I do realise it's corny to say this, but life is just so ironic.
I had a bad day recently. My car was clamped in Accra. What I mean by this is that I pulled over on a side street of Accra, put on my flashing lights, stepped out of the car for less than five minutes, and became the victim of the AMA (Accra Metropolitan Authority), who hid in the shadows and pounced my vehicle like rabid dogs...
The story behind it is that I needed some documents 'notarised' and 'authenticated'. The reason I put these words in parenthesis is that they can be loosely used and obtained in Ghana. The truth is that dotted around Accra are small entrepreneurs with makeshift offices under tents or even under trees, with manual 1950's typewriters, that call themselves Commissioners of Oaths. I feel a twinge of guilt giving away this little known secret to the broader world. They sit under their slice of shade in the blistering heat all day, typing away, stamping and pasting official looking seals on millions of official documents. All of this is completely unofficial, unverified, unbelievable in fact. Yet these documents, once certified at these little booths, are accepted at Embassies, lawyers offices, institutions etc. across the world as valid, confirmed, official.
On this particular day I swung into the side street, walked over to the tent, pushed my documents into the lap of the typist and asked if he could quickly certify. Original documents for verification? Never asked. Four Ghana cedis (same as four dollars), I was asked for, a few minutes later after the stamps, the red seals and the signatures were affixed. I paid up and stuffed my docs back in the envelope feeling satisfied and smug. Feeling that I really knew the Ghana system well and was taking full advantage of it... in a bit of a haze I jumped back into my car and was rudely snapped back to reality by a group of aggressive young guys as I started my engine.
“You've been clamped oh!!!” Came the shouts through the window. What?! No!!! I couldn't believe it as I rolled down the window and peaked my head out at the sad reality of my front tire. It had that ominous yellow clumpy metal monster sucking away at it - unremovable, unmovable. I was stuck.
I looked around frantically – where was the evil b*stard who did this? My thoughts raced between how much bribe I would have to pay to get out of this mess, and how long it would actually take.
I had seen cars clamped many times and inevitably there was a resulting argument involving numerous onlookers and hangers on… I was really not up for that.
Well, I had another thing coming.
Ghana has reached a new level with regard to extortion and this time it is all legal!!! The next few events shocked me. Firstly, an officially dressed AMA worker approached me and passed me my official ticket (which was on my windshield). He informed me of my infractions (blocking a motorway and a pedestrian walkway) and then showed me the fine, printed officially on the ticket. There was even a number to call. I called the number. They sent an officer to collect the fine and give me my official receipt. No argument, no negotiation, NO BRIBE.
And this all happened within minutes.
The irony of it all is that I paid $4 for a set of supposedly official documents and felt quite smug – felt I knew how to manipulate the Ghanaian system… only to turn around and face a $45 fine, with no bribes, no bargaining, no African time.
I paid dearly for the documents at the end of the day. Perhaps the same as I would have paid, had I gone to the trouble of visiting a lawyer, with all my original copies and done it the proper way….
What is the moral of the story? Is Ghana developing an upstanding, well run system? If so, is that a good thing? We spend much of our time complaining about the corruption here, but just when we start to embrace it’s virtues, we discover that steps are being taken to remove it. And maybe we don’t like it…. Shame.