With just two weeks to crucial general elections, the events leading up to the dramatic resignation of Martin Amidu, Ghana’s first independent Special Prosecutor, and the response of the Office of the President has stirred up intense public scrutiny as to the incidence of corruption in the country and the response to it by both the public and the private sectors. Interestingly, both leading presidential candidates have had public scrutiny about the past couple of weeks all with Mr Amidu undercurrent for their respective roles in corruption-related events. Therefore neither has been particularly advantaged or disadvantaged by the still ongoing turn of events.
However, it has put corruption on the front-burner in the minds of voters as they prepare to go to the polls; and the two presidential candidates are by no means the only people put under the spotlight. The elections may settle on many issues but corruption is certainly one of the key issues now. Corruption has been a continual burning issue for leadership in Africa. The estimates for the monetary cost of corruption varies but there is consensus around about 5% of global GDP (US$ 2.6 trillion, World Economic Forum). The World Bank says over US$ 1 trillion is paid in bribes each year while the African Union estimated that 25% of the GDP of African states, amounting to US$148 billion, is lost to corruption every year. The increasing economic, political, social and cultural costs of corruption cannot be denied when a leader fails to deal with this challenge.
Corruption is the abuse of authority for personal gains. The central idea of corruption is the personalized nature of the gain and it’s usually evinced in the form of disregard for standards, bribery, embezzlement and nepotism. Corruption is one of the biggest challenges to a leader’s code of excellence. The challenge of corruption has two forms: resisting the temptation to be corrupt in culture where the practice is almost a norm and preventing others from seeking personalized gains against the group standards. Corruption eats standards for breakfast and a leader must with every sweat prevent that.
Corruption erodes trust, undermines the foundational principles of fairness and justice and ultimately delegitimises the existence of order which threatens leadership itself. The Akans have a proverb that literally translates, ‘Being left out in a meal leads to frowning’. The disaffection for leadership in Africa is usually explained by the perceived corrupt nature of the political class. The perceptions of corruptions in Ghana are currently of too forms; a create, loot and share form where corruption is endemic, ‘chop make I chop’. The second notion is where corruption is viewed as the privilege of the elite few who sometimes through sophistication exclude everybody from enjoying from public funds but themselves. These may only be perceptions, maybe even unfounded, but these are the somewhat sublime tagging of corruptions electorates are likely to walk into the decision booth with.
Our society must however learn to transcend corruption and public service must indeed be viewed as such, an honour to serve. But before we achieve the perception of a less corrupt society we must address questions like what a gift is and its role is in compromising the nature of standards. Discussions of corruption can get messier if there is a cultural justification of ‘gifts’ as the only means interest groups hear the call for collaboration. Ghanaians are crying against corruption but some electorates are collecting cars, laptops, cash, rice and money as ‘gifts’ and ‘T&T’. The obvious implications of these ‘gifts’ are the increasing inefficiency and bureaucracy needed to preserve the gifting and gifted as a natural cause of protecting self-interest. The even harsher reality is the obvious disregard for people who do not pay the ‘gifts’ or look whiles a social expectation has been created to giving them before a standard can be claimed. A culture that facilitates corruption cannot expect any better from the leaders who got there by that same measure of corruption and that is the far bigger problem we should be tended towards.
When the corruption debate is national, it is usually because it is seen in the light of the presidency and the political parties but a snapshot of the business operations and investment climate in Ghana faces a lot of corruption obstacles as well independent of political party. ‘Tips’, ‘losso’, ‘dash’, ‘something for the boys’ and many others are all jargons for corruption for low-level government employees. Of course kick-backs and the likes are for the big boys. There are enough laws in the Criminal Code to criminalise active and passive bribery, extortion, willful exploitation of public office, use of public office for private gain and bribery of foreign public officials. The Public Procurement Act, the Financial Administration Act, and the Internal Audit Agency Act have provisions to promote public sector accountability and to combat corruption and yet corruption is almost very endemic and we should focus on why?
It is for these cultural reasons the creation of the Office of the Special Prosecutor was an interesting emphasis if even it was for the optics. The appointment of Mr. Martin Amidu made the fight against corruption even more interesting but what does that mean for his resignation? Without laboring in the politics, let us access some risks of corruption in some sectors of the state:
The security services are deemed as an institution with high risk of corruption. Many Ghanaians rank the police as one of the most corrupt institution in the country. Extortion and bribery are almost common place. ‘Gifts’ and ‘something for the boys’ at illegal checkpoints are normal. The police are widely perceived as inept and are criticized for corruption or negligence of their duties. It is a widespread perception that, Ghana’s police officers are not effective in enforcing law and order, and in protecting them from crime.
2. Public Services
The public services is also seen as a high corruption risk institution. Public administrations are perceived as corrupt and inert. Bribes and irregular payments are often exchanged in return for obtaining public utilities. Low-level government employees openly demand unauthorized payments in return for facilitating license and permit applications or such request may take forever without any proper means of escalation. Presentation of officials with gifts and irregular payments to as honourarium for nothing done is quiet normal.
3. Public Procurement
I guess the ongoing news about the PPA boss makes it a sector for which very little should be said. Companies contend with high corruption risks when dealing with Ghana’s public procurement system. Bribes and irregular payments are often exchanged in return for obtaining government contracts and licenses. Businesses in Ghana expect to give gifts to procurement officials. Companies report that public funds are often diverted due to corruption and that procurement officials often favor well-connected individuals or companies when awarding public contracts. Some of the reasons fueling high corruption levels in public procurement include a weak government administration and the state being a major investor and contractor. Companies cannot expect complete transparency in locally funded contracts, and there are allegations of corruption in the tender process. Some contracts are awarded through sole or single sourcing where the procurement entity selects one supplier through noncompetitive bidding.
4. Civil Society
There are numerous private radio stations and many independent newspapers and magazines. Yet, some private outlets with political connections face editorial pressure and some journalists practice self-censorship. State-owned media has established an increasing degree of autonomy, but criticism of government activities is less heated than in the independent newspapers. Some journalist take money to drop stories or to do same. DJs take money to play music. Think Tanks through donors and sponsors further causes that are not entirely true and independent. Bloggers are facilitating falsehood because they have been paid to and some orphanages and NGOs are unaccountable for funds received and have become personal properties of individuals.
The list may go on to the judiciary, tax agencies, immigration service, legislature, resource management especially in Gold, Oil and other explorative minerals, land administration, and almost every facet of our life as a country. It is the nature of how corruptions is endemic that should be our focus. The public discuss and the decision in 2 weeks about corruption should be about this widespread cultural dimension of fighting corruption but until then, let us tickle ourselves and laugh.