Opinion

Corruption can be fought with existing laws

Corruption can be fought with the existing laws and, more importantly, it can be drastically reduced by enforcing administrative rules and regulations. New laws on corruption will not reduce the level of corruption so much, but we should rather concen¬trate on making the existing laws effective. We should also enforce the administrative rules in our institutions.

The deputy Attorney-General and Minister of Justice was reported by the Daily Graphic of November 17, 2007 to have noted that Ghana’s anti-corruption laws were limited because they did not take into consideration other corrupt practices that might derail economic and social development. I believe that extending the reach of the law should be helpful. But it is not a priority. Youth should be encouraged to be zealous, but it should be informed by history and experience.

The past suggests that corruption was greatly contained by the enforcement of administrative rules. Politicians and others who wanted to cut corners often accused civil servants of intimidating adherence to bureaucratic procedures. But the bureaucratic system helped to contain corruption.

I remember an accountant being sacked in the colonial times, because there was a shortage of £1 in his safe when it was checked by a visiting auditor.

Now, the shortage might have been due to oversight and perhaps there was no any criminal intent. But in those days rules were rules and you obeyed them or suffered the consequences.

It appears we have discarded all these rules and regulations and we take all lapses to the courts. But the courts require strict definition of crime and rigorous evidence and would not deprive a citizen of his or her liberty for merely forgetting to place £1 into the safe.

But such “forgetfulness” may hide a criminal intent and the administrative rules dealt and should deal with procedures and acts which may lead to crime or cover criminal procedure.

Those who infringe administrative rules in the past were not deprived of their liberty. They were punished in accordance with the rules of the civil service or the institution, the most serious punishment being dismissal.

Those of us who were used to such a administrative rules and regulations find it difficult to understand how there can be arguments about the findings of an auditor concerning the shortage of funds in a school.

The bursar of a secondary school was reported by the Daily Graphic of November 19, 2007 to have admitted his complicity in the embezzlement of over ¢2 billion belonging to the school, after repeated denials and strange arguments and confrontations.

Why this convoluted phrase of “complicity in embezzlement”? In the good old days, the auditors would have first made a report of a shortage or non-compliance with rules and procedures. The school or GES would deal with this and the bursar might be dismissed.

Meanwhile, the auditors would continue with the report about embezzlement, a criminal offence which would be dealt with by the Attorney-General’s office. The dismissed bursar would be tried if necessary and if found guilty, jailed.

As it is today, the public is confused .Were some people at the top covering up? And if so why? How come the bursar had the effrontery to indulge in months of denials, accusations and counter accusations?

Now, he proposes to pay the amount by instalments! And so the message to the public is clear. “You steal and when you are caught, you agree to refund by instalments.”

Most papers do not follow such stories to the end. Many would not know what happens to the bursar. The original impression stays. A national paper like the Daily Graphic should ensure that such a story is followed to its conclusion.

But more importantly, investigators and auditors should make their findings clear. It is non-professional bodies such as the Public Accounts Committee which deal with their reports. Those who report have a social responsibility to ensure that the educated public understands their report and is incensed when rampant stealing or corruption occurs.

I find another thing rather difficult to understand. At a time that schools complain of a lack of funds, how come that bits of money amounting to ¢2 billion float around for a bursar to embezzle? What was the headmaster of the school doing? Is he not the Chief Administrator? And is it not the aim of the administrator to use the resources at his or her disposal to achieve the mission and purposes of the school? Does the headmaster not feel that he is cast into the role of an irresponsible leader?

I find the modern control of the Ministry of Finance over the allocation and use of money at the disposal of the educational establishment disturbing.

When I was chairman of the Achimota School Board in recent years, I was supported by the Board when I directed the bursar to send the draft estimate of expenditure approved by the Board to the Ministry of Education. He did not. He sent an estimate as directed by the GES following instructions to the Ministry of Education by the Ministry of Finance. I did not realise that he had done this until I complained about insufficient allocation of funds.

At a meeting with the Head of State, the finance chief explained that the school got what it asked for. The belief that it is only the Ministry of Finance which has the maturity to handle finance in the national interest is erroneous. All institutions of state should be expected to implement national policies dutifully with the funds at their disposal and to keep rigorously to financial regulations.

After all, an accounts ignoramus like me was the “Accounting Officer”, when I was Principal Secretary. I sought advice from the accountant, but ultimately he took instructions from me. Our chief directors, headmasters and headmistresses of today are no less competent and responsible than I was. You cannot have subordinates in your office taking orders from other institutions.

The embezzlement of ¢2 billion at one school is disturbing.

International conventions and laws on corruption will not help us to stop such embezzlement. World Bank definition of corruption cannot uproot rampant theft and misappropriation of state funds in Ghana.

We should not look outside for guidance as we normally do today. We should take such measures as suit our circumstances, we must also enforce administrative rules, procedures and regulations.

Source: K. B. Asante/ Daily Graphic