Right from the day he assumed office, President Nana Akufo-Addo has used nearly every opportunity to talk about his determination to ruthlessly deal with corruption. The passion with which the President speaks about his commitment to fight corruption is sometimes enough to turn his bitterest enemies into lovers for a moment.
But sadly, it is not the first time Ghanaians are hearing their President speak so passionately against corruption. It is also not the first time they are hearing their president make bold statements of a commitment to fight the canker. It’s not new at all.
Previous Presidents in the Fourth Republic had made similar, if not even more audacious pronouncements and declarations of commitment to fight corruption. But they all ended up failing the test. For those who may have forgotten, a few reminders of similar talk-talk about corruption by President Akufo-Addo's predecessors under the Fourth Republic may be useful.
Let's start with the man who began the Fourth Republic, Jerry John Rawlings. President Rawlings as a military ruler didn’t just talk about fighting corruption, he openly executed people on grounds of corruption. When Mr. Rawlings became a civilian leader from 1993, he still spoke vehemently against corruption and many believed him.
But what happened? Corruption thrived under Jerry Rawlings even if not as prevalent as in later regimes. In 1996, the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) found some of Mr. Rawlings' top ministers guilty of corruption. What did Mr. Rawlings do? He wrote a white paper to clear the ministers who had been found guilty by CHRAJ.
In 1998, it was reported that Mr. Rawlings had received an amount of $5million from the then dictator in Nigeria, General Sani Abacha. At the time, Mr. Rawlings remained silent over the matter. Officials of his government relentlessly denied story. Last year (18 years after the story), Mr. Rawlings then confessed that he received money from the former Nigerian dictator.
Corruption under Rawlings may not have involved the 'stealing' of colossal sums of money as in the case under subsequent regimes. But that may just be because corruption at the time had to be commensurate with the size of the economy.
Then came President John Agyekum Kufuor. Mr. Kufuor's victory in the 2000 polls was partly due to widely-held perception of increasing corruption under the Rawlings regime. So, unsurprisingly, President Kufuor assumed power on January 7, 2001 promising a policy of zero tolerance for corruption.
But not too long into the Kufour regime, reports of corruption started dominating the headlines. These included the then Chairman of the President's New Patriotic Party (NPP), who was heard on a leaked audiotape alleging acts of corruption against the President.
There were several other reports of acts of corruption by several appointees of President Kufour. No sanctions were meted out by the administration against such appointees. President Kufour eventually told Ghanaians that corruption started from days of Adam – a clear admission of his failure in the anti-corruption fight.
Next on the list of Presidential Johns, was John Evans Atta Mills who defeated Nana Akufo-Addo (current President) in the 2008 polls. President Mills' campaign largely focused on corruption and he won the polls mainly because of his promise to fight corruption.
President Mills was trusted by many at the beginning. But he soon became a disappointment in the fight against corruption. Cases of fraudulent payments of judgement debts and other scandals became rampant.
His Attorney General, Mr. Martin Amidu, decided to fight against the looting but he would not be allowed to do so. Sooner than later, Amidu became frustrated by the deliberate schemes by the Mills administration to prevent him from fighting corruption in the system. The only option available to him was to resign, and uncharacteristic of a Ghanaian Minister, Amidu resigned.
But before Amidu's resignation could be known by the public, the government issued a statement announcing Amidu's dismissal. Out of government, Amidu was unperturbed and decided to continue his fight against corrupt acts under the Mills administration. He pursued the anti-corruption fight gallantly and won admirably.
Then came Mills' Vice President, the fourth and last John in the series of Presidential Johns, John Dramani Mahama. President Mahama was sworn into office as President on July 24, 2012 after the sudden death of President Mills. He went on to win the Presidential elections in December that year for a four-year term.
As incumbent President and second-in-command under Atta Mills, President Mahama could not have campaigned in the 2012 polls on fighting corruption. Doing that would have meant an acknowledgment of corruption in his government or that of President Mills, under which he served as Vice President.
When he assumed office, President Mahama, like the Johns before him, vowed to fight corruption. As if to prove President Kufour right that corruption started from Adam, there seemed to have been an outbreak of corruption epidemic during Mahama regime. Corruption was not only tolerated, it was incentivised.
Under President Mahama, it appeared all one needed to do was to have a good plan to steal from the state and going ahead to do so. If one was caught in the process of stealing or after it, the punishment was to refund the loot, and even that, the refund will be based on negotiated repayment terms. It's still too soon for one to forget about the GYEEDA, SADA, SUBA, bus branding among other acts of corruption under the Mahama regime.
So quite clearly, President Akufo-Addo's promise and statements of commitment to fight corruption are not new. Previous Presidents did same but they all failed the test in the end. So, for now, the records of Presidential Promise-and-fail as far as the fight against corruption is concerned, vindicate sceptics of President Akufo-Addo's anti-corruption rhetoric.
So far, President Akufo-Addo has said or done nothing new and different from his predecessors as far as the fight against corruption is concerned. At this stage, if there is any reason to believe that President Akufo-Addo will be different from his predecessors on the anti-corruption battle, it may just simply be because he is not another John.
But President Akufo-Addo has an opportunity to pass the anti-corruption test. More than ever before, Ghanaians are prepared to join the President to fight the canker. All that Ghanaians are looking for is the enabling legal framework that will empower them to fully and effectively take part in the fight against corruption. That enabling legal framework is the Right to Information (RTI) Law.
The current leadership of both sides in Parliament and majority of members of the current parliament have been part of the previous parliament that discussed the RTI Bill. But for the opposition from the then monitory NPP (now the majority) members of Parliament, the RTI bill would have been passed in the final days of the last parliament.
There cannot be any potent law or framework that can propel the fight against corruption than the RTI law. The fight against corruption cannot be by the government alone. It is a fight that must involve all citizens. Having an RTI law is the answer.
So, let President Akufo-Addo push for the speedy passage of the RTI law to prove the cynics of his anti-corruption stance wrong. President Akufo-Addo has a great opportunity to make a mark on the fight against corruption. Will he grab the opportunity now? We wait to see.