Au Togo, les inégalités, criantes, sont en bonne parte alimentées par le haut niveau de la corruption. Yanick Folly/AFP
  • The Conversation

Togo: How to Fight the Scourge of Corruption Effectively

"Corruption is a national sport in Togo."

This was the disillusioned observation of one of the participants of the citizen's roundtable held on December 3, 2020 in Lomé. Organized by Togolese civil society organizations, it brought together journalists, businessmen, lawyers and a representative of the High Authority for the Prevention and Fight against Corruption and Related Offenses (HAPLUCIA)

All were eager to answer the question, or rather the challenge of "Fighting Corruption in Togo." Original and diverse, this exchange made it possible to establish a diagnosis and to open up avenues of action without hiding any of the difficulties.


Political ambiguity

Legally, the Togolese State has often adopted texts aimed at curbing the phenomenon of corruption. Moreover, Article 46 of the Togolese Constitution states:
"Public property is inviolable. Any person or public official must respect and protect it. Any act [...] of misappropriation of public property, corruption, or squandering is punishable under the conditions provided by law."
Penalties incurred, defined by the Penal Code, art. 208, range from one to five years' imprisonment, depending on the seriousness of the act.

The Togolese state excels in the production of texts, but the real problem lies in their application. The guarantors of the law often embody the opposite. A recent report on corruption in Togo commissioned by HAPLUCIA reveals that "corruption involves, on the one hand, initiators made up of the wealthy (77.2%) and powerful men from all sectors (57.2%)" and, on the other hand, "the components of society that are most susceptible to corruption are judicial officers (70%) and financiers or accountants (43.3%). Among the major corruption cases in which the Togolese state is allegedly involved are the concession of the autonomous port of Lomé, which was allegedly granted to the Bolloré group in exchange for advice from its subsidiary Havas to President Faure Gnassingbé during his campaign for re-election to a second term in 2010, as well as the petrolegate affair (large sums of money from the sale of petroleum products were allegedly embezzled by leading politicians).

Clearly, the political power in place appears to be affected by corruption. Does it really have an interest in putting in place effective policies to fight against this phenomenon?

Because of this questioning, the creation of HAPLUCIA, yet another public body to deal with these matters, seems at best a sham in response to the demands of international actors, aiming to collect subsidies that will then be redistributed among friends; at worst, a means of keeping a closer eye on social actors who want to change things. Moreover, the example of two old corruption cases handed over to the Attorney General by HAPLUCIA since November 2019, without follow-up, and the lack of any coercive capacity delegated to this body, raise the question of its real effectiveness and the political will underlying its construction.

Inter-individual corruption, on the other hand, manifests itself in different sectors of social life: an official who allows you to avoid waiting in a public service for a bribe or who collects money from road users instead of fining them for a violation (active corruption). But it is also at work when the user systematically hands over money to the agent to avoid reprimands or a fine (passive corruption).
In almost all socio-economic activities, social and family relations, corruption is still quite present, even in religious settings where moral values are supposed to prevail.

In the health sector, the many examples reported on the Sylvanus Olympio University Hospital, considered a "morgue," on other hospitals in the country, and also in the private sector are revealing. The public-private partnership or the delegation of the role of the state to private health structures that increase the price of services by commercializing health and social welfare pose a serious problem.

In education, there is systemic teacher absenteeism, and paid refresher courses are organized in both public and private schools, from the first grade to the final year, to supplement the insufficient salaries of teachers and also to raise the level of students. It even happens that good grades are given to students in exchange for sexual favors, financial favors or other forms of recognition from parents.
In Togolese sport, the case of the embezzlement of funds for the 2013 and 2017 African Cup of Nations is just one example of management entrusted to actors who are often unsuitable.

It is undeniable that corruption is a scourge that damages the socio-economic structures of Togolese society and disturbs its social cohesion. Its relationship with the issue of inequality is very clear - and this without even mentioning the elections, which constitute a vast network of corruption. For, in the words of a Togolese entrepreneur, "How do you expect people who steal every day not to steal on the most important day of their lives, the day of the elections? "

Corruption and inequality in Togo

The link between corruption and inequality is clearly evident in Togo. According to the aforementioned (and controversial) report, Togolese citizens believe that the main causes of corruption in Togo are poverty (77%) followed by low wages or income (56.1%). The guaranteed minimum wage (SMIG) is 35,000 CFA francs (about 53 euros), as of January 2012, and the majority of Togolese live hand-to-mouth. Similarly, the income gap between the richest and the majority of the population is glaring, leading some to find alternative sources of income through corruption. The accumulation of these cases leads to more inequality. In Togo, nepotism, influence peddling and bribery, are commonplace. Most citizens are impoverished by these additional expenses, while the providers get richer.

The consequences are numerous: the destruction of public services, the degradation of socio-educational and health structures, the dilapidation of infrastructures... Even social relations suffer, especially in terms of reception and care. With the centrality of financial recognition that makes some people dependent, and the dilapidated infrastructure, staff are disengaged and forget the essential values of human dignity. Public administrations are overloaded because of the concentration of activities in places where, in order to be served, one must either use the simplest method of bribery or spend hours or even days there.

Future prospects?

Togo is plagued by corruption. In the world ranking established by Transparency International, the country is positioned 134th out of 180, with a score of 29 points. The average score is 43/100 in the world and 32/100 in sub-Saharan Africa. To improve, the population and the government must take concrete actions.
At the level of the population, awareness of the impact of corruption on the quality of public services must be raised through citizen education, and exemplary actions, such as appropriate awareness-raising and training in citizen control conducted by civil society organizations, which should be carried out through surprise visits to public services. These should be carried out by local populations, as they are the most likely to carry them out: this is local control. Such actions must be supported by external audits, the results of which must be communicated to the populations (cf. Esther Duflo, The Politics of Autonomy). Citizen control should not be limited to criticism and denunciation. It must also serve to support and promote good actions and practices, to encourage and serve as an example.

As for the government, it must:

  • Increase the salaries of public servants and the salary scale;
  • Raise the standard of living of citizens as a whole, by setting up social assistance funds, such as Novissi, with better regulation. But this can only be done when the state coffers are well supplied;
  • Implement a good fiscal policy and a dematerialization of payments in the public service to put an end to illegal forms of collection. Rwanda is a good example, and Togo already has these means thanks to the electronic payment services set up by mobile operators. These solutions would help solve the problem of embezzlement by intermediaries.
  • Monitor and punish acts of corruption, in accordance with the law, without distinction. This can only be done through an independent judiciary.
  • Implement effective decentralization to allow the citizen control necessary for any democracy.
  • Make public the reports on corruption, the results of investigations and the declaration of assets of government members.

The effective fight against corruption is an essential element for development. This effort has been the key to Singapore's development policy under Lee Kuan Yew, a world leader. But all this is only possible with real political will.

Yawovi Agbonkou, PhD student in Political Philosophy and Ethics, Sorbonne University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article (in French.)

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