Albert Kan-Dapaah builds incentives for his former fellow public servants to change their behavior.
What does it do a person to serve as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in Ghana’s Parliament—the arm of government that investigates corruption—for four years?
If you are the Honorable Albert Kan-Dapaah, a registered accountant who also spent sixteen years as a member of Parliament and served as a government minister for eight years, you go into early retirement.
“Hearing all of those allegations on the committee really alarmed me,” explains Kan-Dapaah.
“I came by this realization that the best way for me to fight corruption was to leave Parliament and join civil society. Any improvement that we had seen [in government] and indeed hope for the future lay with civil society. Civil society seemed to have that independence that is so important to demanding accountability. That is why I left government.”
Compelled by the challenges of making the public purse work better for ordinary Ghanaians, Kan-Dapaah teamed up with three other prominent chartered accountants from such firms as KPMG and Price Waterhouse Cooper to co-found the think tank, Financial Transparency and Accountability Africa (FAT-Africa), in 2012. Oxfam is one of the FAT-Africa’s supporters.
“Why don’t we sacrifice the joy that we could get from playing golf to help in our country to improve upon its financial governance?”
Kan-Dapaah knows firsthand that for financial accountability to work, there must be checks and balances and independence between agencies. He believes civil society must create a space for themselves in this circle and put pressure to take an oversight function.
“Change won’t come from the political class,” he says.
An opportunity for change came in 2014, when Ghana’s government faced a fiscal crisis. National leaders sought a $940 million bailout or loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to balance the budget.
“Everyone sees the IMF as the most hated institution in Ghana,” says Kan-Dapaah. He explains that his elderly mother with little formal education and who lives in a rural part of Ghana knows the institution is infamous for placing loan conditions on countries that ultimately affect the government-provided services such as health and education upon which everyday citizens rely.
Kan-Dapaah’s think tank quickly joined with other civil society organizations to demand that an IMF loan to Ghana required a “big, serious, national conversation” about why the fiscal discipline that could have prevented the crisis wasn’t there in the first place, especially with Ghana’s vast gold and oil revenues.
“Why should government go for this [IMF loan] without representation from civil society?” Kan-Dapaah. “It’s us citizens who have to live with it.
“As civil society we couldn’t have a seat at the negotiating table, but we can tell [government] what conditions we want.”
As the loan terms are finalized, the jury is still out to see if the IMF’s final agreement will also deliver the transparency and accountability measures for which Ghanaian civil society groups so urgently have been asking. Regardless, civil society’s demands were taken seriously not only by the Ghanaian government, but by the IMF, who sent a representative to meet with the civil society organizations. To Kan-Dapaah this demonstrates the power of civil society’s influence and monitoring prowess, even when they are not invited to the table.
“We’re not just rabble rousers. We are making demands on behalf of the people.”
As he looks back on his political career, Kan-Dapaah knows very well that the greatest challenge in Africa is not the lack of resources.
“If budgets were respected and utilized, we would be okay.
“At the end of the day, our democracy—which we fought hard for—will be in trouble unless people believe that their government is taking care of the money.”
To Kan-Dapaah, the IMF bailout debate showed the determination of civil society, the activism that is coming from Ghana’s people.
“We have a very good shot at building accountability and ending the corruption that has bedeviled our country for so long.”
This is hardly a relaxing “retirement” for Kan-Dapaah, but potentially a gratifying one.
This story is part of an Oxfam series that highlights local leaders who are standing up for accountability, making demands of their government, and getting results in the fight against injustice. Though Oxfam may not fund every project or organization featured in the series, Oxfam stands in solidarity with all those around the world working to right the wrong of poverty.