THEME: PURGING THE NATION OF CORRUPTION – DEMANDING ACCOUNTABILITY FROM PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS
I am eternally grateful for the invitation extended to me by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) to discuss such a major problem that has bedeviled our Ghanaian society and the world at large. This kind of platform must be replicated in all regions and districts in our country in order to make phenomenon of pervasive CORRUPTION an unfruitful and unattractive venture for both public and private office holders. As at the time I was preparing this document, I could not confirm my physical presence or otherwise at this all important conference. However, it is my hope that the contents on my submission will be an integral part of today’s discussion and the subsequent report or communiqué that will be issued at the end of the conference.
No matter how CORRUPTION is defined, it affects every nation with very grave consequences. The negative effects of this canker have long been recognized, and several nations are tackling this menace with all the seriousness it deserves and Ghana is not an exception. Ghana has over the years strengthened and continues to strengthen the legislative framework, undertaken various public sector reforms and other strategies to combat corruption. Already in 2012, Political Parties in the country had endorsed the National Anti-Corruption Action Plan and pledged their support for its implementation at a forum organized by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).
Consequently, in 2014, the Parliament of Ghana unanimously adopted the 10-year National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP 2015 - 2024) as a non-partisan document; a blueprint for fighting corruption in the country. This document specifies concrete actions to deal with CORRUPTION in a more holistic and coordinated manner.
These positive developments notwithstanding, the subject of CORRUPTION has been widely discussed from different perspectives and angles from the business community, civil society groups, political parties, the clergy, and traditional authorities, among many others. The fight against corruption now demands that instead of engaging in the endless debate on CORRUPTION, analysts and anti-corruption campaigners should focus much more attention on the implementation of the National Anti-Corruption Action Plan, which has unfortunately received little or no attention from the media and civil society groups.
APPROACHES TO COMBATING CORRUPTION
All over the world, the most effective approach to fighting corruption rests on three main pillars: Prevention, Education / Public Awareness and Prosecution. This is a more holistic formula which ensures that the loopholes in the system are sealed, the negative effects of corruption highlighted and very punitive measures put in place to make corruption unattractive. It also involves putting in place transparency and accountability measures such as access to information and an effective, safe whistle blowing regime within the public sector. The fight against CORRUPTION will almost be ineffective without a broad societal awareness to its dangers, costs and ramifications, as well as the unbridled commitment of every person to combat it. This will ensure that the citizen’s resolve to resist, abhor and readily report corrupt activities will be strengthened.
The proper functioning of strong institutions that investigate and prosecute corrupt practices promptly is needed for enforcement as a compliment to education and prevention. Indeed, an independent judiciary is a sine qua non in the fight against corruption coupled with the operational and financial independence, training / capacity building as well as the provision of a strong political support and logistics / infrastructure to anti-graft institutions such as CHRAJ and EOCO.
THE NATIONAL ANTI-CORRUPTION ACTION PLAN (NACAP)
The National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP), which is a 10-year non-partisan policy document adopted by Parliament in 2014 contains concrete measures needed to deal with CORRUPTION which has been an obstacle to nation building since independence. As a prelude to the NACAP, let me remind all participants of the provisions of Article 5 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) which stipulates that “Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its legal system, develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability”. Consequently, Ghana began developing a national anti-corruption strategy in 2009, which finally came into fruition in 2014 as a non-partisan policy document. This policy document was developed through broad consultations with four strategic objectives namely:
1. To build public capacity to fight corruption and make its practice a high-risk, low-gain activity;
2. To institutionalize efficiency, accountability and transparency in the public, private and not-for profit sectors;
3. To engage individuals, media, private Sector and civil society organizations in reporting and combating corruption; and
4. To conduct effective investigations and prosecution of corrupt conduct.
NACAP offers Ghana an initial blueprint, a practical operational mobility, in our battle against corruption and its implementation should now occupy every person and every anti-corruption campaigner in Ghana. It contains strategic action plans identified and agreed upon by stakeholders, including the private sector and civil society, during nationwide consultations. Its greatest strength is that it is to be directly integrated into national development planning. In developing NACAP, account was taken of the limitations and shortcomings that characterized previous anti-corruption strategies and spelt their failure.
The scope of the NACAP goes beyond controlling corruption in the public sector; it targets the private sector and embraces the activities of state and non-state actors regardless of gender, age, local or international status. Any serious anti-corruption campaign in Ghana should be focused on the implementation of NACAP.
KEY FUNDAMENTALS FOR FIGHTING CORRUPTION
This is a very key indicator which is often and easily cited by civil society organizations as insufficient or lacking in the fight against corruption. A political will definitely goes beyond what many see to be the commitment of politicians. It refers to those factors, attitudes and responses that demonstrate a genuine resolve to fight corruption in which policy pronouncements and rhetoric are translated into sustainable actions. The Government of Ghana has demonstrated political will to combat corruption and this has reflected in the performance of the country in the globally acclaimed Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International (TI). Out of a clean score of 100, Ghana scored 45, 46 and 48 in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively. While these scores may not amount to a total victory in the fight against corruption in the country, taken together over time, they do signal some degree of success in the efforts by the government and people of Ghana to win the war against corruption
The Government also demonstrated political will in 2009, when the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) initiated the process of developing a non-partisan anti-corruption strategy. In March 2015, H.E. President John Mahama went further and issued directives to all public institutions to implement NACAP, which will form part of the performance appraisal of Ministers, Chief Directors and CEOs of state institutions. Implementing institutions are also required to submit quarterly reports to CHRAJ with copies to the Office of the President. Government recognizes that it has the primary responsibility to ensure that the activities prescribed in the NACAP are implemented.
Building Systems for Prompt Responses to Allegations
To ensure that corruption is effectively controlled, the legal framework is being further strengthened with the introduction of new legislation and review of outdated legislations. The Conduct of Public Officers Bill which, when enacted into law, will deal with issues of conflict of interest and strengthen the assets declaration regime is before Parliament. The Right to Information (RTI) Bill and the Whistleblower (Amendment) Bill are also pending before Parliament. A Witness Protection Bill and the Criminal and Other Offences (amendment) Bill are also being worked on
The GYEEDA Example
I notice that the IEA invitation letter makes particular mention of the challenges associated with the then Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA) and to the extent that I was once a sector Minister who was deeply involved in resolving the mishaps in that agency, I believe I can authoritatively share some very valuable experience on that subject matter.
The concept of GYEEDA started as a response to a security concern with regards to the acute youth unemployment that had hit the country and which obviously posed a national security threat. So the then NYEP/GYEEDA programme was started by the erstwhile Kufuor government as a temporary measure in dealing with the problem of youth unemployment albeit without a legal framework, a medium to long term plan and a sustainable source of funding. Despite the lack of these major institutional and administrative structures, the programme was rolled out apparently because it was politically convenient. This porous system continued until in 2013 when under President John Mahama, the government decided to take a second look at the operations of GYEEDA amidst allegations or suspicions of wrongdoing. In fact, prior to this direct intervention by the government, there were a few investigations into the affairs GYEEDA by the then National Co-ordinator as well as the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) and at least, two former Ministers of Youth and Sports, but those reports were inconclusive.
In order to bring finality and a definite closure to the many allegations of malfeasance and institute corrective measures, I personally, under the directive of and with the full support of H.E. President John Mahama, set up a committee to investigate the affairs of GYEEDA and make appropriate recommendations. Let me quickly add, that the committee was made up of very independent professionals who did a wonderful job devoid of any political interference. Unfortunately, after some twelve weeks of intensive work and in the process of preparing the final report, the committee’s draft report which had been prepared earlier but did not fully capture the subsequent testimonies of all parties involved, was leaked and extensively discussed in the media.
Eventually, the final report was presented to the government with very serious recommendations such as the freezing of contract payments and recruitment, restructuring and overhauling of the agency with a legal framework, introduction of biometric database, among others. The government consequently issued a white paper on the report and took decisive action even at a great political cost.
Subsequently, the prosecution of public officials alleged to be involved – including high-ranking officials of the Authority is underway. Service providers who breached the terms of their contracts are also being held to account and to refund monies to Government. The agency has also been given a new lease of life through a new law, a strong Monitoring and Evaluation mechanism and a refocused and redirected mandate dedicated to skills training.
DISINCENTIVES TO FIGHTING CORRUPTION
It is regrettable that even in the face of great efforts by President John Mahama and the NDC government to drastically deal with the rot in GYEEDA, a lot of disparaging comments have been made without any acknowledgement of the efforts by the President and government to stamp out CORRUPTION. The President has made great efforts to sanitizing the system with a lot of political will, yet the his hard work has been made to seem like a drop in the ocean by the very organs of our society that are interested in fighting CORRUPTION – CIVIL SOCIETY. We have been greeted by an avalanche of condemnation from the media, civil society groups and political opponents. I can easily overlook the comments by political actors – their aim is to use such cases to enhance their electoral fortunes irrespective of the efforts made by the government of the day. What about civil society groups and anti-corruption agencies in the country? Are they also oblivious of the incontrovertible evidence of decisive action by government with respect to the GYEEDA matter to the extent that some officials are facing prosecution? Of course not! This sad development in our country is a disincentive to the fight against corruption. It appears that there is a worrying silence by civil society never to recognize and applaud government officials who take a stand in defence of the public purse.
Another example that readily comes to mind is the recent anti-corruption exercise undertaken by the government under the directive of President John Mahama within the National Service Scheme which has resulted in the retrieval of millions of Ghana cedis which otherwise would have been lost to the state and the subsequent prosecution of officials involved. There is no doubt that government has been very proactive in dealing with this canker of CORRUPTION even though I admit that there is a lot more room for improvement. We cannot win the fight against CORRUPTION if efforts by individuals and governments are not recognized and commended.
In as much as it is important to name, shame and punish public office holders who engage in CORRUPT activities, it is a very bad precedent to categorize and generalize every politician as CORRUPT. I have noticed with gladness that a lot of young professionals and civil society activists are warming themselves into politics. I am only wondering if their involvement in politics automatically makes them corruptible. Our society must move away from tagging every politician as corrupt – it does not incentivize government officials to fight corruption because it creates the notion that no matter how upright you are in your political career or public service, you will still be tagged as corrupt; so why bother?
More importantly, the act of CORUPTION has become prevalent because it has very deep roots in our societal orientation. This point is usually shelved by politicians and civil society groups because it is a very controversial and unpopular subject but I will attempt to speak to it anyway. After all, somebody must bell the cat by all means necessary.
Every Ghanaian is aware of the enormous pressure exerted on politicians and public office holders by family, friends, party activists, constituents and the larger society. It is common knowledge that these demands which range from rent, hospital bills, school fees and all manner of financial needs cannot be satisfied with the basic salary of a public office holder, yet nobody really cares about that. A politician must meet these demands if he or she wants to remain in office. As a result, most Members of Parliament and Ministers of State are in perpetual debts. Not too long ago, the Member of Parliament for the Kade Constituency, Hon. Ofosu Asamoah is reported to have announced his decision not to seek re-election in 2016 due to the unbearable demands on him by his constituents. This undesirable viscous cycle of societal behaviour definitely makes CORRUPTION attractive to public office holders.
Another societal problem which inhibits the will of politicians to deal with corruption is the attitude of Ghanaians in general where every politician is seen as an affluent person. Most government officials are by default, expected to own or develop properties whether their pay cheques can meet that expenditure or not. Every participant in this conference can attest to the fact that it is easy for a “pupil teacher” to be spared insults and innuendos by the community where he hails from if he has no landed property. However, it becomes unacceptable for that same person to live without some properties especially upon leaving office as a District / Municipal / Metropolitan Chief Executive or a Member of Parliament. In the Northern Region for instance, mixed feelings greeted the decision of a 46-year-old former District Chief Executive (DCE) over his decision to engage in full-scale taxi driving as a means of securing a meaningful source of livelihood. This uproar was due to the reported cases and perception of DCEs amassing wealth during their tenure of office. Those who know him are still shocked to the bone till today. Obviously, they expected him to own mansions and businesses after his stay in public office. Sadly, the same society will quickly brand a politician as corrupt. I doubt if we can make headway with such double standards.
The lack of transparency in assets declaration is a major problem in stemming corruption. This setback is a symptom of our vindictive political environment. Many government officials are apprehensive about declaring their legitimate assets and private businesses for fear of being targeted and destroyed when they lose political power. We must encourage the building of a system where political officials can openly declare their assets without any apprehension especially when those assets are acquired legitimately. There are countless examples of businessmen who have suffered huge losses simply because of their affiliation with one political regime or the other.
WALKING THE TALK BY ALL STAKEHOLDERS
Undoubtedly, it is obvious that it is now time to work and indeed the work is ongoing. As a country, we have tried various methods to combat corruption in the past. We reviewed those earlier strategies and have developed an antidote to it, which is the National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP), which took into consideration the various causes and effects of corruption, the challenges previous measures encountered and the lessons learnt. It departs from the earlier strategies that focused only on the public sector and has extended the fight against corruption to the private sector, recognizing that the private sector has a key role to play in implementation.
Therefore, rhetoric has no place at this material time. It can only derail the process and divert attention from the implementation of NACAP. It is time we concentrated on solutions. We can only make progress by supporting the implementation of the plan. The fight against corruption is everybody’s concern. The role of the citizen is critical. Citizens constitute the most reliable resource and are the greatest weapon in this battle against corruption.
H. E. President John Mahama reiterated at the launch of the NACAP in December 2014 that “…regardless of what strategies we develop, they will remain lifeless unless people breathe life and power into them, thereby giving them meaning. We can no longer afford the double-talk, the turning of a blind eye, the refusal to expose dishonest and venal colleagues…” because it suits us or it helps to score political points.
So, however detailed and impressive the NACAP strategy is, it can only succeed with the full participation of the people of Ghana. We need to build the capacity of the public to condemn corruption and make it a high risk, low gain endeavor. This requires that citizens themselves must rise up to the challenges of fighting corruption and understand the role they have to play.
Corruption is a major drain on government finances and a real challenge in our country. Without corruption, we can provide more social amenities and public goods to our people and drastically reduce poverty, ignorance and marginalization.
The President and Government have taken some actions that deserve commendation. It is only when we are truthful and bold to recognize and applaud the right things being done and also condemn the wrong, that there will be an incentive and a motivation to fight this canker head on. It is very possible for a government official or politician not to be corrupt. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, Prof. John Evans Atta-Mills are but a few examples of politicians who while in office, were severely criticized and labelled as corrupt yet, even their fiercest critics could not find a shred of evidence of the dividends of the so-called corruption they were tagged with.
The fight against corruption is a collective goal which demands partnership between government and civil society groups and not outright condemnation. We owe a duty to our nation and generations unborn to ruthlessly weed out corruption. I strongly believe we are more than capable of winning this war provided we can focus and consolidate the gains we have made while discounting the unnecessary suspicion of every government official or politician as being corrupt.
I humbly invite you to continue to expose all acts of corruption as encouraged by the President himself. I also implore you to equally recognize and applaud President John Mahama, the government and its officials who take steps to wage war on corruption with the same enthusiasm.
I thank you for the opportunity and your attention.