In his annual 31st December message, former President Rawlings says “Ghana is saddled with some very negative images about corruption, some wrongly perceived, but some convincingly accurate,” while the king of Akyem Abuakwa describes the level of corruption in Ghana as “madness”. Similarly, Ghana’s catholic bishops noted in their New Year message that the “twin evils of bribery and corruption” are ravaging every fabric of the Ghanaian society – a situation the deputy speaker of parliament and New Patriotic Party Member of Parliament for Essikado argues could make Ghana a failed state.
Despite the strong civil society activism and media vigilance, the perception or reality of corruption doesn’t seem to have slowed down. And it doesn’t end there.
Ghana loses a considerable amount of money to corruption each year. Between 2009 and 2011, the amount of money paid in judgement debts was just over GHS680 million (about USD 200million).
The amount equates the budgetary allocation for the agriculture sector for the perio , and was more than the total accumulated revenue realised by the National Health Insurance Levy as at the end of 2011. According to the Auditor General, in 2011 alone Ghana lost over GHS 170M (about US$50Million) to financial irregularities in the public sector. It’s even taking a toll on expected revenues. In December 2014, the European Union announced they were withholding 135M euros in budgetary support due to corruption allegations.
So, how can Ghana effectively battle this canker of corruption that is wreaking havoc on our society?
Political Will. While there may be several other measures, like regulation, media vigilance, civil society activism, education, better salaries among others, very little progress can be made against corruption if we do not have an absolute resolve on the part of government to weed it out.
Before elaborating on why political will is the key to winning the war on corruption in Ghana, let’s explore other suggestions put forth on how to curb corruption in Ghana
The first is the view that winning the fight against corruption requires a general increase in moral values resulting in a collective resolve of the general population to eschew corruption. While such an occurrence will be wonderful, it will forever remain a fantasy. There is no evidence anywhere in the world where morality has been used to successfully tackle corruption. On the contrary, the evidence suggests that countries that have been successful in fighting corruption attained success by increasing the punishment and removing the opportunities for corruption; nothing to do with a general increase in the level of morality or integrity.
There is also the view that the cause of corruption is low salaries, and to fight corruption we should pay people in the public service well. This is a popular view and one that has been expressed even by people like Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew. This view however is not supported by evidence. In Singapore, the government actually cut public incomes initially when the newly independent government realized they did not have the capacity to support increased salaries. Instead, the government strengthened existing legislation in a bid to reduce opportunities and increase the penalty for corruption. The government only started raising salaries when they realised the public sector was losing talent to the private sector.
A final viewpoint is that we need strong laws to fight corruption. I fully subscribe to this view, but without political will, it becomes difficult to get the right laws or even have the laws properly implemented. For instance in Ghana, laws can only be proposed by government, and the authority responsible for prosecution, the attorney general, is appointed and completely answerable to the president. It will therefore take a certain political will to enact laws that make the anticorruption bodies truly independent and make the enforcement of laws impartial and effective. In the end, to have strong and effective laws, you need political commitment.
The importance of political will in fighting corruption is amply demonstrated in many of the economies that have been successful in reducing this canker. In his paper “Combating Corruption Singapore-Style: Lessons for other Asian Contries”, Jon S.T Quah identifies political will as “the critical ingredient for success” in fighting corruption, and writes “…More importantly, Singapore’s success in minimizing corruption can be attributed to the political will of the PAP government to impartially implement its comprehensive anti-corruption strategy of reducing both the opportunities and incentives for corruption”.
Similarly, in Rwanda and Botswana, the successes in the fight against corruption has been largely attributed to the commitment at the very top. In enumerating the factors aiding the fight against corruption in Botswana, Dr. Gbolahan Gbadamosi starts with “The Commitment at the Top” and writes:
“Irrespective of the barrage of criticism by Batswana (as citizens of Botswana are known), the commitment of the leadership in ensuring good governance, improving the standards of living of the people and particularly in eradicating corruption is creditable. This commitment permeates a good number of the leadership in public office, civil service and the parastatals. The importance of top leadership commitment as a critical success factor in an anti-graft strategy is clearly demonstrated in the successes of Hong Kong and Singapore in recent times”.
Commenting on Transparency International’s 2013 Global Barometer of Corruption, Rwanda’s minister of local government James Musoni said:
“We should be proud that our country has been ranked as the least corrupt nation in Africa and I believe this progress has been made due to the government’s policy of zero tolerance to corruption in all public institutions”.
In all three countries, successes in the fight against corruption has been credited to the existence of political will. So what measures does Ghana have to take to use political will as an instrument for curbing corruption? Find out in Part 2.
Abdul-Nasser Alidu is a banking, technology and marketing professional from Ghana with over 8 years of working experience in key African markets.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Circumspecte.