When Bribery and Corruption Is Culture

10 Mins read

Life certainly teaches you lessons. For example, my late father wanted me to be a lawyer. I stubbornly refused but rather decided to pursue my hearts desires in the arts. After my first degree in Social Science received from The Manchester Metropolitan University more than 20 years ago, I could have continued with an MA and gone all the way to PHD if I had desired. But truthfully, I saw no point in collecting paper certificates. For many years, I felt unless someone was studying a subject such as medicine I did not see the point of collecting MAs and PHDs.

But all that changed just this year. To cut a long story short, I found myself back in school in 2017, pursuing an MA in Development Communication. I learnt a great deal through this course. And I also had it confirmed that throughout my life, the issues I have been addressing in real life and in my writings are development and cultural issues. For example, when I address the need for street lights in Ghana, this is a developmental issue. When I address the preference for salsa over adowa, this is a cultural issue. However because I did not talk or write with a title attached to my name, many in Ghana misunderstood me. Had I come out addressing issues as a Development Communicator or Cultural Analyst / Advocate, perhaps Ghanaians would have understood me better.

With that in mind, I present to you my view on corruption in Ghana. I speak not as a controversial “been too” but as a holder of a BA(Hons) Social Science and soon MA Development Communication.

Bribery and Corruption as culture
For many years (from 1995 – 2018) I fought against what I thought was corrupt practices by many people in Ghana. Having been raised in the UK from the age of 10, I returned to Ghana at the age of 25 without knowing the culture. My mother died when I was 10 years old and although my father loved us, he showed his love by showering us with material things. Thus I did not have a mother or father to teach me and my views on life were strongly influenced by the English boarding school I attended. Returning to Ghana, I held on to those views and lifestyle. Lately, observing Ghana as a Cultural Analyst / Advocate, I see the mistake I made with regards to my views on corruption and bribery.

From my perspective, giving someone money to perform their official duties that they receive a salary for was simply wrong. Until a few months ago, I could not get my head around this concept. But after my experiences in Ghana, especially this year, I decided to accept the demand for money to perform a duty as part of the culture of Ghana.

What is culture? Culture is people’s beliefs. It is the way a group of people go about performing customs, tasks and functions and includes attitudes and behaviours. What is the accepted norm in one culture may be a taboo in another. If we accept this view of culture, it will enable us to discuss and analyze corruption and bribery in Ghana within the cultural scope.
Let us start with realism. Bribery and corruption is very much part of the Ghanaian way of life. From the law courts to the police to admissions to educational institutions to the nurses on duty at the hospitals to government appointees to secretaries to security guards, in every facet of Ghanaian life, the people believe that paying or receiving a cash incentive before performing their duty is the norm. A radio Presenter taking payola before playing a song – the accepted norm. A Minister taking money from an investor before business progresses – the accepted norm. A parent paying for their child to gain admittance into a particular school – the accepted norm. A nurse giving you preferential treatment because you grease her palms – the accepted norm. In Ghana, asking for, giving and taking money to perform your official duty is the accepted behaviour of the people. The attitude towards this practice is positive. For example a journalist who takes soli to publish a story or feature you on their show gains more respect than one who does not.

I am currently in court trying to evict a tenant who took my home, threw all my family’s possessions (photographs, furniture, TVs, washing machine etc etc etc. He also cut every single tree down) out, turned our home into an office and sublet. So far this year, he has not paid me a pesewa in rent. Although I requested for copies of the court proceedings, for over a month, it has not come to me simply because I do not have the money to engage in this cultural aspect of doing business in Ghana. With my experience and knowledge of how Ghana functions, believe me, I would pay every single person who needs to be paid in order to get my property back. That is the culture of Ghana. I have been informed my tenant is paying people at the court. Whether this is true or not, I do not know. But knowing the culture, I can believe it.

For many years, people have asked me to introduce them to certain personalities. In each instance, I obliged without asking for or taking any money. In a country where corruption and bribery is the accepted norm, an act such as this is seen as foolish. The word goes round and soon you build a reputation as someone who is foolish and does not like money. With such a reputation, nobody will want to be associated with you. It is the same with the media. In all the time I worked on TV and Radio, I never asked for soli and payola to do my job. Because I was not taking it, I too was not giving it. Unknown to me, this was my undoing as I was perceived to be “too straight” and not a team player. I was going against the accepted cultural practice. My attitude to bribery and corruption did not fit into the accepted attitude in Ghana. My behaviour also went against the accepted norm.

And so after 24 years of living with my British upbringing in Ghana, I realized that I need to adapt and immerse myself in the culture of the people. The first task was to accept corruption and bribery as a cultural practice in Ghana. Ghanaians do not see themselves as doing anything wrong when they demand payola, soli or a bribe before performing their official duties because to them, it is the accepted norm. For the past three years that my property case has been going back and forth, everyone tells me on a daily basis “this is Ghana. You have to pay. If you don’t pay, they will frustrate you.” And truly I am facing those frustrations because I do not have the money to pay upfront. If my tenant pays me rent, I will then be in a position to do what is considered the right thing in Ghana because right now, all and sundry are saying I am not acting according to the system. And the system of bribery and corruption is the culture of the people. Once I had accepted this, I felt as if a huge load had been taken off my shoulder.

Ending Bribery and Corruption
As with some cultural practices, a time comes when people demand its end. For example, female circumcision was once an accepted cultural practice. With time, some people began to demand that young girls should no longer be circumcised. An educational campaign rebranded female circumcision as female genital mutilation. The negative effects on girls, women and their relationships were sold to people and today, female circumcision is outlawed in some countries that once accepted it as part of their culture.

Now that corruption and bribery is part of the fabric of Ghanaian life, eradicating it will be extremely difficult. No matter which President claims they will end corruption, it will be a great challenge because corruption is not just about government officials taking bribes. Corruption today in Ghana is as much part of the Ghanaian culture as the British eating roast dinner on Sundays is part of British culture. Before you can ask the British to stop eating Sunday roast, you need a great deal of education. You cannot simply get up and say “hey, don’t eat Sunday roast anymore” and people will oblige. It will take years of hard work and many public awareness campaigns.
If Ghana is serious about ending the cultural practice of bribery and corruption, there are several recommendations I have been toying with in my head:

  • Focus on those in tertiary institutions.

Students in tertiary education are the next set of employees. Bribery and corruption is very much part of office culture in Ghana. For example, if you pay a secretary, you are more likely to secure a meeting with her boss than if you do not. If Ghana is serious about ending corruption in the workplace, there should be a very strong and solid anti-corruption and anti-bribery campaign targeting those in tertiary education so that by the time they are ready to enter the workforce, they so do with a different mindset to the culture they are current witnessing.

  • Pay civil servants well and create better working spaces.

Everybody knows that dealing with civil servants goes hand-in-hand with cash. It is part of their work ethics and culture. If Ghana is serious about changing this culture, civil servants must be well paid. Go to many of the ministries and courts and you will either vomit or weep at the work environment and conditions. Let us pay civil servants well, put them in clean, modern functioning offices and perhaps, practices such as pay me before I do my job will stop.

  • Provide good accommodation for police, court officials etc.

In the UK, university graduates are recruited for the police force. In Ghana, police work is considered to be for those who fail in school. Thus the remuneration that goes with the job is pathetic. And as such Ghana police have turned into beggars in uniform. It is really heartbreaking the amount of money one has to spend when they have a police issue. But I can understand the culture of giving police money before they perform their duty when I consider the conditions of their employment. It is an open secret that Ghana police is one of the key people who practice the culture of bribery and corruption. If Ghana is serious about ending this particular cultural activity, pay the police well. Resource them with tools that will enable them to work efficiently. Let them know at the end of the day, they too will go home to a beautiful house and sleep in a comfortable bed in a decent room.

  • Introduce an Incentive for Government officials

Once I accepted bribery and corruption as part of Ghanaian culture, I found myself thinking of ways to support Government officials. To be a Minister or to have a government appointment is the dream of many Ghanaians because in the culture of bribery and corruption, this is the highest opportunity one will get. In order to bring some sanity, a system should be put in place whereby a percentage of all deals a government official brings in goes to them. Just like in a sales job. That way, the government official will receive a basic salary and will be motivated to bring deals that will benefit Ghana knowing that their percentage is secured. For example, say a Chinese firm is interested in building a solar farm, rather than those in the position to work with the firm demanding all sorts of ridiculous amounts, if a percent is part of the job description from the start, everyone knows where they stand. So the sector minister, be they NDC, NPP, CPP, PPP or any other P will enter the job aware that X amount of all deals she/he brings for Ghana goes personally to her/him. Let us be open about it. Let us add this percentage incentive as part of the job package that attracts the people with the right qualifications and experience to perform government work.

  • Start patriotic lessons from nursery

If Ghana is serious about ending the culture of bribery and corruption, there is a grave need to inculcate a sense of patriotism in nursery school children. Brainwash these young children into believing in Ghana. Convince them Ghana is the best country in the entire world. Produce cartoons, TV shows, comics etc. depicting the Ghana we would like to see. Let nursery school children grow up seeing Ghana not as it currently is but as we wish it to be.

  • Create an environment where those who are determined succeed.

Where are the funds for business startups? The refresher courses? The mentoring programmes? Do Ghanaians celebrate the success of others? How many self-made Ghanaians are living in Ghana and act as inspirational role models? What are we teaching our youth about success? What are we doing to ensure people who are determined to make something out of their lives do so? Where are the opportunities for growth? If Ghana can create an environment where people thrive and success is celebrated, there may not be a need for taking and giving bribes.

  • Use the media

Use the media to create public awareness campaigns, TV shows, adverts, soaps, talk shows etc. Portray the image of the Ghana we want. Let Ghanaians envision a corrupt and bribe-free Ghana. It will take years, but if Ghana is serious about ending this particular culture, the media must be a key partner in the education. Of course before the media can embark on this campaign, they themselves need to buy into the concept of ending the deeply ingrained culture of bribery and corruption.

Personally, observing the Ghanaian culture of bribery and corruption I feel it will be difficult to end it. But nothing is impossible. Thus if Ghanaians are genuinely saying that bribery and corruption no longer fits into their way of life, we must all realize it will take years of patiently educating people before the change can come about. For a very long time, people’s attitudes and behaviours to bribery and corrupt acts has been positive. As it is now, I have accepted bribery and corruption as part of Ghanaian culture. It is the accepted, normal practice. And in order to have an easy stress-free life, the best thing to do when you move to a country is to understand and adapt to the culture of the people. You cannot change a culture of a people simply because it goes against the culture in which you were raised. For example, a Ghanaian who decides to register a business in UK cannot go about paying people at Company House to prepare his documents. Nor can a British person who decides to register his business at Registrar General in Accra refuse to abide by the culture of bribing.

Bribery and corruption is very much part of Ghanaian life. It is not an NPP problem. It is not an NDC problem. It is a Ghanaian problem. Let us stop deceiving ourselves that we can end it. Let us rather accept it, put it out there that for now, it is the Ghanaian way of doing business and generally how people in Ghana live. We can inform people that yes, paying your life through life is the accepted norm in Ghana, however there has been a demand to end this cultural practice so whilst Ghanaians work out how best to end it, just accept bribery and corruption for what it is in the meantime.

But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.

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