Opinion: On Alban Bagbin and the Potential for Lobbying

Opinion: On Alban Bagbin and the Potential for Lobbying

The comments that the Member of Parliament for Nadowli/Kaleo constituency, Honourable Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, recently made at a gathering of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Koforidua,  to the effect that some members of parliament (MPs) take bribes to argue in favour of the interests of some individuals or organisations have not been received with any enthusiasm by most of his colleague MPs. Honourable Bagbin, a former minority and majority leader of parliament has refused to eat his words and has expressed his willingness to defend his claim before the Privileges Committee of the house.

Honourable Bagbin seems to have found an unlikely ally in his campaign: the MP for Assin Central, Honourable Kennedy Ohene Agyapong. The outspoken MP has asked Bagbin to be unwavering in his assertions. He also criticised the handing out of sums of money to MPs after every committee sitting.

Let’s for a minute take a step back from the cries of “Corruption! Corruption!” and analyse the exact words of Bagbin as reported by the Daily Graphic.

“This is because in Ghana  we have not developed what we call lobbying. There are rules; there are ethics regarding lobbying and we in Ghana think that lobbying is taking money, giving it to MPs and writing pieces for them to go articulate on the floor. That is bribery.”

It appears that Bagbin is revealing the inability of interest groups to understand the ethics of lobbying. The alleged bribery of MPs is a crude form of lobbying by the interest groups that can therefore be refined. Lobbying, which is the attempt to influence policies and decisions of people in positions of power (usually government), is regarded by some as a dirty word. However, we hear reports daily of the activities of lobbyists in the United States (USA). These lobbyists seek to influence various policy decisions. The lobbyists are mostly known and their objectives are usually public knowledge as well. Here we see a key difference between lobbying in the USA and what Honourable Bagbin described: the US lobbyists and their interests are no secrets.

It is unlikely that there are no interest groups that seek to influence government policy in Ghana. It is also wrong to assume that such attempts to influence are necessarily undesirable. For instance, local producers can attempt to influence the placement of tariffs or quotas on imports of particular products. It is also wrong to assume that there has not been attempts at less uncouth methods of lobbying. One example that springs to mind is the media campaign of the clergy for less ambiguity on Ghana’s position on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexual (LGBTI) rights with the threat of voter backlash always hovering around.

I came across a brilliant distinction between bribery and lobbying by the Association of Accredited Public Policy Advocates to the European Union (AALEP). They state:

The difference between lobbying and bribery is that lobbying is a legal form of activity supporting a cause or position while bribery involves the giving of money or other incentives to persuade somebody, in authority, to do something that is dishonest or illegal. Because lobbying can decrease incentives for political corruption, any anti-corruption efforts in Africa as well as in other developing countries should be premised on better knowledge about the practice of lobbying.”

A proper system of lobbying can reduce the instance of corruption in the country. It is wrong to deprive interest groups the right to partake in the shaping of government policy, but it is also abhorrent to promote bribery and corruption. Lobbying may be a way to avoid both. I am asking that as we continue to reflect on this not too shocking revelation of Honourable Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, we should look also, into how we can bring transparency to the disgusting system of corruption by establishing an ethical system of lobbying.

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