Five things that will set back Ghana’s progress in 2018 if not addressed

After 25 years of practicing democracy following ups and downs of military regimes that mostly set the country back, Ghana’s democratic process, widely respected around the world is becoming insipid. A growing sense of entitlement among the political class, the entrenchment of and normalization of corruption, graft and lack of consistency in public policy and action have conspired to effectively water down what began in 1992.

The forward march to building a strong and progressive democratic society that would move away from the statism that shielded the political class from being accountable to the people that they served and deliver prosperity, justice and cohesion seems to be in a lull.

As the year 2018 begins, there are a number of acts of commission and omission that are very likely to hold back the country’s social, economic and political progress but five things would stand out and shall be inimical to the country’s well-being if not tackled.

1. Corruption: Even though there is public outcry and concern over public corruption, there has been very limited state action to curb the ugly phenomena and that is notwithstanding the fact that the country has adequate laws and institutions to tackle the malaise.

The exact financial loss to the country through corruption is not known, but it does cost the country several billions of cedis every year. The cost is felt more in some instances such as low quality of education facilities and education itself, the health system, poor quality of roads and drainage systems and the overall weakening and compromising of the structures of state.

Despite the laws and institutions in place to fight corruption, the practice has become a low risk venture. The citizenry have come to accept it as normal while the institutions are often very slow to act against corruption and corrupt officials have become emboldened.

The Executive, Judiciary and Legislature are all suspects as some instances have shown that they are all engaged in corrupt acts. The Executive is known and in some cases found to have acted to rob the state of money through deals handed down to its cronies and benefactors. Judges have been found to have taken tokens as bribes to twist justice and in some cases release persons accused of murder standing trial before them.

The public’s growing perception of collusion and lethargy in some of these institutions have largely destroyed the public’s confidence in them and lowered expectations.

Corruption among Parliamentarians is widely suspected. Some members of Parliament have in the past openly admitted to members taking bribes to pass legislation, even though the public has shown disapproval for those laws. In spite of vehemently denying it, it is no secret that most Members of Parliament are sponsored by business people who in turn influence them to pass laws and approve business deals in their favour. Some cases in point were the sale of Ghana Telecom in 2009. Even more offending was the purported sale of the Volta Aluminium Company (VALCO) in 2008. Parliament passed a sale and purchase agreement for the sale of VALCO to two foreign companies, Norsk of Norway and Vale of Brazil two of the largest in the world. But minutes after passing the agreement the companies came out to say they haven’t bought VALCO. It turned out the government of the day had schemed to hand over VALCO on a silver platter to a crony and financier of the president. It is unclear now, what the status of VALCO is following the sham agreement. The matter was buried as news companies owned by some of the characters involved in the bogus deal were effectively instructed not to carry any report on the matter, leading to its effective death.

Not long ago, Parliament was forced to repeal a law it passed to compel Ghanaians to pay a compulsory yearly vehicle towing fee. The deal was to be managed by a company, obviously sole-sourced. This company, by the way is known to be part of a group of companies caught in some corruption scandals in the past, both in and outside the country. A subsidiary within that group was blacklisted by the World Bank for corruption in Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2013. Another subsidiary found to be involved in corruption in Ghana was asked to refund monies to the state.

Law enforcement officers, particularly the police have come up top in every single corruption survey conducted in the country over the years. Despite defending the corruption tag spiritedly, it is an open secret that some officers of the Ghana Police receive bribes while on duty and they do so openly.

The country is however, not short on anti-corruption laws. There are the Criminal Procedure Code, 1960 (Act 30), the Public Financial Management Law, the Internal Audit Agency Act, the Labour Act, the amended Public Procurement Act, the amended Banking Act, and the Whistle Blower Act 720. These laws and some others are supposed to check corruption, but it appears enforcement is not being efficiently and effectively done.

Moreover, there are institutions such as the Attorney-General’s Department, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, the Economic and Organised Crime Office and so on. But these institutions often behave as though, they are political wings of governing parties. They appear not to be using their independence, granted under the law to function effectively to curb corruption. Positions in these organisations are sometimes given to political lackeys, who tend not to act against party members occupying the public space who are accused of engaging in corruption. Then, in addition to all these institutions, often starved of funds and the required human resources to function, the government recently passed a law to enable it set up the Office of the Special Prosecutor to prosecute corruption cases.

The public’s growing perception of collusion and lethargy in some of these institutions have largely destroyed the public’s confidence in them and lowered expectations. If corruption is not tackled headlong, the President’s anti-corruption posture and seeming tough talk on tackling the menace and the conduct of some of his own appointees which appear to be at variance with the talks will to a large extent dissipate public confidence in the state’s ability to fight corruption.

2. Impunity: No country can move forward when individuals or particular groups can act with impunity and get away with it, even when it is obvious their actions are against the law.

Party foot soldiers are known to act with impunity, as though they are above the law – and indeed, in cases where they have flouted the laws they have walked free.

A typical example is the case of one of the vigilante groups connected to the ruling party. Members of this group invaded a court while it was sitting and freed some of their members standing trial. These people after a trial only received as it were a slap on the wrist.

Some other vigilante groups have taken the law into their own hands and acted violently to remove appointed officials from office because, they claim these officials did not contribute to the campaign to win the election that brought the party to power – they too, walked free.

Some of these groups aligned to the ruling government recently attacked journalists on duty and assaulted them but no action has been taken against them yet. There is also a very popular case of a presidential aide who attacked a journalist in the recent past and destroyed the reporter’s tape recorder, but walked free.

Public officials, both appointed and elected shouldn’t act with impunity and if they do, they must suffer the consequences of their actions.

Stories of military men beating up and injuring civilians over trivial matters are common, and these military personnel don’t seem to be brought to book.

Most police and military personnel, while expected to uphold the law, don’t seem to. And they don’t also have the public’s trust to do so, because of instances of human rights abuses by the police and military. In cases where police and military personnel have acted with impunity, and had caused the loss of life of innocent citizens, the law hasn’t caught up with them. A case in point is the obvious murder of four members of a neighbourhood watchdog group in Taifa, Accra somewhere in 2002. A joint team of police and military personnel on patrol received a distress call from a resident. The watchdog team also appeared to have received the same call and was dispatched to help the resident. The team was met by the joint police and military patrol team who mistook the members for armed robbers. Even though the team told the joint team who they were and showed their ID cards, the police and military team refused to believe them, and instead of arresting them, they lined up these men who were not resisting arrest and shot them. Four men were killed that fateful night, including a former military man. To date, none of the police and military personnel involved in this act of impunity have been sanctioned.

Stories of military men beating up and injuring civilians over trivial matters are common, and these military personnel don’t seem to be brought to book.

There are other citizens who also act with impunity because they know they can bribe their way out of any legal wrangle.

3. Delay in passing the RTI bill: Ghana is a member of a number of international systems and platforms for transparency and good governance. In 2011 the country was invited by the US government to join the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral initiative which objectives among others were to secure commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

In 2012, Ghana joined the partnership and made commitments including promising to pass the Right to Information Law. The government then developed an action plan which it submitted to the Partnership. The plan was to pass the right to information law by December 2016. There is yet to be a concrete move to pass the law which would foster and enhance transparency, accountability and citizens’ participation in governance.

Despite several promises by both past and current governments to pass the law, it appears to be the least of their interests considering the swiftness with which they have passed some other laws, but are yet to pass this particular law.

4. Weak media: A weak media is the best friend and ally of decadent societies and corrupt governments. Any country with a malleable and docile media will be doomed. Good governance, accountability, transparency, equity, justice, peace and development can’t be achieved efficiently without a strong, responsible and accountable media. A media that knows its role and plays it without fear or favour in the public interest, is an asset to any society seeking to progress.

While Ghana has some of the most enabling environments for good quality journalism to thrive, journalism is not as it should. Standards and performances are generally low. There are a few bright spots though, but even those are like endangered species. The few who are sticking to reporting and investigating important issues, are often only touching soft targets.

The 1992 Constitution recognizing the relevance and importance of the media to democracy and good governance dedicated an entire Chapter to media freedom, spelling out the role and responsibilities of the media and granting it the liberty to function.

And even worse, charlatans, usurpers and imposters find it easy to put themselves up as journalists while they practice a variant of the profession which has very little semblance to journalism

In the face of the constitutional backing however, the media in Ghana has generally become servile – fawning and wagging its tail like a lapdog to the highest bidder instead of seizing the moment to perform independently as watchdog. Despite its enormous power to influence decisions positively and effect social change, the media in Ghana doesn’t seem to assert itself yet, to fully exercise the freedom and independence granted it by the supreme law of the country.

Meanwhile, having seen the irrepressible power of the media to influence society, some corrupt business people and politicians have taken advantage to set up media organisations. These organisations are existing for the sole purpose of advancing the political and business interests of the owners and they do very little journalism if at all. Some have also bought existing ones, with others using influence peddlers to buy the loyalty of some journalists.

And even worse, charlatans, usurpers and imposters find it easy to put themselves up as journalists while they practice a variant of the profession which has very little semblance to journalism but with an undiscerning public and powerful cartels and financial power behind them, they are having a field day.

There is very little independent journalism in Ghana, to the point that even though there are some very well meaning journalists working in most of these organisations, a cursory look at most of the editorial content shows a media that is doing someone’s bidding and not serving the public interest.

Advertisers and marketing departments of news organisations often determine editorial content and not the journalists. If an advertiser is unhappy with a story and doesn’t want it published, even if it is factual, it is less likely to be published. Most editors succumb to threats to pull out advertising or simply receive financial and other material inducements to kill stories that otherwise should be published because they are in the public interest and after they have been properly investigated. Some journalists unhappy with these incidents only muffle disapproval for the sake of their daily bread – and putting food on the table is important.

The Ghanaian media is also visibly divided along partisan lines, considering the fact that majority of news organisations are owned by politicians and their cronies. One story puts this fact out even more poignantly. The manner in which the recently published Paradise Papers was handled by the media in Ghana highlighted this reality.

In the Paradise Papers, the names of two Ghanaians were mentioned as having been involved with offshore companies – the names of the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta and businessman, Ibrahim Mahama appeared in the Papers, but scanning through news reports in Ghana, one would very likely get the impression that Mahama, who is also the brother of immediate past president of the country, John Mahama was the only Ghanaian whose name appeared in the Papers. Most of the reports left out Ofori-Atta’s name.

Another story that shows how advertisers can determine what is published is how the news about the broken relationship between Enterprise Group of Ghana and Sanlam Group of South Africa was reported.

Enterprise Group announced a sudden end to its strategic partnership with Sanlam Emerging Markets Proprietary Limited and replaced Sanlam with Black Star Holdings Limited as its new strategic partner without publicly stating the actual reasons for the action. Sanlam had been Enterprise’s strategic partner for about 10 years. Before the separation with Enterprise, Sanlam held the following shares in Enterprise Group – Enterprise Life, 49 per cent, Enterprise Insurance, 40 per cent and Enterprise Trustees, 40 per cent.

The reason for the divorce, which was very painful for Sanlam was because Sanlam consistently hindered Enterprise from entering other African countries, particularly one of Africa’s biggest insurance markets – Nigeria. And while Sanlam prohibited Enterprise from entering Nigeria and other African countries, Sanlam was entering those markets. These actions by Sanlam irked the management of Enterprise compelling the Ghanaian Group to sever relations with Sanlam, but this fact was never put out in the news, because Enterprise apparently, didn’t want the public to know.

5. A disinterested public: President Nana Akufo-Addo in his inaugural speech, which was later found to have been plagiarized, asked Ghanaians to be citizens and not spectators. By this he was calling on Ghanaians to be engaged in governance. And to be engaged in governance means citizens ought to demand accountability, but more importantly, citizens must be law abiding.

If Ghana must make progress in 2018, citizens must engage in the governance of the country. Citizens must not stand aloof and expect things to just work, they must make things work by actually doing the work. Go to work on time, perform their duties creditably and avoid acts that breed low productivity.

Citizens ought to join the fight against corruption, by exposing corruption wherever they find them. Citizens must insist on the full and rigorous application of the law wherever necessary in fairness.

Citizens must take responsibility to improve sanitation by putting their garbage at the right and proper places and not littering the streets, landlords should provide basic necessities like decent toilets for their tenants, citizens must uphold the integrity of the environment by curtailing illegal mining, deforestation, bad fishing practices that degrade the sea, rivers, lakes and affect marine and aquatic lives. They should stop building houses on water ways, and be vigilant custodians of public property. Being law abiding is one of the highest service that citizens can render to their country, and failing to do so will hold back progress.

As part of their civic responsibilities, citizens must demand fair distribution of national resources, support and protect the weak and vulnerable.

Women play vital roles in national development, and therefore, enhancing and promoting gender policies to empower women and increasing their place in the decision-making process can portend well for this country.

Ghana has high potential for social and economic growth; but development is a calculated and conscious act – it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is important therefore, that partisanship is toned down, the national interest projected and all hands get on deck. Putting Ghana first is a sure enabler for a forward march.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Email: [email protected]

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