11.06.2005 Feature Article

Who is to be blamed for corruption?

Who is to be blamed for corruption?
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CORRUPTION is at its peak in Africa, evidenced by the huge sums of money which politicians and public officials divert into private use. Africa is the only continent, where the fast track to wealth is through politics. The late Mobutu Sese Sekou once paid $17,000 for a bottle of wine in Paris, which could have paid the salaries of 350 Zaireans for a whole month. The Abacha family offered $1 billion to the Nigerian government to settle dispute over Abacha's wealth but was refused.

Back home, most Ghanaians know that at independence, Ghana was richer than South Korea and Malaysia but 48 years later, these countries have overtaken us in terms of prosperity, stability and institutional building. The causes are not only due to good policies which Malaysia and South Korea have implemented over the years, but more importantly due a high-level of corruption which has plagued Ghana, where politics has become an arena for people who could not make it in private life to amass wealth overnight.

Over the years, national resources, which should have been used to improve the welfare and living standards of the populace and develop infrastructure have been misused by politicians. Corruption is less visible than many other types of crimes, which perhaps explains why cunning politicians have used it to enrich themselves. The trump card of politicians who condone corruption is that those who accuse them of corruption must provide evidence. Corruption is a consensual crime in the sense that all the participants (giver and taker) have an interest in concealing it. There are, therefore, fewer conscious and ready-to-talk witnesses.

In all seriousness, how could politicians expect a peasant farmer in Afram Plains, a herder in Paga, a kente weaver at Kpando or a fisherman at Shama to provide evidence of political corruption? It is an impossible task, which seems to offer an excuse for politicians not to tackle corruption. In my view, the best evidence of corruption is when politicians do not feel the negative impact of their policies whilst ordinary people suffer from them. It beats my imagination that politicians feel comfortable with all the free facilities they enjoy, for example, free housing, vehicle, fuel, medical care, higher pay and huge per diem, when the poor people who put them there continue to wallow in poverty.

There are also other signs of corruption. Ghost employees in the civil service, fraud in the hospitals and companies, leaking of examination papers, extortion by some police, customs and security personnel, demand for bribes by some principals of secondary schools before granting admission to students, fraudulent billing of customers by certain Telecom workers and forging of signatures of ministers and directors are just some of the more visible signs. The current scale of corruption has its origin from decades of bad governance and poverty. The civil servants, business people, the security forces and some politicians who operated during this era are still around today, and old habits die hard. But it would be simplistic and incorrect to blame it all on bad governance and poverty alone. Greed is certainly at the core of corruption. Our farmers who are the poorest are the least corrupt whilst in the past, our politicians who had everything they needed, were the vanguards of corrupt practices. Similarly, the youth and traders selling on the scorching streets of our cities are less corrupt compared with the workers employed to collect taxes or tolls from them.

The greatest obstacle for waging a war against corruption is that corrupt dealings are by nature secretive. They are very hard to prove. It is also problematic to investigate as it is often subtle and perpetrated by people who know the system. A national strategy for ethics and anti-corruption led from the top brass of the government needs to be developed. There are, of course, existing initiatives such as the SFO, CHRAJ, CID and BNI. SFO, BNI and CID focus on the criminal aspects of corruption, CHRAJ dwells on human rights and administrative lapses. The challenge for public institutions is, however, their ability to work independently.

The prevention of corruption must not be seen as purely a legalistic and policing initiative, where various laws are passed and offenders identified, arrested and prosecuted. The difficulty with this approach is that the people who have to implement these mechanisms can also be corrupted. It requires exceptional courage to investigate people in power. Civil and public servants who have stood up against political authority in the past have not fared well, for example, they lost their jobs, got transferred to God-forbidden areas or branded enemies. There is, therefore, the need to have a strategy from the highest political authority, which should be both educational and regulatory and adopt a multi-faceted approach that investigates, punishes and deters the corrupt, and educates and assists everyone to resist corruption. The holding of a national debate on corruption is appropriate to ensure the participation of the general public in developing an effective and all-inclusive strategy. As far as education is concerned, the CHRAJ could team up with the NCCE (National Commission for Civic Education) to develop and implement programmes right from the primary schools to sensitise pupils about their rights as citizens and the dangers of corruption. I remember that during the time of the Progress Party of Dr Busia (1969-1972), Civics was taught at school, which did instil some elements of good citizenry and accountability in pupils. In 2001, President Kufour introduced a policy of zero tolerance against corruption. It helped by moving Ghana from the 9th to the 6th position of the least corrupt country in Africa. It appears the momentum for that policy has waned and we have to rekindle it.

Certainly, the prevention of corruption is better than cure. The setting up of an efficient corruption deterrence mechanism will be cheaper than spending decades in investigating instances of corruption. It is also less confrontational and less socially divisive to promote and achieve good behaviour than to wait for the crime to occur and then investigate and punish the perpetrator. For these reasons, I think, we need to put much emphasis on education. If educating the adults is a lost case, then we can concentrate on the children in primary and secondary schools. I always like to compare Ghana with other countries, which have achieved much progress because we can learn from them. In the industrial countries, the police, for example, will not accept bribes or misuse exhibits not because they are afraid of being caught and prosecuted but more importantly because they have been educated to accept it as an unprofessional conduct. Certainly, the wages of the police is these countries are enough to sustain them throughout the month.

The prevention of corruption - whether in politics, public service or business - is a management responsibility. Where management is fully committed to corruption prevention and the encouragement of integrity, these goals are more likely to be achieved. In every public department and ministry, the minister should be held accountable for the prevention of corruption. There are many cases in the industrial countries, where ministers have resigned because their subordinates were involved in nefarious practices. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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