Probity and Accountability were the foundation pillars that anchored the revolution that palpably failed to stop Ghana’s decay after eleven years of an enforced salvation that yielded nothing but mayhem. Despite the palpable failure, ‘Probity and Accountability’ got smuggled into the preamble of the 4th Republican Constitution, added to our national motto ‘Freedom & Justice'.
Alas after nearly 24 years of practice, I am seriously challenged to wonder whether the addition of the revolution-derived phrase has made any significantly positive influence in the governance of our dear country, or has simply joined the list of hackneyed phrases and slogans which we all spout but do nothing to ensure they impact positively on our lives and development.
Last week’s brilliant investigation by Manasseh Azure into the gifting of a Ford Explorer by a Burkinabe contractor, to the then Vice- President John Dramani Mahama, for me exposed our total collective failure to ‘build durable institutions’ to ensure that those who govern in our name and on our behalf are guided by transparent rules that ensure their conduct is by probity and that they are totally accountable to us as those who put them in office.
The bald facts of the incident are not disputed. The giver acknowledged as much to Manasseh. The official ventriloquist for the now President John Mahama acknowledged that the gift had indeed been received. Unfortunately, beyond this, the whole business degenerated into the familiar debilitating partisan tirade and points scoring, which in an election year, reaches such absurd grounds typified by an insignificant political party being so divided that there is a big chasm between the positions of its presumptive Presidential Candidate and its Executive.
Unfortunately, the debate about whether President Mahama took a bribe or merely accepted a gift from a grateful ‘friend’ will never be satisfactorily resolved as far as the laws of Ghana are concerned. Unfortunately, this absence of any ‘rules of engagement’ for the conduct of Public office holders in respect of ‘gifts in appreciation of consideration’ has been exploited so badly that it has established a culture of ‘a little help from my friends’ that propels idealistic Ghanaians into Public office principally to alleviate their personal poverty in the name of improving the people’s welfare.
As is my practice, I consulted my constitution and the applicable laws of Ghana to seek guidance on the raging public debate on whether the gift amounted to a bribe or not. I also listened to the various weekend political platforms to be better educated. Alas, all I heard were opinions, scholarly, partisan and educative, which for me were not founded on any clear and unambiguous guidelines on the receipt of gifts in public office.
In the vacuum of clear rules of engagement, my view of the President’s conduct is to label it as ‘unwise and insensitive’ as one with a long and distinguished tenure in public office and the promoter and leading light of several initiatives to codify anti-corruption rules of engagement. Indeed, and ironically, I found only two attempts to set down consolidated and implementable rules, and both were initiatives piloted by President Mahama.
Alas, I am firmly of the view that our public office holders, both in the Executive and Parliament, have at best, got a lukewarm attitude towards us in the scrutiny of the actions they take in our name and on our behalf. If I were to be more charitable, I might be tempted, very reluctantly, to point out that they have an honest intent but are overwhelmed by the requirements of their work.
Indeed, the above excuse has been hinted at by Hon. Albert Bagbin, the Majority Leader and longest serving Parliamentarian in the 4th Republic of Ghana. He is reported to have said “he is at a loss as to why Ghanaians mount undue pressure on parliament to pass bills that come before the house”He is further reported to havesaid “the Conduct of Public Officers Bill and other equally important bills before the house, cannot be rushed through, arguing that such bills need time and meticulous attention to forestall negative consequences in the future”
I beg to disagree with my very good friend Alban. But I do not intend to hang the guilt tag around his neck alone. At the risk of being hauled before the house for contempt, I am firmly of the view that the Executive & Parliament have been in a mutually self-serving mode of benign neglect and total inaction in the absolutely essential underpinning of democracy, transparent conduct and accounting to us.
From the Right to Information bill, which was first tabled under the NPP in 2003, to the Code of Conduct Bill, tabled by President Mahama in 2013, Parliament is riddled with good intention and feels good intents to account to the people, but zilch passage of laws with teeth to provide us with effective oversight of holders of public office.
In the context of Hon Alban Bagbin’s recent comments, I would be grateful for him to elaborate his wish that Parliament be not stampeded into passing bills with the clear statement of article 106 (14) of the Constitution which states that “ A bill introduced in Parliament by or on behalf of the President shall not be
delayed for more than three months in any committee of Parliament”.
Why has the RTI been in Parliament for 13 years and the Code of Conduct for Public Office holders been sitting fallow for 3 years now? Was it because they took a long time to get their first reading before being refereed for Committee consideration? Or is Parliament also behaving as we all do in Ghana, i.e. We know the laws but simply don’t obey them? If our lawmakers choose to ignore the fundamental law of the land, chaos and anarchy reigns.
I delivered the 1995 John Kugblenu lectures under the title “Will the 4th Republic of Ghana last for 200 years: true or false? At the time, I feared birthday boy, Akokra JJ would seek to perpetuate his stay by changing the constitution. God bless him; he failed and accepted the verdict of the people. Now the challenge is for the Executive, and especially Parliament, to do the needful to bring public office holders to act in accordance with the principles of Probity & Accountability, before another ‘saviour in military garb decides unilaterally to come to our salvation.
Footnote: So we are on the same page
Probity in governance is defined as a risk management approach ensuring procedural integrity. It is concerned with procedures, processes and systems rather than outcomes. Transparency in government is often credited with generating government accountability. It allows citizens of a democracy to control their government, reducing government corruption, bribery and other malfeasance.