Successive governments since independence have tried to eliminate corruption or at least minimise it applying general prescriptions. Given the current state of corruption, these do not seem to have worked.
The law requires that public officers declare their assets and liabilities in a written form and submit to the Auditor-General before taking public office; they must do so every four years while in office, and must do same before exiting.
In 2003, the government enacted three laws that were expected to streamline public financial management and procurement and cure the incidence of the rampant corruption in the public service.
They are the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 653), Financial Administration Act 2003 (Act 654) and the Internal Audit Agency Act, 2003 (Act 658). These laws do not seem to work effectively. The Auditor-General’s reports catalogue each year a number of corruption practices in the public and civil services despite the promulgation of these anti-corruption legislations.
Addressing corruption from a holistic angle is preferable but a targeted sectoral approach would be more realistic and practical to implement. Such an approach would enable the development and implementation of sector specific anti-corruption mechanisms that could address the leakages and mismanagement of allocated resources, as well as promote institutional integrity in all sectors.
Such moves would have a positive cumulative impact on preventing corruption. A sectoral approach to anti-corruption has various advantages: for instance, focusing on a particular sector helps to inform more concrete approaches to the problem of corruption, and helps to target specific sectors.
Let us evaluate judicial corruption as an example. People’s expectation in the judicial system requires that judges, lawyers, court clerks and others associated with the Judiciary maintain the highest ethical standards. Judicial corruption extends from pre-trial, trial, judgement settlement and enforcement of decisions by court bailiffs.
In Ghana, the perception is that some judges are either given political favours or intimidated by the executive to influence judicial decisions in favour of the executive or against the opposition political parties.
A careful assessment of the current events, though a bit speculative and remain allegations, point to a fundamental fact that there is an element of truth in some of these assertions.
The second type of judicial corruption, which is mainly bribery, can occur at every point of interaction in the judicial system: court officials may extort money for work they should do anyway; lawyers may charge additional fees to expedite, or delay cases, or to direct clients to judges known to take bribes for favourable judgements.
For their part, judges may accept bribes to delay or accelerate a case, accept or deny appeals, influence other judges or simply decide a case in a preferred way. When defendants or litigants develop low opinion of judges and the judicial process, they are more likely to resort to bribing court officials, lawyers and judges to achieve desired judgements.
It can be seen that one cannot tackle judicial corruption by just asking our judges, court clerks and other judicial officers to complete assets declaration forms with the erroneous belief that it will eliminate or reduce corruption in the Judiciary.
The assets declaration process is indicative that something might have gone wrong or at best only acts as a check and not to eliminate corruption or the mischief. The financial administration laws that were enacted in 2003 have not worked either.
Our development partners have made many recommendations and the sector has witnessed many judicial reform programmes over the past two or three decades and the focus has been on court administration capacity building, judicial independence and accountability. Much has been spent on training judges, however, remuneration and incentives for judges have perhaps eluded the attention of many.
A lot has also been spent automating the courts to help reduce court workloads and streamline case management; nonetheless, if unaccompanied by increased accountability, the expected results would be unachievable, making the already corrupt courts more efficiently corrupt.
Judicial corruption and its effects on other institutions
In the broader governance context, judicial corruption undermines the effectiveness of other institutions. For example, efforts of an anti-corruption commission such as the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) that relies on the Attorney-General’s office to prosecute sensitive investigated cases will be weakened if the Attorney-General’s office is tainted with corruption.
The former chairman of CHRAJ, Justice Francis Emile Short, has suggested that the laws should be changed to allow CHRAJ to be able to prosecute the cases the commission investigates.
The commission has investigated a number of corruption cases against certain public officers. The billion-cedi question is: “How many of them have resulted in prosecutions and convictions?”
There is no set of magic structures and practices that will reduce corruption in all facets of society. Fighting corruption must be sector specific so that the right remedy could be obtained. The application of the remedy should be gradual and not instantaneous. Finally, there must be the political will to fight the disease called corruption.