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Friday, December 25, 2009

Mills spurns Christmas hampers on graft fears

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ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghana's President John Atta Mills is refusing to accept traditional Christmas gifts such as hampers this year because they may be efforts to corrupt him, a spokesman said on Thursday.

It is common practice in Ghana for individuals and businesses to send hampers packed with gifts to friends and people in authority during the festive season.

While some gifts signify traditional sharing, others are given out in appreciation of past or future favours -- something Mills's government has vowed to stamp out since he became leader of a nation set to become Africa's next oil producer in 2010. "He has made it clear that it was not his disposition to accept Christmas hampers and other gifts," said presidential spokesman Mahama Ayariga, adding that disappointed gift-bearers had handed some presents out to presidential staff instead.

"(Mills's) disposition is that you never know what is in the mind of the giver of the gift, so it's always better not to accept them," Ayariga said.

Mills, who assumed office in January on a pledge to wage a "relentless war" against corruption, is generally regarded, even by his critics, as a modest leader and not corrupt, compared to his predecessors.

However, his present-snubbing was not praised by everyone.

Vitus Azeem, the head of Ghana Integrity Initiative, the local chapter of Transparency International, said the president's actions would do little in stemming corruption among fellow government officials.

"His campaign would have been more meaningful if he had given out specific directives to his ministers and other top officials to also turn away the hampers and the goats driven to their homes and offices," said Azeem.

Opposition to the president's initiative also came from James Agbagana, a traditional chief, who warned that he was going too far with his anti-corruption drive as he might destroy the Ghanaian tradition of hospitality in the process.

Ghana is seen as one of West Africa's most attractive investment destinations, largely due to political stability and the prospects of oil starting to flow in 2010 from its Jubilee oil field, which is estimated to hold some 1.8 billion barrels.

Given the negative impact of oil in other oil-producing nations in West and Central Africa, Ghanaians are watchful of the impact on corruption, once the coffers start swelling with petro-dollars.


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