24.05.2009 Feature Article

The Problem of Corruption in the Public Sector in Ghana

The Problem of Corruption in the Public Sector in Ghana
24.05.2009 LISTEN

Institutional and Individual Corruption – Causes and How to Deal with Corruption

By Vitus A. Azeem,
Executive Secretary, Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII)


ACCRA, Tuesday, 19th May, 2009.

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished invited guests, ladies and gentlemen, as introduced, I work with the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII). GII is the local chapter of Transparency International (TI) – the world's leading non-governmental organization devoted solely to curbing corruption. GII was launched in December 1999 as a non-partisan, non-profit, civil empowerment organization, focused on the delivery of essential themes necessary for the creation of a National Integrity System. GII works to increase levels of accountability and transparency, monitoring the performance of key institutions and pressing for reforms on transparency and accountability in a non-partisan political manner.

GII's vision is to make Ghana a corruption-free country in all spheres of human endeavour, where people and institutions act with integrity, accountability and transparency.

Definition of Corruption
There are rarely criminal code definitions of corruption. Rather, criminal codes normally contain a mix of crimes that all together are considered corruption, such as bribery of local or foreign government officials and private companies, facilitation payments, fraud, embezzlements, theft, collusion, etc.

However, Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. The World Bank has a similar definition. “Private gain” must be interpreted widely to include gains accruing to an economic actor's close family members, political party and, in some cases, to an independent organization and charitable institution in which the economic actor has a financial or social interest.

In recent times, some institutions have criticized these definitions and offered alternative definitions. For example, the Tax Justice Network (TJN) argues that the World Bank and TI definitions leave many with the impression that it is only people who occupy public office who are capable of abusing their office or power. To them, the definitions do not make any allowance for other forms of corrupt activities, including market rigging, insider trading, tax dodging, non-disclosure of conflicts of interest, illicit party funding, etc.

Corruption encompasses abuses by government officials such as embezzlement and nepotism, as well as abuses linking public and private actors such as bribery, extortion, influence peddling, and fraud. Corruption arises in political, bureaucratic and private offices and can be petty or grand, organized or unorganized. Corruption also facilitates criminal activities such as drug trafficking and even armed robbery.

TJN, suggests two alternative definitions of corruption: an abuse of the wider interest (or the public interest) by narrow interests; any activity that undermines public confidence in the integrity of the rules, systems and institutions, which govern society.

Thus, corruption involves the betrayal of public interest in exchange for a narrower benefit. It could be personal, partisan or some other social group interest. Corruption is often manifested in the siphoning of public resources that would have gone to the provision of hospitals and drugs, schools and books into private pockets. It definitely leads to wastage as prices are inflated through over-invoicing, ordering of excess supplies, shoddy work or work not done but paid for, etc.

Mr. Chairman, corruption is pervasive and has to do with motive and opportunity, and the opportunity (for corruption) usually comes about when there are weak systems and/or institutions of accountability, lack of checks and balances as well as a general state of moral decadence.

Corruption comprises a diverse array of types of moral and legal offences, committed most of the time by public officials or with public officials. Thus, corruption is fundamentally a moral, as opposed, to legal, phenomenon. Acts can be corrupt even though they are, and even ought to be, legal. Even then, not all acts of immorality are acts of corruption; corruption is only one species of immorality.

Institutional and Personal Corruption
What is personal corruption? Non-institutional personal corruption is corruption of persons outside institutional settings. Such corruption pertains to the moral character of persons, and consists in the soiling of their moral character. If an action has a corrupting effect on a person's character, it will typically be corrosive of one or more of a person's virtues. These virtues might be virtues that attach to the person as a human being. Alternatively, or in some cases, additionally, these virtues might attach to persons who are also institutional actors, e.g. impartiality in a judge or objectivity in a journalist.

In all cases of corruption, individual persons are involved as institutional role occupants and so it is tantamount to institutional corruption. In fact, institutional corruption involves personal corruption. As such, I will not try to distinguish between institutional corruption and personal corruption. However, personal corruption, i.e., being corrupted, is not the same thing as performing a corrupt action, i.e., being a corruptor. So, personal corruption may consist in part in the development or suppression of certain dispositions, but the development or suppression of such dispositions would not normally constitute the corruption of persons. Thus, a person who has a disposition to accept bribes but who is never offered any is not corrupt because he has not had the opportunity.

In the case of institutional corruption, greater institutional damage is done than simply soiling the moral character of the institutional role occupants. Institutional processes are being undermined, and/or institutional purposes subverted.

An act performed by an institutional agent is an act of institutional corruption if and only if the act has an effect of undermining, or contributing to the undermining of, some institutional process and/or purpose of some institution and/or an effect of contributing to the weakening of the moral character of some role occupant of the institution.

Mr. Chairman, corruption carries strong moral connotations and so to describe someone as a corrupt person, or an action as corrupt, is to ascribe a moral deficiency and to express moral disapproval. Accordingly, if an institutional process is to be corrupted it must suffer some form of moral diminution, and, therefore, in its uncorrupted state it must be at least morally legitimate.

Ghana's Performance
Mr. Chairman, research findings always point to the fact that corruption is a serious problem in Ghana. From 1999 - 2008, the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) has pointed to the fact that Ghana is far from winning the fight against corruption as a nation. Ever since Ghana was included in the CPI reports in 1999, she has scored between 3.3 and 3.9 out of a clean score of 10. Ghana scored its highest of 3.9 in 2002 and 2008. Other surveys on corruption in Ghana, including those conducted by GII and CDD-Ghana have shown that corruption is a major problem in the country. Also, the Auditor-General's report on the 2006 Public Accounts submitted to Parliament and the follow-up public hearings held by the Public Accounts Committee in 2007 revealed that corruption among public officials was a serious problem. Ladies and gentlemen, corruption has sunk deep into the moral fibre of our society and leaders think more of themselves than of the people they lead. They think they have sacrificed so much for the country that we owe them a duty to make live comfortable for them for the rest for their lives. Our politicians make laws and undertake expenditures aimed at ensuring comfortable lives for themselves and their elite colleagues without due consideration of the economic situation in the country and the living conditions of ordinary citizens. As if this is not enough, some them turn to corruption and looting of the public purse, either to ensure they remain in power or retire to a comfortable life. In fact, corruption has become the norm rather than the exception. Public resources that would have gone to the provision of hospitals and drugs, schools and books are allegedly being siphoned into private pockets with impunity. Waste and inefficiencies are common because those who are supposed to supervise fail to do so either because they are irresponsible or because they stand to benefit from the lax system and processes.

Today, we live in a society where nobody seems to care about how people come by what they have or how they acquire their wealth. Yet corruption could be the source of such wealth. Vote-buying, election rigging, abuse of incumbency are corrupt electoral practices and during the 2008 elections some of us gladly received monies and other benefits from politicians without questioning their source of funding, whether they pay taxes on their incomes, why they are giving us these monies and why waited until the elections.

Causes of Corruption
The causes and effects of corruption, and how to combat corruption, are issues that are increasingly on the national and international agendas of politicians and other policymakers and a major concern to ordinary citizens who get offended by the naked looting of their tax money with impunity.

The lack of political will in Ghana, as in most African countries, to fight corruption and too much rhetoric about anti- corruption are in themselves cause of further corruption. All previous rulers of this country have at least paid “lip service” to its eradication'. Ex-President Kufuor in 2001 declared a policy of zero tolerance for corruption and promised to promulgate a code of conduct to guide political appointees and establish an office within the Presidency to monitor it. Yet, corruption even today continues to be attributed to his administration and some of his officials.

The current President has promised transparent and accountable governance and a determination not to shield his officials. However, there are already signs of lapses and inaction where action is required, indicating the lack of an unwavering determination by our political leadership to tackle corruption.

Ghana has a culture where society admires and respects wealth without regard to how and where such wealth is acquired. One can add the lack of a systematic socialization process for inculcating ethical values into those already in the civil service and those desiring to enter public life. Poverty, economic pressures, inadequate remuneration and lack of a conducive environment for public officials to perform their duties effectively, are often advanced as excuses for corruption. Added to this, is the inadequate retirement package for public officials who end up becoming paupers when they leave office.

Much as these factors are significant, using them as excuses for corruption amounts to justifying armed robbery because the perpetrators cannot afford a square meal a day. The most important causes of corruption in Ghana are greed, selfishness and insensitivity to the suffering of the ordinary citizens.

Impacts of Corruption
The negative impacts of corruption are summarized in the statement by Hans Corell, a UN Legal Counsel: “Corruption is a poison that no society is free… In the developing countries, it poses a major obstacle to advancement. It destroys efforts to establish the rule of law, discourages investments and frustrates hopes of lifting the living standards of the poor”.

Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, its annual measurement of the perception of corruption globally has shown that the incidence of corruption is higher in Africa and worst in war-torn countries. Furthermore, corruption hits hardest the poor and marginalized in society. Other survey and media reports have also indicated that corruption is rife in African oil producing countries where political leaders stash away oil revenues and build palaces in European cities.

Mr. Chairman, the ills of corruption pose a serious development challenge. In the political realm, corruption undermines democracy and good governance by subverting formal processes. Corruption erodes the institutional capacity of government as procedures are disregarded, resources are siphoned off, and officials are hired or promoted without regard to performance. Corruption in the judiciary, no doubt, suspends the rule of law and denies the poor justice and fair play. It has cost some people lives in prison.

Corruption also undermines economic development by generating considerable distortions and inefficiencies. Corruption steals resources from education and health, rewards the incompetent and the dishonest, penalizes enterprising and honest citizens, and aggravates political and economic inequalities. It deters or absorbs private sector investment and deprives ordinary people of responsive and even-handed public administration. Corruption is a heavy tax on the poor.

Corruption impacts all countries and impedes poverty reduction, effective delivery of goods and services and frustrates economic growth. Corruption also generates economic distortions in the public sector by diverting public investment away from education and into capital projects where bribes and kickbacks are more plentiful. Budget execution can not bring about the desired outcomes and impacts if corruption eats away the allocated resources. It is even more so if these resources are wasted by public officials that are paid to ensure that such resources are utilized efficiently and effectively for the benefit of the majority of Ghanaians.

In the private sector, corruption increases the cost of business through the price of illicit payments. Corruption also distorts the playing field, shielding firms with connections from competition and thereby sustaining inefficient firms.

How to Deal with Corruption
Turning to how to deal with corruption, I must state that there is a wide diversity of corrupt actions which require a correspondingly wide and diverse range of anti-corruption measures to combat corruption in its different forms, and indeed in its possibly very different contexts. I would, therefore, just mention a few of them.

Government has often cited the passage of laws like the Public Procurement Act, the Financial Administration Act and its Regulations, the Assets Declaration Act, the Whistleblower Act, the Anti-Money Laundering Act, etc. as indications of its commitment to fighting corruption. Transparency-enhancing legislations are definitely essential in curbing corruption but such anti-corruption legislations must be enforceable and applicable to all and sundry if we are committed to ensuring that corruption does not destroy the moral fabric of our society.

GII has always held the view that the problem in Ghana with promises to fight corruption is lack of enforcement due to weak political will. To support these laws, GII also calls for credible and enforceable codes of conduct and ethics for public officials and professional bodies, as well as the adoption of the guidelines on Conflict of Interest developed by CHRAJ. In this direction, the Public Officers Liability Bill currently being discussed is a welcome development. Let us hope that it will go through Parliament soon without any obstacles and come out in the most appropriate form as an anti-corruption tool.

The ordinary Ghanaian must change the attitude, which tends to worship wealth without consideration of its source. We must begin to question how an individual acquires his/her wealth, especially if such a person is soliciting for our votes to secure a political position or is being vetted for such a position. The so-called giving-of-gifts culture in our society that does not view bribery as wrong must be abandoned and corruption and bribe-taking condemned.

Moreover, the President's commitment to a transparent and accountable government must reflect in his ordering prompt investigations into credible allegations of corruption. This will give backing to the Whistleblower Act and encourage Ghanaians to take advantage of it. Furthermore, the President should order the Attorney-General to prosecute all corruption cases pending before her without any further delay, no matter who are involved. Public officials found to have been involved in corrupt practices should be sanctioned swiftly. Also, in conformity with the Assets Declaration law, all Members of Parliament, Ministers and other public officials who have left office must declare their assets just as those who have just assumed office are being made to do the same.

The international community has made several efforts to combat corruption. The necessary legal framework (UN Convention Against Corruption and Africa Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption) has been put in place and agreed to by our government. These are very important as the fight against corruption is often hampered by lack of cooperation and communication between countries and so-called bank secrecy laws that make it very difficult to obtain information about stolen assets stashed away abroad. Implementation is the logical next step and this must be done immediately. The government must enact the necessary laws that will also effectively empower freezing, seizure and confiscation of illicitly acquired wealth of officials not only as deterrent to others but to restore public property to its rightful owners, the citizens.

The Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice and the National Commission on Civic Education have at various times undertaken public education and sensitization against corruption aimed at influencing ordinary citizens and policy makers to condemn and resist corruption. Lack of adequate resources has been the complaint of these anti-corruption institutions and a government committed to fighting corruption must ensure that these institutions get the required funding. In fact, the government has already disappointed them by failing to allow them to defend their budgets before Parliament as promised.

It is also proposed that the Serious Fraud Office and the CHRAJ be given prosecutorial powers to act as special prosecution offices for corruption. Admittedly, this may require reforms in anti- corruption policies and an upgrading of the skills and professionalism of these institutions. This should be accompanied by increasing remuneration and commensurate incentives for the staff as well as putting in place additional accountability mechanisms and making sure they work.

There are fears of a highly politicized judiciary due to the appointing and promoting processes which tend to make the judiciary firmly under the influence of the Executive. It has been suggested elsewhere that Ghana may have to consider the desirability and possibility of electing instead of appointing judges, especially to the superior courts. This could help the judiciary resist political interference although it may not address the problem of corruption in the judiciary.

Furthermore, Parliament's oversight role is often compromised by partisan and personal interest, making it less effective. It is true that Parliament lacks adequate resources but it is also true that it may not be using its limited resources efficiently, as has been revealed recently. It is able to provide outrageous facilities to its leadership and approve ex-gratia awards for the executive in anticipation of reciprocity from the Executive. Who monitors the monitors? Our Parliament needs the political will to enact strong anti-corruption laws and hold the Executive accountable for enforcing such laws in a non-partisan way.

There must be a political leadership that is clean, that leads by example and that has the will and commitment to condemn, investigate and sanction its own officials. We would need a leadership that has the integrity to resign in the face of embarrassment and disgrace if we hope to succeed in the fight against corruption.

The fight against corruption can not and should not be left to the government alone. Ordinary citizens, traditional and religious leaders have a role and a responsibility to join the fight against corruption, otherwise corruption will remain with us. We must be willing and able to question our leaders when they lead ostentatious lives, etc. We must take advantage of the existing laws and report corrupt practices to the appropriate authorities.

The private sector has role to play too. Though difficult and almost impossible, the private sector must reject corruption and send a clear message to those in power that it will not engage in bribery in the conduct of business.

Civil society also has a role to role to play. Last Friday GII launched a new project, the Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) aimed at encouraging victims and witnesses of corruption to report to it for advice and guidance on how to address the situation. This will be in the form of legal advice to such people. This will be enhancing the Whistleblower Act, 2006 (Act 720). I wish to implore you to spread the message about this opportunity. I must say, however, that in spite of the numerous civil society organizations that work on governance issues, these organizations face several challenges, mainly organizational and financial weakness, excessive dependency on external funding and lack of access to information.

Finally, there is no gainsaying that the passage of the Right to Information law is long overdue and Ghanaians are getting really impatient. I cannot, therefore, finish my presentation without once again calling on the government of His Excellency, President John Evans Ata-Mils, to fast-track the passage of the Right to Information law, taking into consideration the changes suggested by civil society actors. This law will ensure transparency and accountability and hence serve as an effective anti-corruption tool while complementing the anti-corruption laws that are already in place.

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Invited Guests, fellow panelists, there is no doubt that corruption has and continues to eat deep into the moral fibre of the Ghanaian society. The harmful effects of corruption are obvious as it takes away public resources from service delivery to the poor and marginalized in society. When a president going into retirement takes away the retirement of twenty police officers who have served for forty years, the capitation grant of one thousand primary school pupils, or 100 hospital beds, it may be legal but could be immoral. We can see what institutional corruption can do to this country.

We require bold and vibrant anti corruption initiatives, an ethical and watchdog infrastructure involving all sectors of society, effective and verifiable disclosure rules, including assets and procurement procedures, to fight the canker. The financial and operational independence of oversight bodies such as Parliament, CHRAJ, GAS and SFO as well as a free media that can operate in an environment of clear and unambiguous rules against corruption are essential.

Mr. Chairman, if allowed to continue, corruption will drastically undermine our national developmental efforts, our poverty reduction efforts and our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. We must, therefore, do everything possible to curb this canker of corruption in our society.

Thank you for your attention.

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