How to Motivate Bribery for Better Performance among the Ghana Police (Motor-Transport Division)

Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born ends with a scene in which a soldier stops a trɔtrɔ; then some ostensibly commonplace exchanges occur. Here is some background: Kwame Nkrumah’s government has just been overthrown by the military who have set up security checks to ensure stability. Now back to the scene: after being stopped at this checkpoint, the driver takes out a booklet, sticks a note in it and hands it to the soldier. The military man peruses the booklet with a serious demeanor, removes the note and hands the booklet back to the driver who continues his journey. The military personnel, driver and his passengers behave like this is a banal thing, but Armah wants his reader to note a problem.

It is telling that most readers will know why this incident reeks of corruption.  For the non-initiated, the note in the booklet is bribe money – the driver hands the money to the security personnel so as not to have his papers or vehicle checked to occasion some possible offenses. Armah sets his scene in 1966 (and the book was published in 1968) but in 2013 this scene can take place at any Ghanaian police barrier or highway. Thankfully, our country is no longer under military rule yet the problem persists.

Personally, I have always wondered why the driver puts the money in a booklet. I have called it corruption but is it really corruption? If you are tempted to say no, then one would ask why the offending drivers do not present the money in the open and smile into the cameras while shaking hands like people do when making donations. Since everyone knows what’s going on why not just give the police the money in an open sense? Of course that is a naïve question but it’s still interesting – how and why we dress up corruption in pantomime.

I think it’s a pantomime because the exchange is a farcical performance in which the actors know and play their roles very efficiently. Sometimes they even joke as they do it, adding a tragicomic veneer for all participants, including commuters in the vehicle. And it’s not as if the passengers are less guilty, mind you. You and I are complicit by looking on or pretending to look away. Some people might mutter some indignation under their breath but our general inaction means that we all ultimately aid and abet this crime.

This problem is as Ghanaian as extra white-sugar in early morning kooko, choked gutters and ECG’s lamentable nature. I therefore would like to think a bit about how we can dwork around it. Should we end at joking about it and ridiculing it? Should there be an Anas-style exposé to indict the briber, ‘bribee’ and witnesses?  Who is at fault here anyway?

Think about it though: when the officer stops the driver, who is more motivated to do the right thing? The driver doesn’t really care for wasting huge amounts of time and money due to court and fines for something he or she considers a minor infraction of the law. So why doesn’t the police feel the need to process the offender? This is because I daresay (from an ignorant perspective of course – I cannot verity this) that the police does not benefit directly from doing the right thing. In other words, the policeman or woman simply is doing his or her job with no extra perks. In some countries however, this  officer would receive financial reward for apprehending a traffic offender. This reward isn’t something inconsequential; it is a hefty sum which encourages the person to do the job with enthusiasm. While I’m not saying that the police should be paid 100 GHC for catching someone who drives with expired papers, stakeholders can come up with a decent sum which will render bribes a poor alternative. To my mind, there can even be an official receipt that is handed to the offending party to document payment of on-the-spot fines. Then a portion can be allotted to the police officer while a smaller portion can go to improving the particular police station.

In this way I think we should empower the police. Some people are altruistic and others work assiduously because they love their job. But in these times such examples are becoming increasingly scarce. And you cannot blame them, really. If your salary can be better (and even big-time CEOs say this for themselves, how much more a policeman or woman?) and you don’t have clear opportunities to complement it, you will create your own means.

After all, as the Akan say, nipa nnyɛ aboa*.

*The literal translation is a person isn’t an animal, but the socio-cultural import in the context of this post implies that a person deserves to have a decent standard of living

This pic depicts how Naija gets down. All the actors are in full flow on stage

About Kwabena

Career Student
This entry was posted in Capital Punishment, Ghana Police, Traffic and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to How to Motivate Bribery for Better Performance among the Ghana Police (Motor-Transport Division)

  1. warero says:

    Reblogged this on Javmode.

  2. awura abena says:


  3. Mawumor says:

    Hmmmm! Its hard o but I noticed no passenger can take an officer on for collecting these bribes from the drivers cos even the “oga at the top” started this way. No one seem to be a saint in the Ghana police force. Heard they even train new recruits for road works how to take the monies from the booklets so passengers won’t see. I’ve seen a lot of drivers put in GHC1 in these booklets but never been able to see how the police officers remove them no matter how hard I! Even the idea of rewarding someone who brings in an offender won’t go well with any police officers cos they make more than the reward the Ghana government will be willing to give them as a reward in a day. It will only take divine intervention. Let’s hope and pray. 🙂

  4. awura abena says:

    I guess people have learnt how to just shut up and watch these things go on. When one brave person voices his displeasure, it’s scary how the others gang up against him. Sad! Very good read. 🙂

  5. awura abena says:

    There was a time when we were stopped by the police for some offence that didn’t make sense- driving without our license. We asked to be allowed to produce the license by the end of the day. The police refused vehemently and asked that we drove to the station. We got there only to realise that there was desk – a whole desk, set up at the station for collection of BRIBES. Inside the station! And there was an officer whose job it was to determine how much each ‘offender’ would pay and another who did the collection. And this was being done in the most orderly fashion. It was mind blowing the kind of impudence the officials had. But then again, after making a little noise, most people ( yes including my team members) paid the ‘fee’ and left.

  6. Teko says:

    it is so expertly done that one can’t see how the money is taken from the book. why will we not have a cause to believe they learn that as past of their training.

  7. I Ride says:

    Interesting read… but the solution you suggest does not tackle the ‘dash’ culture endemic in the police. You’re simply switching the paymaster. And how would these ‘rewards’ be financed? Taxes/levies… the same public; another level of bureaucracy. Also, should the service offer GHc100 for each successful prosecution, then wouldn’t the tro driver be inclined to pay, say, Ghc110? Ghc200? on the roadside? You’d likely see prosecution rates drop through the floor.

    Drivers are arbitrarily stopped. No need to break the law or raise suspicion, (anyone who’s ever been on a tro knows this). That GHc1 is simply a little wax to let you continue. Object and you’re emptied out on the roadside, and you’ll pay 50x more to get your totally legit papers and license back. The police need humbling, not ’empowering’.

    • Kwabena says:

      Thanks for the reply. I think that due to our weak socio-political and economic structures it is nigh-impossible to eradicate the problem of bribery from the level of ‘dashing’ as you put it. If we can rather put that money in a better regulated development fund (much easier to deal with than a more ambitious structure) then the question of bureaucracy will be dealt with and both the police and public will benefit.

      I don’t see how a trotro driver would want to pay more if prosecution requires a smaller fine though. If you can expand on the second part of your paragraph I will be grateful. As things stand, the fines are unrealistic and the police who stops the guilty driver does not benefit directly (economically speaking). Thus, there should be a way of making the policeman or woman feel the need to do the right thing.

      And the question of humbling the police seems to me a more long-term solution. People are hardly altruistic in nature; they need a reason to do the right thing as sad as that might sound. In the meantime the police, like civil servants and other workers, are taking advantage of weak structures to simply chop-chop. If they can be better equipped then I think the corruption thing will reduce drastically. Then we can look at whether they need to be brought down a notch or motivated rather.

      Good points all around. Thanks again.

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