by Nicole Baute
We were in Ghana for a few minutes before being asked to pay a bribe. At the Accra airport at night, a bit stunned by the sudden heat, shuffling through arrivals with our luggage.
One moment my partner was behind me, the next he was haggling with a guard who wanted to be paid for checking his luggage tags.
Corruption is rife here in Ghana, and bribes, big and small, are an inextricable part of the social fabric. For weeks people have been glued to television sets, watching the opposition party’s allegations of corruption in the last presidential election play out in the Supreme Court—a sign the public no longer wants to tolerate corruption, or the possibility of it, at the highest levels of society. But corruption exists throughout the country, with regular Ghanaians equally culpable.
People are trying to do something about that.
An organization called the Centre for Freedom and Accuracy and a private investigation firm called Tiger Eye PI are working together on a bold national anti-corruption campaign. They’re targeting all levels of government, business and public life, including people on the street.
At a special event to launch the campaign a few weeks ago, the executive director of the Centre for Freedom and Accuracy, Andrew Awuni, looked into a hall filled with at least 200 people and called each and every one of them to task.
“We are all guilty of this serious crime, or guilty of doing nothing about it,” he said. “There is no middle ground.”
Awuni said corruption has become the norm, with public services effectively privatized by their administrators. Bribes are expected for getting building permits, electricity, water, admittance to school, passports, i.d. cards, contracts and payments for work already done. Everybody knows the going rates.
“These things are happening all around us as a people, and we all know it,” Awuni said. The situation has become so dire, he said, that people can get away with anything if they’re willing to pay the right price to the right official.
The Most Reverend Joseph Osei Bonsu, a bishop from the Ashani region of Ghana, went further, rattling off a long and detailed list of institutions in which corruption is rife: from the judiciary, which receives kick-backs from businesses poised to benefit from their decisions, to the police force with its selective pursuit of offenders, to educational institutions, where money or sex may help gain admittance or good grades. Bonsu gave no one immunity, touching on corruption in the workplace and the marketplace, in the press, sports, chieftaincy system and even religious institutions.
The undercover investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, CEO of Tiger Eye PI, also took to the podium to share a few words on the evils of corruption. Anas is famous for never showing his face in order to hide his identity. His face obscured by curtain of looped string hanging from a fisherman’s hat, he described his latest investigation, which looks into corruption on the roads and the horrific accidents caused by drivers who should not legally be licensed, but are.
Anas emphasized the importance of getting the entire Ghanaian population—and not just government officials—to join the fight. “Fighting corruption you need all hands on deck,” he said. He encouraged the audience to name and shame the perpetrators.
Although it was not dwelled upon at the campaign launch, I couldn’t help but think about corruption within my own profession here in Ghana. Reporters are often paid to attend press conferences, and sometimes receive direct payments from companies for writing stories about them. I can’t really blame the journalists, who do not make very much money here. But how can the press report on corruption in their country if they too are a part of the problem?
One innovative idea came from the Centre for Freedom and Accuracy itself. As part of their anti-corruption campaign they’ve launched a newspaper called The Scandal, dedicated entirely to matters of corruption. In the first issue, The Scandal’s front-page story demanded government action in response to Anas’ recent investigations. Other stories were about mobile phone fraudsters in Accra and the corruption of government wealth in Nigeria.
Social media is also emerging as a valuable tool in the effort to “name and shame.” A recent report from the World Bank sparked a discussion on Twitter, led by CitiFM, with Ghanaians expressing their views on the subject and even reporting being asked for bribes.
@eddie_dankie wrote: “i had to pay bribe at da register generals department b4 i cld register my company within 2 if not it wld ve taken a month.”
@FiddWann added: “corruption involves at least 2 actors, the giver and the taker..both are guilty if found culpable and this is backed by law.”