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Opinions of Friday, 27 September 2019

Columnist: Amb. Alhaji A. Harruna Attah, MOV

Haruna Attah writes: One man’s cathedral, another man’s corruption

Architectural view of the proposed National Cathedral Architectural view of the proposed National Cathedral

Plea to Israel to help build Cathedral for the peace of Jerusalem

I have for a while now been bored with this corruption thing and decided not to write or talk about it any longer. Even when it was stoked up in a “major” speech to lawyers in Takoradi recently, it did not spike any interest in me, until I read two excellent pieces by Elizabeth Ohene (Maybe We Want them To Steal) and David Ampofo (Zero Tolerance For Corruption?) and of course lately, remarks by some of the representatives of Ghana’s “Development Partners”.

I understand one of them said the country should be looking at “Ghana Beyond Corruption” instead of “Ghana Beyond Aid”! But the most intriguing is the one quoted as expressing “shock at the level of corruption in Ghana, a nation dominated by Christians” and soon to get a national cathedral!

Some time back in 2014/15 or thereabouts, I took part in an international online survey/interview on corruption. We discussed all the familiar and expected angles with the criticisms and condemnation of the canker. In conclusion, I asked to be allowed to pose a question of my own to the interviewer.

Question: If you had a limited resource for one use only and had only two options to choose one from, which one of the following, exclusively, would you prioritise?

Fight Corruption
Promote innovation, creativity and productivity?
After a few seconds of hesitation, my interviewer said, the second option and our interview ended on that note…But I leave that for a future discourse.

Many people must have missed it but tucked at the bottom of the list of officials/offices sent to parliament by the new government in 2017 was a “National Cathedral Secretariat”. This was to bring to reality a private pledge made by Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to build a cathedral to his God, if he won the 2016 Elections. Time up for pledge redeeming. Have presidency, build cathedral! Having such a secretariat at the seat of government means that this private pledge has been sneaked into Ghana’s official government undertakings. This is a clear involvement, exploitation and compromising of our seat of governance in a purely private matter – a violation of our national space.

Described as a “priority of priorities”, a top firm of British architects had already been commissioned to design it. Since then, none of our main pressing needs as a poor and highly indebted nation has received any more attention than this abuse of mandate and office all rolled into one!

Just imagine an incoming American or European head of government coming up with this! They would not even dare! Even in the US, with its evangelising Christian hordes, they still insist on state and religion remaining separate. If it cannot pass muster there, why here? I can imagine the raised eyebrows and behind the scenes sarcastic sniggers in diplomatic circles: A cathedral? No wonder therefore, that a senior foreign Head of Mission has felt compelled to openly articulate his angst on why with so much religiosity, Ghana is still bedevilled by huge dumps of corruption garbage heaps.

Government buildings have since been razed down, state time and facilities have been used to service this private pledge with travel abroad on road shows ostensibly to raise funds. Cousin Ken Ofori Atta – he of the many Biblical quotes – was sent to go and plead with the Israeli Knesset, of all institutions, for money to help construct the cathedral. A Jewish State to help construct a Christocentric edifice? But cousin’s zealotry exposed one telling truth. The so called national cathedral is not even meant for Ghanaians.

Cousin is quoted in a press report as telling the Israelis that, “President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has initiated the building of a National Cathedral that takes its inspiration from the Tabernacle and is aimed at providing the infrastructure to focus the gaze of the Nation and Africa on the Almighty and therefore the peace of Jerusalem! Israel and the Nations of the JPBM (Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast Meeting) should join us to transform Ghana, this first independent African Nation and the first to host a Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast Meeting in Africa, to build the National Cathedral as a living monument to mobilize Africa to eternally look East and pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Really? Was that part of the electoral mandate? Is this what the hungry and impoverished Ghanaians of many different religions voted for?

The incubus of corruption invaded our nightmares shortly after independence in 1957 and has denied us sleep ever since. Many exorcisms have been tried leading to all those post-independence coups d’etat, culminating in the 1979 “sacrifice” of three former military heads of state and four service commanders. Nothing seems to have worked; no lessons learnt, if anything at all, the incubus of corruption has all but taken over our nightmares. It is all pervasive, from the sales person in a shop, who deliberately tries to deprive me of my lawful small change, to the civil servant who will demand “something” before doing the job he/she is being paid to do, to the senior public officer who would use his or her office to amass wealth, to, well, the politician whose whimsy finds expression in the imposition of a cathedral on a secular state…Not leaving out the so called business people who are neck deep in corrupting public officials and the media, with all the sanctimonious watchdog role, is not left out! I am not leaving out the churches…We are surrounded.

And so, now, corruption is on all tongues, with a few hapless souls being scapegoated when fundamentally questionable acts are being perpetrated in our name.

Corruption, is not only the unacceptable habit of dipping hands into the public purse unlawfully, but also involves self-aggrandising acts that do not serve the entire national interest and still cost the polity directly or indirectly in resources and funds. Why a Christocentric edifice when the Ghanaian Christian community is already awash in iconic denominational cathedrals, mega churches, Tabernacles and more? How many SHS facilities couldn’t the estimated US$100m build?

And then, an incomprehensible boast of “I am incorruptible” trumpeted from our rooftops, and now with, as things stand, a very empty boast, for one man’s national cathedral is another man’s corruption! An act of corruption is not only when you dip your hands directly into the kitty, but also when you oversee acts that rob the nation of any of its resources with the benefits going to you personally, even if it is in the form of a pious sounding cathedral project! With that, you would have splattered yourself with the mud of corruption.

They may, well, will succeed in bulldozing this cathedral thing into being but it will still remain one man’s ”pledge” to his God with hardly anything to do with the rest of us. It will stick out like the pitiful Houphoet-Boigny Basilica in the middle of La Cote d’Ivoire – another example of impunity, misapplication of resources and abuse of office in Africa, aka corruption.

But let us stop the corruption whingeing and make the promotion of innovation, creativity and productivity our main lingo – the way out will certainly lie in there – even as we keep a wary eye on corruption of all kinds…

The “I am incorruptible” approach has not and will not work. A handful of people may pay the price of selective persecution/prosecution here and there but it is only a nation fashioned on the principles of inclusivity, tapping into our combined creative juices to make us productive that will see a generation or two down the line shaking themselves free from the incubus of corruption.