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Opinions of Thursday, 12 February 2004

Columnist: Asante, Kojo Pumpuni

KOFI BABONE: The Proverbial Incorrigible Son

We have all heard the infamous story of Kofi Babone, the proverbial bad boy. A story which is meant to teach the young about what was in bad taste in the societies that they existed; a similar tool to the Ananse stories we heard when we were children. Kofi Babone was probably the most stubborn character one will ever come across. It was not that he was always involved in mischief, but he was simply incorrigible. It is important to dwell on this aspect of Kofi Babone?s character because it aptly describes the Ghanaian citizen?s attitude towards discipline and responsibility today. It is unbelievable sometimes the stuff that I read on Ghana web. It is certainly worrying for our quest to lift ourselves from our present undesirable predicament. You may ask what Ghanaians have done this time; I have to say that in this case, they have been doing this for over forty-six years and they don?t seem to take lessons from their past experiences, therefore acting like Kofi Babone. It is difficult to know where to begin to outline my grievances, but I will try.

In recent times our sports administrators have become the toast of incompetence. Did we really hire a fitness coach, to coach our national team? I would like to congratulate the newspapers for their excellent work in this particular case. The FA chairman actually responded to this revelation by promising to investigate these claims. The million dollar question is this; did the FA research the background of this coach before they hired him? In these days of technology finding information on such an important issue is easier to accomplish and essential, especially, since the prospective coach was going to be paid with scarce foreign currency, sponsored by Ghanaian tax payers. The tax payers have had to endure a string of signings, dismissals, and threats of legal action from one coach or another. This is a clear case of administrative incompetence and misuse of the tax payer?s money. Most administrators would have found their position untenable and resigned and if they did not resign should have been booted out. The hoo-ha is over and it appears despite serious questions raised we are going to retain this coach. This is not the first time we have exhibited serious shortcomings in our administrative process and yet we have learnt no lessons.

Nobody is taking responsibility. The transfer system in Ghana is ridiculous; almost half of the cases end up at disciplinary committees. Clubs spent scare resources throughout every season to fight these transfer issues. Another aspect of this phenomenon which completely threw me was the resignation of members of football?s disciplinary committee because a minister had dared to criticize them. In my assessment the minister had raised an important issue which needed a response. It was a very soft approach to public service if we cannot deal with criticism. Where are our administrators to stand out for what they believe will work and to take responsibility for their work? It is an unacceptable waste of resources, where there is little. Somebody has to wake up, how can universities dismiss students because they were admitted based on false information and not investigate how they got admission, in the first place. It is no secret what happens at registrar offices across the country?s universities; the registrar is responsible; if he can?t discipline his staff then the buck stops with him. If we are not brave enough to make people to appreciate the seriousness of their actions how are we practicing zero tolerance and all that.

Our attitude towards corruption is the most serious concern because it has a devastating impact on our attempts to develop. Ghanaians will sooner stone a man to death for stealing a tin of sardine from the market than smudge the suit of a government official who embezzles a couple of millions in dollars which could have improved the lives of many Ghanaians. When Preprah and his friends were sent to prison, there was an outcry that their punishment was too heavy, what kind of misplaced interpretation of values have we sunk into? We all talk about fighting corruption, whiles from the MTTU official to the secretary at the ministry is engaging in corrupt practices everyday. We have encouraged corruption in our daily lives, only to turn around and cry foul. If a serious examination is done on this issue a very important dimension is revealed which is central to the issue.

The question we first ask is this; who are our government officials? Well the answer is that, those who end up in government were not born into government; they are ordinary Ghanaians like us who we have been elected to govern. It follows therefore that their attitudes are that of Ghanaians. A minister cannot steal such large sums of money without the acquiescence or consent of other government officials. Every Ghanaian is involved in it, from getting a passport to obtaining a transcript from a former secondary school. It only exists because we allow, encourage it, sustain it, and it benefits us as well as them. Therefore we can?t eat our cake and have it. The distinction is that at the office of the secretary at the civil service there is not much to dip into, compared to that of the minister. We have lost our sense of discipline and responsibility. What will happen if the sentencing laws for bribery and corruption were drastically lengthened to deal with this canker, I bet that people will take it seriously. Our societies decides what is serious and what is not, at the moment it is more serious for a Ghanaian to steal a goat than for a government official to embezzle a million dollars. We will not arrest this problem if we do not change the attitudes of people by drastically imposing severe fines for corruption and bribery and ensuring that the law is followed to the letter.

The Government is doing well but the country needs more than just getting by with issues of such grave nature. Corruption, indiscipline and irresponsibility should be attacked with all necessary vigor. In Ghana, the government, leading with its executive has the apparatus to set the agenda and drive it. At all levels of Ghanaian society people must be made aware that if you are caught you will get the maximum. Applying classical sentencing theory, it must serve as deterrence, and yes people will be made scapegoats because you can?t catch everybody, but once you start catching some people others will think twice. If we are afraid, then we have no conviction in our desire to change and improve ourselves, we are preaching a fallacy and wasting resources needed for other things.

Our attitude as Ghanaians towards discipline and responsibility leaves much to be desired. Our societies in time past exhibited able and competent capacities, moreover people took responsibility for their actions and if they did not they were made to. Perhaps we have not adapted to our new surroundings. Our surroundings have certainly changed following our inheritance of an European nation-state; we have had to develop new skills for measuring such a construct. Our struggle is between our desire to hold on to the nation state construct in an increasingly global environment and an equal desire to hold on to our culture and values. Finding a balance is critical but it is not an excuse to stay in a limbo while trying to achieve this balance. Drastic steps are needed and a social program is due in the proportion of the early years after independence, to resurrect our passions for fairness, equality, prosperity, discipline and responsibility. Kofi Babone never amounted to anything, a lesson for all of us.


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