31.12.2005 Feature Article

Gifts, Bribery And Corruption

Gifts, Bribery And Corruption
31.12.2005 LISTEN

At the 2006 National Governance Workshop VIII which got under way in Accra, Kumasi and Tamale last week we had participants discussing issues of national concern. One of the major issues which participants discussed was CORRUPTION AND ITS CONTAINMENT.

Do all gifts amounts amount to corruption? What about Christmas hampers and other gifts at Christmas? What about payment of children's school fees in Ghana or elsewhere by third parties be they friends or otherwise? Who should information on gifts be reported? These are all mind boggling ethical questions that we face.

One of the most challenging and interesting issues is deciding where to draw the line between permissible and prohibited actions. Even if we know that some actions are clearly right and others wrong, there may be gray areas thus decision-making is difficult.

Deciding when to accept a gift or bribe illustrates this challenge. In this feature we will try to decide how to draw the line between morally acceptable and unacceptable acts and to justify their decisions. We will also try to distinguish the perfectly ethical way of accepting a business favor from an unethical one.

What is the trend with regard to the concept of bribery? For the purpose of this feature let's define what a bribe is: A Bribe is any valuable thing given or promised, or any preferment, advantage, privilege or, emolument, given or promised in a corrupt manner; for one in public office capacity to violate or forbear from his duty, or to improperly influence his behaviour in the performance of his duty.

There are good moral reasons for us arising from this:

1. Bribery corrupts the economic system. The capitalist system is based on competition in an open and free market, where people tend to buy the best product at the best price. Bribery corrupts the free-market mechanism by getting people to make purchases that do not reward the most efficient producer.

2. Bribery is a sellout to the rich. In any situation ruled only by money, the deeper pocket will prevail. If bribery were universally practiced, expert testimony, justice in the courts, and everything else would be up for sale to the highest bidder.

3. Bribery produces cynicism and a general distrust of institutions. It destroys people's trust in the integrity of professional services, of government and the courts, of law enforcement, religion, and anything it touches. There is good evidence that societies which allow bribery tend to have social unrest and perhaps revolutions.

4. Bribery treats people as commodities whose honour can be bought and sold. It thus tends to degrade the respect we owe to other human beings.

But it can be difficult to determine the difference between a gift and a bribe in a given situation. If you give a gift to someone and it leads to a business deal, is that a bribe or a gift. In some cultures, gift-giving is an entrenched part of doing business.

Consider this: Until an anti-bribery convention proposed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was signed by 34 countries in 1997, many nations, including Germany and Canada, allowed companies to deduct bribes as legitimate business expenses. Many U.S. entrepreneurs who believe this placed them at a disadvantage in the international business arena expect the OECD act to level the playing field.

Gift-giving also occurs in the area of reciprocity (meaning that gifts are given with the anticipation that the receiver will give a gift in return at some future time).

For instance, a business person giving an excessive amount of money as a wedding gift to the son of one of the most influential government officials. His money was literally a wedding gift. However, shortly after the wedding, the business person informs this government dignitary indirectly that he needs a permit to expand his business. Gift or bribe? Formally, the money was a wedding gift, but, informally, it may be interpreted as a bribe for his business.

Take also a tribunal chairman or judge transferred to a new duty station. He gets there on Friday afternoon and the next day, someone comes to his house and presents a fattened cow or sheep to him as a welcome gift. The first day he commences duty at the bench, there is a boy charged of stealing. Later in the course of the trial the judge realizes the boy is the son of the man who bestowed him his gift. Can the trial be fair? In an era where right and wrong appear to be relative it important that we know what is gift and bribery.

If Ghana is to keep the flame of transparency high then our legal code against corruption, scattered between the 1960 Criminal Code to the contemporary act of parliament should be brought together. It appears we Ghana are not serious in tackling issues of corruption.

A great historian and writer by the name Arnold Toynbee said that some twenty-seven civilisations have risen upon the face of the earth. Almost all of them have descended into the junk heaps of destruction. The decline and fall of these civilisations, according to Toynbee, was not caused by external invasions but rather internal decay caused by corruption and immorality. If we remain silent about corruption we will get drowned in our own sins and a future historian will say that a great nation called Ghana died because it lacked the soul and the commitment to fight corruption.

If you we are to use the anti corruption barometer to measure the NPP Zero Tolerance of Corruption we will no where get to 68%. In conclusion, corruption in Ghana is increasing under a regime, which has it as it slogan “zero tolerance for corruption”. Is it a case of the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak? How long can we wallow in the dark and desolate valleys of bribery and corruption? Appiah Kusi Adomako is an international freelance writer and the president of the Ghana Chapter of Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation. He can be contacted through: Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, P.O. BOX. KS 13640. Kumasi-Ghana: 027-740-2467 [email protected] Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.