TOO MUCH SECRECY, CORRUPTION & CHOP CHOP ... Presidency, Parliament, Judiciary fingered A global Public Integrity Index which tracks corruption and accountability around the world has revealed that Ghana has scored ''moderate'' points in a 25-country survey, ranking 13th but beating close neighbors, Nigeria. The report (WEBSITE), which was conducted by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, one of the world's biggest investigative journalism institutions, indicated that Ghana achieved moderate rankings in the area of Civil Society, Public Information, Media, Electoral and Political Process and Oversight and Regulatory Mechanisms in dealing with corruption. However, the report revealed that Ghana placed 24 out of the 25 countries surveyed and scored 'very weak' marks on critical corruption indicators, such as such Civil Service regulation - weak; whistle-blowing measures - very weak; procurement - very weak, and privatization - very weak. On the branches of government, Ghana scored some moderate marks and was ranked 10th .. The Executive (Presidency) - weak; Judiciary - moderate, and Legislature - moderate. The report indicated that under rule of law, access to justice and law enforcement Ghana ranked 7th and scored very strong marks, but still scored 'very weak' marks in the area of anti-corruption laws. Anti-Corruption Mechanisms and Rule of Law On Anti-Corruption, the report noted, ''It is not so much the absence of appropriate laws that constitutes the problem. There is, in the case of the Assets Declaration and the role of the Office of the Auditor General, a legal lacuna that needs to be filled. ''Similarly, CHRAJ should be given the authority to prosecute in corruption and embezzlement cases, after it completes investigations and is convinced that prosecution is necessary and feasible. The establishment of an Office of Independent State Prosecutor would also be an important addition to the law on anti-corruption, as would undoubtedly be the passage of the Freedom of Information Act and the Whistleblowers Act.'' The report emphasized, ''What is really required is the willingness and the determination to implement existing anti-corruption legislation.'' Civil Service, Secrecy, Corruption The report noted that even though it is expected that appointment and promotion in the Civil Service should be by merit and seniority ''appointments at the very top are usually much influenced by political considerations.'' It noted that there are rules and regulations, in the Civil Service Law, for instance, in the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, in the General Orders, which, if implemented rigorously, should make the Public Administration of Ghana relatively corrupt-free, non-partisan, efficient and effective. ''Despite many years of expensive restructuring and public sector reforms, it is admitted by keen observers of the public service scene in Ghana that clear job descriptions for civil servants are only now making slow inroads into the arena; that there is no agency monitoring conflict-of-interest and asset-disclosure regulations; that ''moonlighting'' is rampant, as regular salaries are grossly inadequate to tide even a single person (not the usual family of four or five in Ghana) over for the full salary cycle of one month.'' The Integrity Index noted that one unfortunate and unhelpful characteristic of the entire public service in Ghana is its addiction to secrecy. It said the State Secrets Act has provided a cover over the years for corrupt, inefficient and lazy bureaucrats. ''It is no wonder that the Freedom of Information Act appears to be having such a struggle to emerge out of the inner recesses of government, and that the often promised whistle-blowing law has yet to see the light of day. Lack of transparency has been a feature of the operation of Ghanaian public service for as long as one can remember.'' The report continued that, awarding contracts, purchasing equipment or consumables for the office and selling off state assets, privatization or, in Ghana, ''divestiture,'' are seen as opportunities for corrupt deals, Continuing, the report said, ''One major reason why corruption has taken such hold is that it is practically cost-free, given that there are in practice virtually no mechanisms for monitoring, detection and stringent punishment, while the rewards can be staggering.'' Oversight and Regulatory Mechanisms According to the report, the most important attribute that an oversight and regulatory body must have is the independence of that body to monitor, regulate or hold to account. In this respect, the report said that the major oversight bodies in Ghana, namely the Ombudsman (CHRAJ in the case of Ghana), the Office of the Auditor General, the Internal Revenue Service, Customs, Excise and Preventive Service, the Bank of Ghana and the Securities Exchange Commission, all have the necessary legal independence to enable them to perform as expected. It however observed, ''Apart from the Central Bank, all the other organizations depend on government subvention to a greater or lesser degree. Thus, retaliatory cuts in financing are always available as a weapon for the government, and there is no question that in the past governments have sometimes used that weapon.''
''Nevertheless'' the report noted, ''the effect of shortfalls in government subvention is that these organizations are not as effective as they could be. Thus, when the Audit Service estimates that it requires ¢73 billion for its operation in 2003 and gets an allocation of only ¢25 billion, it is not surprising that it is so short-staffed (with no engineer in the service, only one architect and one quantity surveyor, three lawyers and only six qualified accountants), or that its annual reports to Parliament are sometimes four years behind.'' Branches of Government On the part of the Legislature, the report said Parliament has oversight functions over the executive but its ability to perform the critical role of holding the executive to account on a continuous basis is weakened by the excessive partisan approach of MPs towards this assignment. In the case of the Auditor General and CHRAJ, the report said the inability to perform their oversight functions (for instance, in monitoring the asset declaration and conflicts of interest which are enjoined on all people in public positions with any real power) is that they are denied the legal power to function effectively. ''Neither Chapter 24 of the Constitution, the Code of Conduct Chapter, nor the Public Office Holders (Declaration of Assets and Disqualification) Act, 1998 (Act 550) gives the Auditor General's office more than mere custodial function over assets declarations. The office is given neither a monitoring role nor an enforcement role. As there is not yet a Freedom of Information Act, the only occasion that anybody, including the Auditor General, knows what has been declared is when a court or CHRAJ calls for it.'' the report said. On the crucial point of the powers of CHRAJ, the report said even though CHRAJ can access asset declarations in its investigations, it is not given the power to prosecute, adding that in the case of corruption, CHRAJ must turn to the Attorney General, who is a member of the President's cabinet, to prosecute. ''For the legislature, there is no commissioner for standards, or even a register of outside paid interests of MPs. Therefore, apart from their electorate, it is not known who else, if anybody, they represent in the legislature,'' it said. pThe report admitted that the independence of the judiciary in Ghana is guaranteed in law and that the watchful competitive parties and the media, as well as the current government's evident commitment to upholding the central tenets of liberal democracy, ensures that it is guaranteed in practice as well. On the performance of the Judiciary, the report said it was unfortunate that the contribution of the judiciary to the development of an environment conducive to enterprise has not been sterling because of delays in settling disputes through the courts and the consequent escalation of cost for parties to disputes. The report finally observed that, litigation through the courts to assert or defend legal rights is frankly beyond the overwhelming majority and that the fact that the judiciary was bracketed with the police for corruption at a public forum organized by the Parliamentary Committee on the Judiciary in Koforidua remains as a serious indictment on it.