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Opinions of Saturday, 20 December 2014

Columnist: Asamoah, Amofah A.

Politics In Ghana–Is Corruption A Priority? Part I

In recent months there has been a growing dissatisfaction among many Ghanaians about the economic hardships in the country. All indicators point to the fact that things are not all that right about the way our leaders,-Executive, Legislative, and the judiciary are running the country. I will include the Regional Ministers, Mayors, District Chief Executives, and our respected opinion leaders-the Traditional Rulers/Chiefs. There are several causes to the economic hardship in Ghana but I will mention corruption as one of the major hindrances to our socio-economic development. Undoubtedly corruption has become a form of cancer or canker that has plagued our political system for years and if this terrible disease is not cured it will ultimately destroy the very fabric of our society.
In an exclusive interview with Citi News which also appeared in Ghana Web, Justice V.C.R.A.C. Crabbe said the following, ”I admit there is corruption in the judiciary, but it is not peculiar to the bench alone. There is corruption in parliament, the executive and in our society.” He stated. (See Ghana Web General News, 12 March, 2013).
People are aware of corruption in the system but how to confront and address it is the problem. Corruption is like a hot potato people are afraid to touch in Ghanaian society. Occasionally an issue of corruption may surface in Ghanaian politics but it soon fades into oblivion. It looks as if the Institutions put in place to address the endemic corruption in our society are paralyzed. We may allude to the present situation in Ghana with what is mentioned in the Bible in Judges 21:25 –“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Ghanaians are not dumb. The agitations, street protests, strikes, and numerous articles that appear in the tabloids and Ghana web daily, as well as the many discussions streaming the air waves about economic hardships the ordinary Ghanaian is facing, while there is blatant corruption in the government are signals to our political leaders that something is wrong. This is indicative that many Ghanaians are not happy about the direction the country is heading.
The time has come for our leaders to know that the world has become a global village. The days of oppressing people and suppressing of information are over. The corruption that goes on in the arms of government and the civil service cannot be covered anymore. To think that if you become a leader or politician you can manage the affairs of the country anyhow, abuse your office, manipulate the system, deplete the country’s coffers, use, and misuse, tax payer money and get away with it is a lie.
In this post-modern world, whilst other governments are focusing on nation building, restructuring their economy, creating jobs, concentrating on affordable healthcare, researching for renewable energy, stressing education with emphasis in math, science and technology, our politicians are embracing corruption as a priority on the national development agenda instead of responsible and accountable leadership. This is a shame. It is absolutely undeniable that our country has been ruined and raped for so long by unscrupulous and unpatriotic leaders and politicians. That attitude is unacceptable and must change!
Let me quickly mention some of the areas that need attention before I offer suggestions if we seriously want to deal with corruption in the various government institutions.
1. INCREASE IN NATIONAL DEBT:
It is rather unfortunate that the national debt has soared from $8 billion to $16 billion in four years. This according to experts is the highest in the Ghanaian political history. Yet the previous and present administrations cannot pinpoint what this huge sum of money was used for. This is not to mention the recent $4 billion loan contracted from China. We are yet to find out what that money will be used for. Some of these monies cannot be accounted for because of overspending. What we want to portray to Ghanaians is that the government in power can dip deep into the national coffers, engage in a spending spree without using the money for any meaningful development but will not be held accountable. No wonder the District Chief Executives do not use the Common Fund appropriated to the districts for any development. The issue is that everyone is doing it from top to bottom so who will enforce the law against corruption? What legacy are we leaving our children and grandchildren? Remember, we reap what we have sown. If we sow corruption we will reap corruption. However, if we embrace the spirit of nation building and accountability we will be mindful to set our priorities in the right direction as to how we spend tax payer money.

2. THE ISSUE ABOUT CAMPAIGN FUNDS:
Campaign funding is an issue which is perpetrating the evil of corruption in Ghana. If there is a law guiding campaign funding in Ghana we are yet to find out and see how it is enforced. Where do the various political parties and politicians get several millions and billions of cedis to fund their campaigns? How are they able to buy people’s votes and influence the media? If Parliament does not pass a bill governing campaign funds there will always be shortage of funds, budget cuts, higher taxes, misappropriation and diversion of state funds to fund campaigns especially on the part of the government in power. Politicians and Political parties not in power may also contract huge loans for their campaigns only to pay back such loans when they are in power with part of state funds earmarked for development, kickbacks, and shady contracts promised to campaign financiers.

I will encourage our MP’s to consider drafting a bill and passing a Parliamentary law on campaign funds. The bill should include the following: 1. Politicians and Political parties should declare how they raise monies for their campaigns. 2. How much monies come into their campaign coffers. 3. Names of persons and businesses contributing monies to each campaign. 4. And how the monies are spent. This will ensure proper accountability, minimize corruption and encourage transparency in awarding contracts when a party is in power.




3. JUDGMENT DEBTS:
Another area that needs serious attention is the numerous judgment debts paid to contractors because of breach of contracts by successive governments. Could it be that some of these judgment debts are deliberate defaults on the part of the government in power to cause financial loss to the state thereby gaining or benefiting from the huge amount in question? Why should you award a contract and default it knowing that it will cause massive financial loss to the state? This is a breeding area for spectacular corruption in our political system. The issue of judgment debt is milking the nation’s coffers badly and needs to be investigated. The laws governing judgment debts must be reviewed.

4. AN INDEPENDENT JUDICIAL SYSTEM AND A STRONG LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY:
Ghana needs a strong independent judicial system. We need judges who have set their priorities in the right direction and will not compromise their principles for convenience. They should be Judges who will not accept any favors from people or the government in power that appointed them into office. Occasionally an issue of corruption may surface in the government or in the political arena but it may not get anywhere. The politicians mention it but they know it will slowly fade away. The law enforcement agency may be reluctant to take the case and prosecute it because they know key people in the government may be connected to the case. They may raise issues like a lack of evidence, insufficient evidence, or no key witnesses. And if they decide to prosecute the case, the judiciary will drag the wheels slowly and eventually the prosecution may lose the case.
At the time of writing this article the 2012 election is being challenged at the Supreme Court for alleged fraud. Ghanaians are anxiously waiting for the outcome of this landmark case in the nation’s history. This is a crucial test for the justices to vindicate themselves from the negative perception of the bench, so that the general public may have confidence in the Ghanaian judicial system. In any country where the various institutions empowered to check wrongdoing, prosecute, and administer justice are weak corruption, lawlessness, bullying, survival of the fitters, and ultimately chaos prevail. We must try as much as possible to avoid this in Ghana.

One cannot deny the fact that there is corruption in the government and the civil service in Ghana. It is gaining hold of every sphere of our society from the national ports, police force, various ministries like the educational sector, local government, sports, health, etcetera, to the extent that a person looking for a job cannot gain employment with just an application and a resume. The government needs to set its priorities on course to address this issue seriously before it engulfs our young democracy and hinder our socio-economic development. Here are a few suggestions that can help deal with or minimize corruption that has plagued our nation for years.
1. Our politicians and civil servants must understand the ethics of their job and embrace zero tolerance to corruption. Especially our law enforcement agency; the police force, should be educated to embrace the ethics of their office in order to avoid intentional desire to collect bribes. The image of our police force in regard to bribery and corruption is poor. If the agency entrusted to enforce the law in society is intentionally breaking the law, what will be the perception of the general public about respecting the laws of the state? On the other hand if they stop accepting bribes and they begin to prosecute those who pay bribes and those who accept such offers, people will choose to do the right thing and be afraid to engage in bribery and corruption for fear of being apprehended and prosecuted. The law is clear it only needs to be respected and enforced.
There should be mandatory periodic in-service training offered to all government and civil servant employees to remind them of their job ethics. The job ethics in Ghana is poor! Workers should be educated to understand the concept of showing respect to the law and the people they serve because without the people the workers have no job!
2. The whistle blower law in Ghana must be enforced. The public must be educated on their rights and protection to uncover any acts of fraud.
3. The Ghana Anti-Corruption Coalition should be empowered to check corruption in the government and the civil service. Those appointed to serve in this capacity should be qualified, committed, and patriotic Ghanaians of integrity. Any leader or person found culpable should face the law.
4. An oversight committee should be vigilant purposely in our national ports to check spectacular corruption that go on in this department. This will save the nation billions of cedis lost through corruption.
5. The law requiring our political leaders to declare their assets upon assumption of their office should be enforced. The Executive must set an example, followed by the Legislative, and the Judiciary. This should be extended to include the Regional ministers, Mayors, and District chief executives. This exercise is to send a signal to all Ghanaians that politicians are chosen to serve and not chosen to use their office to engage in corrupt practices.
6. The judicial system must be above reproach. Since the office of the judiciary champion probity and accountability, any failure on their part will result in a loss of confidence and rejection of the office.
In conclusion, we need to set our priorities straight on nation building and eschew the evil of corruption. We should also get rid of the mentality that one of the easiest ways to get rich in Ghana is to become a politician. The same attitude has also permeated the civil service and the various government institutions for so long. Rather when you assume responsibility in government it means you are serving the interest of the nation and for that matter the people who gave you the mandate to serve. Any selfish interest to manipulate the system, and abuse your office for personal gain is wrong.

The change must start from our leaders, politicians, and the rest of society. We must develop a strong moral character and the right attitude to nation building. The willingness to accept what is right and to do the right thing is what we are talking about here. We need leaders and politicians with a mindset that believes in responsible and accountable leadership. A mindset that can focus on doing the right thing knowing that we are accountable not only to the people of Ghana but to God! What Ghana needs today is dedicated and selfless leaders who are committed to set their priorities in the right direction to use the resources of the country to better the lives of its citizens. This is the attitude that can build Ghana for our children and grandchildren. God bless our leaders and God bless the people and our homeland Ghana.

Dr. Amofah A. Asamoah, New Jersey.