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Opinions of Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Columnist: Francis Kokutse

Why we are not winning the war on corruption

It is that time of the year again and the word corruption has come back to occupy the media space. It will be discussed for a week or two and several views points will be made but by the end of the third week, something new will attract the media and corruption will be relegated to the back burner.

We will then wait till another release of the “Afro-Barometer” to discuss the issue again. So, the word corruption has become a regular thing to talk about and as to whether we are winning the war against it or not, no one cares. The truth is that we shall not win this way because of the nature of corruption, and need l add that as humans we are by nature greedy and so a few of us will always find ways of beating the system.

In my Anlo language, bribery or corruption has several words to describe it. One that l like is “Zanu” which literally means something taken or done under the cover of darkness. Perhaps, the reason for the use of this word is the fact that the deed is something that must not be seen by anyone and thus, it connotes an illegal act.

Therefore, the fight against “Zanu” must cover all aspects of our life if we are to defeat it. Unfortunately, we have somehow reduced its meaning to what an internet resource says: “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.”

But then, from this same source, we have the synonyms for corruption as including among other things, “dishonesty, dishonest dealings, unscrupulousness, deceit, deception, duplicity, double-dealing, fraud, fraudulence, misconduct, lawbreaking, crime, criminality, delinquency, wrongdoing, villainy, bribery and bribing.” This means that it is not only public officials whom we should be looking at when we want to understand corruption. Corruption goes deeper than a public official receiving money to do a favour.

The journalist who refuses to report on a particular organisation because of the favour he receives is corrupt. Unfortunately, we do not see it that way. The dee-jay that refuses to play a particular song on air because he has not been properly “settled” by the musician is corrupt. In the same way, the pastor who is finding it difficult to reprimand a church member because of the “blessings” he receives from that particular person is corrupt.

Because of the nature of corruption and the way it has permeated society, some scholars are of the view that, “it is unlikely that any reforms will ever eliminate it completely.” The argument is that “wherever men compete for valuable but limited commodities, whether they are licences to operate taxicabs, franchises to sell goods to the government, or freedom to operate a number game, there will be a temptation to secure these commodities through corrupt inducements if other efforts fail.”

One writer on the subject, Mark Jorgensen Farrales, has tried to look at the evolution of corruption and says, “the timeless nature of corruption is best illustrated with examples from the ancient world,” and cited the Indian text, The Arthashastra, which is approximately 2400 years old which states that Kautilya, one of the advisors to the emperor, Chandragupta Maurya, talks about the inevitability of corruption, and of the need to restrain it: “Imported goods shall be sold in as many places as possible… [and] local merchants who bring in foreign goods by caravan or by water routes shall enjoy exemption from taxes, so that they can make a profit. The King shall protect trade routes from harassment by courtiers, state officials, thieves and frontier guards… [and] frontier officers shall make good what is lost… Just as it is impossible not to taste honey or poison that one may find at the tip of one’s tongue, so it is impossible for a government servant not to eat up at least a bit of the King’s revenue… And there are about forty ways of embezzlement by the government servant…”

Farrales goes on to say that “corruption was enough of a problem that an investigatory institution, the Council of Areopagus, had as one of its duties the reporting of corrupt behaviour.” In addition, he stated that the timeless and seemingly ever-present nature of corruption is also illustrated by the case of China in 3rd century B.C., during which the Qin dynasty penal code detailed stiff punishments for corruption. In the 11th century, Chinese reformer, Wang An Shih, pointed out that corruption can arise, even under good institutions and laws, so long as civil servants were not properly chosen.

There is some truth in the way politicians, civil servants and public servants are chosen and the rise of corruption in Ghana. We must not hide the truth that most of our Members of Parliament used “various forms of influences” to get nominated to stand election in the first place. It is not a hidden secret that those who are appointed ministers also used “influences” to get nominated. In their vetting, if what was reported during the last vetting of the ministers, there were “influences” even though these were not proved, we cannot rule them out.

The politicians then use other ways to get people of their choice to positions within the public and civil service. All these are helping to fuel corruption. Those of us who should be watching to be able to name and shame have also compromised ourselves in various forms. We point fingers at the p0olice on duty at barriers but, the honest truth is that most of those who give have also received. Therefore, we have all become corrupt and so, it is difficult for us to say we are fighting this phenomenon. In fact, it is not possible giving the way our society has become materialistic.

Unfortunately for us, our society believes in gifts. Thus, some of the people who receive these “gifts” that might be termed corruption do not see it as such. For some, it is just part of what they are gathering to support their life-styles. On a recent Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) programme one panelist said, “If you don’t pay a judge well and expect him to live above reproach, then we are not being fair to that judge.” This is true of Ghana and we should not limit it to Judges alone.

Again, what is fuelling corruption is the fact that we all see young politicians who have no employment record but are able to live better after just a year of work in political office. Given this, we should not blame other members of society who take “something” to meet the standards that are imposed on them by their families and friends. We must also know that if we live in a country where no one questions the sources of wealth of people, we cannot fight corruption. What we will continue to do, if we do not look at the root causes of corruption, is to pay lip-service to its elimination—we shall continue to have “Afro Barometers” every year and nothing will be change.