Corruption becomes a way of life when it is perceived as a low risk, high reward venture. To make corruption a high risk, low reward venture requires strong laws and an almost draconian approach to the implementation of these laws. As mentioned in Part 1, both functions of proposing legislations and implementing laws fall in the ambit of government in Ghana.
There are two requirements for a strong anti-corruption legislation. The first is that the laws should be dynamic; changing over time in response to current circumstances. The second is that unlike other cases where the burden of proof is on the accuser, in the case of corruption, the burden of proof should lie with the accused. This principle is aptly demonstrated by the “Confiscation of Benefits Act” of Singapore. Here is the essence of the law as articulated by Singapore’s High Commissioner to Fiji, HE Verghese Mathews:
“If you are a civil servant who, let’s say, earns 500 dollars a month and if you are driving around in a BMW 5 series, your wife runs around in a Mercedes Benz Coupé and you own a five million dollar house, by George, then you will have to answer them about where you got this money from. And if you could not answer – if you had an uncle in Idaho who left you that amount of money, fair enough – but if you could not prove this, it was assumed that you would have obtained it through corruption and you will be charged for that and your BMW, your wife’s Mercedes and your 5 million dollar house would go. It would be confiscated.”
I daresay if we had such a law in Ghana, more than half our politicians and public servants will be found guilty of corruption. A little step for us towards this will, for instance, be applying more seriousness to the declaration of assets by public officials and making such declarations available to the public.
The second part of this process of making corruption a high risk, low reward venture is the actual implementation of the anti-corruption laws. In our model countries of Singapore, Botswana and Rwanda, there is ample evidence of the impartial implementation of anti-corruption laws. In Singapore, there are several examples of high ranking serving government officials being investigated and punished for corruption. In a speech to parliament, the prime minister of Singapore declared:
“I have every intention to make sure that Singapore remains corruption free …… and everyone should know that corruption in any form will not be tolerated. I expect all ministers, all MPs and all public officers to set good examples for others to follow…. If there is any allegation against any MP or Minister of assets wrongfully gained or corruptly gained, the Corrupt Practies Investigation Bureau (CPIB) will investigate. If the MP concerned is unable to explain how he had acquired these assets, or why he had not declared them, he will be charged for corruption”.
This is in sharp contrast to the position held by the presidents of Ghana, who insist on evidence before any investigation is initiated. In Rwanda, the director general of Rwanda Social Security Board, Angelique Kantengwa, was arrested over alleged corruption. In addressing the situation, the president Paul Kagame noted, “Those who have swindled state resources must be followed and be prosecuted…..They should bring it back we cannot accept this…..Some people steal taxpayers money and when asked for accountability they buy Air tickets and run away claiming political persecution”.
In Ghana, while the situations like how our president handled the case of the accusations against the former Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) boss gives some positive indications, in large part, his actions or inactions tend to give a cause to worry. For instance in the case of the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Agency (GYEEDA) and Savannah Accelerated Development Agency (SADA) scandals, one would have expected a lot more action. Instead the minister in charge of the sports ministry when they signed those GYEEDA contracts got handed a more lucrative Agriculture ministry to manage. And when the Auditor General writes in his report that “I am not satisfied with the performance of some Chief Executives and other responsible officials in the management of public resources and safeguarding of public property and I call for more effective action from the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, as the lead Agency of Government in the administration of the public purse, to ensure that MDAs comply with the Financial Administration Act, the Financial Administration Regulations, the Public Procurement Act as well as the Audit Service Act which calls for the establishment of Audit Report Implementation Committees”, you will expect a lot more activity from the presidency than we are used to seeing.
Similarly, more than six years after the MP for Tamale South stated in parliament “Ghana’s Asset Declaration, as it exists today, is impossible to determine whether a public officer has acquired disproportionate asset”, we have seen little being done to make the asset declaration law more than a window dressing gimmick. Instead what we have seen is a code of ethics with no tooth to bite. As the Hon. Oteng Agyei rightly reminded us when he was accused of taking some luxury cars belonging to the energy ministry (comment here):
“Moral suasion alone doesn’t do the trick. A code of ethics with no legal backing and a will to implement makes no difference in our fight against corruption.”
Without the political will, everything else we do in fighting corruption in Ghana will be to naught. As elegantly articulated by HE Verghese Mathews: “… our own experience suggest that while the private sector, civil society, NGOs, governments, especially civil service, have all a role to play in building a coalition for transparency …, there is no escaping that the most important elements will be the commitment, the dedication and the tenacity of the government. Without that, all that the other sectors do will be an uphill task. The government must show the political will, the commitment and the tenacity to carry out anti-corruption laws. I am not for a moment underestimating the role of the private sector or the other key players. But unless a government is serious and determined in putting an end to corruption and in encouraging good governance, again I say, it will be an uphill task for the other players”.
Political will in the context of Ghana is the will of the president in fighting corruption.Our constitution in its present state gives almost absolute power to the president. If we can be assured of the resolve of the president in dealing with corruption, we will be more than halfway through wining the fight.
In 1959, Lee Kwan Yew symbolically made every member of his government wear all white when taking the oath of office, and later resolved that “every dollar in revenue would be properly accounted for and would reach the beneficiaries at the grassroots as one dollar, without being siphoned off along the way”. Corruption is a fact of life everywhere, a fact that former president Kufuor acknowledged when he famously announced that corruption started from the time of Adam. However, corruption does not have to become a way of life, and for Ghana to make any gains in this direction, we need to see a significant level of commitment from the president of the republic.
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.