It appears that the term ‘thief’ has been reserved for the little people in society and ‘corruption’ reserved for the big people, at least in the opinion of Elizabeth Ohene, a former of Minister of State.
Speaking at Thursday’s Occupy Corruption event, held at the Christ the King Hall in Accra, Ms. Ohene insisted that the term corruption does not serve its purpose anymore in Ghana.
Elizabeth Ohene explained that the Ghanaian society knows what to do when some people help themselves to something that does not belong to them. She insisted that should a Ghanaian shout thief, whether in english or any local language, people would turn up with their stones, cudgels and cutlasses to demand instant justice, “but if you help yourself to millions of dollars, cedis that belong to the people of Ghana they call it corruption.
“It seems to me that stealing is for little people, small people, and corruption is for the big people”, Ms. Ohene decried the situation in which corrupt individuals are left free to reap their spoils while petty thieves are prosecuted.
“When they say you’re corrupt, you’re invited to be chairman of the church harvest and when they say you’re a thief, you go to jail.”
In her opinion, there is no difference between the two categories of people and it is high time that Ghanaians called the situation by its rightful name; thievery, “Let’s call a spade a spade,” she stressed.
She expressed the view that Ghana has enough rules and laws to combat corruption, stating, “We have enough rules in our books. If we would just ensure that they work, we would be just fine”.
Ms. Ohene insisted that corruption is not an African problem, explaining that she observed a different situation when she covered a story in Botswana at a time when the country was deficient in expertise and relied on consultants from other countries to help run its affairs.
She narrated the story of a Ghanaian appointee in Botswana, who utilised his official vehicle for unofficial activities and was billed for those activities at the end of his two year tenure in office.
“This is not the case in Ghana. Here, you can use our official car to visit your girlfriend’s house, to funerals and outdoorings, etc.”
The canker, seems to be entrenched quite deeply. She has the example of how contractors and quantity surveyors inflate costs for projects based on the assumption that the government will not pay them their agreed amounts on time.
She expressed the worrying trend where persons are expected to part with money for services rendered by salaried public officials and says Ghanaians are now prepared to steal even from the “lowest of the low”.
Ms. Ohene narrated how, when she was in the Ministry of Education and paying particular attention to special needs schools, she noticed that heads of special needs schools across the country; which cater to children who are deaf, dumb or otherwise disabled, had to travel to Accra to collect their feeding grants.
The heads of these schools, unlike other public schools were forced to pay cuts of their grants to the grant disbursers, who refused to send the money on to the schools because otherwise “the heads only say thank you” and do not give them a cut of the funds.
“We have people in Ghana who are ready to take ‘thank yous’ from the blind, the deaf.”, she emphasised.
“God save us,” she concluded.