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Opinions of Thursday, 23 June 2011

Columnist: Appeadu, Charles E.

Please, Mr. President, Punish Corruption!

I am echoing what I have posted here before and what many Ghanaians are crying aloud for: Please Mr. President, demonstrate to Ghanaians that you are serious about combating this menace in our society. Please punish corruption! Corruption is a devil plaguing our nation and dampening our efforts at development. If we are to speed up our efforts at significantly improving the standard of living of our people, we need to create a more orderly society. Let us not downplay the negative effects corruption has on our national development. Yes, we will never be able to completely eliminate corruption from our society but we should do all we can to reduce it to insignificant levels in our society and the only way we can achieve that is by meting out severe punishment to those caught engaging in this major drawback to our efforts. Nobody should be fooled – corruption is a great danger to our development. It results in an inefficient allocation of resources; it destroys motivation and innovation and it makes a mockery of hard work. Just think about it. If an individual can steal an amount of money equivalent to what he would have saved from income from hard work over two life times, by dipping his hands into the national coffers (through getting cuts in awarding contracts, misappropriating money allocated to projects etc.), without any fear of severe punishment, there is very little incentive for that individual to work hard. In fact, by not punishing corruption, we make it difficult for our citizens to live lives of integrity. Even God disciplines His children to keep them from straying permanently from the path of righteousness, out of love for them. Severe punishment applied consistently and credibly across ethnic and political divides, serves as the greatest deterrent to wrong doing. Why don’t we see corruption as the evil that it is and do all we can to stem it? Is it because we do not see ourselves as possessing the moral authority to exact punishment on wrongdoers?
Corruption has become so endemic in our society that many Ghanaians consider it a normal attendant to a high position in society. How can it be that some people can work for twenty years without possessing the ability to put up a house but in two years that they get appointed to a political position, they all of a sudden put up mansions? And there is no investigation into how those people came by the money needed to put up those houses? To make matters worse, the corrupt individual can have the boldness to tell Ghanaians that he would be considered useless if he were unable to put up those mansions after working for so many years! What a nation?
We (Ghanaians) are quick to make reference to the fact that we were the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence and that we led the way for the other African countries to follow suit. We cannot continue to enjoy the benefits of the first born status without bearing the responsibilities that status requires of us. Could it be that one important reason why Black Africa is poor is that its first born child has not led the way in socio-economic development? If we create a more orderly society in which by and large the population adheres to the laws of the land; if we create a society of well educated scientists and engineers and entrepreneurs who will create goods and services for both local consumption and export; if we produce political leaders (of integrity) who will inspire our citizens to advance in all aspects of life; if we improve our per capita GDP to the level of those who were supposed to be our peers (about $10,000 - $15,000 per year), then we would have fulfilled our role as the first born of Sub-Saharan Africa!

Think about the numerous advantages we will enjoy as a nation and the impact we will have on the rest of Africa if we develop a more orderly society where people pay for goods and services and get those goods and services delivered to them promptly and efficiently, and where corruption has been reduced to an insignificant level. Ghana would be propelled into a level of development that we haven’t even dreamed of yet. Nations that wish to do business with other Africa countries will establish their African corporate head offices in Ghana and we will attract significant foreign direct investments. Ghana will soon be a major industrial economy. We will be the envy of the rest of Africa. Soon, citizens of other African countries will demand accountability, competence and integrity from their leaders. This is how a first born should behave! Please, President Dr. Atta Mills, fight corruption! Treat it with all the seriousness it deserves. It is a cancer that impedes our progress. There are many processes that can be improved upon but those in position to effect the necessary changes often fail to do so because it will take away their ability to steal. They thrive in the midst of chaos and inefficiencies in the system.
Whenever I lament about the level of corruption in Ghana, I hear the argument that it is because salary levels are low. I agree that the salary levels are low but how does corruption solve that? How does corruption increase the national income? Corruption does not create wealth. It only stifles progress. If we discourage corruption by CREDIBLY threatening punishment and actually punishing perpetrators, then we can gradually increase our national income and increase the salary level. There is no short cut to national development. I also hear from many people that the Ghanaian citizens deserve the leaders they get because they themselves are corrupt. I don’t buy into these arguments – we are letting the leaders off the hook! Leaders are in position to set good examples, motivate the citizenry to do the right things and enforce the laws. If a citizen offers to bribe a CEPS official, for example, it is usually because without the bribe, the official will not do what he is paid to do to clear the briber’s goods. Of course, some citizens might want to bribe the official to get reduced duty but if they know that the official will refuse the bribe and actually report them (those trying to bribe their way) to be punished, the citizens will learn quickly that bribing is not an option! If the police officer stops a US citizen for a traffic offense, the citizen might try to bribe the police officer with $50 to avoid the $200 fine and appearance in court if he did not fear that he would be hit with a much greater fine for trying to bribe a public official. Credible threat of punishment is the key! So, Mr. President, please punish corruption!

Dr. Charles E. Appeadu