Monday, March 17, 2014

Corruption Done Right

Educated Ghanaians are mostly elitist. Accepting and understanding this can open up the conversation for reforming our culturally corrupt system in a more effective manner. Those who have worked their way to better education and awareness usually have a dismissive disposition towards the general uneducated masses. That elitism exists, surprisingly, even in other educated circles based on what institution one studied at. I am not here to proclaim some sort of idealist view on why we are all equal and beyond. God knows I'm just as guilty of this accusation I'm leveling here. I just honestly believe that we invest our elitism in the wrong endeavors. It is far more costly for the uneducated masses to remain ignorant and impoverished than it will be for these elites to invest their time, energy and resources to increase literacy and awareness among the populace! I am here to discuss corruption or rather drown you in my opinionated ideas of how we can change things for the better. Corruption exists everywhere, the key is to control and manage it's effect with a neutral function that is independent of human control.

 We understand and embrace corruption at a very early age. We know for certain that when we are of driving age, our driver's licenses will be served to our homes conveniently without taking one driving test(road test or written exam) administered by a public official. Mine was handed to me by the roadside somewhere in Dansoman on an uneventful weekday afternoon. Paper for paper. You have money, you can buy a Drivers License, simply put. I was 16 maybe--(The first document that validates our arrival into adulthood is usually acquired through corrupt means-- a warped stamping of what life is or will be-- corrupt!). Every discussion I have with the most educated, most religious, most pious and most passionate Ghanaians about corruption has ended in this one bottom line; "man for chop cha". I disagree but I seem to be one of only three people I know who I can pricked-finger-vouch for their incorruptible character as it relates to embezzlement in public or private office. Bless her & grandpops. The problem here is much bigger than the three of us, so my solution is for us to bend corruption in the direction of the greater good.

Corruption exists everywhere in the Western World-- our default yardstick for measuring all that is corrupt and broken in our system.. The only difference is, the basics of a functioning society are not attached to the meanderings of petty corruption. I cannot get way with bribing a police officer for pulling me over for a broken tail light. The cost of the penalty is probably $100 or less.. If I offered a corrupt cop $100 to overlook the broken tail light, he'll most likely lock me up immediately. The risk is not worth it for both parties - 1. I could be setting him up to lose his job along with all the benefits it affords him OR contrarily  2. He can immediately jail me for attempted bribery of a police officer. He is not a saint and neither am I the pinnacle of law abiding morals but we both refrain and obey the law because the system works. We both(cop & I) have to risk too much just to break "petty laws" which however, manage and maintain public road safety-- an extremely important issue. We respect the consequences of the law. This is the neutral function I speak of. The risk involved has neutralized the possibility of corruption in this instance.

If I ran through a traffic light in Ghana, the repercussions are solvable in the unlikelihood that I was apprehended for it. The depth of my pocket provides instant resolution for my "oversight". The underpaid policeman will take what he can get in exchange for my lack of regard for the traffic rules, other drivers and the lives of pedestrians be damned. 20Ghc buys me Above The Law status instantly. This carries on through every public institution all the way up to the President. A Ghanaian president and his subordinates will negotiate a deplorable deal like what was done in the case of the oil refinery project and can confidently know that there will be zero blowback from selling out the countries resources at such a costly low value. Him and his boys can now tour Dubai more often with their Legon girlfriends and spend exponentially more on shopping than an average citizen needs to purchase some critical stationery items for school-- books and pencils. This is real and we all know of these things. We nonchalantly accept it as part of who we are. I detest it even if it is my own flesh and blood engaging in this type of behavior, I will call them out.

Two weekends ago I was humbled to be in pretty great company. We were celebrating a friends impending fatherhood status. Someone I truly admire, his convictions and character are way above reproach, at least by my standards. Everyone at the table was highly educated-- the formal kind ie except me. Some even graduated from Ivy League colleges. The discussions encompassed a wide range of subjects; from things plaguing Ghana and how the simple solutions have not been implemented. I'm usually excessively talkative and a bit more personal than our culture approves of. I will tell you a story that involves a decision one of my parents made that I find deplorable without hesitation. I only do this for the sake of truth and improvement. I love my parents beyond belief, I just don't agree with their business decisions and some of their moral ones. Love to me is not agreeing with someone's bad decisions. Anyway, the point is I can usually feel peoples' cringes roasting my arm hairs when  I'm that candid and launch into my diatribe about all the things that are fixable and using these very personal familial incidents to paint a picture of why we are struggling as a people. We discussed the falling Cedi, the bad oil deal we took, why we don't have clean drinking water for all our people in 2014, lamented the lack of social welfare, why sewage is still a huge problem and why all our major developments, however unnecessary, are centered in the over saturated Accra. We even got into why Mahama, won over Akuffo-Addo-- Mr. Paradigm as I teasingly call him is the epitome of the elitism I'm talking about in the first paragraph. and circled around the myriad of issues that engulf how we campaign and communicate to the masses.  We momentarily paused to acknowledge that our issues seem overwhelming and daunting.

Why there seems to be a church every ten feet in our communities and why a pastor is commanding currencies to rise and fall when he is absolutely educated enough to know that this is a sin of Luciferian proportions. The economists among us refrained from using too much economic jargon and lingo to explain the real cause of the falling Cedi and the unstable nature of our currency. I had to interject my no-degree holding common sense for a minute. I get tired of these made up complexities of economics that are essentially hypotheticals conjured by bored brains who wanted to create derivatives of the most basic concepts of the existing economic conditions. One of the reasons Ghana's Cedi is currently back in a seemingly bottomless spiral to shit town besides whatever antics the US Treasury is pulling with interest rates is-- we never took the time to fix the most fundamental problem in the first place. When President Kuffuour's administration was happily touting re-denomination as some sort of elixir for the ailing Cedi to the masses, I was barely in my mid 20's with zero experience in managing a country's economic and financial issues but knew the fix they prescribed was a case of pouring dried lava into a plastic garbage bag and leaving it out in 699 degree weather endlessly... A disaster waiting to melt and destroy other valuables in its path. Sometimes, the ability to think critically is lost when one absorbs too much formal education. Problem solving is not entirely in a textbook. Common sense and basic understanding of monetary policy, what bolsters a currency's value and prevents inflation are simple concepts that should not be masked in complex silly jargon but I'm way off on a tangent so I'll stop here. The most heartbreaking statement of the night was when at least 50% of the gathering agreed to this line of reasoning by one of the educated elites; "people are reluctant to be activists for the cause because they don't feel like Ghana did anything for them!".. WOW.

Back to the subject of corruption. Man for chop-- Not a bad idea at all because I believe in the idea of profiting from ones labor, whatever that labor is. So if we are going to be governed by this idea, can we at least make sure that, in our search for profit, we don't neglect our accountability to the Nation. It should hurt your pride that you took a contract to supply school kids with 80 Computers at an inflated cost of $250,000 and you still managed to supply only 15 refurbished China-brand computers and spent the rest on a car and fucking young girls. Since we can't count on your sense of pride to do the right thing for the poor kids who desperately need to know what the use of a computer is in 2014, the more appropriate approach is to have checks and balances-- accountability -- enforceable and punishable by law. An entity that consists of well paid public appointed personnel who have no party affiliations to keep the contractor honest. As a personal principle, I refuse to simply participate in decadent cronyism. If my brother is making a shirt for me, I hold him to the same standards as I do Ralph Lauren in terms of the quality of finish. I won't accept mediocrity just because we are blood or friends. I will gladly give my brother my business over the outsider who is just as good as him though, his only edge now being he is my brother and is just as good. I'm losing the plot but my hope is that, our generation learns to hold each other more accountable for our work. If your friend starts a restaurant, patronize it instead of asking for free stuff and discounts. However, if the food sucks, don't just sit there and keep patronizing the garbage without telling them your review of their shitty service and food. If they fail to improve, take your business elsewhere. In the larger context of culture and governance, those of you that secure political power in the future and now, I beg you to heed some of these virtues. Start holding your cronies to higher standards. They cannot leave a road project incomplete and then claim an assorted number of unverifiable reasons as to why without being reprimanded or held accountable. Let your friends and cronies know you will look out but if they fuck up, they'll have to deal with the law and the entity in charge of transparency and accountability that keeps oversight of all governmental contracts. In our efforts to help each other succeed, let us not neglect responsibility. Ghana has done a lot for us, to answer my friend from the previous paragraph. The education you received(which is superior in a lot of theoretical learning ways by the way)  was government subsidized for your entire life until you left Ghana to live in the USA or wherever in the West you landed. The teachers that taught you were underpaid heavily because the true cost of your education was unaffordable to your parents. Ghana gives you your identity, even if you naturalize as American or a Westerner of whatever variety, your history is forever tied to Ghana.

Did your parents pay their taxes in full or at all? Did they burn or wrongfully dispose of trash without being fined for it? Did you use the roads as a means to go to and fro? Did you piss on the ground with no repercussions? How many times did you bribe your way out of trouble with a police officer and get away with a crime, misdemeanor or not?! Did you apply for a Ghanaian passport to be able to travel outside of its shores? If you couldn't simply claim to be Ghanaian, you'd have no validation of a Nationality. Next time you are feeling so callous about the privilege of being Ghanaian, toss it away and tell any concerned party/entity to discount your citizenship and consider you a citizen of the world! Just try it, see how well it goes over with the officer waiting to arrest you for fraud and traveling without identification. The fuck do you mean what has Ghana done for you? You owe it more than it does you and for all your brilliance at excelling in Academia, you ain't shit without an identity. You love the West because the system works-- it is so because good people sacrificed, those who knew better pulled the less educated along and they still are. People sacrificed their lives so you can claim your right to be paid a fair wage, given adequate housing, access to constant clean drinking water, electricity as an afterthought because it is always on unless there is a natural disaster and even then there is emergency response required to save your sorry non-American ass. People sacrificed so that the rule of law governed and protected the citizens, by and large. You have rights and access to information, the right to question the government and how they are managing the Nation's resources. There might be a deadlock or Government shutdown but gatdamnit you'll get your retroactive pay when they resume. While they are shut down, police officers are still working, traffic lights still blinking, courthouses still collecting fines for traffic violations, schools are still open, hospitals still can't refuse emergency care, student loans are still distributed, food stamps flapping in the ghettos, water still flowing, electricity still on even if you haven't paid your bills and it is cold in the winter or hot in the summer and everything essential to the normalcy of everyday life for the majority of the country still functions properly. You get to file a tax return every year and make amends or get a refund because someone insisted that it was your right as a law-abiding citizen, not ask questions like why should I fight for other Americans when the country has never done jack crap for me. People fought because they believed in the idea of a better standard of living for all humans, the bare necessities that is.That when it is hot outside beyond humane conditions, you ride the bus for free and people hand out free bottles of water, that there is a shelter for the homeless, that the less financially fortunate families can still have decent housing, that a hospital can not turn you away in case of emergency because it is against the law! Americans/Westerners sacrificed so these things became the law of their land-- not by wondering what America or their  various countries had done for them but by believing that it is the right thing to do! What has Ghana done for you? You need perspective and I doubt if I can impart enough of it in this blogpost! Wake the fuck up onua-(friend), you owe your country and it doesn't owe you one ananse shilling or kobo! Fuck it, I'm tired of thinking and writing, TBC....

  • Dogs do not actually prefer bones to meat; it is just that no one ever gives them meat. ~ Akan Proverb

1 comment:

Jerome said...

I agree that there is little repercussion for breaking the law in Ghana. And Anas' exposé showed how you could buy your freedom even if you were tried. So what exactly is the benefit of sacrificing to a human only thinking about short-term gain? Let's not call for looking at the bigger picture because we're human, and we rarely do that.

Even the most corrupt Ghanaian will not try bribing a cop in the USA, as you said, so why do people do it here? Because the system doesn't work. But who do we trust to build such a system?

I won't say we're more corrupt than other people because we know what western governments and banks have done and gotten away with, but their people don't live in such deplorable conditions.

I think the problem is that we had a time of patriotism right after independence when people were willing to sacrifice for the nation. But we were cut short by Western interests from laying the foundation. It may sound tired but let's just look at what Rwanda is making of itself after the genocide or ivory coast after the civil war. These are people fresh from adversity and trying to make something out of themselves. We lack that spirit because corruption and self-interest is all we know. And without that spirit or a determined leadership ready to punish wrong and reward right, then we may be underachieving for a long time to come.