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Opinions of Friday, 11 February 2011

Columnist: Abdulai, Yakubu

Recipes For Grand Corruption In Ghana

Hardly a day passes without any media house carrying stories relating to corruption in Ghana. Some of them are high level corruption cases whilst others are simple petty corruption. Corruptions usually starts at a small scale level and gradually increased into a grand one. Those of us on the other side of the world who rely on the internet to keep in touch with Ghana get very worried with such stories. The stories are very worrying because corruption is taking root in Ghana and this is dangerous for our young democracy and the new oil find. Countries such as Kenya and Nigeria which allowed corruption to permeate deep into their economies are now grappling with grand corruption cases. This is why corruption must be discussed and dealt with dispassionately in Ghana.
The roots of these corruption cases comes from the pressure exerted on Public Office Holders (POHs) by people, the personal greed of the office holder to get rich fast and sometimes, the party’s demand to make financial contribution to the party’s coffers by POHs all leads to corruption in the country. This phenomenon which is raising its ugly heard now started several years ago but it was merely seen as the characteristics associated with holding a high public office.
Whether the POH is a District Chief Executive (DCE), Member of Parliament (MP), a Minister or any other person holding a high position in government, the public and relatives in particular expect the office holder to “do something” for them. A visit to the house or office of a DCE, MP or a Minister can tell it all. People form cues to see them; ostensibly to help them solve their personal problems such as wedding, naming ceremonies, funerals and many others. They expect to get financial support from the POH on any problem they face simply because “their party is in power”. When that is not forth coming, they show case the irresponsibility of the office holder to the public. The case of Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, the Deputy Minister of Information is an example. His step father walked to the office of Daily Guide to lodge a complaint about the irresponsibility of the deputy minister. He even had the courage to ask about the essence of the deputy minister’s presence in the “government if he ‘cannot help us to acquire even an auctioned car?” Did the President put Ablakwa in the ministry of information to help relatives acquire auction cars? But thank God he never submitted himself to their request. Those who cannot be like Ablakwa dip their hands into the public purse or use their positions to meet the pressure. If people force a POH to dissipate their resources, they will have no moral obligation to ask for accountability if the person fails to perform up to expectation.
The emergence of the “foot soldiers” phenomenon in recent times is worsening the situation. This group, usually the youth, agitate for DCEs and MPs to conjure jobs and solve their personal problems for them. Failure to do so results in serious demonstrations, mayhem and persistent calls for their removal from office. What happened at Wa East Constituency on Saturday 22nd January was a test case. Just because the DCE could not meet the aspirations of the “foot soldiers” in the area, there was mayhem at a meeting which was originally meant to patch up the differences in the party in that constituency. The DCE does not perform miracles. He cannot satisfy everybody or create jobs for all the unemployed “foot soldiers” in the district in an overnight. What he needs is the cooperation of all citizens to develop the district so that everybody would enjoy the benefits of development in the district.
The personal greed on the part of office holders is another factor that turns them into predators. Some people who get political appointment or “monopolistic” positions want to use their position to amass wealth within the shortest possible time. The “get rich quickly” syndrome has pushed a lot of people into politics or positions where they have total control to maraud national resource. This has become a worrisome issue to both CSOs and some politicians alike. Recently, carried a story about the MP for Lower Manya Krobo, Michael Teye Nyaunu who expressed fears that, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) might lose power in the 2012 election because, some executive members are busy “going round amassing some wealth for themselves…” to the neglect of the people who put them there. They are so much concern about themselves than the people they “beg to vote for them”. Apart from having the tendency to wreck the party, the situation can generate public upheavals which can lead to unstable economic situations.

The recent revelation by ace investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas on the practices of some Customs Exercise and Preventive Service (CEPS) officers and some security personnel at the Tema Harbour are some of the greedy issues of POHs. Such people did not seek for the position to serve Mother Ghana, but for predation of our resources. They come to office and within the shortest possible time, they drive cars and lives in mansions. Where did he get the money from? They siphon national revenues to enrich themselves living majority of Ghanaians poorer and poorer.
Political parties share the blame when they exert pressure on office holders to make financial contributions to the party’s coffers, especially the political appointees. This forces the office holders to indulge in any means possible to make money so as to fulfil that commitment. The 2009 Global Corruption Report indicates that, “In September 2007 Yendi district chief executive Alhaji Mohammed Habib Tijani claimed that contracts he had allegedly taken for himself were awarded and executed on behalf of the ruling party, using borrowed documents of private companies to generate funds for the party. Tijani alleged that some of the projects cost between C270 million (US$27,000) and C300 million (US$30,000)”. Perhaps, this is one way people in high positions use their influences to generate funds for their parties. The risk is that, when parties get funds through fraudulent means, they continue to buy votes from poor citizens, put unqualified people on responsible positions to continue their predation of national resources to enrich the party and themselves illegitimately.

It is important for the public to get adequate information about the roles and responsibilities of office holders and holding them accountable for their stewardship rather than asking for personal favours. Asking for personal favours puts pressure on them which leads to plundering state resources with impunity. The public should be very interested in the management of their DA Common Fund and other development projects in their areas for accountability purposes. That is why the Freedom of Information Bill needs to be passed now to give the public right to ask for information. If the public office holder is aware he will be asked to account for his/her stewardship in office, they will be afraid to plunge the public resources available to them. It is therefore important for both the government and the CSOs to embark on massive education on accountability as a tool to curbing corruption.

It is also important for the POHs to have the moral courage to say “NO” to such pressures even if it is causing them their jobs. Samuel Ablakwa has set the example by always saying “NO” to his parents’ pressure. That is a sense of patriotism and awareness of the consequences of corruption. All POHs should adopt it to lessen the pressure on them. Ablakwa has proved that, he does not only talk glibly on Radio and TV on corruption, but he also has the tenacity to refuse pressure from the public and for that matter, his close relations. The public should also desist from “giving POHs bad names in order to hang them” just because they are unable to satisfy their selfish personal request.

Ghana has the relevant laws to fight corruption. The Ghana Criminal Code, the Anti-Money Laundering Act 2008, the Public Procurement Act, the Financial Administration Act, Whistleblower Act 2006 and the Internal Audit Agency Act which is meant to promote public sector accountability and combat corruption are some of the laws Ghana has to fight corruption. Anti-Corruption agencies such as The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO), and The Office of Accountability (OA) were all established to fight corruption. What is needed is enforcement of the laws. It is also important to make public the assets declared by POHs for verification and the independent anti-corruption institutions should be resourced in terms of human, material and financial to enable them fight corruption effectively.

Finally, it is important for our leaders to commit themselves into fighting corruption and not just talking about it. What is needed now is “action rather than words”. And if no action is taken now, Ghana should brace itself for grand corruption cases when the oil revenue starts to flow.

Yakubu Abdulai
Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

This writer is a student of Tsinghua University in Beijing. He is currently pursuing a Masters degree in International Development.