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16.01.2004 Feature Article

God helps him who strives hard

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- divine intervention and an effective and efficient police service President Kuffour noted in an address at the graduation ceremony of senior police officers that there was the pervasive perception among the public that corruption was an endemic police character. Mr George Oppong, Assistant Commissioner of Police, at a sod cutting ceremony for a police church in Tamale is also said to have remarked that the police service needed divine intercession (sic) to carry out the task of maintaining law and order in the country, adding: we need spiritual nourishment to inspire us to work in the best interest of the society (Ghanaweb 12 January 2004).Indeed there have been calls for divine intervention to help the ailing Ghana Airways and a call to prayer for the nation. Is this an admission that the nation, and for that matter the police service and Ghana Airways, is beyond redemption? Is it the case of “Doctor a declare the nation/police service as dying”? (adaptation of the title of a Ghanaian song). Prayer is important and we are encouraged to pray without ceasing but is prayer alone the answer? Though this discussion relates to the police service the issues raised are applicable to other sectors of the Ghanaian economy/administration.

The community entrusts police officers with tremendous responsibility of enforcing the laws and in return for this grant them certain powers including the power of arrest and detention. The police are granted trust that requires them to demonstrate the highest degree of integrity and moral responsibility. The police are also required to adhere to a code that establishes high standards of ethics and conduct.

Many years ago most people joined the police as a commitment to service. They hoped to make a contribution to society by helping to maintain law and order and protect and defend the country or the vulnerable from the criminal element. They joined as honest men and women not because of the potential for personal wealth although of course some did. Those days the police service was held in high esteem. It was a way of life which members were proud to belong to. What we had was the "friendly bobby" on the beat preventing crime but being prepared to bring out the truncheon when people wilfully disregard directions. The police service as it exists now, however, lacks the respect it enjoyed in those early days. In recent years once people are accepted into the police service, in some cases not on merit, they become part of a system which endorses their actions as a police officer whether those actions are within or outside the rules, providing the end result is perceived to justify the means.

The new police officer quickly learns the culture of the organisation. He/she soon learns that to survive or gain promotion, he/she must engage in some corrupt practices. It appears he/she quickly realises that the philosophy is “the one who can pay will win any case”. He/she therefore openly solicits and accepts directly and indirectly money, articles of value, gifts and favours in return for acts or omissions already done or to be done. He/she extorts money from motorists or suspects. Funds meant for police operations are diverted to the extent that police on duty extort money from the public while performing official operations with the excuse of meeting logistic needs eg a complainant is made to charter or pay for a car to get to an accident scene. Indeed in Ghana you pay for any police service. You have the option of not paying, though your case may be ignored and never see the light of day.

Every community has some expectation of what good policing entails but when police “look the other way” for friends, colleagues, influential people to commit crimes or some violations of the law or allow themselves to be used to provide illegitimate assistance to their friends, colleagues or influential people, or when people see the police regularly and routinely abusing their powers especially when they take sides in the settling of personal scores or when they assist criminals in carrying out their criminal activities, (Impounded Goods From Honuta - Police Gave Cover Story Ghanaweb 15 January), public trust in the service is quickly eroded. Apart from this erosion of trust, these actions result in miscarriages of justice because cases are not properly investigated or police officers side with a person because of his/her status or profession or contacts. This lack of confidence is also resulting in some people especially the relatively rich flouting the law with impunity. Some cases never get reported as the victim is told by the perpetrator in no uncertain terms “what can the police do, nothing”. For most part many people are also reluctant to get involved in police matters and in this respect the cooperation the police need to carry out their duties is not there. Many crimes will remain unresolved if the public who have the information are reluctant to go to the police.

Not all police officers are bad, they are not, that goes without saying, but the problem arises in that most believe that in order to achieve their objectives they often have to bend the law to get a result. It may be argued that the police, are trained to win whether that be an argument with a motorist or a court case. To them winning amounts to success and they seem to equate losing with failure. This is part of the culture. The officer is interested in getting as much results/money as possible. His/her skill is measured by his superiors on the basis of results ie the amount of money he/she brings in.

There is no doubt that policing has its own occupational hazards and police officers operate in an environment that can become a breeding ground for corruption. However, this does not mean that we cannot have an honest and efficient and professional police service. It is therefore very important that the police play a critically important role in the efforts to address corruption. They must be part of the solution and not just part of the problem. The objective will be to reduce the current levels of corruption in the service whatever the current levels might be. The police need to improve their image. They need to seek partnerships with the community in their effort to maintain an effective and efficient police service-that is part of what community policing is about.

It is only within the police service that the most significant changes can take place. However, what chance is there for the junior police officer to make any change when he/she knows that promotion is based on personal connections or payments rather than merit, when where you are stationed is related to the amount of money you give to your superiors.

The time for change is now. It is to combat corruption that many police services around the world have established strong and independent internal units dedicated to the task of tackling police corruption and criminality. If staffed by experienced, dedicated and carefully selected investigators, such units can become a formidable weapon on the fight against police corruption. Ideally, such a unit should be protected from outside interference. Such a unit can be a very effective tool which can also help clear police members who have been falsely accused.

Other measures that could be adopted in the fight against corruption is the need to rotate officers on duty post to ensure that no officer or group of officers remained too long on a single operational unit, for familiarity breeds contempt. There is also the need for an effective complaints unit where the public can lodge complaints against the police especially cases where officers demand bribes. The public must have confidence that these complaints would be investigated objectively. Perhaps a detailed objective report of the Unit’s activities could be presented to Parliament every six months.

Parliamentarians, people in positions of responsibility and the general public also have a role to play. We all sometimes put undue pressure on police officers to support our side of the story or to grant us favours. Ministerial interference in various entities happens everywhere but that is why we have an opposition and Question Time in Parliament. The sooner members of the public will refuse to collaborate with corrupt police personnel, the earlier will corruption in the police service be reduced.

To ensure that we have a professional police service we need to provide the service with reasonable level of resources eg patrol cars. Many of the police stations need to be refurbished as they will not meet occupational and health requirements. Some will be classified as health hazards if they were in a developed country. The salary and conditions of service of police officers need to be reviewed. Having said that, like most Ghanaians, many police officers are not cutting their coats according to their cloth. They are living beyond their means and in this respect have to find other means to maintain that lifestyle.

In conclusion, divine intervention will only happen if we respond to God’s call. Blind faith without positive action will not work. Note that “the man who himself strives earnestly God also lends a helping hand” (Aeschylus) or “God helps him who strives hard” (Euripides). Until Ghanaians develop a sense of service and put country before self no amount of prayers will save us. The leadership of the country must set the example. Perhaps the President should also ask all his Ministers and party functionaries, heads of corporations and persons in positions of trust to heed the advise he gave at the passing out of senior officers of the police service “to lead lives worthy of emulation, instil in their subordinates positive (police) habits and eschew the unjustified or indiscriminate use of force or selective enforcement of rules (by some of their personnel)” (Ghanaweb Jan. 9).

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Ebenezer Banful
Ebenezer Banful, © 2004

The author has 21 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: EbenezerBanful

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