Bribery, God, and Me

September 16, 2015 - 5 minutes read
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I am meeting a gentleman from the Lands Commission to map and measure the exact area of land I’m registering with them. He has agreed to meet me at five on a Sunday morning in Madina to drive to the land in Aburi South because, he says, he needs to be back and in church by 7:30am at the latest.

I find this church admission quite laughable to be honest. Not least of all because I know that given Ghanaian traffic, even on a Sunday, and the location of the land, we’ll never make it back in time. And indeed, when we meet with the Madina morning still under a cloak of darkness–he’s already visibly upset that I’m running fifteen minutes late.

Aburi South plot

I went to the office of the Lands Commission some weeks ago to register two plots of land I had recently bought as is a compulsory requirement of Ghanaian Conveyancing Law. But it soon became apparent that the gentleman handling the case would be doing so through his own private company. According to the receipt I insisted on getting after paying him over 1,000% more than the land registration fee should be, the service is being provided by his own private business, and not via the Lands Commission department at all.

In fact, he takes me to his four-wheel drive vehicle parked outside in the courtyard, and has me sit in the back counting out the large cedi notes I have had to go and retrieve from the nearest cash-point. I am to pay him half of the money upfront, and the balance when the job is done, which he assures me will take no more than two or so months. As opposed to the normal six months to a year, depending on the size of your bribe, I later discover. Pay the normal local government land registration fee and you will never see your land title documents with your case at the bottom of an endless pile of rubble or in the nearest trash can. That’s how it works here in Ghana. Bribery is the order of the day, and I had just become another of its unwitting victims.

For although the said gentleman is employed and paid by Lands Commission, a local government department (where I am the quiet one in a sea of gabbling registrants), he is doing business privately. In other words, he’s conducting a fraudulent act in meeting me this morning, before attending church, and I suppose he’ll be asking God’s forgiveness before he embarks on yet more fraudulent activities at work tomorrow. But that’s probably why he’s in such a hurry to get to church… to confess his sins, and be absolved in time for the next plot, I mean, lot.

land commissioner

It is a measure of how much I’ve paid over and above the going rate for land registration in Ghana that has brought him out at the crack of dawn, however reluctantly, and without any further charges on my pocket. Perhaps he has had a pang of conscience or has been born again since we last met. And I suppose, I should count my blessing because, strictly speaking, agreeing to meet me to plot the coordinates of this bush land in the hills is not his job. The coordinates of this land, and therefore his ability to locate the plot on a grid, should have been completed as part of the seller’s obligation in properly identifying the plot for sale, and outlining it in a lease.

Our man from the Lands Commission has apparently been calling the seller, a local young surveyor, but now that th chap has got his money, he is no longer answering his phone. So, our Godly Lands Commissioner has decided that, if he is to have the other half of his bribery cash before Christmas, he had better get on and plot the land coordinates himself. And that’s the real reason why we’re here this morning. Though I suspect that the Commissioner will be late for Church, and too late for Christmas, too. “May God help us all in Ghana,” so they say. But in these parts, it seems God only helps those who help themselves.

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