Ghana: Fighting Waste And Corruption Starts At The Presidency – IMANI Report

The many campaign promises by all the major parties notwithstanding, the 2016 elections were fought principally over only a few critical issues, and of these issues austerity (cost of living) and corruption/waste stood out.

Because austerity and the macroeconomic challenges underlying it are technically quite complex, the majority of Ghanaians have tended to focus more on the flamboyant spectacles of corruption and waste this nation has seen in recent times: GYEEDA, one Judge one Goat, Smarttys, SADA, the Brazil 2014 circus, Ameri, etc.

It comes as no surprise therefore to see the proposed “Special Prosecutor Office” take such a center-stage in national conversation this early in the new administration’s life. The ruling party’s manifesto emphasis on the office as a major antidote to the problem has clearly earned it the attention of those at the very top.

It is evident however from all the legal debate that has ensued since the inauguration of the new President that new laws would be required to put the idea of the Special Prosecutor into practice. After such laws are passed, more time is required to recruit, staff, and resource the personnel in the new entity. Should even the new Prosecutors decide to use the fast-track courts in their pursuit of those who have embezzled or mismanaged public funds, due process and expensive lawyers can drag cases out for months. In short, it is unlikely that the Special Prosecutor shall bear any serious anti-corruption fruits for at least 18 months.

On top of these sobering facts, Ghanaians also have to contend with the limitations of criminal prosecutions as a tool in fighting corruption. Whilst, criminal prosecutions are a great deterrence, they can only happen after the fact, and often the lost money is never recouped. The political costs of a failed prosecution can have a chilling effect on other prosecutions, especially in our situation where investigations are rarely thorough because of institutional defects.

At any rate, the Executive, or to be blunt, the President, does not control the Courts. In fact, we are now even appearing to ask that he distances himself from the investigation and prosecution of corruption in this country. With greater independence of the process comes a lowering not just of control but also accountability. To a limited extent, this paradox is also evident in that other major plank of anti-corruption work: procurement reform. An independent procurement system is one in which the government’s ability to change things can be slowed by the demands of due process and the sheer technical burden of implementing new processes and technologies to enhance quality and accountability even as the public procurement authority is granted greater independence from the Executive.

It is in consideration of all these facts that has led IMANI to the belief that the quickest and most effective way for the new government to stamp its feet and assert its anti-corruption credentials is to start the process at the Presidency, the heart of the government, where the President has near absolute control over outcomes and consequences.

If the President and his government cannot stamp out waste and corruption from his own seat of government then how can he be trusted to be able to do so across the two thousand or so entities more removed from his immediate control? If the President does not show direct leadership in the matter, how can we expect his Finance Minister to be able to pursue his commitment to safeguard some $2 billion of public money (5% of GDP) through an enhanced anti-corruption agenda, using the Minister’s own estimates of the problem?

As we have indicated already, the beauty of starting with the Presidency does not only lie in the level of control the Head of State has over the agencies reporting directly to him, it also lies in the speed with which his actions can have impact.

In less than two months, the Government’s first budget is likely to be ready. As far as we are concerned, the budget development process offers the government the opportunity to register some real achievements within 100 days of taking office. All the President has to do is to take a scalpel to the budget of a strangely named super-entity, christened the Office of Government Machinery (OGM), an amorphous receptacle hosting such agencies as the Office of the President, Office of the Head of Civil service, National Security, assorted Commissions and a potpourri of ‘councils’ of all kinds, and start to trim and shape.