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GIFT AS DISTINCT FROM BRIBE AND CORRUPTION

I had giggled, expecting a debate over my infracted quotation of the speak-out by Chief Justice Kwasi Anin Yeboah just before the Christmas: “I will not say that there is no corruption…but it comes in many forms…I am talking of gift in a cultural sense.   If people I know give me gifts, I will take…that it is in a cultural sense”. 

That means acceptable—no qualms and not bribery to be deemed as “corruption.”Putting interpretation(s) on the silence, as if nothing seismic was being prompted.  It is that a second reality check shall occur with regard to defining the range of Don’ts which legally constitute bribery specifically, on one hand; and on another, violation of the law from aberrant behaviour through societal norms including decency and fairness, abuse of office and or power. 

We have throughout the years bunched all under one nasty word—“corruption.” It slaps dirt perhaps unduly because of an enduring public perception which it has conjured to date.  At the same time in reality, the courts try persons not for ‘corruption’ but on a specific aberrant behaviour from   embezzlement to bribery.  I am inclined to believe the statement by the Chief Justice was minded on the Judiciary’s recent history, purged; and then the clarity-error which is what the statement infers to kick-start a thoroughly in-depth re-examination to draw the distinction.  That is between a “gift” and a “bribe”. 

The absence of such specificity led to the bunching which then brands the “gift” in our cultural mores as corruption.  My sense of it all is that the time has come for us to remove that stigma which denigrates culture-based act as a kind of abomination—too reprehensibly horrible and not to countenance. 

The law is a very exact stuff.  Thus the separation like of “powers” is the implicit in it.  The upper advantage is that it re-establishes our cultural sense of appreciation as long as decently actioned as prescribed by forebears.  It is our way of life.  What brought this particularly has its own interesting histories to narrate:

When WHITEE arrived here 1492 and up to the Bond of 1844, the power traditional Rulers, the Chiefs was unassailable.  Whittee observed that you go to  the Palace {Ahenfie or the Chief’s residence] empty-handed.  Even visitors went along with gifts—presents meant as tokens of “high esteem” as is in diplomacy and regular in either the opening or closing paragraph of notes and or letters.The contents of whatever did not miss liquor livestock and farm products and any else according to the wealth of the source, normally a brother Chief. There was none with anything on toward. 

Having observed the procedure, Whittee decided to out-match it with cash in sealed brown envelope plus the Rum, Whisky and Schnapps.  Of course these were received courteously as normal—being with-it customarily.  But there was something else along the intent to get to the Chief.  There was a middle-person, someone who ‘sabebrofo’ small to interpret the conversation between the Chief and the European visitor who usually dropped cash thanks to him.  For the giver, it seems to have become the norm that both Chief and interpreter must be suborned in that manner to get your way. That is, to be obliged.

 Over time it became the standard.  I should break here to use 1948 to illustrate how it was refined and became an as ‘usual’ for Whittee who knew it as a bribe, bribing the Chief and clerk.  Both perceived the process as a compliance with tradition. Pursuant to the “Nii Bone-Boycott, four Sub-chiefs of Cape Coast were sent packages by the British Regional Commissioner T.R.O.Mangin.  Each of pair of carton boxes contained dairy products liquor and sealed brown envelopes [Four Pounds sterling each]. 

The accompanying message in summary, was that the gifts were from the British government and His Majesty’ high recognition of their loyalty and hard work for good governance; but it would please His Majesty [George VI] and his government that the Chiefs would influence stopping the Boycott in the Gold Coast.  Three of them who were pretty literate accepted; but the fourth who was not so level educated, rejected and reported the scam at a Boycott rally.  Now the people knew this was clear bribery, away from the traditional dos. 

The second matter:  the Anglican Bishop of Accra Richard Rosevere redefined the traditional observance in a manner I can compare US Democratic Senator Patrick Moynihan last October characterised President Donald Trump as a “Master” of defining deviancy down.  The Bishop delivered a Synod dinner speech in Sekondi in which he equated ‘gift’ with ‘bribery.  He concluded we are corrupt, the Nkrumah government particularly.  He was deported, later pardoned returned to complete his term. 

Rosevere was Nkrumah’s friend and he had met and lunched with the President that Saturday before leaving to give that address which made a great running story in global news. What eluded clarity was that Bishop Rosevere confused the two—bribe and gift as one or indeed synonymous.  The Anglicans had lined up the Accra High Street and their Cathedral with gifts welcoming him and that continued as ordinarily showing respect and appreciation.  I recognise “appreciation” raises issues of definition precision and as to what for and whether he had done job to be thanked apart from doing what his calling required of few words contradict it was the “Jibowu Enquiry”. 

But Nigerian Justice OlumuyiwaJibowu was inconclusive in its findings at the level of vagueness.  Its Report 21 June 1956 said there  was gross misuse of public funds by members of the CPP.  The CPP was Nkrumah’s ruling party into independence 1957 through 1966, putsched.Over time, the process grew into subtle demands advisedly.  For instance, the order in compliance that you cannot go to the palace with empty hands. 

Problem is that emptiness is undefined.  The guiding influence as a procedural-must customarily, remains the token, respect and implicit advanced thanks, in appreciation of from even the mere audience to obliged authorisation for something needed to be done and or performed by the Chief, invitation and informing.  But inclusive of all or any is the knowledge that liquor is sine qua non in whatever is done at the palace.  In the absence of liquor, cash is acceptable.  But the rule is ‘not to be solicited.’ However as the supremacy of the Chief was gradually eroded and usurped by colonialism, two new gates had opened: the old liquor and brown envelope and disguised demand.  And lots have changed varying the simple un-harmful culture to the “many forms” as the Chief Justice described. 

I can date the neo-custom to just before independence and after through. But roots of the twisting were inherited.  The investor from abroad today knows from not much research who to bribe and arrives budgeted. Need it be declared any plainer than to say that bribery per se, was a colonial export and we have developed it into an institution or almost and it depends on which side one is on to agree that it is an albatross and ugly. To the extent that it is mere talking point as suits and power seekers accuse predecessor in relays.

On the more important point in the Chief Justice’s few words I also recognise the problems about “appreciation” as part of the connotations of gift.  I shall use Bishop Rosevere’s misunderstood.  When he arrived, the Anglicans and others lined the Accra High Street and the Most Holy Trinity Cathedral with gifts to welcome him.  Were those requested?  He was confused and carried it into making gift and appreciation into one –synonymous wrong-doing—corruption. As shown, it has been polished into finesse and I submit the Chief Justice was simply cloaking a feeling that there was need to reform.  This might work; and might not.  Explanatorily, the reason the news media left reporting and ended it there is that they seem to find the country has grown weary of the corruption story—even mere mention, not much newsy. 

It is unlike them here from our experience country-wide.  However, as the Prelates have recently declared advocating that politicians and government should stop the years of lip service to clobber corruption, the outrage of corruption not only haunts but also stagnates development,  Both are incidentally well=documented.  Why it still gets away appears to be an assumptions that the talking actually filibusters it and whether it numbs the nation or not, it makes it self-ineffectual.  Yet, in the event of an unlikely reasoning to contradict the alibi for the media, I am clearest in my mind that there is no historical precedent of a Chief Justice here opening up so bald-facedly.

 It sums up that instead of continued penchant for digging up dirt on opponents, let us turn forcefully to reforms, looking at other ways.  Incidentally, it is fact that every Head of the Justice delivery system makes a mark—either a Reformer, sticker for the status quo and do-nothing among their procession since history, Chief Justice Anin Yeboah could be choosing the first.  The road is long and could be tortuous.  Only the “never had it so good” may wish it not done.  Unfortunately, that is how the system should run—not in dispute

©Prof.nanaessilfie-conduah.

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