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Professor Kwesi Yankah and the IEA Corruption Conference


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Professor Kwesi Yankah and the IEA Corruption Conference



The theme chosen for today’s conference, Purging the Nation of Corruption, is not an uncommon one. It is timelessly topical within both the local and global context, and would attract anxious ears insofar as front pages of the media keep screaming with headlines from day to day about corruption.

But it is also one on which there is so much wasted energy, setting off well intended discussions which are often unproductive. One meeting, seminar or the other, often end with ambitious action plans that are of little utilitarian value. In several cases, the communiqué released after the seminar is often a one size fit all formula that could easily have been downloaded from the internet ten years ago. And it all seems as if the more seminars that are held on corruption, the more shocking are revelations on front pages the next day. With such a tragic history of dialogue on corruption, one can only wish good luck to organizers of one-day conferences such as this one.

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But let me be a little more charitable. Hello IEA, thanks for inviting me to share with participants here, a few thoughts about the theme for today.

Throughout Ghana’s political history, different angles of corruption have entered Ghana’s popular culture and even mythology from one epoch to the other; the landmarks left in Ghana’s political history are memorable.

•In the 1960s, one recalls Mr. Krobo Edusei’s plush Golden Bed alleged to be costing three thousand pounds, which few ever saw, but was allegedly hidden away in his bedroom during the days of the CPP;

•In the mid sixties again, the forced resignation of a military Head of State for alleged underhand dealings in the Abbot agreement during the days of the National Liberation Council.

•The various commissions of inquiry instituted immediately after coups d’état, to probe allegations of corruption against officials of previous regimes.

•The Acheampong Government’s unilateral decision to boycott payment of all outstanding external debts incurred by the Busia Government, because they were tainted with corruption;

•The 1979 June 4th insurrection meant to sanitize a corrupt environment, and deemed by the AFRC as a necessary prelude to handing over of power to civilians.

•Naked bodies of market women subjected to severe lashes during revolutions, in the name of restoring sanity in the retail business, which was deemed corrupted;

•Kangaroo courts handing down draconian sentences ranging from 30 to more than 100 years, to public officials accused of ‘economic sabotage,’ serious fraud or corruption.

•Eminent public officials publicly humiliated, and sentenced to be porters of night soil, with pictures of their undignified errands splashed on front pages of Ghana’s daily newspapers, as penalties for corruption.

All these have not been enough to slow down the pace of corruption. In a desperate search for a panacea against the social canker of corruption, we have even been compelled as a nation, to integrate into our 1992 constitution, the cliché probity and accountability, adjoining these to the nation’s principles of freedom and justice, upon which Ghana was founded. Probity and accountability, the theme for this conference, then became adopted as an integral part of the pillars on which the nation stands. The Preamble of Ghana’s Constitution says in part:

We the People of Ghana….in solemn declaration and affirmation of our commitment to Freedom, Justice, Probity and Accountability…do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this constitution.

Thus while the Constitution itself felonies armed insurrection against constitutional regimes, it paradoxically recognizes and institutionalizes the slogan ‘probity and accountability,’ which came with the 1979 and 1981 revolutions and eventually became standard symbolism for armed insurrection. Adopting these watch words, Ghana ignored for the sake of convenience, the sordid and foul circumstances under which the terms were ushered into Ghana’s political lexicon, and questions of tainted symbolism this could raise within the context of a constitutional order. But that could partly be explained by the very political climate in which the 1992 constitution itself was drafted, and the compromises we needed to make, to facilitate the transition to constitutional rule. If these ‘tainted’ slogans had been deployed, assimilated, and made bedrocks of our renewed national vision, it was perhaps in the name of a desperate quest for civility and transparency as cardinal instruments for good governance.

Agitation for Change

But the theme for this conference rightly points to public institutions as primary in any search for the quintessence of public morality; for it is in these that the public has invested. Public institutions have been set up and maintained by the public purse, and a few have been mandated by the Constitution to institute mechanisms that promote order and transparency in public life. Public institutions and the way they are managed indeed have implications for national stability.

Even within constitutional regimes, popular revolts, uprisings and civil insurrections have now become instruments by which corrupt governments have been publicly reprimanded and eventually unseated by the masses. The cases of Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, the several Arab spring movements triggered a few years ago in the Middle East, and recent insurrections in Brazil and several other countries, point up the implications of corruption for national and regional stability.

Electoral outcomes have been traced to corruption as well; and we cannot forget recent elections in Nigeria where corruption became a major issue that determined electoral choices. The perceived capacity of presidential candidates to fight corruption became an important consideration for voters in their electoral choices. Significantly, the second factor cited in Nigeria was security: the political will and capacity to fight rebel insurgency. Even here, President Jonathan’s critics have not separated that from the issue of corruption. They consider the security threat posed by Boko Haram to have provided an opportunity for a corrupt Government to further invade the public purse. The rather unimpressive outcomes of military engagements with Boko Haram over the past six years were considered as not commensurate with the billions of dollars voted to fight the insurgency. To critics moneys received in the name of security,$5.8bn in 2014,may have been frittered away.

Global/Regional Ranking

Significantly, African countries have often dominated the list of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world, in surveys done by the Transparency International in the past several years. Considered partly responsible for Africa’s poverty and underdevelopment, corruption is estimated to cost us in Africa, 25% of our combined national income: some 148 billion US dollars a year.

Within Transparency Perception Surveys, Botswana ranks in Africa as the least corrupt (No 1), but has on the other hand, been ranking between 30th to 37th position over the years, out of 175 countries in the world. Botswana often scores upwards of 5 out a total score of 10. It is also not surprising that Botswana boasts of having one of the best economies in Africa.

Since 1998, the global ranking of Ghana on corruption by Transparency International has considerably fluctuated (see chart below). Among the least corrupt countries, Ghana has hovered from 50th to the 70thposition over a period of 16 years, out of a total of 175 or so countries listed. Our best position ever was in 2002, when Ghana placed 50th, and the worst years were 2003 and 2006, when we placed 70th. Our placement between 50 and 59 ended in 2002. From 2003 onwards, we have placed between 61st and 70th positions out of 170+ countries. From 2006 to 2010, we hovered between 62nd and 69th, and improved up to 61st. Ghana’s current global ranking of 61 in 2014, is still better than Italy and South Africa.

Data sources used by the Transparency International include questions on abuse of public power, bribery of public officials, kick backs in procurement, embezzlement of public funds, and the strength of anti-corruption efforts in the public sector.

Least Corrupt Countries out of 174

Within Africa, Ghana has oscillated between 6th and 8thpositions from 2005 to 2014, an indication that there has indeed been no remarkable change in our fairly favorable placement within Africa. Our best in recent times has been a 6th place in 2012, and our worst in terms of positioning, is 8thposition in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2014. Thus even though in 2014, Ghana’s position was fairly favorable (61 ), and scored fairly high (4.8) in the global index, its position within Africa, slightly declined.

Within Africa, Ghana has been constantly positioned after Botswana, Tunisia, South Africa, Namibia, and Seychelles Islands, and is occasionally interrupted by additional countries like Cape Verde and Rwanda.

Corruption Sites

While our ranking on the continent is not dismal, this should be seen against a few important factors: that Africa has often scored the lowest among the six regions designated by Transparency International, with an average score of 33 (or 3.3) out of 100. If one should go by global standards and Ghana is seen as belonging to the best 7 or 8 among the lowest rated continent, this should not be a great source of delight, considering that the continent itself is the lowliest rated. But of course, we should still be proud since the one-eyed giant is still a giant all the same. Secondly, corruption is persistently cited as a major obstacle to doing business in Ghana.

The final point has to do with the rather embarrassing sites in Ghana that are perceived as the most hospitable to corruption in recent times.

An Afro-Barometer survey by the CDD on Ghana recently, portrays rather disturbing trends about perceptions of corruption among certain key public institutions. Based on a sample of 2,400 respondents interviewed in mid 2014, the bad news was that the perception of corruption had significantly increased over the past year, and that the government has performed rather dismally in fighting corruption in the government.

Over time, despite a slight decrease from 2012 to 2014, the proportion of Ghanaians who think their leaders are involved in corruption has witnessed remarkable percentage-point increases – up to a 36-percent gain in the negative assessment of the President and officials in his office.

Overall however it was the police that topped the general corruption table followed by government officials, and MPS within the CDD survey.

If such had been people’s perception about the public institutions, was it surprising when the IEA’s 2015 corruption index survey, in which 1200 households were surveyed, ranked the Presidency, which is the President and the outfits directly under his control, as the second most corrupt institution in Ghana, after the Ghana Police.


The release of this damning research document by the IEA on the eve of the President’s State of the Nation address, predictably triggered a groundswell of condemnation by Government officials, who dismissed the survey as politically motivated, non-scientific, and lacking empirical value. What’s the proof, they said. To them, the report had been mischievously planted to undermine confidence in the long awaited presidential address. If the President speaks on 27th February 2015, why not a little bad news just before he walks up the podium?

On the CDD survey, in which 2400 people were sampled, one Government appointee mischievously interpreted the methodology rather literally when he said,

“Of the 25 million population in Ghana, why did the Survey decide to base its evidence on only 2400 people? How about the views of the 24 million others? Are they fools?”

As he said this, I could imagine worried observers squirming, and curiously Google-ing their handsets to check ‘where did he go to School,’ and possibly ‘who taught him research methods.’ To those who throw doubt on issues of perception, listen to a justification for the use of perception, by Transparency International.

Perception is used because corruption is to a great extent a hidden activity that is difficult to measure. Over time, perceptions have proven to be a reliable estimate of corruption. Scandals, investigations or prosecution, offer non-perception data, but reflect less on the prevalence of corruption in the country, and more on other factors such as freedom of the press, or efficacy of judicial system.

Indeed, from time immemorial very few Presidents in Ghana themselves have been said to be corrupt. Ghanaians have a tendency for euphemisms and would rather say, “As for the President himself, he is not corrupt—he is God fearing; it is rather the people around him.” And that would normally be taken as a declaration of support for a beloved President, who while in power must not be hurt. Whatever that means, it ignores a cardinal yardstick of good leadership, namely the capacity to exert control by word or deed over one’s field of influence.



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