Fraud is defined by my old Advanced Learners’ Dictionary as ‘deceiving somebody illegally in order to make money or obtain goods’. Fraud can also be deception, dishonesty, fakery, hoax, imposter, theft etc. In the laws of countries the world over, any act considered as fraudulent exacts punitive sanctions as prescribed by the laws of the countries. Indeed in some countries, fraudsters could face the death penalty. Harsh though some may consider such sanctions, society is sanitized. Everyone does or attempts to do what is right for the general good of society.
Sadly, in recent times, it looks as if this country is re-branding fraudulent activities by some people and getting away with it. Over the period, public funds have been fraudulently siphoned by individuals and group of individuals to the detriment of the nation. There are examples of such fraudulent appropriation of public funds to and by corporate institutions like Rlg, Gyeeda, SADA, CP, Isofoton and individuals like Mr. Alfred Agbesi Woyome.
The amounts involved are in their millions, in some of the cases, the Supreme Court of Ghana has described the fraudulent transactions as ‘create, loot and share’ and directed the state to retrieve its monies. It is important to interpret the Supreme Courts description of the transaction as an organized crime perpetuated against the good people of Ghana. One person may create a fraud and loot, but it takes more than one person to share the outcome of a fraud. What that means is there is more than one individual in the creation, looting and sharing of the nation’s resources.
Why has the focus been on only one person who might have created and looted and why are we not bringing in those who benefited from the sharing? What roles did those who benefitted from the sharing play to become beneficiaries of the creation and looting of the funds in the first instance and why is the state so nonchalant about these groups of people, whoever they are and wherever they are? Indeed, a representative of one of the companies the Supreme Court said did not deserve the monies paid it, was bold enough to say publicly that the company will not pay ‘today or tomorrow’. As I write, there is a deafening silence on the Isofoton issue as far as the public is concerned.
The most astonishing of the issues above is the negotiations the state has entered into with some of those who fraudulently took the tax payers’ monies asking them to refund the monies at their own time and pace. So far, the nation is grappling with partial refund or total refund of monies fraudulently appropriated by managers of GYEEDA, SADA, CP, ISOFOTON, CP and Woyome. The only re-assuring statement by the President of the Republic of Ghana in his recent engagement with the media is that the Attorney-General has collected so much. Sadly, he did not tell the nation the total amount of money that have been collected and pitch it against what is left to be paid and when those payments are going to be made.
One would have expected that having gone through this chain of fraudulent expropriation of public funds by groups and individual public officers, some lessons would have been learnt and measures put in place to insulate the national purse from such organized pillage and broad day robbery. Not too long ago, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority, a department under the Transport Ministry shocked this country with an inflated contract figure of GH¢3.9 million to GH¢9.6 million. And before that shock would be examined and addressed, another injury had been added to the financial woes of the country. The recent scandalous rebranding of public buses at the cost of GH¢3.6 million further jolted the citizenry into the reality that their taxes are not being properly managed in a manner that ensures value for money.
It is a fact the world over that criminals are always ahead of the society, when people plan evil against society, there surely will not be any ‘art to find the minds construction in the face’ of these fraudsters among us, and that is why in the art of governance, both in the corporate world and the civil realm, systems are put in place to ensure that such fraudulent acts are prevented or in the worst case, minimized. In almost every jurisdiction, should such fraudsters be caught, the laws descend on them in a manner that will scare any future fraudster from thinking of engaging in a similar act, let alone attempting to implement it.
Sadly for us in this country, there seems to be new approach towards dealing with this canker in our society. We have been told that Rlg operatives, managers of SADA, and GYEEDA who siphoned public funds for private use have not just been asked to refund the monies, but to refund on terms convenient to them, and in many cases without interest. The perpetrators of the fraudulent acts that led to the loss of public funds are not hauled before the law courts to face sanctions.
It is very difficult for any fraudster to siphon millions of public funds from the public kitty without the collaboration of public or civil servants who prepare the documentation to be approved by a superior officer and eventually the cheques signed to effect payments. These categories of people are the beneficiaries of the sharing process in the end. It is therefore amazing that the state closes its eyes on those it has employed to safeguard the public purse, who end up opening up the public vault and grant unfettered access to the fraudsters to voraciously milk the state lean, even as the state is unable to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable in the society.
The position of the state today is not a path towards fighting corruption and criminality, what we are doing is basically to encourage people to steal public funds, invest them, and when they are caught, we ask them to draw a payment plan to refund the stolen monies. Payment plans become necessary in a commercial agreement by both parties and not with criminals. Imagine a scenario where someone steals GH¢10million of public funds. The money is invested in a 91 days Treasury Bills at 20% annual interest. After the 91 days, he grabs GH¢ 500,000 from the investment and per a payment plan, goes to pay back the GH¢10million. We steal government monies, lend them to government, make profit and pay back the monies to the government.
This seems to be re-branding of corruption in this country. Fraudsters are not penalized but pleaded to pay back monies stolen from the public at their own convenience. Such a system cannot help this nation in its fight against corruption neither can we move on to meet our developmental challenges in the face of growing societal and economic needs. President Mahama’s approach towards the war against plain thievery is not helping this nation.
One wonders why the President with all the laws in the country and the security apparatus at his disposal, would preside over such massive stealing of public funds which is impacting so negatively on the lives of the people of this country and yet looks so helpless on the matter. Which serious nation would preside over such open leakages in its finances, with the known actors moving freely, and the only solution is to increase taxes to make up for those monies fraudulently stolen? We must be seen to be serious with criminals in whatever form and from whichever angle to protect the general interest of the nation.
This country is sinking, the people are suffering, basic needs have become luxuries to the majority of the people in the society. There is gnashing of teeth amongst even those in the middle class who work so hard to make their monies. Instead of President Mahama acting for the people and with himself as a reasonable leader, he fastens his weaknesses on the strength of the few and on the feebleness of the majority weak. Ghanaians must weep for the President and his appointees, they are so poor, very poor, all they have is money.
Daavi, three shots for today.
Kwesi Biney, a Journalist.