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Opinions of Sunday, 8 June 2008

Columnist: Ghanaian Chronicle

Zero Tolerance for Corruption Under Critical Review

Zero tolerance for corruption under critical review. The hottest place in hell shall be reserved for those who in the times of moral crisis maintained their neutrality.

- Alighieri Dante After President John Agyekum Kufuor has left office, if there is any particular expression or speech which Ghanaians shall remember him for will be 'there shall be zero tolerance for corruption'. The NPP administration had the best hope of purging the nation- public and private life from the principalities of corruption when it was inaugurated in January 2001.

In the early days of the regime, people who were found to be corrupt including Mallam Yussif Issa faced the full rigours of the law. Other former Ministers in the previous NDC government who were charged with corruption also faced the same fate.

Former Finance Minister Kwame Peprah, his deputy Victor Selormey, Ibrahim Adams and Dan Abodapki have all been prosecuted and jailed for 'Wilfully causing financial loss to the state.'

There are some pundits who strongly believe that zero tolerance for corruption or the Kufuor's anti-corruption crusade lacks the forward thrust in dealing with the alleged cases of corruption within his government. Rather, the battle seems to be selective, towards only NDC functionaries.

I think that their view has strongly been influenced by what is pertaining now and of course they are not wrong in their assertion that the sword of anti corruption held in the right hand of the President can only cut one side but not the other.

Corruption is still endemic in the country. The zero tolerance for corruption steam could not be sustained by the president. Corruption has not gone down in the country because what was pertaining before the NPP came to power still exists. It has soaked the fabric of the Ghanaian society. At every level of society one confronts corruption in many forms.

In Ghana, one has to pay his or her way through if one wants something done, or else you face a long delay or having to be denied of whatever one deserves. Corruption has gone deep down in the soul of the nation. If the soul of the country is to perish, any autopsy report will mention corruption.

Ghanaians have a high tolerance rate for corruption. Even now the problem is not with the corruption but the level with which it is tolerated by the people. We see no evil with it. Surprisingly, those who do not want to stoop down to the evils of corruption are rather labelled as misfits.

In the public service it is still there. Of course the President is not God to come and melt away the evils of corruption in the country. However, one expects the President to come with the appropriate legislation backed with sustained political will in fighting the menace of corruption in the country.

May be, I can hold brief for the President for enacting the Public Procurement Act, Internal Audit Agency Act and the Financial Administration Act. Yet, in the midst of these laws, the administration lacks the willingness to prosecute its own functionaries. The best that the President can do is to ask you to resign from office.

Last year for the first time, the parliamentary committee on public account met in the public. The public were terrified by the extent of corruption and administrative malpractices which had littered public offices. People who were supposed to keep public finance in trust for the people could not boost of clean hands.

Whilst the public were expecting the Attorney General and the police to further investigate such cases of corruption, with strong evidence available be prosecuted, no one has since been prosecuted. This means that in this country one can take public funds for his private use but will go free.

It is therefore not surprising why corruption has gained its root in the public offices in the country. In this part of the world, people see public life as the least available means to acquire private wealth.

Assets declaration which is mandated by the constitution that public officers declare their assets to the auditor general is not vigorously enforced in the country. When this happens one can imagine the consequences.

PRESIDENTIAL PARDON OF CORRUPT OFFICERS

Almost all the NDC functionaries who were indicted by competent courts of jurisdiction 'for willfully causing financial loss to the state' could not serve their full jail terms. Their sentences were truncated by the President under a Presidential pardon.

There is nothing wrong with the President pardoning prisoners serving jail terms. However, if the amnesty or the pardon seeks to free all those who have been convicted for acts of corruption then there is a problem.

Just last weekend, a presidential pardon was extended to Dan Abodapki who was serving a jail term. Though this pardon has been hailed by both political divide in the country as a good gesture, but I think it is a stab in the back of the very ideas which the President believes in.

Now if every politician who falls foul of the law of wilfully causing financial loss to the state will always merit Presidential pardon, then it will send negative signals to the would-be public officers. Perhaps, one can decide to embezzle public funds deliberately. He or she knows that he can face the inevitable law of 'wilfully causing financial loss' to the state. He or she knows that if imprisoned, there will be a Presidential pardon later.

The question is why is it that the President always gives amnesty to such people? Is it because they are politicians and they speak the same language? Or are we trying to say that the laws in Ghana are like cobwebs which can only hold insects but not other big animals?

CONCLUSION

With less than eight months for the President to leave office he needs to recapture the zeal of the zero tolerance for corruption policy, so that when he has left office future

Historians will say that the President was able to match creeds with deeds. I believe Martin Luther King Jnr. when he said that 'there is an invincible book of life which faithfully records our vigilance and neglect'. Mr. President, the ball is in your court.

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