Ghana, like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, has long struggled with serious public corruption problems. Yet there have recently been encouraging signs of progress. Back in 2009, during the administration of then-President John Atta Mills, Ghana began formulating an ambitious, long-term National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP) with 120 goals. After President Mills’ death, work on the plan continued under President John Mahama; although Parliamentary approval was not required, President Mills nonetheless submitted the final version of the plan to Parliament, which ultimately approved the plan in 2014. Commitment to the plan appears as strong as ever despite a change of party with the ascension of President Nana Akufo-Addo in January 2017.
Of course, lots of countries develop ambitious-sounding national anticorruption strategies, and in many cases these strategies don’t achieve much. (More cynical critics argue that these plans are often not intended to actually do anything other than to create the appearance that the problem is being taken seriously.) But according to a report released last fall by Princeton University’s Institute for Successful Societies, there are encouraging signs that Ghana’s anticorruption plan is working, despite some significant setbacks and limitations. Because those of us who work on anticorruption, especially in challenging environments, are so starved for good news and anxious for lessons learned, it’s worth considering some of the factors that seem to have contributed to the relative success of Ghana’s recent efforts.
- First, Ghana’s Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), which deals with corruption cases among other matters, had established its credibility and its reputation for independence in the 1990s, well before the NACAP was developed. The NACAP thus has the advantage of being promoted by an agency with a number of high-profile successes, including the forced resignations of sitting government ministers, already under its belt.
- Second, CHRAJ—with support of the President—was able to create an infrastructure for government agencies to monitor and report on their own anticorruption activities. Acting CHRAJ commissioner Richard Quayson had to move quickly in 2015 to develop a strategy to compile data on anticorruption efforts within the government and encourage cooperation across agencies. Part of his task was to remind agencies that they had anticorruption implementation duties and try to get them to submit reports about steps they had taken. Although the 2015 response from agencies was not particularly encouraging, it improved after the president threatened sanctions for noncompliant agencies. And since many bodies cited lack of resources as a reason for putting anticorruption on the back burner, CHRAJ managed to get the finance ministry to require other ministries to budget for anticorruption work. The hard work of deciding what needs to be reported, getting agencies used to thinking about and reporting on their efforts, etc. has already been done. With this groundwork laid, CHRAJ can focus on encouraging more cooperation.
- Third, although Ghana has had success in securing external funding for the implementation of its anticorruption strategy—including a 20 million Euro grant from the EU—the NACAP was developed internally in Ghana as the result of domestic processes long before this funding came in. This makes the NACAP less susceptible to critiques of anticorruption efforts as pandering to the pressures of international commerce and implementing neo-colonialist agendas.
- Fourth, even when CHRAJ has been unsuccessful in securing changes to the law, its proposals and advocacy work have helped change the public discourse around corruption. For example, CHRAJ has been pushing for a new code of conduct for public officials, with administrative penalties for violations. The proposed legislation has stalled, largely because legislators don’t want to legislate penalties for their own misbehavior. While it’s frustrating that the legislation hasn’t been passed, it has nonetheless become a part of public discourse, and the standards in the proposed code of conduct appear to have created a baseline for defining and describing improper conduct for public officials. For instance, in 2016 President Mahama received a Ford Expedition as a gift from the head of a construction company headquartered in Burkina Faso – and news coverage included quotes from the CHRAJ’s code of conduct to describe the impropriety of the President’s conduct.
All that said, the prognosis is not entirely sunny, and we should not exaggerate the success of the NACAP. Political will to enact tough new laws appears to be waning: In addition to the stalled code-of-conduct law, efforts to enact right-to-information and asset disclosure laws have also been stymied. And although President Akufo-Addo’s administration appears to be following through on his campaign promise to create an Office of the Special Prosecutor to handle corruption cases (despite possible constitutional concerns), anticorruption activists have criticized his decision to name a record-breaking 110 new ministers of state in an apparent attempt to reward those who supported his party in the 2016 election (see here and here).
Yet despite those important concerns, the Princeton report’s focus on what’s going well in Ghana is a welcome and justified burst of positivity on the anticorruption scene. It makes sense to give Ghana credit for its anticorruption efforts even if they are not fully formed or perfectly implemented yet. All anticorruption plans will have limits, and they can be begun even before robust political will fully materializes.