Akufo-Addo hints of strategy to curb corruption

The NPP flagbearer, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has given the clearest indication yet, that under his leadership, Ghanaians will get value for their money in all public procurements. This, in his view, will ease the fiscal pressures that give rise to the kind of burdensome taxes Ghanaians are saddled with today.

Speaking to the Public Agenda last Friday in an exclusive interview on the nagging issue of corruption, and what he will do differently to curb it if elected into office, Nana Addo revealed that under his rule, the Public Procurement Act will be strictly enforced, and that all contracts shall be made publicly accessible for citizens to make their own judgment on the value-for-money underpinnings of the contracts. This, he said, is important for enhancing the demand-side of social accountability.

He observed that even though transparency in contracting is provided for in the draft Petroleum Exploration and Production Bill, currently before Parliament, what Ghana needs is a single comprehensive law for dealing with all manner of public procurements, including natural resource contracts. “This kind of piece-meal approach to legislation creates inconsistency, overlaps, and sometimes confusion,” he intimated.

The NPP flagbearer also pledged support for the establishment of a ‘Beneficial Ownership Register’ for Ghana. This, he said, was necessary for lifting the veil off public officials who hide behind cronies to amass wealth through public procurements. He said his government, if elected into office, will ensure that the natural persons behind all the companies bidding for government contracts and natural resource concessions are known.

Simply put, a beneficial owner is a person who enjoys the benefits of ownership even though title is in another name. According to the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), an independent inter-governmental body that develops and promotes policies to protect the global financial system against money laundering and terrorist financing, the term beneficial owner refers to the natural person(s) who ultimately owns or controls a legal entity and/or the natural person on whose behalf a transaction is being conducted. It also includes those persons who exercise ultimate effective control over a legal person or arrangement.

It is believed that the absence of beneficial ownership disclosure regime facilitates fronting in public procurements, as well as transfer pricing manipulations, where related entities trade with themselves and in the process fix prices to either avoid taxes or increase profits unduly.

Last year, the global transparency initiative which promotes good governance of natural resources – the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), agreed to make beneficial ownership transparency an obligation on all 49 member countries, including Ghana.

The EITI International Board agreed that all 49 EITI countries will have to request companies, who bid for, operate, and invest in the oil, gas and mining sectors, to disclose who their real owners are. Countries will also need to agree a roadmap indicating time lines for when citizens will get information on the companies’ real owners and it will be recommended for them to introduce registers of the beneficial owners which are accessible to the public.

Nana Akufo Addo’s expressed commitment to beneficial ownership disclosure therefore sets him out as a leader who understands the nature of the financial hemorrhage this country suffers through opaque and dubious transactions.

The NPP flagbearer appeared to have thought through the issue of corruption and how it is undermining the country’s development, thoroughly, as he outlined his approaches to dealing with the problem. The fight against the menace, he observed, will start from his appointees. Each one of them will be made to comply with the asset declaration injunction of the country’s statutes. Nana pledged to lead in that regard by example, and promised to sanction any of his appointees who failed to comply.

Perhaps, the most far-reaching measure Nana Addo plans to institute in his fight against corruption is his vow to create a special, independent Public Prosecutor’s Office to deal with issues of corruption when they come up. This, he said, will remove party-political considerations and cronyism in the decision to prosecute corrupt public officials.

Indeed, expert opinion has long converged around the need to separate the Attorney General’s functions from that of the Minister of Justice, if this country is to make a head way in its fight against corruption, but it appears no government has yet mustered the required political will to undertake that venture.

Momentum, however, seems to be gathering within civil society in making it an electioneering campaign issue. Judging from the popular support the former Attorney General, Hon. Martin Amidu’s anti-corruption stance gathered across the political divide, and the outrage caused by revelations of the Woyome, ISOFOTON,SADA, GYEEDA, SUBA, metro mass bus rebranding scandals, there is little doubt that, voters will support any manifesto pledge that commits to the anti-corruption crusade, and to separating the prosecutorial powers from the ministerial functions of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General’s Department.

Many Ghanaians believe that what emboldens culprits of corrupt acts is the capricious manner the Attorney-General (A-G), who is also the Minister of Justice, exercises the power of prosecution vested in him by the 1992 Constitution.

The proponents of the separation of prosecutorial functions from the ministerial (policy) functions appear to agree with Nana Addo’s position that the A-G should be turned into an Independent Prosecutor whose tenure of office is guaranteed just as the chairpersons of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Electoral Commission (EC), and the National Commission on Civic Education (NCCE).

They believe that with security of tenure of office, the occupant of that position will be empowered to undertake their duties without looking over their shoulders.

Dr. Obed Asamoah, the longest serving A-G Ghana has ever had since independence, is of the view that splitting the two positions would promote the ends of justice. He points out that since colonial times political persecution under the guise of criminal prosecution has been common. He observes that the fusion of the two offices have led to instances where “many a time governments have demanded accountability of others particularly opposition party members and perceived enemies other than their own members”.

He explains into detail drawing largely on proposals of the Constituent Assemblies of 1968 and 1978 that separation will do the criminal justice a lot of good, hence promote good governance. But he stresses that mere separation will not achieve the desired results unless the Attorney-General is guaranteed security of tenure.

According to him, the security of tenure for the A-G could be ensured if some three key arrangements are instituted. First, making the process for removal of the A-G from office difficult; second, insulating the determination of his salary, allowances and pension from political interference; and the third but not least, avoiding a change in the regime of salary and allowances while in office.

He also recalls that to guarantee the A-G’s position under the 1968 proposals the A-G’s position was equated to that of a Judge of the Supreme Court and in 1978 linked the position to that of the Superior Court of Judicature other than the Chief Justice.

Mr. Vitus A. Azeem, the Executive Secretary of Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), identifies with Dr Asamoah’s position that a separation will give that badly needed impetus to combating corruption. He cites the cases of Australia, Canada, England and Wales, Hong Kong South Africa, Thailand, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Israel and Jamaica where the two positions have been either split or fused and points from social and practical cases the merits and demerits in each case. He concludes that, the ends of justice are better served if the two positions are kept distinct.

“In fact, I dare to state that the political position of the Attorney-General affects his/her relationship with some anti-corruption agents especially if they are perceived as anti-government. Some of these institutions have had cause to complain about the refusal of the Attorney-General to prosecute cases they have investigated and recommended prosecution,” Vitus referred to the situation in Ghana.

Though, the most recent Corruption Perception Index (CPI) published by Transparency International (TI) ranked Ghana 56th out of 168 countries in the world with a score of 47 in the fight against corruption, indicating a slight improvement on previous performances, most Ghanaians still feel the Mahama administration is not doing enough to deter public office holders from acts of corruption.

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