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15.12.2005 Press Review

Editorial: Looking at the phenomenon of kickbacks (2)

By Statesman
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SINCE 2003, there has been a growing perception that President Kufuor has lost the fight against corruption. This has been reinforced by the statements of NPP chairman Harona Esseku as captured on tape about the legitimacy of financial contributions to the party from companies, including the award winners of government contracts.

International experts on politics and corruption have observed that in the political arena, it is difficult to prove corruption, but impossible to prove its absence. For this reason, there are often rumours about many politicians. They go on to observe that politicians are placed in apparently compromising positions because of their need to solicit financial contributions for their campaigns. Often, they then appear to be acting in the interests of those parties that fund them, giving rise to talk of political corruption.

Supporters of politicians assert that it is entirely coincidental that many politicians appear to be acting in the interests of those who fund them. Cynics wonder why these organisations fund politicians at all, if they get nothing for their money. It should be noted that in the United States, firms, especially large ones, often fund both the Democratic and Republican parties, though most of them favour one party over the other.

Due to the implications of corporations funding politicians, such as the perceived threat that these corporations are simply buying the votes of elected officials, certain countries, such as France and certain states such as Texas, ban altogether the corporate funding of political parties. To check the possible circumvention of this ban with respect to the funding of political campaigns, France also imposes maximum spending caps on campaigning; candidates that have exceeded those limits, or that have handed in misleading accounting reports, risk having their candidacy ruled invalid, or even being prevented from running in future elections.

However, in France, the government funds political parties according to their successes in elections. Still this did not prevent the City Hall corruption scandals. Countries all over the world are struggling to define what constitutes legitimate party funding. In the absence of clarity, a free press has a duty to go on exposing allegations of corruption.

Here at home, several opinion polls indicating that more and more Ghanaians believe corruption is getting worse. The CHRAJ has joined the debate on the government's commitment to fight corruption. But how true does this perception of increasing corruption reflect the reality? The answer can be found on the conditions that allow corruption to thrive. Experts have summed them up as thus:

(1) Adverse governance structures. This is when power is concentrated in decision makers who are not practically accountable to the people. In a democracy, this only happens when democratic institutions of checks and balances, accountability and transparency are dysfunctional.

(2) Information deficits. This specifically refers to the lack of government transparency (freedom of information) in decision making. Contempt for or negligence of exercising freedom of speech or freedom of the press is also a major factor.

(3) Opportunities and incentives. When a country in haste to develop and with the funds to so do makes large investments of public capital it creates an opportunity for grafting and kickbacks. Also, poorly-paid government officials have an incentive to augment their pay.

(4) Social conditions. A political culture that tolerates self-interested closed cliques, discrimination based on party membership, cronyism or “old-boy” networks creates conditions for corruption. This feeds on an illiterate, apathetic or ignorant populace, with inadequate public discernment of political choices.

(5) Deficits of law. A weak system of rule of law, a weak legal profession and the absence of legislative instruments to make transparent and efficient the rich area of public procurement favour corruption.

(6) Imperfect electoral processes. A dangerous phenomenon that can work against any assault on corruption is that of costly political campaigns, with expenses exceeding normal sources of political funding. The absence of adequate controls to prevent bribery or “campaign donations” is a related factor. We have reserved our editorial right to give an opinion here. We shall only ask of our readers to measure the above conditions that have been listed as favouring corruption against where Ghana has reached today in her journey on the long road of liberal democracy.

In a kickback case in April 2004, United States Attorney Michael Shelby said, “Every taxpayer is victimised when government programs are abused.” The media and civil society have a patriotic duty to force politicians to clean up the system. It is only natural in a democracy.

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