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22.02.2009 Feature Article

Flaws in Ghana's Codes of Conducts

In most organizations and agencies, there are enumerated codes of ethics or conducts that guide behaviors and attitudes of people. However, if these codes of conducts lack specifics and clarity, how can they be enforced? Most codes of conducts are too abstract for people to easily accept and take actions accordingly. This is the case of the public service in Ghana, especially when terms like assets declaration, conflicts of interest and many others lack definitions, scope and limitations; as long as these terms continue to be vague, public servants will continue to justify their actions and inactions. However, when terminologies are clear, concise and enforceable, codes of conducts are more likely to be effective and proactive towards prevailing challenges. Good codes of conducts focus on clarity and effective communication and not complex mumbo jumbos. A big bravo to His Excellency, Prof Atta Mills, for emphasizing these positions during the State of the Nation's Address yesterday.

However, it is intriguing to note Mr. President that enumerating codes of conducts do not guarantee checks and balances in the public and civil service. What matters is the effective implementation of these codes of conducts in our public services. The implementation process can only prevail when permanent institutions, as against ad hoc committees, are well established. Mr. President we need ethics administration aside from CHRAJ and SFO to specifically carry on with developing, communicating, interpreting, educating, training, enforcing and assessing of various sets of codes to current challenges. You will concur with me that CHRAJ and SFO have over the years been branded toothless bull dogs which can bark yet take no actions. As such, Mr. President, if you want to cut down government expenditures, I suggest you ensure strong codes of ethics on the citizenry to promote transparency, accountability and the rest of the political gobbledygooks.

At this point, it is imperative to address two major dilemmas in the Ghana's codes of conducts: assets and liabilities declarations and the concept of majority's vote as the best medium in reaching consensus. The first issue is the declaration of assets and liabilities by public servants. Over the years, public servants have made efforts to comply with this law but what needs to be address by the current government is do public servants actually declare all their assets and liabilities? How often should these assets and liabilities be declared; should it be a one-time phenomenon or a continuous process? Who is to declare these assets, should it be the individual public servant or the family? Are public servants committed to declaring all their assets? I am asking all these questions because in the past, public servants have amassed wealth from their offices and invested everything under the names of their relatives. In such situations, how can ethics committees or agencies investigate their actions based on the concept of declaration of assets and liabilities? Indeed, Ghana's codes of conducts need clarities and specifics in order to be enforced by public servants.

The second issue is the concept of majority's vote as the best medium in reaching a consensus. In Ghana, and other parts of the world, the views of the majority have always been valued to the detriment of the minority. The concept of majority takes it all is always applicable when committees sit on cases involving ethical dilemmas. A case in point: should verdicts on violation of codes of conducts be based on majority's vote? Is voting the best way to reach consensus? Then consider this argument and make your own final analysis. The major tool, that is, voting employed by most committees in reaching a consensus has not been proven to be entirely free, transparent and consistent. Some scholars have argued that people engage in all kinds of voting strategies to promote their interest.

For example, Arrow (1995) was able to prove that, any voting rule tested against the “fairness condition” has produced illogical results. Other scholars have also argued that people engage in sophisticated voting to eliminate their least preferred alternatives. This is especially the case if the people realize that their most preferred choice is not likely to win. The inconsistencies in voting make outcomes of referenda (voting) not reflective of the people's choice. Thus, it cast doubts on voting as an effective mechanism of the people's decisions. Considering this argument, should committees or agencies use voting as an effective mechanism in making verdicts upon violations of codes of conducts? Indeed, we need intellectuals and people who have strong values in the society to form ethics committees and not political or party comrades.

Mr. President, without a doubt, Ghana's codes of conducts need to be revisited and modified in order to meet present day challenges. As an addendum to your proposals, please consider these ideas when assessing the codes of conducts for Ghana's public and civil service. In conclusion, successful codes of conducts will require effective communication and systems of enforcement from both the government and the citizenry. His Excellency, Prof Atta Mills, I am with you in these endeavors. God bless your administration! and God bless Ghana!!!...
Ghanaians –Yes We Can.

Written by:
Opoku –Agyeman Chris
Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Public Administration.
University of Akron -USA
[email protected]

Chris Opoku-Agyeman
Chris Opoku-Agyeman, © 2009

This author has authored 6 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: ChrisOpokuAgyeman

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