The deteriorating perceptions of corruption in government
The deteriorating perceptions of corruption in government

The deteriorating perceptions of corruption in government

The story of the alleged theft and the sums of money involved in the home of the former Minister of Sanitation and Water Resources, Cecilia Abena Dapaah, reignited public discussions about corruption in government.

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The former minister released a statement responding to the story when it first broke. There were also a few explanations offered on her behalf by certain voices. In typical Ghanaian fashion, the scandal received its fair share of jokes. In the end, the minister tended in her resignation which was accepted by the president. In all the public conversations about this issue, it is the growing public perception of corruption in government that I find extremely worrying. Analyses of the responses to questions surrounding corruption in the last three rounds of Afrobarometer buttress my point. 

Afrobarometer Round 9

In 2022 when the survey asked Ghanaians their opinion on the level of corruption in the past year, seven out of ten (69 per cent) perceived corruption to have “increased a lot.” To place it in context of why I find this alarming, when this question was asked in Round 7, 2017, only two out of ten (20 per cent) held this sentiment. In Round 8, 2019, four out of ten (38 per cent) believed the same.

Even more worrying is the percentage of Ghanaians who answered, “none of them” when asked “how many of the following people do you think are involved in corruption, or haven’t you heard enough about them to say?” across several institutions. Let me highlight a few here — The president and officials in his office (Four per cent); civil servants ( Four per cent ); the police (three per cent ); judges and magistrates (three per cent); Members of Parliament (three per cent); and tax officials (three per cent). 

The combination of the perception that corruption is worsening plus the extremely low percentages of Ghanaians willing to give our governance institutions what I call a “clean bill of health” on corruption carries with it several implications. Various factors make institutions thrive, but one that is key is trust.

When engaged in a dispute with my neighbour, I do not necessarily go to court simply because the law prescribes it. I do so because I trust that the courts will act as impartial arbiters in the dispute. What will make a citizen bring a public problem, to the attention of their elected representative or a government official? A trust that they have the welfare of the community at heart and are prepared to listen and resolve the problem. As a citizen, why must I entrust the powers of the state and all its resources into the hands of the President? Because I trust that the President will act for the general welfare of the public, especially in a democracy where not all voters may have voted for the President. 

Trust

Trust matters, and when trust in institutions breaks down, citizens may refuse to play by the rules of the game, attempt to influence the rules through manipulation, or seek informal (sometimes illegal) ways of mediating differences in the democratic space with other actors. Therefore, when it comes to the issue of corruption, it does not help when citizens increasingly perceive governance institutions this way. 

Furthermore, when scandals surface, even as allegations, it only goes a long way to further fuel the perceptions citizens hold.
It is an undeniable fact that every government promises to fight corruption. However, the verdict of Ghanaians on the fight against corruption is mixed, with slightly more periods of poor evaluation than periods of excellent evaluation. 

In the Afrobarometer survey, citizens are given an opportunity to assess the fight against corruption by being asked, “how well or badly would you say the current government is handling the following matters, or haven’t you heard enough about them to say?” The fight against corruption in government enjoyed its most positive rating in 2002 and 2017. 

Evaluation

But, in general, the evaluation of the fight against corruption in Ghana has not been positive. After an initial improvement between 1999 and 2002, a period of decline set in from that point until 2014. There was a brief period of recovery in 2017, but since then the decline has been staggering, dropping by as much as forty-six percentage points between 2017 and 2022. 

To crown it all, when asked – “In this country, can ordinary people report incidents of corruption without fear, or do they risk retaliation or other negative consequences if they speak out?” Ghanaians have regularly said you risk retaliation or other negative consequences if they speak out – 2017 (61per cent ); 2019 (59 per cent); and 2022 (69 per cent). 

In The Final Analysis

Perceptions are a powerful thing. It is the reason why it is extremely important that the actions or inactions of public servants do not lead citizens down this path of losing trust in institutions and perceiving its government as corrupt. 

The writer is a fellow of Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana)

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