David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, has convened a conference on corruption, which impedes individual well-being and national security. This is interesting in the light of the recent British MP expenses scandal and the Panama papers which revealed off-shore tax arrangements and financial data of companies and the rich and powerful, including the British Prime Minister's family.
Mr Cameron dropped a clanger which brought one of Africa's major concerns on corruption to the fore. He remarked that Nigeria and Afghanistan were the two most corrupt countries in the world. Nigerian President Buhari coolly retorted that Britain could make corruption less attractive if she did not provide a haven for money looted from Nigeria. He was not interested in an apology, but in the repatriation of stolen assets lodged in Britain.
The global conference is an opportunity for Ghana to mount a comprehensive study on corruption in the country. Some of our otherwise good societal practices may promote or can be misapplied to support corruption. As a people, Ghanaians like to say Thank You for services rendered especially when unexpected. The “thank you” is conveyed or expressed after the service. I remember staying at Korle Bu with my cousin Dr Akwei when he returned from Edinburgh as a young doctor with Dr Easmon who was next door. The compounds of the two houses became farms of turkeys, chickens, sheep, goats and yams in mid-December. The birds and other produce were presents from patients they did not remember treating. They were the patients’ way of saying “Thank You.”
These days many such professionals and officials expect the “thank you” before they do their duty. There are occasions when custom or practice requires a token or gift to open the door for consultation or discussion. Thus one carries a bottle of drink or other token for the privilege of meeting a chief or an elder in society. But is there a connection between these practices and the rampant corruption expressed in bribing people before they do their duty which undermines moral values and impedes economic and social development?
It may be suggested that corruption is now a worldwide phenomenon and has to be tackled as a global menace. Corruption seems to thrive in officialdom and infects even the rulers of nations. In Brazil the President is threatened with impeachment for alleged corruption. In Malaysia millions of dollars of state funds have found their way into the personal account of the Prime Minister. The cancer has spread down and concerned citizens are disturbed about authority turning a blind eye on what they believe are inappropriate developments of housing estates at Wembley, north London as some Ghanaians are concerned about inappropriate skyscrapers in parts of Accra.
Therefore much as we value President Mahama’s presence at the corruption conference in London, we should realise that the fight against corruption which destroys our social and moral values and impedes economic and social development must relentlessly be carried out here in Ghana. We should hold our big men and women accountable but not forget petty corruption. We should insist that officials do the work for which they are paid. We should refuse demands for monetary or other inducement and report such incidents to the appropriate authority, making such demand public if necessary. Institutions should have clear procedures for reports and action on allegations of corruption. Fighting corruption is not easy and may make life difficult for those who challenge it. But corruption cannot be curbed or eradicated if people do not fight against it. Corruption appears to be an endemic worldwide disease and can only be contained with clear leadership from the top, and people being prepared to fight and suffer a little for its eradication.