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the October 2001 issue of World Press Review
Ghanas Zero Tolerance Policy Claims a Victim
Sarpong is WPRs correspondent in Ghana and managing editor
of Zongo Giwa, magazine of the Media Foundation for West Africa.
Ghanas new president, J.A. Kufuor, declared zero tolerance
for corruption in his inaugural address, most Ghanaians, fed
up with allegations of unchecked corruption in the previous National
Democratic Congress (NDC) government of Jerry Rawlings, welcomed the
move. Yet public opinion appeared to have shifted when the policy
claimed its first victim, the naive-looking, ever-smiling youth and
sports minister, Mallam Isa. At the Accra Fast Track Court, where
Mallam was given a four-year jail term, fined 10 million cedis [US$1,500],
and ordered to refund within one month $46,000 he had stolen, or in
default serve additional years for stealing and causing financial
loss to the state, people cried. According to the Ghanaian
Chronicle, scores of sympathizers broke into spontaneous
wailing, refusing to be comforted.
President J.A. Kufuor hopes that the trial of Minister for Youth
and Sports Mallam Isa will set an example (Photo: AFP).
Why would people behave this way? Besides the general doubts about
whether Mallam stole the money (Accras Independent),
the affable nature of the man himself (Ghanaian Chronicle),
his naiveté (The Guide), and the sentence being harsh
(Joy FM), Public Agenda identifies a pitiable irony in the accusation
that Mallam, who declared war on corruption in his one-month stint
as minister, stole $46,000 in bonuses for national team players in
their World Cup qualifier against Sudan. Mallam insists the money
was stolen from his suitcase on the flight to Khartoum, Sudan.
In the short period Mallam spent at the ministry, claimed by the media
to be controlled by a cartel of untouchable politicians and businessmen
with close contacts to the 20-year Rawlings rule and the dark side
of town, officials of the Ghana Football Association shivered. Some
of them had been found guilty of corruption but left unpunished by
the Rawlings government. So Mallams lawyer, Ambrose Derry, maintains
his client is a victim of his fight against corruption.
But his defense in court showed a lot of obvious inconsistencies and
The opposition NDC has asked President Kufuor to exercise his
prerogative of mercy to pardon the former minister. The Peoples
National Convention, from which Mallam was plucked into Kufuors
all-inclusive government, maintains the sentence is harsh.
But many columnists, led by Kwabena Yeboah of Africa Sports,
Sola Akinle of the Independent, and Kwaku Nsiah of the Ghanaian
Chronicle, say the sentence is deserved.
Justice Ansah, who tried Mallam, says he gave the sentence to deter
others from plundering the state if all are to benefit. As the
debate goes on, it appears the words that are haunting people most
are those from Public Agenda: If Mallam is guilty, he
should go. If not, his imprisonment threatens all of us.
Currently under way at the same Fast Track Court are two trials involving
some former Rawlings ministers. In one case, Victor Selormey, former
deputy finance minister, is standing trial for allegedly duping Ghana
of $1.2 million meant for the computerization of Ghanaian courts.
In the other case, five former officials of the past government are
being tried for the alleged theft of more than $22 million.
In a country like Ghana, declared a Heavily Indebted Poor Country
by the International Monetary Fund, with more than half the population
living below the poverty line; with most people in rural communities
not having access to safe drinking water; with some going to bed hungry;
and with sporadic strikes by hospital staff and educational workers
demanding a minimum wage of less than a dollar for eight hours of
work, the question of how to deal with corruption has always been
an emotional one.
When Rawlings launched his first coup détat in
1979, he executed three former heads of state and five military
generals for corruption. One of them, Roger Felli, was executed
because the junta men said he had used his position in the army
to access a bank loan of 50,000 cedis (about $25,000 at the
time). He had started repaying the loan. But he was executed.
Public Agendas admonition predates itself.