Widespread corruption in Ghana: Why are we surprised?

Corruption in Ghana has become an endemic canker that is destroying our country and jeopardising its future.

The Ghana Integrity Initiative warned in 2018 that the country loses as much as US$3 billion to corruption every year; the 2021 Ghana Integrity of Public Services Survey (GIPSS) report, which indicated that about GHS5 billion was paid as bribes to public officials in 2021 alone confirmed this estimate.

Reports from the Auditor-General (A-G) further indicate that infractions and irregularities in the public sector from 2016 to 2020 amounted to about GHS48 billion.

In 2020 alone, the country lost GHS12.8 billion to infractions and other irregularities committed by state agencies. The recent report to Parliament for the 2021 financial year also flagged a total of GHS17.4 billion in financial irregularities, an increase of 36 per cent compared to the 2020 figure.

Ghana currently ranks #73 on the Corruption Perception Index, tied at a score of 43 with Hungary, Kuwait, Senegal and the Solomon Islands. Indeed, since 2012, the country has not been able to cross a score of 50 on the Index, indicating how poorly it has been performing.

The situation

Ghana’s scores over recent years also depict the deteriorating situation of corruption in Ghana, consistently declining from a score of 48 in 2014.

According to the 2022 Afrobarometer Survey, about 77 per cent of Ghanaians believe corruption in the country has increased, compared to only 33.2 per cent who believed the same in 2017.

Additionally, 65 per cent of Ghanaians believe that most or all police officials are corrupt. This negative perception is no different from that held of the presidency, judiciary, electoral commission, members of parliament, civil servants, MMDCEs, business executives, assemblymen and women, traditional authorities, the media, religious leaders and NGOs, albeit at different levels. Obviously, there is a lack of trust in the integrity of institutions in the country, indicative of the moral breakdown of the Ghanaian society.

Corruption has eaten deep into every fibre of the Ghanaian society, such that it has become the rule rather than the exception.

Policemen stop drivers for imaginary faults in order to extort money; customs officials take money before stamping genuine passports or allowing the clearing of goods; parents pay bribes to school authorities before their wards are admitted into schools; contractors and businessmen give “tips” in order win contracts; doctors and nurses have to be “tipped” before they attend to a dying patient; secretaries must be “seen” before they make appointments or move letters from one desk to another. Judges and court officials are visited with envelopes and people’s fates are sealed; fuel stations mix fuel with water, and their attendants defraud unwary customers; market women overprice their commodities and sneak in rotten produce; land-owners sell the same plot of land multiple times. Media persons take money before they decide on whether to air a story.

Even in the church, positions and sermons are influenced by people who give the most offerings. As for the political elite and government officials, corruption scandals have become such regular occurrences that we are barely concerned when we read of them.

But are we really surprised by these occurrences? We take money and gifts from politicians before we vote for them, yet expect them not to be corrupt when they take office. We use connections to recruit people into the police force; do we expect them not to collect bribes when they pass out? We deny our law students justice; how dare we expect them to fight for justice when they become lawyers and judges? We treat our medical students with contempt but expect them to have empathy when they become medical professionals. We help our students to cheat in exams but expect them to have integrity when they start working.

Our lecturers extort money and favours from students on campus, then expect these same students not to be corrupt when they start working? We pay our workers such low amounts, knowing very well that they can’t survive on it, and yet we expect them not to find other ways of surviving?

Social system/Solution

Together, we have set up a social system that rewards smart, cunning work rather than hard work. Hard work simply does not pay. Although the evidence of corruption is all around us, we laughingly justify it by declaring that “everybody chops from their job side”, normalising duplicity.

Our politicians become rich overnight and can never explain their sudden wealth: indeed, some politicians are richer than their entire constituencies. Our celebrities live lifestyles that their income cannot justify.

Our business executives own businesses with incomes that are not calculable from their tax returns. Even worse are our public and civil servants, whose vehicles alone betray the inconsistencies in their lifestyle and salary. Our lecturers, teachers, doctors and nurses – even while crying about being underpaid – still live in a way that just doesn’t add up. Employees pretend to work, and their employers pretend to pay them…and all of us complain about the corruption in Ghana.

Those we celebrate are those with wealth, and we don’t even bother to question the source. They get the front seats in public gatherings, give the largest funeral and wedding donations, and are appointed as chairpersons at our religious events.

We orient our children to go to school to become rich instead of serving the nation. Every new worker is expected by all to fix their family and friends somewhere or, at least, share the office loot with them. State coffers are acceptably burgled because it is government property.

The manner in which the nation celebrated the taxi driver who returned missing money to his passenger was commendable, but telling about the moral decadence in our society: deeds that were supposed to be the norm are now the exception.

Indeed, now in Ghana, the person of integrity, who insists on the right thing being done, is labelled as a bad person and sometimes even punished. Yes, to succeed in Ghana, you don’t need to work hard but to work smart.

If we really want to deal with corruption in Ghana, we must become honest as a people. True, our leaders must show integrity, but we the citizens must also audit our values and lifestyles.

In addition to prosecuting corruption-related cases, let us start teaching our children the values of integrity, honesty and patriotism from basic school. Our political elite and public servants certainly seem to need refresher courses on these values as well.

The writer is a Researcher, African Futures and Innovation, Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria.

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