YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Compared to other African countries, Ghana has been relatively stable following the transition to democratic rule in 1992.
But Ghana has yet to tackle widespread corruption and ranks as number 81 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
The local branch of Caritas hosted the maiden anti-corruption quiz competition between the Integrity Clubs of Sing M/A and Fielmuo T. I. Ahmadiyyah primary schools.
“I am often appalled and ashamed that even children are aware of this cancer and lament painfully about its effects on their life; in particular denying them of the essentials for quality education,” said Samuel Zan Akologo, the Executive Secretary of Caritas Ghana and Head of Department of Human Development of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
He spoke to Crux about corruption in the country, and ongoing efforts to fight it.
Crux: You have described corruption in Ghana as “a cancer.” Can you elaborate?
Akologo: Like a cancerous wound, it continuous to defy ‘treatment and sometimes surgery’ as it infects other parts. Corruption in Ghana has hurt the poor and the vulnerable the most, denying them of lifesaving and essential services and decent public goods or infrastructure. I am often appalled and ashamed that even children are aware of this cancer and lament painfully about its effects on their life; in particular denying them of the essentials for quality education. Some positive policy efforts have been made in Ghana with the establishment of the Office of the Special Prosecutor, but nothing or too little results are there to show so far.
You say a sustainable pension scheme could mitigate corruption in Ghana. Can you explain?
No apology or excuse can be acceptable for corruption or engaging in corruptible practices. However, in my own lifetime, I have seen public servants who retired have their life reduced to penury and destitution. My concern is that the fear of a future penurious life can become a great temptation for some public servants to want to amass illegal wealth as a personal safeguard.
This is particularly so where some government or even Church workers are paid so little and meager wages that hardly sustain their families let alone to put by something as savings. My point is that all workers must be guaranteed a decent pension on retirement.
My second concern is that at retirement it should be easy for a pensioner to get his or her pension claim. The processing of pension claims has been tortuous and laden with red tape. There have been reports in the past of retired teachers who died in their union hostel rooms in Accra while making long travels from their stations to Accra to follow up on their pensions. Why must it be so that the retired teacher who hitherto received his or her salary from a Commercial or Rural bank in Bincheratanga or Bolgatanga or Poentanga, all in the rural north of Ghana, now has to travel to Accra for their pension?
So the pensions scheme in Ghana is not as good as it should be?
Yes, as I have explained. In addition, there were no alternative pension schemes until very recently, besides the one managed by the State Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT). This state pension fund has not been free of mismanagement, embezzlement and corruption. The ostentatious expenditures of the fund managers have come under public criticism and investigations. Why must a state institution entrusted with individuals’ life savings be allowed to be so reckless and profligate in the use of the people’s money?
Also employers – government, church and private sector – either sometimes default or neglect to pay their workers’ pension contributions. We have heard stories about the government, the largest employer, owing the national pension scheme into several millions of cedis [the cedi is the local currency, worth about $0.20.] Even if this is paid at a later date, it has robbed the fund and contributors of interests that could have accrued from investment.
You also make the case for more better paying jobs as a way of reducing the incidence of corruption in Ghana. What is the employment situation in Ghana and how well are workers paid?
Unemployment remains the bane to Ghana’s democratic credentials. Youth unemployment remains the highest of the unemployment statistics in Ghana. Young people have no choice but to accept any job offer even if the wage does not support decent living.
Sometimes, the jobs are offered on short-term contracts that do not obligate the employer to contribute to the worker’s pension. Besides, the annual minimum wage in Ghana hardly can support decent living, including accommodation, health and three square meals for a family. The daily minimum wage, as a benchmark for wages, thus makes the government, church and private sectors culpable in handing out sorrowful wages. What is even more disturbing is the weak mechanisms to monitor wages in the informal sector which fall way below this sorrowful minimum daily wage.
Most of those involved in big corruption are highly placed state officials, all across Africa. Does that not defeat the remedies you are proposing, given that these people are sure to have a comfortable retirement?
The fight against corruption should be multifaceted to address its intricacies and complexities. Grand corruption, especially by politically exposed persons, must be handled appropriately by state institutions. However, it must be noted that a single act of corruption anywhere, regardless of its size, is a sore and a moral depravity that hurts society or somebody in society. No effort at addressing these must be considered less important.