Posted: Sunday 1st June 2014 at 14:01 pm

‘Gentle Thieves’

Over the years, any time the negative factors militating against Africa’s development are discussed, the issues of war, conflict, illiteracy and poor leadership tend to dominate the discussions.

One concern that has not been adequately addressed and which has been and continues to be a huge stumbling block in Africa’s developmental drive is the matter of WHITE-COLLAR CRIME!

It appears that for many on the continent, the opportunity to work in business or government is akin to a chance to embezzle funds or simply fleece the system; rather than working assiduously and selflessly to improve the economy and, in turn, bridge the gap between the rich and poor.

White-collar crime generally tends to refer to crimes committed at a business (state/government or privately owned). Such crimes might include embezzlement or fraud, which simply refer to stealing.

The general view that white-collar criminals commit their offences in a non-violent manner, for which reason their punishment should be softer than that for crimes involving violence, has actually encouraged many people to steal state funds as well as money belonging to private organisations.

Indeed, people believe that white-collar crime is a less punishable offence than a robbery in which violence is threatened or perpetrated.
If the crime is not detected early enough and the money involved cannot be recovered, a criminal might technically steal all the savings of people who depend upon those savings in order to live. Such a criminal will, therefore, cause more damage by his actions than the robber, but the robber may be more likely to receive a stiffer sentence.

This is why the call by Dr Kwesi Jonah, a Senior Political Science Lecturer at the University of Ghana, for stiffer punishment for white-collar offences in the country should be taken seriously in order to deter the perpetrators of such crimes.

As the lecturer put it succinctly, white-collar crimes have become rampant in the country, and any time they are committed, “They inflict serious damage on the victims, be it the state or individuals”.

Who will not agree with Dr Jonah that, “Some people who wear nice shirts and jackets are stealing huge sums of money; not only from individuals but also from state institutions at an alarming rate today”?
There have been media reports of human resource officers at some government ministries who had ‘backdated’ the appointment letters of fresh employees of the state and pocketed the ‘back-pay’ that was supposed to go to the new employees.

Some staff of some banks have also been reported to have manipulated their companies’ computer systems and stolen huge sums of money belonging to customers. Crimes like the embezzlement of funds at a bank, for instance, may ultimately harm more people.

The saddest of all the reported white-collar crimes are the heads of educational institutions who take money from poor parents to register their wards for various external examinations and pocket the registration fees.

We all agree that education is the key to a good life and a sure way out of poverty so when one man decides, out of greed and a sheer lack of sensitivity, to deny innocent students the opportunity to progress on the educational ladder, do we fine such a person or throw him into jail for a few months and later release him? I do not think so!

I strongly agree with Dr Jonah, when he said at the launch of the Open Governance Project last Monday in Accra that, “If we want to prevent the kind of white-collar offences inflicting our economy, we must have stiffer punishment to deter their recurrence”.

Though I am not advocating the introduction of the death penalty for white-collar crime as is the case in China, people who commit such crimes should have their assets confiscated and they should be thrown into jail for a l-o-o-o-o-n-n-n-g time!

It is obvious that with use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the country, people are committing all sorts of white-collar offences by manipulating the Internet, using mobile phones and manipulating the ATMs to steal money.

The police and other security agencies must, as a matter of urgency, be trained, well-resourced and adequately motivated to fight white-collar crime because it is clear that Ghana is losing the “battle” against these gentle thieves.

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