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Ghana can do more against corruption – Jon Benjamin

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Jon Benjamin - British High Commissioner to Ghana
Jon Benjamin – British High Commissioner to Ghana

Ahead of the anti-corruption summit in London on May 12, British High Commissioner to Ghana Jon Benjamin, says Ghana along with the rest of the world, could do better in fighting corruption.

In an exclusive interview with ghanabusinessnews.com, the High Commissioner said corruption which hurts the poor more than all else, was clearly “a topic of concern” for Ghanaians and Ghana could do more by adopting emerging anti-corruption standards such as beneficial ownership registers, exchange of information between tax authorities, and increasing transparent public procurement by open bidding and published contracts.

“Ghana and every other government in the world can do more. This is what this summit is for: to get everybody to do more.”

Referring to statistics by the World Economic Forum and the World Bank which point to $1.25 trillion dollars paid in bribes annually and the loss of 5 per cent of global annual output – about $2.5 trillion – to corruption, Jon Benjamin said he was hopeful the summit would throw more light on the scale of the problem.

“I hope that one of the first things this summit does in terms of media reporting is to bring home what an enormous issue it is,” he said, adding, “I think everybody knows corruption is a problem. I’m not sure everyone realizes how big a problem it is.”

Ghana has a plurality of media, and with increasing use of social media, citizens are talking more and venting out about corruption. As a consequence the growing complaints against corruption point to the current government’s inability or unwillingness to fight corruption honestly.

Meanwhile, corruption perception in Ghana worsened marginally by one percentage point in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2015 by global corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI). Ghana ranked 56th out of 168 countries with a score of 47, marginally down from a score of 48 in 2014, in TI’s index which rates countries on a scale of 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean). In 2014 Ghana was ranked 61st out of 174 countries.

On the African continent, Ghana ranks 7th in the 2015 report.

Despite the marginal drop, the 2015 report however, cites Ghana as one of the bright spots where citizen activists worked hard individually and in groups to drive out the corrupt and to send a strong message that should encourage other countries. A case in point is the public outcry following the re-spraying and rebranding of 116 buses with the blessing of the government under questionable circumstances at the a cost of more than GH¢3.6 million (GH¢3,649,044.75), approximately $1 million.

Company Ownership Transparency

The British High Commissioner noted that it had become very clear in the run up to the summit, that the global problem of transparency in beneficial ownership of companies – exacerbated by the Panama Papers – needs to be tackled.

Urging Ghana and the rest of the world to consider beneficial ownership registers, he said the UK hopes to move towards a global beneficial ownership register to help fight corruption globally, and important building blocks of that will be public beneficial ownership registers at national levels, and global information exchange between tax authorities.

“By more and more countries coming out with a national register which is open and complete, then really a global register becomes no more than just the aggregation of all the national registers,” he said, optimistic that Ghana would make some commitments at the May 12 summit.

On anti-corruption lapses in Ghana’s Petroleum Exploration and Production Bill, Mr Benjamin said Ghana could do more against corruption; technical experts in the petroleum sector were of the view that while the bill is a good one, it would truly have been made world class with beneficial ownership disclosure and criminalization of conflict of interest situations.

Jon Benjamin was hopeful that countries not interested in beneficial ownership registers now, will get them in the future, since ideas such as beneficial ownership registers, often take a lot of hard work and time to really take off in international relations and gather momentum to the tipping point where non-conformists feel pressurized.

“Our hope is the global beneficial ownership register will get such a take-up that any country anywhere that refuses to now, will not be able to resist that momentum in the future,” he said.

The role of Ghanaians

According to the High Commissioner, there are lots of positives and Ghana’s legislative framework against corruption and the National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP) were strong, but more needs to be done by way of enforcement and sanctions in Ghana and globally; “big men” need to go to prison as everyone else, when they falter, he noted.

“There needs to be sanctions against transgressors so one of the other strands of this conference in London is looking at not only how you expose corruption, how you develop a culture of fighting corruption, but also how you sanction perpetrators so that people not only know what’s wrong but they fear the consequences of doing wrong,” he said.

He added that the Ghanaian citizenry have their own role to play in fighting corruption, for instance by making the fight against corruption an important issue in the elections.

To debate these subjects during election seasons, he thinks it is important that any election in any democracy is primarily based on issues, not on personalities or allegations or slinging mud at each other on a personal basis but about a vision for what’s best for the country. “The corruption debate fits into that, I believe,” he said.

He however emphasized that it was solely up to Ghanaians to have elections based on important issues and not personalities.

“Britain is neutral. Britain doesn’t have a candidate; it doesn’t have a favourite party. We will very very happily work with whoever wins. We always have, we always will. What we argue for is peaceful and fair elections and we are making a contribution to that.”

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi & Emmanuel Odonkor

Copyright © 2016 by Creative Imaginations Publicity
All rights reserved. This article or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in reviews.

See a video of a segment of the interview here.

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