COMBINATION OF STRONG LEGISLATION, ENFORCEMENT AND PUBLIC EDUCATION MAY HELP WITH PROBLEM OF BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION On April 22, 2003 Ghanaweb published a news item with the bold headline “Bribery to be Banned”. The news item stated that Parliament was studying a bill, which if passed into law will make it an offence to receive compensation or reward for official duties, to make false entries and collect gifts. The article did not provide any explanation why such a law is necessary. There are laws already existing which do exactly what the proposed bill is supposed to do. Sections 240 to 243 of the Criminal Code, 1960 (Act 29) make it unlawful to receive gifts in the conduct of public business and there is also the Corrupt Practices (Prevention) Act, 1964 (Act 230). There are also a number of provisions in other legislation that seek to ban the taking of bribes. I have not seen the Explanatory Memorandum which normally accompanies Bills so as to know the purpose and rationale for such a Bill. Having not examined the Explanatory Memorandum, I can only surmise that Parliament is taking the opportunity to remove from the statute books obsolete provisions in the criminal code, close loopholes in existing laws, improve upon the existing laws, rationalise the laws by removing any conflicting provisions and bring the law in line with current developments in Ghana and elsewhere. If that is the case then I would say it is a step in the right direction. I hope the legislators will take the opportunity to reflect on the complex nature of the problem and put in place appropriate mechanisms so as to ensure the successful application of the new legislation.
Bribery is a nexus of problems including issues of morality and social behaviour. In many respects this is a legal, moral and social issue. It must be noted that morality cannot be legislated nor can legislation directly and quickly change social behaviour. We need to look at teaching it, encouraging it, whilst always bearing in mind that one cannot force it on people through laws. What is needed is a dynamic combination of a strong legislation, enforcement and public education.
The solution is not simple and there are no quick fixes. Public education can do more than just inform. It can create an environment for change. It must sensitise the public about the dangers of corruption by highlighting the fact that corruption is sometimes at the root of many of the society’s problems. eg a newly constructed road is of sub standard because the contractor had to pay 10 percent to get the contract. In a number of countries, there is a strong code of conduct for public/civil servants precluding them from asking for and accepting gifts in the course of their duties. In the rare circumstances where public/civil servants are required by protocol to accept gifts, there is a gifts register in which all gifts must be entered and a requirement for officers to transfer all gifts to the Government.
Furthermore, public/civil servants are required to make a written declaration that they have no real or apparent conflict of interest in certain matters handled by them eg the award of contracts. We need to create an environment for change and everyone has a role to play. There are always two actors in the giving and receipt of bribes namely the giver and the recipient of the bribes involved. Therefore, any public education should focus on the activities of these actors, making it clear that it is wrong to give and also wrong to receive bribes. Of course, no society can completely eradicate bribery and corruption. The aim should always be to minimise their incidence and to have in place mechanisms for detecting and bringing very swiftly to book those who engage in them. The canker of bribery and corruption in Ghana has, in the past, been compounded by nepotism. This issue must also be considered in seeking to address bribery and corruption in Ghana. The problem of low salaries and wages of public officials may also need urgent redress in order to remove the ever present quest of Ghanaian public officials to collect bribes so as to be able to supplement their meager incomes. The Executive and Members of Parliament must set the example through their own ethical behaviour. They must take the lead in reducing red tape and promoting transparency and accountability for corruption tends to flourish where there are delays and lack of transparency.
We need to set standards of behaviour taking into consideration our cultural norms. One area that needs urgent attention is the misuse of power. It appears that in Ghana power is never demonstrated unless it is misused. How often do you hear “who do you think you are?” when someone questions an action. Law enforcement While public education may alter the attitudes of people, it may not be enough to change actions. It is important then to combine public education with strict enforcement and penalties. The third element of the strategy is bringing in effective punishment. However, law enforcement appears to have lost its compass in Ghana. The reports of many Commissions and Committees of Inquiry regarding maladministration and abuses of office have been left to gather dust on the shelves. Also, the instances of corruption unearthed by the recent Parliamentary Inquiry into the Judicial Service tend to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice in Ghana. How many of our basic laws are enforced? Traffic laws are flouted with impunity. To make law enforcement effective we need to have clearly spelt out guidelines and workable definitions. The criminal code makes it an offence to receive gifts in conduct of public business but there are no clear guidelines on what a gift is and there are no gift registers available in even the judicial system for those law-abiding citizens to record gifts. Conclusion We need to strengthen institutions of governance. This will be not only institutions fighting against corruption but also institutions meant to provide for the welfare of the people or maintain law and order. We must work together as individuals, chiefs, community leaders, the press, public officials to educate those we touch and to support primary enforcement and law enforcement efforts through strict compliance with the laws. Ebenezer Banful C/- MRC Griffin Centre, Bunda Street CANBERRA AUSTRALIA Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.