The other day, one of our finest journalists wrote that he is sick and tired of simply being sick and tired of the things that make him sick. He also added that he does not feel fatigued even though he is very tired. That sounds like bats in the belfry, isn’t it? Well, that is just about the best way to describe a situation that only promises to get worse even as we try to pretend that it couldn’t get any worse than it already is.
What do bats in the belfry look like? A belfry is that upper part of a church building where the bell is stored. Bats usually gather around it and they scatter in confusion whenever the bell rings. The bats must be crazy, right? Well, imagine stark illiterates joining university graduates to serve as national service persons. Wouldn’t you say they are crazy, too? They receive monthly allowances for no work done at all. How should that ever happen? Reports say some GH7.9Million has adorned the pockets of some greedy individuals involved in the management of the National Service Scheme (NSS).
Most Ghanaians who go through the tertiary education system may have served the compulsory one year service to the nation, and two years if you belonged to the traditional A’ level system. In countries like Cuba, South Korea, and Egypt, every school graduate has to be a soldier at a point in their life, except in very special cases. Here in Ghana, you need not be a soldier; you are sometimes permitted to serve where you want if an organization shows interest in a service person by notifying the scheme. Otherwise, the NSS has our permission to post any university graduate to Kwame Brentim in the Tain district, or Bugubelle in the Sissala East district.
This is a noble development exercise which made it possible for children in very remote villages to see a teacher in their classrooms for the first time in their educational experience. I did my sixth form service at the Non-formal education, where I did nothing for 9 months (well, there was nothing to do), and my post university service at the Ministry of Communications when Ekwow Spio-Garbrah was minister. It was sheer fun when our friends who served in the villages returned to compare notes.
How do we set out to destroy a fine project like this by manipulating identities of service persons to steal from the government? I am hesitant to call for the heads of the embattled NSS officials because they only typify the typical nature of many Ghanaians, who perhaps would have done worse if they had the opportunity. There have been too many corruption scandals in this year alone, and the average Ghanaian may be tired counting the losses to the state. GYEEDA was a colossal shame. SADA was disaster. Wayome isn’t quite finished. Where does it stop? What did they say ever happened to Mr. Abuga Pele? Oh yeah, there was SUBAH and many others. Are we ever going to find a clean pair of safe hands to protect our state institutions?
In April 1961, Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa Busia lamented that bribery and corruption had eaten into the fabric of the society, and something urgent needed to be done to save the situation. In 1979, JJ Rawlings decided to purge Ghana of corruption with something more effective than sheer rhetoric. President J.A Kufour declared a zero tolerance for corruption at the early stages of his regime. Prof J.E Atta-Mills had an incorruptible nature, we were made to believe. In Burkina Faso, Prof Mills was known as ‘Mills le incorruptible.’ President John Mahama’s regime has also seen lots of sensational cases of corruption, but most Ghanaians believe that the president has an uncompromising position on corruption, and would not tolerate it.
Experts say that we are losing the corruption fight because we have adopted a reactive approach to battling it, instead of a preventive method. Even when cases of corruption hit the media and end up in the courts, there is a sense that they are episodes that would be done with after the trial; there isn’t a feeling of a systemic programme to instill fear in us and reform the national character of the Ghanaian. It is said that until we take steps to remove the opportunity of corruption, not many of us will pass the test. Not until we manage the general social expectations that come with pubic office, we may not succeed in fighting corruption. How many houses must a public official who occupies a big position put up before he retires? These expectations work our minds.
What is corruption by the way? I drive an unregistered vehicle which comes with some restrictions. I am required to state the purpose of my journey in a log book any time I move out. I am forbidden to drive on weekends and not beyond 10pm, I was once told by a police man. I am also not permitted to have a baby on board or accommodate more than two people in the vehicle. I am usually pulled over by the police because the vehicle is also quite huge. And the police, I suspect, have no mercy for people with pot bellies. On many occasions, I pass the DV number plate test, but occasionally I am persuaded: “Director, today is Friday, see to your boys small” or “Chief, show some love.” Am I corrupt if I show some love to avoid paying a bigger penalty next time?
Often we are quick to publicly crucify state officials when their corruption scandals hit the media, but we fail to see ourselves in them. We call it another name when we make dishonourable arrangements that bring us profits. When those profits go to our neighbours, we wonder why the institutions of state would not sidestep due process to jail them quickly enough. Instituting stiffer punishment for corrupt public officials wouldn’t stop corruption; we need some urgent social reengineering that will make corruption unattractive. Well, that may sound like bats in the belfry to those who see fraud and easy money as the only way to wealth creation.