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Opinions of Sunday, 12 October 2014

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Is Corruption a National Security Threat to Ghana?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK October 10, 2014

According to media reports, Ex-President Kufuor once claimed that corruption is as old as Adam and Eve and I totally agree with him. That is, corruption has been with society as long as society itself. Indeed, corruption began in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit (for those who believe in creation). In other words, there is no country or society on planet Earth that is totally free from the menace. In recent times corruption has again become biggest issue in Ghana and it appears the peak of the 1970s (‘kalabule’) is insignificant compared to today’s level of corruption. In fact, it may not be wrong to state that corporate Ghana is almost becoming synonymous with corruption. It’s the topic of the day across the media landscape, at churches and mosques, among professionals and non-professionals, politicians, the electorates, etc. It is equally, a practice that is engaged in by Ghanaians from the presidency to the ordinary person in the street. The level of corruption in contemporary Ghana is such that it is now a threat to the security and the very existence of the nation-state, Ghana. In this article, I will attempt to discuss the pervasiveness of this pandemic and make suggestions on how the fight against corruption could be effectively tackled.

According to Cruzon’s Dictionary of Law, corruption is generally an inducement by means of improper consideration to violate some duty. It is often for a favour or personal benefit (directly or indirectly). Corruption also involves conduct that is destructive to the very fabric of society (corruption of public morals). The definition is self-explanatory and would therefore not need any further elaboration except to add that, the description fits perfectly the Ghanaian situation. Almost every Ghanaian is a party to the corruption of public morals as the Ex-President said. Therefore, my analysis would be party political blind because and as said in previous articles corruption has no political colours, unless of course, when consideration is given to the hierarchical or pecking order, then the ruling elite are at the apex of it.

On the question of the pervasiveness of corruption in Ghana, I leave out no institution, organisation, group or individual starting from the Presidency. Ghana’s highest public office is corrupt not because I have seen people give brown envelopes with cedis, dollars, pound sterling or euros to President Mahama and his staff at the Presidency which they have accepted. No, that is not the sort of corruption at the presidency as I am unable to prove that if I am asked to provide evidence.

The first charge of corruption against President Mahama is what I refer to as corruption through appointments. The President has appointed people into positions that they do not have the requisite skills and experience but purely on the basis of political allegiance. For example, some of his ministers such as Victoria Hammah were appointed because they are members, supporters and sympathisers of NDC. Other heads of public bodies such as those involved in GYEEDA, SADA, YES and many others were appointed along the same line and the results are not in doubt.

The second corruption charge against President is his failure to declare his assets and liabilities as required under the 1992 Constitution. Up to date, one wonders why President Mahama has failed to declare his assets and liabilities since January 2009, when he became Vice-President. Such failure by the president does not send a good message and creates the impression that he is hiding something. In other words, the president’s action violates the duty to declare assets as an inducement to hide his wealth and to amass more beyond his means whilst in office. The same applies to all presidential staff and other appointees who have not declared their assets.

The third corruption charge against the Presidency and the Executive is the corrupt loans and other agreements they have contracted on behalf of corporate Ghana. Some of the terms and conditions are such that, one wonders how such agreements were approved by the cabinet and Parliament.

The Legislature’s corruption directly or indirectly, individually and collectively is no different from the Executive arm of government. Their failure to stop the President from appointing qualified people as ministers and into public offices is corruption by negligence. Individually, many have also failed to declare their assets and collectively, they failed in their duty to ensure that loans and agreements presented to them by the Executive were in the best interest of Ghana.

The Judiciary is no different, though a direct evidence of corruption against them is difficult to come by. However, it is common knowledge that litigants influence Judges to rule in their favour in corruption induced judgement. The Judgement Debt Commissioner recounted how even court clerks advised litigants to go through them if they have anything for a judge.

The picture is no different in the public and civil service. Public and civil servants who work in the ministries and public agencies such as Ghana Revenue Authority, CHRAJ, SADA, GYEEDA, etc are all corrupt to the core. The Attorney General’s Department is one of the most corrupt by deliberately colluding with others to loot the state through default judgement debt claims and payments (from revelations at the Judgement Debt Commission hearings). Other ministries and public institutions actively commit acts of corruption daily. To make in-exhaustive list short, there is no public organisation that is free from corruption (including the security agencies – police, prisons and the armed forces, etc) in Ghana.

The private sector is not free from corruption either, including foreign companies. For example, they abuse the benefit of tax holidays by intentionally declaring themselves insolvent at the end of the five or three year tax holiday only to set up the same company with a new name to continue benefit from another five-year tax holidays. They do so through bribery and with the connivance of their Ghanaian counterparts, public and civil servants. Some also device tax avoidance schemes or under-declare their operating profits to pay lower taxes.

There are very few, if any, Ghanaians, individuals and organisations that can claim not have paid bribe or corrupted a public or civil servant for a benefit. Public/civil servant is used as generic term to include anyone who provides a service of public nature. They therefore include those in the private sector as well. The list therefore runs from A to Z and with no exception. Even those of us in the Diaspora are part of the corruption in Ghana. Some of us under-declare the value of goods sent home for the purposes of paying less import duties. We further pay bribes to custom officials to further reduce the duties at the ports. From the recent waste and corruption from ongoing public commissions and the rots at CHRAJ, NSS, GYEEDA, SADA exposed by the media and many others unknown to the public, Ghana is losing hundreds of thousands or billions of dollars per day to corruption. Corruption has reached a stage that if effective and holistic action is not taken to reverse the trend, Ghana’s economy could collapse. This is against the background of huge borrowing by government internally and externally with health, education and other essential services starved of funds. A Daily Graphic report on October 10, 2014 said the La General Hospital in Accra has to carry pregnant women and patients onto the second floor because the lift has been out of order for twenty years due to lack of funds to repair it for 20,000 Euros, whilst the NSS waste Ghc 7.9 million per month through corruption. Where lie the nation’s priorities?

Corruption has reach unprecedented levels in Ghana and requires urgent and bold action to save the country from collapsing. Unless corruption is brought to a minimum level Ghana’s efforts at reaching a full-fledged middle-income status would be a mirage and only a dream. Even more oil and gas discovering will not make any difference if the resources are lost through corruption. For this reason, I make the following recommendations to government and the people of Ghana.

First, President Mahama and all his ministers should publicly declare their assets and liabilities. The register of assets and liabilities should be a public document accessible to all and can be challenged by the public on reasonable grounds. The same should apply to all members of the Legislature and if possible extended to all heads and senior public and civil servants. There should be a new body to monitor and inspect assets and liabilities declared by public officials. No public official should take office without declaring his or her assets and liabilities to the new body.

The Ghanaian public has a responsibility and major role to play in reducing corruption because in every corrupt act, there is the giver and receiver who is either a member of the public or a public official and vice versa. There is the urgent need for a fundamental cultural shift of Ghanaian attitudes towards corruption. That is, it is high time that Ghanaians said, “enough is enough with paying bribes to public officials”. I know this is easy said than done but it is doable.

To enable the public to carry its responsibility and play a leading role in the fight against corruption, mobile technology (phone) should be used by the public to monitor the work of public officials. That is, the public should be allowed to use mobile phones to record their official interactions with public officials. This would required the passing of legislation by Parliament to allow such use of mobile phones so that the necessary safeguards, including privacy are clearing spelt out in the legislation to avoid abuses and to address issues of national security since some public areas (ports and entry points) are national security areas. The phones must be used for only the purposes of public interest. If public officials are aware that they being recorded by the public in the performance of their duties, they would not demand bribes. Any incriminating evidence is given to the appropriate authorities, which should not be the police but a strong and effective anti-corruption body.

Third, it is abundantly clear that CHRAJ has been ineffective in fighting corruption. For the use of mobile technology to be effective in the fight against corruption, a new powerful and independent anti-corruption body should be established as a matter of urgency. It should have powers to order ministers to declare their assets and to appear before it as well as prosecuting powers.

Fourth, to avoid ineffective trials such as the ongoing Woyome, SADA and GYEEDA trails and for prosecutorial decisions to be devoid of political colours, the prosecution service must be decoupled from the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and given to a new independent prosecution body accountable only to Parliament (preferably to be headed by Martin Amidu or a competent and well accomplished prosecuting/defence Attorney).

Annual audit of all public institutions should be introduced and action taken on their reports and recommendations with urgency as opposed the current system where reports over two years old or more go to the Public Accounts Committee and nothing happens. The Public Accounts must order prosecutions and recovery of funds.

Last but certainly not the least, like the Biblical times when God punished Adam and Eve for the first ever act of corruption, any individual found to be involved in any form of corruption should be prosecuted and jailed if found guilty and all funds and materials benefits gained illegally fully recovered from them. Unless Ghana punishes corrupt officials and individuals to deter others, no amount of action to stop would be effective. So soon, we have all moved on from CHRAJ Boss to NSS and soon we will move onto another story without conclusion. Until every single act of corruption is exhaustively dealt with effectively, expeditiously and the outcome made public, most people will believe rightly or wrongly that corruption pays and would not deter others from perpetuating similar acts.

In conclusion corruption is causing diseases and deaths in hospitals, on roads and in homes; turning out poorly educated future leaders in our schools, causing millions of jobs and forcing many into poverty and want for lack of funds to address the various difficulties facing the nation. A nation with no conscience and morals is doomed.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK