The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice was right when he urged Ghanaians to recognise that corruption could only be contained if we all got engaged in the fight against the canker, which is the bane of unity and development.
His call is an opportunity to examine a serious national issue as we prepare to choose our next crop of rulers. These leaders of tomorrow have a major role to play to contain corruption even though they cannot succeed without our help and indeed commitment.
Leadership is important in the fight against corruption. All leaders will condemn corruption but few will take determined action against it.
In fact life is more peaceful and even pleasant for them if they merely make great speeches against corruption and establish myriads of institutions which do not function effectively.
Therefore the import of the Justice Minister's charge is that we the ordinary citizens should demand honesty on the part of our leaders and employ the institutions they establish to implant probity and accountability in the body politic.
For example, the Public Procurement Act may deter corrupt leaders and subordinates but cannot stop them from their selfish acts. In fact, in a society like ours, the Act may rather impede sensible and urgent action.
Institutions and complicated procedures cannot stop corruption. We need leaders who would show by their action that they abhor corruption and whose example and influence will unconsciously guide those below them.
The Attorney-General was also right when he stated that charges of corruption could only be prosecuted after "the facts had been established". He explained that prosecutions were time-consuming, costly and uncertain. But whose fault?
Whose job is it to ensure that cases in court are not so time-consuming? And why should justice be so expensive? Is the minister not part of the establishment which should ensure that justice is more swift and affordable? And why should justice be so "uncertain". Surely, this should be attributed to inefficiency in the system and inefficient prosecutors. An uncertain judicial system certainly promotes corruption.
In spite of the shortcomings in the judicial system and leadership, there is a lot we can do once we realise that we are a part of the solution to the problem. Many of us do not really believe in the judicial system. In a way, it is looked upon as a game. The Attorney-General should have challenged our shortcomings. They are many and we cannot fight corruption and other ills successfully until we change our attitude to and perhaps even our conception of the rule of law.
A friend of mine who became Attorney-General harboured the then impossible idea of becoming the Attorney-General of the Cold Coast when he was 14. He read a lot of law report and told me that a distinguished judge of the superior courts had stated that "most natives naturally lie in court". The judge therefore asked his colleagues to take judicial note of this fact otherwise they would jail half of the witnesses who appeared before them for perjury.
Not very long ago a senior friend who later became a judge was surprised at the attitude of witnesses of clients who appeared before him. When he asked them to say what they knew about the case or incident, they replied "Lawyer you tell me what to say." Is there a lot of this going on today? It must stop or be made to stop.
We should make a few examples of those who perjure themselves in court. The judicial process should not be made a game of chance. Those who blatantly lie in court should be dealt with. Those who sell the same piece of land to two different persons should go to jail as a deterrent.
We are not little men without the law.
Even in colonial days when we harboured distaste for a foreign legal system, we cooperated to stop corruption in its tracks. When a rich and influential merchant stuffed one of the mattresses he imported for sale with fake currency notes, the people co-operated in uncovering his deed. He was tried, jailed and he faded out of public life.
The people will be reluctant to act in the same way today. Why? Because when they helped arrest a man with a bag of narcotics the narcotics metamorphosed into chalk. And so we the people should assure the Attorney-General and those who seek our mandate that we are ready to fight against corruption. But we need committed sincere leadership to show the way and make us enthused in a satisfying crusade.
Credit: K.B. Asante