Over the past few days, the trending news all over the country surrounds the newest Tiger Eye PI exposé, implicating former Minister of State at the Finance Ministry, Charles Adu Boahen.
Adu Boahen, a Harvard graduate, received a cash gift during a meeting with Arab businessmen in Dubai, who turned out to be operatives of Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ Tiger Eye PI.
The gift was some cash to be used for ‘shopping’, which Adu Boahen received, in return for hearing out the businessmen on their plans to invest in Ghana.
It was a costly ‘gift’, as its revelation has led to the dismissal of the former Minister of State.
Yet beyond all the hand-wringing over corruption, there is a deeper moral, legal and philosophical debate to be had over the practice of gift-giving, and when a gift crosses the line into a bribe.
The Thin Line Between A Gift And A Bribe
Gift-giving is a practice that has existed for millennia and is present in every culture that ever existed.
“The premise of giving gifts is an ancient way to express gratitude, appreciation and love,” the law firm Adams & Associates writes on its AZ White Collar Crime blog, in an article discussing this very topic.
Gift-giving in and of itself is not bad, considering its ubiquity in cultures all over the world.
Complications arise when dealing with public officials, who are often expected to work in the interest of the public and not their own interests.
Gifts are sometimes used to influence public officials into doing the bidding of the gift-giver, which is where a bribe occurs.
“A gift is something of value given without the expectation of return; a bribe is the same thing given in the hope of influence or benefit,” the Adams & Associates article writes once more.
Clearly, a gift becomes a bribe when it influences the future decision-making process of a public official. That is to say, but for the gift, the public official wouldn’t have made a particular decision.
But can a gift still be a bribe if there was no service rendered to the giver after reception of the gift?
Based on the narration of Tiger Eye PI, the Minister was given a gift as a token of appreciation for meeting them, and to open doors further up the chain of command of Ghana’s political ladder.
A Havard graduate, Adu Boahen has a reputation as a brash man – which certainly comes across in his utterances during the meeting – but he’s also been described as upstanding and straight as an arrow.
Strictly considering the definition of a gift, the Minister received a gift as appreciation for taking his time to meet the supposed investors, and in the end, did nothing (as far as we know) that inured to their benefit and to the detriment of the public interest.
Indeed, he was in service to a purpose that benefits the public, as he was relentlessly pushing for investments into Ghana during the meeting – hardly a crime.
Legally, there are questions in regards to the Ghana Gift Policy, but morally, this is hardly an airtight case–Adu Boahen operated in the grey area between a gift and a bribe and it’s not completely clear he went over the line.
Of course, the Ghana Gift Policy makes it compulsory for public office holders and public servants to hand over gifts received to their heads of institutions. In practice, how many people do this in Ghana?
Quid pro quo regards a quid and a quo and whilst we are privy to the quid, nothing has been shown which proves Adu Boahen went over the line and delivered a quo to the ‘investors’.
Things become even murkier when we consider the simple reality that at a certain level of politics and business, gift-giving is almost a simple courtesy.
In countries all over the world, it is a norm to ‘compensate’ an extremely busy person, be it an important public official or a businessman, for the simple privilege of them taking time out of their busy schedule to meet you.
Back to the Adams & Associates article, it mentions this very practice of compensating certain important people for the privilege of meeting them.
“Sports events, entertainment and gifts have always been used to leverage business relationships,” the article notes, signifying the reality that giving gifts is normal service at certain levels.
The article continues: “Sometimes accepting these gifts and amenities may be a proper part of a business relationship…,”
So clearly, there are instances where it is entirely proper to receive gifts to further a business relationship, which once again plays into the question if Boahen was really bribed?
The worst thing the Minister appears to have done was receive a ‘token of appreciation’ for his meeting. He made a lot of promises and bloviated on what he can do for the businessmen in Ghana, but at the end of the day none of that truly transpired and all that happened was the gift he received.
Of course, the article does go on to note that: “In some situations, however, accepting them (gifts) may be a serious breach of business and professional ethics, and perhaps even a violation of the law.”
So it’s not all rosy and cut and dry, and a public official must be aware of laws governing receiving gifts in the line of duty. But there is nothing intrinsically wrong with receiving a gift in exchange for taking a meeting, and that is the takeaway to be made from this article.
Politically, Adu Boahen is in a deep quagmire and legally, it’s not exactly clear what jeopardy he might be in – but intellectually and surprisingly, morally, it takes more than what Tiger Eye PI has shown to establish a bribe was offered and not a gift.
There was an obvious businesses relationship being started—and the stated wheel behind that gift, seems to be “an appreciation for the meeting” to be used for some shopping. A bribe, if this was one, wouldn’t reasonably be directed to be used for shopping by the giver in such a manner.
There is also the important cultural element to consider. Gift giving after a meeting is normal in the Arab world, and indeed declining could be seen as inappropriate.
A similar case would be the then Prince of Wales and current King of England, Charles III, receiving bags of cash totalling £2.6m from senior Qatari politician Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani following a series of meetings.
Whilst it also raised eyebrows, albeit, found not to be illegal, it vividly demonstrates the cultural element of gift giving in the Arab world which cannot be discounted when speaking of this case.
Sometimes, we have to think a bit deeper beyond the surface. Clearly, there is a practice in business and politics of exchanging gifts to further a relationship, hence the mere act of gift-giving in itself is not morally wrong – it might suggest impropriety but certainly not enough to establish corruption!
The facts may eventually prove a bribe was exchanged, since we are not privy to them all. But based on what is in the public domain currently, it’s not as cut and dry as many people would like to pretend it is. Our political bias and perhaps our grown hatred for the man on the crucifying cross seem to have clouded the conversation and the need to probe further.