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Opinions of Saturday, 10 October 2009

Columnist: Acheampong, Steve Y.

Where Are Our Men of Integrity?

Steve Y. Acheampong, Ph.D.

“Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching” this quote by U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma summarizes who a man of integrity is. It is not the type of man who says one thing in public and does another thing in private because he is by himself (I use Men here to represent both men and women). Many of us fail this simple definition of “men of integrity” because our actions in private are mostly different from our words in public. It is clear that religion (Christianity and Moslem alike) has failed us in our search for integrity. Bribe taking appears to transcend religion and tribe. Politicians are given the high chairs and sit close to the pastors and imams whenever they attend service but it appears everything they hear gets out the other ear once they step out of the building.

We boast of our educational system as one of the best in Africa but when it comes to using the acquired education to rule and manage our affairs, we are usually found wanting. There have been a lot of articles dealing with how corruption has permeated the fabric of our society. I do not intend to give the genesis of or the panacea to corruption but would like to just contribute to the debate.

Our educational system which is rooted in a strong liberal arts tradition (University of Ghana, Legon) and technological development (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology), barely prepares students to be flexible in thought, open in attitude, and confident in themselves. The end result is that we have products (myself included) who lack a passion for life-long learning and a dedication to ethical leadership and civic responsibility. When we are in college, we take the moral high ground and see all the wrongs and the corruption in the society but when we graduate from the university, the line between our penchant to get rich and corruption becomes blur.

As a first year student at the KNUST in June 1979, I was among the students who cheered on the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) led by Flight Lt. J. J. Rawlings when it overthrew the then Supreme Military Council II (SMC II) headed by General F. W. Akuffo. At that time we, the students could see all the things that we believe were wrong in the society and we saw the military officers and the elite in the society as those to be blamed for all the ills of the society. Thus we did not find anything wrong when eight military officers including three former heads of state were executed by firing squad at the Teshie Military Range on June 16, 1979. Most students believed that Flt. Lt. Rawlings could lead us to eliminate corruption from the Ghanaian society once and for all. The belief was so strong that after handing over to Dr. Hilla Limann in September 1979 and overthrowing him in December 1981, most of the student leadership including people whose blood relations were executed by the AFRC joined the cabinet of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC).

Thirty years after the launching of the AFRC, what strides have we made as a nation in curbing corruption in Ghana? At the moment, most of our bureaucrats in charge of the ministries, departments, and agencies, and most of our politicians (members of parliament and ministers) were among the university students who saw all the perceived wrongs in the society during the 1970s and early 1980s, however, the level of corruption has not changed if it is not worse now. Our leaders have not been sincere to match their rhetorics with their actions, and we Ghanaians are in general either hypocrites or cowards. We do not question the source of richness either because we are afraid or we want to find a way to benefit from that richness. Since independence, every successive government has accused the previous government of being corrupt (of course except from PNDC to NDC in 1992) but while in power these governments fail to seriously investigate corruption cases among their ministers and functionaries. Even the AFRC is accused of mismanaging the AFRC account Number 48 which was supposed to contain most of the confiscated monetary assets. In the instances when investigations are conducted, the culprits are exonerated with all kinds of “White Papers” signed by the presidents or heads of state.

Currently everybody is talking about how corrupt the immediate past administration of the country was. We heard the same accusations when there was a change in government in 2001. We have also heard of some corrupt practices within the current administration, and we are going to hear of how corrupt they were after they leave the scene. Thus I find the presumption of moral superiority exhibited by some of the politicians in both the majority and minority parties in the country as very insincere. Politicians are the same and we the masses have allowed ourselves to be used because we see everything as NPP and NDC or tribal. Most people (irrespective of education) have entrenched positions and try to defend the indefensible if the person involved is in their party or is in their tribe. Objectivity is gone to the dogs but it is about time that we started to call it as it is irrespective of party or tribal affiliation and behave in a manner that will bring real change to the country.

Recent revelations by the British Serious Fraud Office on the Mabey and Johnson’s bribery scandal involving some of the ministers and functionaries of the previous NDC regime under former President J. J. Rawlings makes me question where we are going as a country and the rationale behind the killings of 1979 under the AFRC. It is good that Former President Rawlings has called for investigation of the alleged corruption which occurred under his watch, I believe it would have been appropriate for him to also apologize to Ghanaians for allowing such a thing to happen while he was in charge. It is not enough for him to now put everything on President Mills as the incumbent president to deal with the mess that was created under his watch (though President Mill also shares the blame as his vice at that time). Now it is the NDC ministers and functionaries, tomorrow it will be the NPP ministers and functionaries. It will be very worthwhile if we can get very objective and sincere people in Ghana (if there are any left) irrespective of tribal or political affiliation to investigate allegations of corruption in the previous two civilian administrations under Presidents Rawlings and Kufour. I believed the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) and the Serious Fraud Office SO) could perform such functions but they appear to be politicized by both parties. Normally, I believe the heads of such institutions should be political appointees but the general staff should be career investigators but this does not appear to be the situation. We should not sit down to expect the west or donor countries to do our work for us. They will do it if only it is in their interest. Civil society should demand that our politicians adhere to the constitutional requirements of publicly declaring their assets on assumption of office and also on leaving office. Men of integrity will not find any problems undertaking this simple task before assuming office and after leaving office. If our former presidents and MPs had taken the lead in doing this in a transparent way, it would have strengthened the principles of probity and accountability that we all hope for.

We as a nation have lost our civic responsibility, and volunteerism appears to be out of our language so we always want to get some kind of payment for everything we do even if that is what we are legally being paid to do. It is a yeoman’s task but we should emphasize civics and ethics courses in our college curricula to instill civic responsibility, professional ethics and ethical leadership in our youth. Hopefully, we may be able to develop some men of integrity in the country.

Steve Y. Acheampong, Ph.D. (