Sunday, May 24, 2009
The corrupt world of moats, ducks and toilet seats
From a Ghanaian perspective, the behaviour of UK MPs regarding their expenses seems small beer. Here, the papers are reporting how the current left of centre government is trying to eradicate a pervasive bribe culture. The most paradoxical story I read on this subject was when a Ghanaian businessman took two men to court who had promised him that they would ‘arrange’ a senior post for him in the Ghanaian embassy in a Scandinavian country. He gave them several thousand pounds to bribe officialdom. In the event he was being duped so he took them to court! The judge judged on extortion and seemed not to take into account, as we might have guessed, the issue of bribery and corruption. Here, the ancient ways of the culture have melded with modern politics to produce the scenario where an MP is a Chief in other clothing. Ancient etiquette has the Chief of an area looking after his tribe, and particularly his own family. To become an MP brings with it expectations from nearest, dearest and others that largesse will follow. Africa has many countries where parliaments are dominated by tribal groups who tend to put their own interests before that of the country as a whole. Ghana may fall foul in the same way but there is a realisation that it is a gross barrier to economic progress in the country and, one hopes, corruption will eventually be stamped out. However, unlike the UK where the populace are angry owing to the fall in the moral standards of their MPs, in Ghana the populace will be up in arms if their MPs adopted such a morality. They expect nests to be well feathered.
I was talking to someone yesterday who disburses grants from The World Bank. He visited a community outside Accra and was accosted by a businessman.
“You have not given me a loan.”
“We don’t make loans.”
“I receive nothing.”
“Your case was turned down.”
“But where is my money?”
Here, the expectation is that if you have a relationship with anyone who augments the passage of funds from one point to another, then you must become a beneficiary. It is a country of hand-outs that, sadly, relies upon western funding to manage its economy. As I have mentioned before, if the West reduced trade tariffs rather than gave funding to Ghana, the economy here would prosper far more. But the suspicion is that Western aid is a way of constraining growth and stalling competition, not encouraging it.
Since President Atta Mills seems to want to clean out the corruption in these Augean stables, there is hope. But he will be battling against the cultural tide, the exact reverse of what is happening in the UK.
Watching the UK expenses debate among a panel on Sky just now, an idea suggested by a historian seems worth recycling and beefing up. There are too many issues on which MPs follow party lines and vote like lemmings in the fearful company of their obsequious colleagues and beady-eyed Whips. Secret ballots, where every MP votes, guided only by his or her own moral compass and not party dogma, would truly enliven politics.
UK MPs of all persuasions live in a hothouse media village, a culture and tribe protecting its own feathered nest. No wonder the golden eggs have gone addled.