One of the essential prerequisites for good governance and accountability is the ‘orderly and efficient use of public funds.’ It is also argued that the rule of law and procedures for accountability constrain the state’s power and ensures that it is used only in a controlled and consensual manner.
However, Ghana has a poor record in the area of public financial accountability which adversely affects the effective and efficient use of government revenues.
As emphasized by Ackerman (2004), the only way good governance can be secured is by “institutionalizing powerful accountability mechanisms that hold public officials responsible for their actions as public servants”. Based on the principal–agent theory, in a democracy, the principal is the citizenry, who through elections delegate authority to Parliament and or the President, who in turn establish bureaucratic hierarchies to carry out their wishes. Accountability mechanisms help to ensure that the agent (politician) acts in the interests of the principal (voter) and does not engage in opportunistic behavior.
Corruption and the 1992 Constitutional provision on eradication of corruption
Corruption is a key threat to good governance, democratic processes, and fair business competition (OECD,2011). Corruption in Ghana occurs because of weak values, systems, and consequences (Pauw et al., 2008). At a similar level of economic development, the least corrupt governments collect 4% more of GDP in tax revenues than countries with the highest levels of corruption. Corruption has damaging effects on economic growth and political legitimacy (Fukuyama, 2014, p.82).
Arguably, it is the damaging effect of corruption the reason why article 35(8) of the 1992 Constitution enjoins the State of Ghana to “take steps to eradicate corrupt practices and abuse of power” whilst Chapter 24 of the Constitution generally regulates the Code of Conduct of Public Officers under various provisions comprising conflict of interest, public appointments and complaints of contravention of the Code of Conduct.
Moreover, Fukuyama (2014) observes, the solution to the problems regarding the role of money in African politics lies ultimately in practical activities by stakeholders such as political actors, public oversight bodies, and civil society. This is echoed by Anna Bossman, a past Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), that the requisites of an enabling environment within which anticorruption agencies and institutions of governance including CHRAJ among others, operate effectively are responsible media, civil society/citizen engagement, coalitions, international cooperation, and above all political will.
In his key principal-agent theory for explaining public corruption, Robert Klitgaard provides
an equation of public corruption = monopoly + discretion – accountability.
Consequently, it is recommended that effective anti-corruption policy solutions should include:
• Monitoring agents extensively;
• Designing highly detailed contracts;
• Introducing free-market competition and decentralization;
• Adding mechanisms to improve vertical, horizontal, and social accountability.
The mandate of the Commission on Human Rights and Justice
Due to its importance for horizontal accountability, article 216 of Chapter 18 of the Constitution required the establishment of the CHRAJ within six months after Parliament first meets after the coming into force of the Constitution, with a specific mandate to investigate and work to prevent corruption. Besides, per Article 218 (a) and (e); 284-288 of the 1992 Constitution and Section 7(1) (a), (e) and (f) of Act 456, CHRAJ is mandated to amongst others investigate:
(i) abuse of power and “all instances of alleged or suspected corruption and the misappropriation of public monies by officials” (Article 218 (e));
(ii) (ii) allegations of breaches of the code of conduct under Chapter 24 of the 1992 Constitution.
Importantly, Article 218(g) requires CHRAJ to report annually to Parliament on the performance of its functions. However, as of 15 June 2023, CHRAJ has not yet released its 2021 annual report on its website. Many petitions for investigations including non-declaration of assets by public officials thus remain unresolved.
Paradoxically, in August 2022 Mr Richard Quayson, Deputy Commissioner of CHRAJ, said “Endemic corruption swallows on average about 20 percent of the national budget annually” and urged Ghanaians to change the habit of seeing corruption as normal and develop a strong abhorrence for it (Ghana News Agency, 2022). Without adequate information from CHRAJ Ghanaians would be denied the relevant information to monitor public officials and control corruption.
External and Internal Challenges Faced by CHRAJ.
A possible explanation of CHRAJ’s inability to fulfill its mandate could be due to contextual difficulties including the lack of adequate funding, limited enforcement capacity, and the overall weakness of the rule of law needed to enforce their sanctions. In her submission to the United Nations Conference on Anti-Corruption Measures, Good Governance and Human Rights in November 2006, Anna Bossman again outlined several external and internal challenges faced by CHRAJ in the fight against corruption.
The external challenges comprised inadequate legal and institutional framework, lack of government commitment or political will, and responsible media. Referring to the internal challenges, she noted that CHRAJ faced impediments and obstacles that seriously challenge its efficacy and the efficient discharge of its mandate, including resource constraints and poor conditions of service of staff leading to an exodus of qualified core staff, especially legal officers. This hampered service delivery and caused a backlog in cases.
Interestingly, in March 2023, Anna Bossman, the former commissioner of CHRAJ reiterated her appeal to the government to resource anti-graft bodies in order to effectively win the war against corruption in Ghana stating: “I always want anti-corruption institutions to be very well resourced to have what it takes to promote the integrity the country needs or wants” (The Ghana Report, March 26, 2023).
The Way Forward
For instance, in 2020 the allocated budget to cater for anti-corruption was a mere GH¢300,000. In the Report of the Special Committee on the 2020 Annual Budget Estimate of CHRAJ, the committee was informed that the staff levels of the Commission were inadequate and it did not have its full complement of technical staff prompting the Committee to recommend to the Ministry of Finance to grant CHRAJ special dispensation and financial clearance to enable it to recruit the requisite staff. The committee also recommended to the President to consider the appointment of an additional Deputy Commissioner to meet the full complement of the establishment of CHRAJ. The table below provides details of CHRAJ’s budgetary allocations and releases in recent years.
Obviously, the resourcing of independent governance institutions may not be a priority of the executive or a finance minister as reflected in the limited releases of CHRAJ’ allocated in the above table. As O’Donnell (1998) advises on the improvement of horizontal accountability, there should be adequate involvement of opposition parties in the organizations tasked with monitoring the behavior of politicians.
Parliament should therefore constitute a committee with a similar composition to the public accounts committee for the oversight of independent governance institutions (IGI) tasked with anti-corruption. Secondly, the annual allocated budgets of the IGIs should be guaranteed to ensure that their annual objectives or mandates are achieved or completed as they require adequate resources and insulation from political interferences.
Finally, Parliament should ensure that the annual reports and other reports issued after the investigations by CHRAG or other IGIs are timely submitted to Parliament and made available to the citizens as currently practiced by the Auditor General.
The writer – Dr. Valentin Mensah is an Independent Financial Consultant, Policy and Governance Researcher