What Rawlings said at Centre for Freedom & Accuracy Power lecture
By Jerry John Rawlings
Let me first thank the Centre for Freedom and Accuracy for the opportunity to deliver the latest edition of the Freedom Power Lectures under the topic: Corruption; A Threat to Ghana’s Democracy and National Development.
Corruption as defined by Wikipedia says: “In philosophical, theological, or moral discussions, corruption is spiritual or moral impurity or deviation from an ideal. In economy, corruption is payment for services or material, which the recipient is not due, under law. This may be called bribery or kickback. In government it is when an elected representative makes decisions that are influenced by vested interest rather than their own personal or party ideological beliefs.”
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, for the purposes of my lecture I will define corruption as spiritual or moral impurity because I am of the opinion that corruption permeates all facets of our society and it is simply because of the deep-rooted spiritual and moral impurity that is currently embedded in our society.
We Ghanaians take pride in describing ourselves as friendly, hospitable, peace-loving and tolerant. To a large extent it is true that we possess these nice attributes, but how many of us recognize the danger inherent in too much tolerance?
How many of us tolerate the intolerable?
There is a culture of corruption reaching down to the very roots of our society, in which anyone with some kind of power uses it to extort money or favours from others; from the petty official who demands a bribe to do his job to the lecturer or employer who demands sexual favours from young women in return for high marks or a job.
Sadly the vulnerable are compelled, in their quest for survival to fuel corruption by willingly ‘greasing’ the palms of persons with influence in other to receive a favour, goods or services, which under normal circumstances should be available to all members of the public through an equitable standard.
It is this willingness to tolerate the intolerable that gives the motivation or momentum for persons or institutions with influence to perpetuate acts of corruption within our society. Corruption at the level of government directly affects the rule of law and debases the moral right of political leadership to serve as a respected regulator of the affairs of the state.
Corruption in our society is more prevalent whenever the private sector meets government over transactions of state – construction of roads, procurement of goods, equipment and services and provision of various forms of services for the state.
Currently pending in court is the case of Alfred Woyome and other state officials. It is clear that the Woyome case led to the exposure of multiple payments in millions to various individuals and organisations in what is now popularly referred to as the judgement debt saga.
It is strongly argued and perceived that some have demanded and received payments under fraudulent circumstances, with the excuse that contracts have been blatantly abrogated by a previous government and monies owed to individuals or organisations been left outstanding for unholy lengths of time.
It is also perceived that some members of government have quietly turned into front men for some of these aggrieved institutions and played influential roles in seeking out of court settlements leading to huge payments.
Several questions arise. Why did we allow the state to face so much legal pressure from individuals and organisations seeking compensation for so-called abrogated contracts, unpaid contractual fees and a host of others?
Why have we allowed the processes of state as pertains to the award of contracts and subsequent payments to be hijacked by political authority without due recourse to an institution of state that is independent of political influence?
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, we all need to do some deep thinking on how to prevent this albatross from snuffing the very life out of our country. Someone might suggest that we put in place structures that will criminalize actions by political appointees who out of political expediency abrogate state contracts and expect that subsequent governments will be held responsible for the fallout. What other structures do we need again? Is it not just a question of putting one’s foot down, exercising appropriate authority and making sure that people do not get away with such nonsense?
We also have to remove the ambiguity that pertains within our legal framework as far as award and procurements by governments are concerned. I see no reason why if judgement debts have to be paid those directly responsible for incurring such debts are walking free.
We live in a global world, which means we have to adopt current practices with respect to the combat of white-collar fraud. A few days ago a court in Italy convicted six scientists who erroneously informed the people of Italy that an earth tremor was not going to manifest into an earthquake. These unsuspecting scientists never envisaged that an act of indiscretion would lead to conviction for manslaughter. Here in Ghana we even grapple with what charges to prefer against people who have gone on air to incite violence.
LEGAL & JUDICIAL
Ladies and gentlemen, I will return to corruption in government before I conclude this lecture, but let me move on to the judicial sector.
The judiciary as an organ of the state is the most important organisation in fighting and prosecuting corrupt persons and organisations. Unfortunately over the almost six decades of political independence, the judiciary has increasingly been tagged as corrupt. Though reports abound of errant judges, court officials and even lawyers perpetuating corrupt practices, the power of the judiciary to arrest and jail any accuser for contempt of court is intimidating enough to stop even those with evidence to come forward. Indeed attempts by the late Larry Bimi and others to challenge the judiciary to concede there was corruption in the service led to the service virtually trying to cripple their right to appear in court as legal practitioners.
But corruption is very present within our judicial service – reports abound of whole dockets vanishing sometimes hours before a crucial case is heard in court, judges, including some very senior ones receiving huge cash inducements to sway judgements, and even innocent suspects found guilty and sentenced.
In 2011 the Chief Justice sacked two magistrates in a bid to prove that errant members of the judiciary will not be protected. The Chief Justice has on several occasions cautioned the judiciary and public officials to be above reproach and protect the sanctity of public service. From an institutional point of view more needs to be done to create a more decent image for our judiciary. Many Ghanaians fear to use the courts because they do not believe they will get a fair hearing.
In Kenya the constitution mandates the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board to take action against judges who fail to exhibit professional competence and independence as exhibited earlier this year when the Board sacked four judges some of whom failed the litmus test as far back as, the Arap Moi era. Even though members of the Board are appointed by the President in conjunction with the Prime Minister, potential members apply for vacant positions through the Public Service Commission and are vetted by a selection committee whose composition is also stipulated in the constitution.
Ladies and gentlemen, the ruling in Kenya, surprising as it was has raised social awareness and confidence in not only the judiciary but institutions of state, giving true meaning to the fact that a well-thought out constitution can always serve as a major checks and balance on institutions of state that are meant to operate independently of governmental control. Perhaps it is time we took a cue from the Kenyans.
Nothing stunts the growth of a society or nation as seriously and sometimes as dangerously as the corrupting of the word.
Not only do we corrupt human reasoning but violate our own dignity. We violate the spiritual rhythm of the nation; the power of reasoning suffers, and the culprits and clever clowns are simply too shallow to appreciate the damage they are doing to the national psyche, our growth and development – And these people get paid, rewarded and sometimes decorated to continue sounding clever and convincing in the media all the time.
A fine opportunity to lift the creative energy of our people in unity through the priceless power of truth and reason is being used to corrupt the voices of reason; to shamelessly attempt to destroy human centres of moral authority.
Then of course there are those who attempt to use words – write books with the soul aim of assassinating the characters of patriots in our society. This is not freedom of speech. It is the irresponsible use of freedom of speech. It is the irresponsible use of freedom to corrupt, to distort, to deface, to defame and destroy the spiritual elegance of our noble citizens.
Why are they so frightened of the truth and reason? That journey that day must have been a very long, tortuous and lonely one for Christ. But so long as it is the cross of truth there is no fear; bring on the crucifixion!
Talking about the word once again, there are those who also use the irresistible name of God to inflict their own ignorance and limitations on their church members.
Are some of our politicians any better? I leave that to your judgement.
Mr. Chairman, one of the institutions that have the inherent capacity to help expose and combat corruption, is the news media.
The news media is responsible for disseminating information through various news channels to members of the public.
Traditionally they are known as watchdogs of society and also have a gate-keeping role in ensuring that whatever information is delivered to the general public is responsibly couched, truthful and devoid of the potential to have a negative effect on society. In other words the media has to apply strict ethics in the distribution of news and should desist at all times from being under the influence of third parties as far as quality and balance of their reports are.
The Ghanaian media has for a considerable period been seen as vibrant with some excellent journalism exhibited in the not too distant past.
Unfortunately like many sectors of our society the media have also caught the bug, and petty competition, monetary and material influences, open political bias and falsehood have eaten into our media practice.
Under the guise of independence of the media, responsible media has given way to irresponsible and sponsored reportage and this has to be curbed by the media fraternity itself if it is to win back the confidence of the ordinary Ghanaian who is often confused by the contradictions he is fed with daily.
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