Enimil Ashon: The script has started changing
We used to speak in glorious language about the miracle of Rwanda; we still do. Among signs of the transformation, observers of the Rwanda Miracle cite a clean, litter-free capital city. Human as they are, corruption may still be lingering in the hearts of some Rwandans, but to give or take a bribe, the government worker must beat the computer. Paperlessness has cut out the human contact between the client and government officials.
Only six or seven years ago, this was thought impossible to achieve in Ghana. There is good news, however, on the horizon, fellow countrymen. The script has started changing. It is now not impossible to predict that corruption can be reduced to a tolerable level in Ghana within our generation.
There is hope for the future, I say, and that future, for Ghana, lies in strong institutions now made possible by the technology that gave birth to paperless transactions. When I joined the “Hashtag Fix It” campaign early this year, I was specific on what I thought needed to be fixed urgently, namely the #Fix Our Value system. I am still firm in my mind that if Integrity prevails, corruption will be fixed.
I know that as a writer in our highly polarized society, I stand the risk of being labelled a sycophant or pro-Akufo Addo. But the truth is one, and it gives me pleasure without end to observe that for the first time in our history, the anti-corruption crusade is on the winning side, at least, in the institutions where corruption had been endemic since 1957.
It is fair to acknowledge that the thinking, the processes and the battles that have given rise to paperless transactions may have started two or three regimes past, but there is no Ghanaian today who can deny that the real take-off has been in this regime. Indeed, records confirm that paperless ports, championed by the GRA together with GCNET and West Blue Consulting, started in September 2017.
At the ports today, the import process flow is done via an online system, which captures all relevant import information on a database. Traders can obtain required import licences, permits and certificates before the arrival of goods and pay charges, among other things.
In Kumasi, the Ghana Shippers’ Council committee chairman of the Ashanti region reported some time in 2019 that the Paperless Port System “has allowed shippers to clear their goods in a matter of four hours, down from what used to take a week or more.”
Other interventions within the maritime sector include a reduction in the number of inspection agencies at the port and the scrapping of barriers along trade corridors. Specifically, as of late 2019, port inspection agencies were reduced from 16 to three (namely Customs Division of GRA, Ghana Standards Authority and Food and Drugs Authority). Once upon a time, an importer had to bribe the staff of each of the 16 institutions.
The other miracle that is almost impossible to believe is passport acquisition. In Ghana, over the last one year or so, citizens can apply for a passport and receive it within one month, at the maximum. One only has to fill a form online and send it to the Passport Office online. A computer-generated notification invites you to an interview on a date determined by the computer the same day. The interview lasts not more than 10 minutes, except in exceptional circumstances.
Unfortunately, there are old Foreign Affairs/Passport Office staff who are licking their wounds, wondering what took away their “daily bread” (bribe money).
Isn’t it beautiful what has happened to DVLA! No ‘goro’ boys, I tell you. At the district levels, the testing and issuing stations are in private hands, and the process of obtaining a drivers licence and Roadworthy certificates is totally hassle-free and bribe-free. You pinch yourself to confirm that you are in Ghana.
The last enemy to conquer in this quest to reduce corruption through reducing human contact, courtesy paperlessness, is the Lands Commission. There, bribery is endemic. The ‘goro’ boys and girls are the staff. The system is so profitable that some of the staff would rather not take their annual leave. Even when they retire, they are still a daily fixture at the Commission. They are determined to make sure the new system does not work. The more the complexity of the process, the more bribe-able.
There are staff at the Commission who wear the badge of integrity, but they are outnumbered by apostles of greed who want to own a car and build a house.
The Hashtags are working for us all. So let’s be resolute but take one issue at a time.