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Opinions of Friday, 1 April 2016

Columnist: Agbai, Stephen

Fighting corruption in Ghana: The 'C' approach

Transparency International defines corruption as "the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. The anti-corruption agency goes a step further to classify corruption into three types namely, grand corruption, petty corruption and political corruption, "depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs".

"Grand corruption consists of acts committed at a high level of government that distort policies or the central functioning of the state, enabling leaders to benefit at the expense of the public good.”

It further defines "Petty corruption as “everyday abuse of entrusted power by low - and mid-level public officials in their interactions with ordinary citizens, who often are trying to access basic goods or services in places like hospitals, schools, police departments and other agencies”.

Political corruption, it says, “is a manipulation of policies, institutions and rules of procedure in the allocation of resources and financing by political decision makers, who abuse their position to sustain their power, status and wealth."

For the purposes of this article, corruption refers to all the types referred to above.

The canker of corruption in Ghana — perceived and real — have bothered many a person since independence, more so due to its cost to the nation — pegged at US$1 billion annually. Its ramifications go beyond the vulnerable in the society to the general public.

Ghana's first democratically elected leader, Kwame Nkrumah and his government were accused by western governments and local political opponents of corruption in many of their dealings.
In his book, Political Corruption: The Ghana Case, Victor T. Le Vine wrote that bribery, theft and embezzlement arose from reversion to a traditional winner-takes-all attitude in which power and family relationships prevailed over the rule of law.

President Nkrumah was accused of, among other things, diverting US$ 5 million of state funds into his private account. Also, some of his ministers, particularly Krobo Edusei, who was a high profile member of the Convention People's Party (CPP) and minister without a portfolio, allegedly used state funds to build mansions his earnings could not have supported. Krobo Edusei’s wife, noted for her ostentation at the expense of the state was also reported to have purchased and imported a US$ 5000 gold plated bed from Europe. Corruption also allegedly manifested its way through the now-all-too-familiar extortion, embezzlement and diversion of public funds into party coffers.

Even though President Nkrumah used his famous dawn broadcasts to denounce corruption and condemn errant government officials, that initiative could not achieve much due to the fact that the canker had long gained ground and was therefore extremely difficult to control. Arguably, unbridled corruption was one of the main reasons that led to the overthrow of the Nkrumah government.

Other regimes after President Nkrumah have all been labeled corrupt at various times and cited in glaring acts of corruption with many unable to acquit themselves both in the courts of public opinion and of competent jurisdiction.

The National Liberation Council (NLC), formed after the overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in 1966, had its leader General J.A. Ankrah’s hands cited in the infamous Nzeribe Case in which he accepted bribe. That, undoubtedly, eventually led to his overthrow.

His successor Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia of the Progress Party (PP) was overthrown for the very ills he was elected to uproot.

Colonel Kutu Acheampong succinctly said this about his government in an interview with the Africasia Magazine in 1972: “The Ghana Armed Forces took over government on January 13, 1972, because the same evils which compelled the Army and the Police to topple the Nkrumah regime on February 24, 1966, persisted. These were bribery and corruption, tribalism, dissipation of funds, economic mismanagement…”

Fast-forward to the Fourth Republic, President Rawlings was accused of deliberately running down key state corporations and selling them to his cronies and fronts at giveaway prices. Additionally, his children allegedly had their education in prestigious institutions abroad on the benevolence of some beneficiaries of his corrupt deals. This is against the background that Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings in his first coup d’état executed Colonel I. K. Acheampong, Lieutenant General Frederick William Kwasi Akuffo, Brigadier Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa and Rear Admiral Amedume for alleged acts of corruption.
His successor President Kufuor also battled allegations of corruption such as the sale of prime state landed property and uncompleted affordable housing projects to party members and government officials. Under his government he also allegedly played a role in the payment of US$ 5000 to each member of the NPP Majority in Parliament to approve the infamous Ghana Telecom sale to Vodafone Plc. This was after he confessed having to pinch himself to resist temptations of corruption.

Of course there were still many more cases of corruption in contract kickbacks to government officials, the most infamous being the one alleged by one-time NPP chairman Haruna Esseku against President Kufuor.

Then under Presidents Mills, judgement debt payments allegedly became the commonest means through which state funds were diverted into party and private coffers. The payments to Alfred Woyome, Isofoton, et al readily come to mind.

Under the current government of President Mahama, further allegations of arranged judgement payments emerged alongside the uncovering of massive judicial corruption by Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ Tiger Eye PI. The sixteen companies that benefitted from the payment of over GHS 400 million under the cover of GYEEDA models cannot go unmentioned.

In their attempts to prove a point to the general public that they were committed to the fight against corruption, all governments, like the Nkrumah government, announced measures towards tackling the canker. However, almost all failed in bringing those lofty ideas to fruition.
President Kufuor, for example, created an anti-corruption office in the Castle so that he could have direct oversight of its operations. Shockingly, it was just around that time that corruption suddenly became “as old as Adam.” The rest is history.

Little is known of John Mills' fight against corruption beyond his famous declarations against corruption in press encounters and unannounced visits to public institutions like the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority. So much for the incorruptible President.

Having said the foregoing, Ghana is making modest gains in the fight against corruption, at least according to anti-graft agency Transparency International's recent Corruption Perception Index (CPI) reports.
The CPI 2015 scored Ghana 47 out of a clean score of 100, standing 56 out of 168 countries.

So what is the way forward to fighting corruption? The World Bank published the following on its website which I will bullet for brevity sake.

* Paying civil servants well
* Creating transparency and openness in government spending
* Cutting red tape
* Replacing regressive and distorting subsidies with targeted cash transfers
* Establishing international conventions and
* Deploying smart technology

But given that governments since independence have failed to successfully stem the tide of corruption in spite of tremendous support from the World Bank and associate agencies, it is high time the "ordinary citizen" took centre stage. What then can we do as citizens to improve on this score and possibly, ameliorate or nip the malaise in the bud? I propose the following:

* Obey the law and encourage others to do same

Conventional wisdom admonishes us to first learn to do right so that we can have the moral right to encourage or compel others, if we are in positions of authority and influence, to take a cue.
As citizens, we have to make spirited personal efforts to learn about and obey the anti-graft laws of our land and influence others to do likewise. We should be the last to give or take bribes no matter the temptation or urge. If we stay true to this, we will be amazed at the positive changes we can cause in the fight against corruption.

* Be vigilant and report corruption

Having succeeded in not engaging in acts of corruption ourselves, the next step to take is to report acts of corruption whenever and wherever we witness them without fear of or favour for whoever is involved. No victory is won in a state of apathy. We have to eschew that usual Ghanaian way of "minding our own business" by turning a blind eye to acts of wrongdoing that eventually affect all of us. As such, we have to avail ourselves of the avenue provided by the Whistleblowers Law and the yet-to-be-passed Right to Information Bill. From our private offices, roadside, government offices and so forth, whenever we have suspicions of corruption, hopefully with the protection of the law, let's waste no time in reporting to the state law enforcement agencies, NGOs, anti-graft organisations such as the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII) and Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAG) and chiefs and opinion leaders in our communities. These institutions are there for our feedback to improve our lot. Let us get them work to do so they don't idle at our expense. Many more of us can be the next Martin Amidu (aka Citizen Vigilante) and Anas Aremeyaw Anas who respectively uncovered and pursued corruption in the infamous Alfred Woyome and Judicial corruption cases.

* Take direct and strong interest in governance and issues of corruption

Democracy, unlike its alternatives, offers citizens vast opportunities to directly participate in governance issues. Even though we participate in governance through elected representatives, we will not be hindered in our intentions to directly engage these people and questioning them on their stewardship if we make the effort. It is not beneficial if we continue to limit our opportunities to elections as the only means to express our disapproval of our leaders' abysmal delivery. If we do this as frequently as doable, leadership will watch over their shoulders while they serve us. They will no longer take decisions that serve their parochial interests while we bear the brunt.

* Manage our expectations of public officers and benefactors

Many acts of corruption are fuelled by unrealistic expectations by the ruled on their rulers. In their quest to satisfy their dependents and therefore keep their juicy posts, leaders go all lengths to stay in their good books.
They bend the rules to accommodate expectations. For example, MPs who are pestered to pay school fees for children of their relatives and the needy in their constituency will most likely fall for grafts since their legitimate earnings cannot support them. Such an abhorrent behaviour will affect society in general as bills without merit introduced by both the executive government and private persons, will be passed without the interest of the citizens placed first.

* Elect leaders with proven anti-graft record

Citizens should not expect corrupt elected officials to transform into angels overnight when they are given public offices to run. Anybody who has a history of corruption, even in their small corner, will exploit bigger opportunities in higher offices. This becomes easier because they would have mastered the art already and be more able to exploit, or create if there exists none, the systems.

* Question sources of overnight success or wealth:

Our society has degenerated into a wealth-worshipping one with little care for the source of wealth. The people who live lavishly are those whose opinions hold sway in our communities; the voices of the have-nots have been dwarfed. Unsurprisingly, this condemnable behaviour has found its way into our religious communities — the so-called moral society — where one becomes an elder, deacon/deaconess, chairperson of fundraising committees, etc. only because one is a moneybag. And since most human beings by nature want recognition and acknowledgement, they use unapproved means to access public power and funds in order to establish their relevance.
However, if we elect leaders and use legitimate and legal means to question their acquisitions that are not supported by their earnings, we will invariably make marked strides in ameliorating the canker. In Italy of all countries, for example, one must be earning six figures to justifiably drive sleek cars. This is ensured by randomly inviting such persons to support their high standards of living through their tax returns.

I must admit that it will not take overnight to ameliorate or uproot corruption if citizens do the aforementioned to complement government's effort. That notwithstanding, with a modest beginning, focus and consistency, we can get to the Promised Land. "Little drops of water makes a mighty ocean," the sages say.

The fight against corruption is not an easy one. However, it can be won with concerted efforts. All it takes is dedication, love for self and neighbor and nation.

By: Stephen Agbai