Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fighting corruption in public office: What the United States teaches us

Thursday, March 27, 2014
Folks, a country cannot make the desired progress if its system of governance is crippled by bribery and corruption. It is as clear as daylight!
Bribery and corruption have only one effect: to undermine morality and impede good governance. In a democracy, the more prevalent the canker is, the better chances are that governance will be adversely affected. Ghana is a victim of bribery and corruption. Its democracy cannot mature on that score.
Although human beings are by nature fallible, their desire for progress in this mundane world cannot be achieved if they don’t put their house in order as far as moral decadence and irresponsible behaviour (translated into unbridled self-acquisition through fair and foul means, mostly through the latter) are not held in check. We have too much of the unbridled craving for ill-gotten wealth in Ghana, which is why our democracy isn’t growing to serve the needs of the wider majority of the citizenry.

It is not so in other democracies where efforts are targeted at cleaning the system. Even though it has its weaknesses and inadequacies, the US’ democracy is hailed as exemplary in our time.
In truth, this kind of democracy is admirable because it serves the needs, purposes, and interests of the tax-payer—as is evident in the high quality of living standards (at least, for the majority of citizens who benefit from the system in many ways to live in dignity as human beings). No need to draw parallels between this system and others; but the truth is that payment for work done is better than anywhere else in the world. Otherwise, why are people all over the world gravitating to the US?
The US’ democracy is built on the rule of law. And the law is really evident in every aspect of human endeavour. The law in the US is no respecter of persons, which is why whether high or low, anybody who fouls the law is punished according to what the law prescribes. I respect the US for that.
More than anything else is the persistent effort by everybody to whip up the spirit of patriotism, which is why an American will scrupulously raise the country’s flag wherever he/she is. Take the US athletes, for instance. Wherever they find themselves in the world, they always hoist their country’s flag as a confirmation of their stiff-necked pride in that country’s status. And the US has a huge status!!
One may be astounded by the respect that US citizens have for their country, even though those in charge of implementing the country’s foreign policy often end up provoking bitter feelings against the country in respect of its global presence and all that it entails. No need to expatiate on this issue because of the implications of the US’ involvement in crises in many parts of the world or its instigation of crises whenever possible to boost the survival of its military-industrial complex.
But one undeniable fact is that the US fights corruption with all the resources at its disposal, even to the extent of using established institutions and personnel to trap prospective corrupt public officials. No talk of ethics here. All that is expedient in exposing corrupt officials is done and the culprits duly taken through the due process of law to be punished.
It is not as if going that way has completely rooted out corruption from the United States; but it is significant for all that it entails. Those who think that they can do things with impunity in the hope of profiting do so at their own risk.
Several instances exist to confirm how the US uses its own mechanisms to fight corruption, which can be emulated by other countries, especially those in Africa that are sinking fast because of being weighed down by bribery and corruption.
Here is the latest example:
“The mayor of the largest city in the US state of North Carolina has resigned, hours after he was arrested by the FBI on corruption charges.
Newly elected Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon, 47, is accused of accepting more than $48,000 (£28,953) in bribes and gifts from undercover FBI agents. He promised access to city officials in return, investigators said.
Mr. Cannon faces up to 20 years in prison and $1 million in fines if convicted on theft and bribery charges.
"I regret that I have to take this action, but I believe that it is in the best interest of the City for me to do so," he wrote in his resignation letter.
According to a complaint filed in federal court, between 17 January 2013 and 21 February 2014, Mr. Cannon accepted payments from undercover FBI agents on five separate occasions.
In return, he offered to connect the agents to city officials responsible for planning, zoning and permitting.
Mr. Cannon, a long-time Democratic city counsellor elected mayor in November, accepted cash, airline tickets, a Las Vegas hotel room and the use of a luxury apartment from the FBI agents, who reportedly posed as real estate developers, according to the complaint.
Before his election as mayor, Mr. Cannon founded a car park company and was the long-time presenter of a radio chat show.
The corruption investigation reportedly began in August 2010 following a tip from an undercover local police officer.”
MY COMMENTS
Many examples abound to confirm how the US uses available means to track down corrupt public officials for exposure and punishment. It is an unceasing attempt to make bribery and corruption unattractive. Those who indulge in it do so at their own risk. They won’t be spared if caught. Good lesson.
Is this approach adopted by the US in using undercover operatives of the security system to track down corrupt officials for punishment not enticing enough for us in Ghana to use?
Caution: The US uses its security personnel for this purpose because it trusts them to do the right thing. Resources are allocated to such sting operations and accounted for. And the results are laudable.
Can we in Ghana claim to have strong institutions to rely on, let alone a reliable corps of security personnel to entrust with such responsibilities without either taking undue advantage of the situation or betraying the trust reposed in them?

Will those charged with exposing corruption themselves end up being corrupted by those targeted to botch the efforts? In our case, anything goes, and one has to be wary of many things.
Of course, going that way means having strong institutions of state and conscionable people to bear the burden to be imposed on them. Do we think that the weak institutions of state that we have (the judiciary, particularly) can help us go this way? If they cannot, what should we do to use them in the fight against bribery and corruption?
I hope that the authorities are monitoring what is happening and gearing up to act decisively instead of paying lip service to the fight against corruption.
It will take more than that lip-service to solve the problem of bribery and corruption in public service. And we know the harm that bribery and corruption can do—and does in Ghana!!
I shall return…
·         E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com
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