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We shall hold them accountable, to their children's children

He called me when he arrived in New York and gave me the address where he was staying that night. However, because of a previous engagement, I could not see him that evening. So, the following morning, at the height of the New York rush hour, I drove into the city from Connecticut to see him.  Over lunch, Baah Wiredu, the former Finance Minister, shared with me his desire to solve the problem of abusive contracting and corruption in how the government awarded contracts.  He was determined to do something about it and had complained about how a road construction contract given to a local chief was never honored.  His determination to do something about such abuses showed in his face and his obvious weight loss was a testament to the task he envisioned.

The plan to roll out a set of initiatives to take on corruption began the day I walked into his office to help him map out his entire reporting structure in the ministry. Just a few minutes after we sat down, a man walked in to tell him that a farmer had just paid in full a debt owed to the ministry. Why the ministry of finance would give loans to anyone baffled me, but the minister asked him to make sure the accountant made the deposit right away.  The man seemed a bit hesitant and told the minister the farmer had paid in kind- a truck full of cocoa sacks as payment for his loan.  Baah Wierdu's response was to pick up an old ledger book, and hurl it at the man while screaming at him to get out of his office. I have never in all my years of knowing the man seen him so angry.

After the incident, our meeting continued, somewhat awkwardly, and I could not resist but share a lesson from the Bible about the significance of what happened in the Garden of Gethsamane, because I knew him to be a very reflective man.

Going up to the mountain, Peter and the disciples asked Jesus what to bring along with them. Jesus replied that whoever did not have a sword, should go out and buy one. Peter in particular replied that they already had two swords. On the mountain, when the soldiers showed up, Peter was quick to pull out the sword and cut one of the soldiers and with that he was shown that his heart had not been converted as it ought to have been after three years of walking with Jesus. The moral of the story is this: lack of an opportunity to sin doesn't mean you won't sin. The system of government in Ghana today is designed to offer those willing ample opportunity to be corrupt. Today, those who have had the opportunity and never took away the swords, want us to believe they can do so if given a chance in 2016?

Our country is not a country of angels, but one where an inordinately large number of people see the government as a means for making a living.  The system has therefore evolved as one that enables corruption and fosters it in the midst of a value system adulterated with a level of indiscipline without the systems designed to demand high levels of accountability.  So with that in mind, the minister and I decided to craft a series of initiatives that we believed could make a difference. The challenge was to get it into the next budget cycle and approved.

On several occasions, we met at different places and worked through the ideas. I always wondered how serious he was but when he summoned me one early morning to his hotel room in Washington DC, I knew he was determined to push the ideas through. I could tell he was giving the effort his all.

The day after he presented the full set of ideas at the ministerial meeting, I called him on the phone- and up till today I can still hear the disappointment in his voice. Apparently, the powers that be felt the initiatives, as is said in akan - "will not bring money home". 

A good man cannot work and sacrifice such hard work for his country, at the risk of his very life, and have a country remain more corrupt than he had been willing to sacrifice for and take on.  But what we cannot do is continue to just complain year after year and wait for the opposition party to take power and repeat the same cycle. We, the people, those who are willing, have to take power and make the changes we seek.

To start on the path to take our country back from the corrupted politics, let me share some of the very ideas I had worked on with the late finance minister;

1) Public Accountability Listing

We were going to document publicly abuses of power and incidences of corruption in a database, the Public Accountability Listing, designed to help subsequent governments to have the detail information to prosecute such abuses all the way through generations inheriting the benefits of such abuses. If we had to lobby to seek justice for the people of Ghana elsewhere, this database would never let us forget. 

2) Financial Literacy

The proposal was to mandate financial literacy as part of primary school and secondary school curriculum.  However not as an academic exercise, but as a core training in financial decision-making  and understanding to facilitate effectiveness of monetary policy across the country. I had proposed that the Bank of Ghana practitioners be responsible for the curriculum design and support free content distribution to the all schools.  The ultimate goal, however, was to elevate the level of sensitivity among the populace to the role sound financial decisions drove wealth creation and how bad financial decisions destroyed wealth  for the average Ghanaian.
Unfortunately, elements of this survived but without the visionary hand of those who toiled for it, has been misunderstood and rendered useless.

3) Asset Tracking Management

One of the blatant abuses and corruption in this country is the theft of government property - cars, lands, buildings and other equipment - that goes on daily. In addition, the unsponsored and unapproved use of government property for personal events like funerals is robbing the country of millions of Cedis that could be used to support investments.

This proposal was for the creation of a government asset management company that will centralize, own, hold the title and manage all government buildings, vehicles and other property away from all the ministries and agencies. This asset management company will have the sole authority for all transactions on government properties and be mandated as a quasi-private entity  with a quarterly reporting requirement. Where property is misappropriated then, it will have the ability to enforce recovery action on individuals.

The details of this were worked out but never saw the light of day.

4) Contract Registration

A proposal that the late minister was very passionate about was a beta software system we had developed to register all government contractors and require all new contracts to be registered with amounts awarded and proposed dates of completion.  To support this was a desire to work with the insurance industries in Ghana to create an escrow and an insurance product that the ministry will require all government contractors to purchase against the non-performance of contracts.

The minister was willing to nullify any contract awarded to any unregistered contractor and any contract whose communication had not gone through the official government email system.

6) Government Worker ID system

One of the proposals required a separate initiative to create a government ID system that required a centralized ID production center under the auspices of the BNI.  Every government employee, when offered a job, would show up at that office to be finger-printed and photographed for an ID with their respective government agencies.  Payroll was then authorized and made based on validated government ID'ed list and not just on name submissions.

Anyone holding a higher office or a political office then, by law, would have to go through a background assessment that would include a completely declaration of assets and criminal background assessment. 

These were bold proposals that took the best of effort out of a good man and we continue to see its destructive effects on our aspirations as cases like Woyome's make many complain about corruption.

It is the system- or rather the lack thereof- that gives the opportunities to abuse to those who wish too.  We need to change the system but I am under no illusion that it is an easy task. Ours is a society that lacks discipline at its core. Those in power today and those who wait for power cannot do it for they have gotten more chances than the number of generations that have lost hope. It is time for us to take power to save the good men and women among us from giving their best only to perish for a country to be robbed again and again.

It is your country, it is my country, it is our country. Let's fight for it. It is the only destiny endowed to us. A new set of men and women have to rise up to take power. This we can do in our lifetime.


Cofy said…
Well said. We cannot give up hope though the task is a daunting one.

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