By Kingsley Bennett Nunoo
Accountable Leadership in the governance structure in most African countries has been a great headache to change managers and policy makers, both locally and internationally. The severity of the pain is further heightened by the many cases and incidences of corruption which utilize the legal loopholes daily.
Many attempts by different African countries in the fight against corruption has been through the passage of laws and regulations expected to either make it difficult for officials to steal or to assign deterring punishments for acts of corruption. Worthy of note is also the setting up of various Institutions responsible for sustaining the fight against corruption.
These Public Financial Management laws and regulations are drafted by law makers and the contents made to meet every standard there is. The laws appear strict and fearful at a glance, the euphoria surrounding their passage also paint the picture of an early end to corruption and a new dawn of efficient utilization of public funds. In most African countries, there are multiple laws passed and praised by all manner of people across the length and breadth of these societies, however, decades into the fight against corruption, defeating it has become a myth, as we stare it with an apathetic luxurious disdain. An attempt at its reduction rather seems a utopian novelty.
As a local governance practitioner, my attention is daily drawn to a piece of the puzzle often overlooked by many: Who is expected to interpret and use the anti corruption laws; the lawyers or governance practitioners? Is the African law passed for prosecution purpose or for implementation purpose? The lack of clarity on these two approaches has had a direct effect on the impact of these passed laws on corruption. When laws are passed for prosecution purposes, the law is drafted for easy interpretation in the law courts by lawyers who in most cases are politicians. It is always a requirement for users to go to courts for interpretation. Emphasis is not placed on the practitioners applying the law, but on exposing the practitioners. Copies of such laws are easy to find in the law courts free of charge than the government institutions and when available, at a price. A large percentage of capacity building and consultations focuses on preparing the prosecutors than the users. However, when laws are drafted for application purposes it is easy to be interpreted at the points of use (Government Offices and Meetings) by practitioners, and the laws does not practically contradict existing manuals and operational procedures. It is easy to make instant judgment calls consistent with the law.
Arguably, most African countries pass public financial management laws mainly with prosecution as a sole objective. The passage of laws is usually reactive and fuelled by the “going to get them” approach. This bias is further backed by the expression “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”. Also characteristic of many PFM laws in Africa, the lawyer – politician is responsible for authorizing final spending and for the appointment of officials. They are also responsible for interpreting laws in most law courts as most African politicians are lawyers; It comes with no surprise that the legal approach to fighting corruption is the preferred choice over allowing state institutions to be politically independent.
The fight against corruption has been fought by the laws and for decades hasn’t really bit down on the law breaker. It is important to note that corruption is a symptom of system failure in the governance framework and not the sickness, hence directly healing this symptom through the passage of deterring laws is only an act of political expression of commitment. If Africa will win the fight against corruption, then there is the need to move from prosecution driven laws to usage driven laws. The practitioners need to be put at the centre of interpretation of laws. Africa needs strong and ethical non – legal institutions that are independent and insulated with a focus on development.
Kingsley Bennett Nunoo is a Budget Analyst based in Ghana. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org