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Opinions of Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Columnist: Amenyo, Kofi

Punish all the bribe takers … and the bribe givers too!

This article will attempt to examine our own complicity in the crimes of the fallen justices. It will argue that it is we, Ghanaians, who have provided the enabling environment for the justices to be corrupt. We made it possible for them to do what they have done to us!

Often we forget that the fallen justices are part of the Ghanaian society and reflect Ghanaian characteristics. In their greed and stupidity, they were exhibiting typically Ghanaian behaviour. In a way, their shame should be our shame too. The same society that made them, made us all. The Tiger Team may have been playing make belief for a purpose but they behaved exactly like Ghanaians. Their acting was very true to type – the Ghanaian type! The wide variety of persons the Tiger Team exposed represents a veritable cross-section of the Ghanaian society. Many of us are only interested in pointing accusing fingers at other people. We are quick to mark our distance from the bad guys and ally ourselves with the good ones. We never see ourselves as part of the problem.

The fact is that our society is essentially a bribe giving and a bribe taking one. It has been so since time immemorial. Many people in a position to take bribes do so. That is worrying enough. Even more worrying is the fact that a greater number of us are willing to give it to them. Indeed, we even beg them to accept our bribes and perform services for us. Ghanaians will bribe their way through everything. We would even bribe God if He gave us the slightest chance to do so. Some Ghanaians who make contributions at church regard these as bribes to God to let them off the hook for their sins. And the pastors encourage them in this belief. They attend church on Sundays but see nothing wrong with getting and giving bribes at work the following day. Our Muslims give and take bribes all the time even though their Holy Book proscribes the payment of interest on loans. The “Malams” in our midst are the most generous dispensers of bribes! We have internalised bribe giving as part of our culture and we seem to thrive on it.

Those of us who have lived long in Europe and the Americas and have acquired some different habits still go to Ghana on holidays and are willing to pay bribes to petty and high ranking officials. We have no qualms about doing things we would never dream of doing in our countries of abode. When we try to assert our rights and hear our Ghanaian family members or friends say: “Oh blaa, saa ne ete wo Ghana oo…” or “Mega tsor ablotsi nya va Ghana o lo…”, we back off and acquiesce in the perpetration of an illegality. We want that new biometric passport so urgently that we are willing to bribe someone to expedite action on it. The immigration officers at the airports we arrive at in Europe never ask us what we have brought them from Ghana but we are ready to give something to their counterparts at Kotoka who ask us kindly. In some of their operations the Tiger Team members pretended they were Ghanaians resident abroad who got the funds for the deal from the cars they brought home to sell.

If you have offered anybody a bribe in Ghana, then you are also part of the problem. If you claim you have never given a bribe in Ghana, then you are either a liar or an angel. But there are no angels in Ghana.

Talk to any official in a position from which he can get bribes and he will tell you that the temptation to do so is very strong. This temptation is not always from the financial needs of the receiver or the desire to live a lavish lifestyle. It is often from the pressure that the bribe giver puts on you. Many bribe givers are very persuasive and dangle mouth-watering gifts before their “victims”. They can easily corrupt the most righteous of men. Those people who fall prey to such temptations cannot be excused but the temptresses too should be brought to book.

Many of us believe that the bribe taker is guiltier than the bribe giver. But both parties have fallen foul of the law. Both parties received favours that were not their due. Arguing that you were forced to give the bribe should not absolve you of your guilt. You are also an accomplice! Anas himself seems to believe in this notion that the problem is the bribe taker but not the bribe giver. That is why his efforts are aimed at exposing bribe takers but not the givers.

It is an offence to influence a public official in the performance of his functions. If a citizen of the realm successfully offers a bribe to a judge to turn the course of justice the wrong way, then both the judge and the citizen have committed acts that contravene existing laws. Both parties were willing participants in the exchange. If the act is a fait accompli, (as in the case of setting murderers free) then both parties have successfully negotiated the setting free of people who are likely to kill again! Why should the burden of guilt (and of conscience) be put on only one of the parties?

A look at Anas video shows the bribe givers behaving like typical Ghanaians, (you and I). They were fawning all over the authority figures and pleading for their “humble offerings” to be “acceptable unto the lords” knowing very well they were participating in the subversion of justice. They were addressing these justices as “Your Lord, Your Lord” even though they were not in a court room. And yet many of us are expressing our disgust only at the bribe takers but not at the equally repulsive behaviour of the bribe givers! Buying justice is like knowingly buying stolen goods. It is repugnant!

It is in the sense that we Ghanaians are so willing to give bribes that we are all complicit in the crimes of the justices. It is not always that the bribe giver is a helpless victim and we should stop regarding him as such. The fight against corruption will never be won if we continue distinguishing the bribe taker from the giver and think it is only the former who is at fault.

The way to expiate our guilt will be to resolve never to give a bribe, no matter the circumstances. This will be a huge sacrifice on our parts but it is the least many of us can do in this fight. The problem is that, we are not willing to make this sacrifice. We do not want to forego the returns that we get on the bribes we give.

We must punish all those who take bribes and those who give the bribes. If we do not punish those who give bribes, the rich among us will always get their way. We should use fear as an equalizing factor so that not even the rich will want to buy justice even if there are willing sellers! With the widespread availability of cheap smartphones, we can all be Anases naming and shaming not only bribe takers but also those who give the bribes!

I want the fallen justices to get the punishment they deserve. But I will not be the first in line to cast stones at them because I have also given bribes in Ghana before even though I have never had the opportunity to get one.

Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham.
And Abraham returned to his place. But he could not find a single Ghanaian who had neither taken a bribe nor given one …

Kofi Amenyo (