Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holiday Hampers

It seems like influence peddling in Ghana is now being commercialized, especially during the holiday season, with the commercialization of Hampers.  No doubt Christmas is a time of giving. However in my humble opinion ‘giving’ should be strictly restricted to the private sector and within families. Although highly improper, giving gifts to public officials in Ghana has excited since the beginning of our system of public administration. We know very well that such acts have the potential of compromising our public officials and reform program after program have sought to fight the canker but nothing seems to be working. On the contrary the practice keeps on increasing. In fact the practice has been commercialized with the proliferation of companies that specializes in providing gift baskets (Hampers). I am reliably informed that one such company has worn a contract to provide 2000 Hampers for a Construction company that intends to offer the Hampers as gifts to various people including public officials. These Hampers are obviously meant to influence the public officials who will receive them. The content alone should make that obvious. The Hampers are filled with expensive items, most of which are imported. In fact some of the entrepreneurs who make Holiday Hampers travel all the way to China, Europe and the Americas to buy the goods that will make the Hamper.
No matter what you think public officials should not be receiving gift of any kind from the general public. Public officials must be impersonal in the discharge of their duties and they must at all times strive to ensure utmost fairness. It is the only way we can ensure a fair and smooth running public bureaucracy.  Public officials work with the Public Trust. We as a people have ceded a little of our rights (power) and entrusted that in the hands of public officials. We trust that they will use the power we have given them (to award contracts, be police men, judges, government officials) exclusively for the benefit of the people (society). Public agencies need this trust to ensure a smooth operation of our public sector. Any erosion of the public trust spells doom for the public agencies and society as a whole. The reason most people employ land guards, refuse to pay their taxes and pay bribe for every conceivable service is because they do not trust that the public officials in whose hands we have placed our trust will do the right thing when given the opportunity. Such erosion of public trust affect the strength of our institutions, breeds inefficiency and eventually weakens the very basis of our society. Any act that gives the perception of influence peddling in the public service should be discouraged. Consider this scenario, would you be happy if you saw your opponent in a law suit giving the judge a Hamper? Of course any assurances from the judge that the Hamper will not influence his judgment will be totally unacceptable to you. In the same vain you will likely find it unacceptable if a competitor offered the public official who is in charge of awarding contract a Hamper. It is for this reason that Hampers and all types of gifts should have no place in the public sector.
As far as I am concerned, it was a welcome sign that the president refused to take Hampers from anyone last Christmas. I hope he is going to do the same this year. The president understands that the people who give Hampers never give it for free. Either they want some favors from you right now or they will come back later to ask for a favor. Ask any honest public official and he will tell you that the Hampers and gifts stop flowing as soon as they are no longer in a position of influence. However, it is not enough that the president has refused to accept Hampers. If he understands the negative effect that Hampers have on our public institutions then as the father of the nation, the one who set the agenda, he should master the political courage to move for a legislation that will specifically ban Hampers and gifts from the public sector.