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21.06.2004 General News

Editorial: On Fighting Corruption Effectively

By Gye Nyam Concord
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THE ISSUE OF CORRUPTION in governmental circles in Africa has received international headlines in recent years following the advent of such anti-corruption non-governmental organizations as Transparency International and its local affiliates.

Transparency International's annual index of corruption which highlights the level of corruption in each country has often made interesting reading, especially after a change in government when the rating of the debutantes in government is compared with that of their predecessors, whom they had in the past severely criticized as incorrigibly corrupt.

American and European regulators now require their businessmen doing business in Africa to report all instances when they have had to offer bribes in order to secure contracts, and how much. Good and much appreciated as these moves are, they are externally imposed and not home-grown.

Truth however is, there can no hope for the end of corruption in African governance until we evolve local initiatives towards that end.

It is for this reason that the GYE NYAME CONCORD was heartened to hear of the move by Ghana, Mali and Nigeria to jointly combat corruption in their countries in particular and the sub-region generally.

And in line with that resolve public officials from the three countries recently participated in a “Democracy Capacity-Building Seminar on Anti-Corruption and Good Governance” in Accra.

It was organised by The Les Aspin Centre of the Marquette University of the USA for 16 civil society leaders from Ghana, Nigeria and Mali to expose them to the multi-dimensional nature of corruption. It was expected to provide baseline knowledge of country-specific needs and offer participants the opportunity to discuss their countries analyses of corruption.

At the occasion, Mr Paul Asomani, Director, Legal Affairs, Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, advocated a national mechanism to “identify and sanction wayward public officials and reward the honest”.

Speaking on the topic “A Closer Look Creative Ways to Build Integrity and Accountability in Public Management and Public Systems: Lessons Learnt from Current Approaches”, Mr Asomani also called for a public debate on the time-tested Ghanaian custom of “presenting gifts to public officials, especially on festive occasions as a show of appreciation, as such gifts tend to encourage corruption”.

He disclosed that a study by the Ministry indicated that petty corruption in the form of bribery and gifts to influence such public officials was adversely affecting small scale businesses.

Mr Asomani suggested that the payment of realistic wages was one way of improving the reward regime of workers to insulate them against corruption, and that good salary levels could be achieved if the defects in the countries revenue machinery were plugged.

The Finance Ministry's legal boss also called for a review of the Constitutional requirement making it mandatory for public officials to declare their assets in camera since the practice did not offer the public and the media the opportunity to hold such officials accountable.

These are very weighty issues that have been raised by Mr Asomani; we commend his bravery, given the fact that he would be affected by the reforms that he is advocating. And we do hope the political class is listening.

For if the truth must be told, all the loopholes that encourage corruption have deliberately been left by politicians to feather their own nests: It is politicians who left out the ethical principles that underpin Western democratic ethos when they imported western democratic principles wholesale into Ghana and Africa generally.

There are clear rules on what gifts American and European public officials can summarily accept and those they must mandatorily declare. Why do we not have similar rules since we have been aping their models? Why should assets declaration forms which are public documents elsewhere, easily available to journalists and the general public alike, be given official secrets protection here, if not for fraudulent purposes?

To keep workers living on hope, there are frequent references to plans to pay realistic salaries but nothing concrete is done about it. When the present government called for a public debate on salaries, it left it hanging without grounding it in concrete; it is therefore not surprising that nothing has come out of it to date.

It is incumbent on the person calling for a debate on any topic to first state his own position on the matter. It is from this stated position of the government on salaries that the generality of the public would take their bearings, either for or against it. Unless that is done the call remains mere window dressing.

While in opposition, President John Agyekum Kufuor and his Shadow Cabinet gave clear indication of aiming to do things quite differently from the then incumbent government, now their predecessors. But almost four years on, the picture remains virtually the same in broad terms.

It is possible, indeed quite likely, that the combined effect of their inexperience in government and the alleged enormity of the problems they encountered after assuming the reins of power dazed and unfocused them. However, all may not be loss as yet, and if they are minded to they can get back on track and show a more humane face of the “positive change” system, beyond its tendency to squeeze our pockets dry.

This is part of our expectation of the Kufuor Administration, if it romps into the Castle for a second term, come December 7, 2004.