

Together, we can once again inspire Africa as a worthy example of a nation that will put talent and integrity before money. May our nation always improve and may God bless her and all who call her home!

Arthur Kobina Kennedy, MD (Former NUGS President)