Thursday, March 20, 2008

Corruption in Ghana

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about The Culture of International Adoption in Ghana. A few days ago I received a comment to that post that I want to share here, and respond to:

I would respectfully suggest a look at some common "cultural" practices of Americans. Ever been at a health care clinic when lunch time comes? Pharma reps routinely "treat" not just the doctors, but the entire staff to catered lunches
with gift bags of goodies to build a "relationship" with the clinic and get their new drug prescribed more often.Lawyers and businessmen routinely build relationships with judges and clients on the golf course, followed by drinks and meals in the clubhouse. Just to "seal the deal". The US Internal Revenue Service includes as allowable business expenses: meals, hotels, and "entertainment" for clients. In the midwest, this usually means seed salesmen taking the farmers out to strip clubs. and its tax deductable!I would rather "grease some palms" in
Ghana with cash knowing that most government workers inGhana are underpaid and that the government expects that their salary will be suplimented by such "appreciation" gifts. Most will share the money with their families for food and
educational expenses. Better than the golf course or strip club.I appreciate your struggle, I had the same thoughts when I was in Ghana. But then I came home and realized how corrupt America is and I don't think its so bad anymore.

I appreciate that this comment was posted, which is why I want to respond to it. In the "P.S." of my original post I touched on how what Americans routinely define as corruption is not at all seen that way in Ghana. It is part of the culture.

In Ghana if a relative comes to visit you (even if you didn't know they were coming) you as the host are expected to reimburse the visitor's travel expenses as well as provide your very best for them while they are in your home (or at a hotel). When someone comes to your home you must give them "water" (something to drink) before any serious discussions take place. And if someone does a favor for you it is built into the culture that you should give a gift to that person. The gift isn't asked for, and nothing will be said if it isn't given, but by not giving it you will ruin that relationship for the future. Even market salesman will sometimes gift you something for being a good customer, because they hope you will continue to be loyal to them (and it works!).

I think all of these customs are perfectly fine. I think some of them are quite beautiful, and encourage my feeling of how generous Ghanaian people are. However, some of these traditional customs get sticky in modern day life. And in a "business" like adoption the traditional niceties can go out the window and be replaced by full on greed.

I agree with the commenter that government employees in Ghana are very underpaid, and that it is acceptable practice to provide a per case stipend that covers the costs of their efforts (transportation, administrative costs, many hours outside of their 9-5 job). But what is acceptable? $50? Sure--most likely. How about $1000? Not even close. But nevertheless there are people involved in the adoption process in Ghana that will not do the work for less than that. [In case you are wondering, AAI does not work with those people.]

And how about "after the work" gifts? See...this gets even more sticky when operating a program under US ethical standards (as every US agency should be doing). Should we pay the judge a gift for giving us a favorable determination? Remember--he isn't asking for anything but it might be expected. Should we pay extra money to social workers just to ensure that our cases are processed in our favor? No. This is where I draw the line. We CANNOT and SHOULD NOT make payments to any party in order to somehow put things in our favor. Yes, it's cultural. No--we can't do that according to the laws we operate under. Having said that, do I have a problem with sending a "thank you for your service" gift at Christmas time to those that have worked on behalf of the children all year? Not at all. But not money. A gift basket...material to make new clothes...a goat for Christmas dinner...some THING to enjoy, not money.

One thing that seems to be common in all developing countries is the lack of "on the books" expediting fees, but a very common and known "unofficial" system for expediting processes such as passports or birth certificates. It isn't something hidden. It isn't something anybody in the developing countries think twice about. It's just the way it's always been done. The only difference in what we do in America and what they do in developing countries is that we post the fee on a board.

The last thing the commenter mentioned was taking people out to dinner and such. Of course adoption agencies treat government officials when they take them out to dinner! I don't see that as corrupt at all. That's just good manners! Nobody is profiting from going out to dinner. It's just something common to do during meetings.

So...I want to make it clear that the "corruption" I was talking about in my post was the sort of corruption where people hold children "hostage" until they receive a LARGE payment "just because." I'm talking about the kind of corruption where someone can't get a medical record for a father who is supposedly "crazy" so the agent pays money to have an entire medical record forged. I'm talking about the type of corruption where agents go out into the villages and tell parents that if they only allow their children to be adopted that the children will most definitely come back when they are adults and provide for their family (since they will be rich Americans and all). THIS kind of corruption is prevalent and readily available for someone to take advantage of in Ghana. That is why I worry about every new organization that begins a program there. Will they play into the kind of corruption I listed above? Or will the work to find people that are truly doing work for the children and do not seek personal profit off of the tragedies of these children's lives? I hope, the latter.

Is there corruption in America? Most certainly. Is there corruption in Ghana? We know there is. Does being corrupt in America mean that it's okay to be corrupt in Ghana? Not in my mind. Nobody NEEDS to "grease palms" to get an adoption done in Ghana. It might be might take might mean that adoptions fall through when someone isn't paid...but that is a much easier price to pay than the permanent knowledge that someone was greedy enough to demand a profit off of the tragedy that your adopted child went through before becoming your adopted child.



Rachel 6:22 AM  

I agree completely, Anita! :)

Christina 12:41 PM  

"that is a much easier price to pay than the permanent knowledge that someone was greedy enough to demand a profit off of the tragedy that your adopted child went through before becoming your adopted child."

Very well said, Anita. And true no matter where we choose to adopt from.

Momto13 12:50 PM  

I completely agree. We can sell meds and we can sell "seeds" but we can't sell CHILDREN!
That is the MAIN difference!

(In selling children wouldn't that be the same as selling your soul?)


Story of our Life 8:40 PM  

Very well said Anita!!!! :)

Anonymous 1:46 PM  

Actually that comment is incorrect, having been a biotech rep for 20 years I can tell you via the Sunshine Act and other laws in place we are not allowed to even give out pens or notepads anymore.
creating a straw man argumentation from the real focus of Ghana Adoption corruption is very low.
There are much more laws in place governing any "goodies" given to Clinicians vs. the corruption of international adoption in a country that has NO Hague Convention adaption in place.
The only thing we are allowed is educational materials and speakers who are certified and must acknowledge which company is paying them. This will generally include a meal of a standard value.