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General News of Thursday, 23 November 2006

Source: Statesman

All 'Cocaine men' to be freed!

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Charges against Tagor & co to be dropped, radical police reforms expected

The President is planning to undertake one of the most wide-ranging institutional reforms ever carried out, in response to falling confidence in the police service, The Statesman can reveal.

Meanwhile, the prosecutions against the men suspected to be Ghana’s leading drug barons, are crumbling with the police still not being able to support all the charges with evidence that may stand up in a trial.

Already, last Fridayan Accra Regional Tribunal chaired by Justice Frank Manu discharged Alhaji Moro and three other suspects, who had been held in connection with the missing 76 parcels of cocaine from the vessel MV Benjamin for want of prosecution. The Prosecution withdrew the case.

While details are still sketchy, a Commission of Enquiry, similar to the Justice Archer Commission, which presented its report in 1981, is apparently being considered.

The President is said to prefer an institutional structure that can readily purge the force of abusive and criminal elements. It could, in an extreme probability, even mean dismissing officers on reasonable suspicion of inappropriate behaviour, a source hinted.

The recent Georgina Wood Committee report observed that “a new cadre of security personnel imbued with a high sense of integrity, discipline, nationalism and patriotism is urgently needed for law enforcement in the country.”

Meanwhile, as revealed by The Statesman and The Crusading Guide Tuesday, President John Agyekum, acting on advice from the Police Council and the Attorney General and others, has renewed his confidence in the Inspector General of Police, Patrick Kwarteng.

The shortcomings of the Police have been identified to include corruption, problems with training, management, supervision and excessive use of force. According to a senior Castle source, the President believes the “major focus must be on reforming the institution, tackling the corruption, indiscipline, institutional disregard for basic human rights, and the administrative weaknesses nationwide.”

The source summed the expectations as thus: “The focus of the reforms is on the wider need to greatly improve policing.”

The reforms are expected to involve a wide-ranging shake up of policing structures, which should lead to greater autonomy under a much decentralised force.

Issues to be addressed include implementing revenue-generating measures, such as spot fines, etc, to help boost the running of police services in the districts.

Also hinted is a kind of police standards unit, which will ensure that a high and uniformed code of conduct is maintained.

Another pressing proposal is to set up an independent police complaints commission to address public grievances against the police. The complaints body may also be empowered to initially look into cases of police corruption and hand it over to the appropriate institution, such as the Criminal Investigation Division of the Service to look into it, and then give a report to the independent body after investigation.

Public confidence in the police is being undermined by corruption, especially road traffic bribery. But, Government believes, if proper discipline is instilled, fines from traffic offences could serve as a major source of revenue to help enhance the quality of the service.

The service currently is struggling to cope with the demands of modern policing, such as complex serious crimes and even the global threat of terrorism.

The reforms will also involve cutting down waste and establishing a much enhanced conditions of service for officers, especially their take-home pay. Public confidence in the police remains low and mobs have attacked several police stations on several occasions. In January the presidential Archer Commission issued a white paper critiquing police operations and providing specific directives as to how to address police manpower, training, and logistical needs.

But, human rights advocates also talk of an apparent blatant disregard for the rule of law and the Constitution ordinarily exhibited by the police service, which the reforms are expected to address, as well.

For example, even though Prince Tsibu Darko, who was facing drug offence charges, was granted bail by an Accra High Court after four months in custody on what Justice A K Abada described Tuesday as on grounds of “mere suspicion”, by last night, the police were still refusing to release him, saying they were awaiting instructions from the Attorney-General in clear contempt of the court order.

Meanwhile, the circuit judge presiding over the drug case against four alleged drug traffickers, was yesterday promoted to the High Court. The suspects, who have also been on remand for four months, are Kwabena “Tagor” Amaning, Abass Issah and Kwabena Acheampong.

Information reaching The Statesman suggests that today, Chief State Attorney Gertrude Aikins is likely to file a nolle prosequi – meaning the state is “unwilling to pursue” the case against the accused persons.

The Attorney-General’s Department had earlier told the Circuit Court that it intended to put the suspects before the Fast Track High Court.

The three were arrested after testifying at the Justice Georgina Wood Committee, set up by the Ministry of the Interior to investigate two high-profile cocaine cases. Another suspect, Victor Kisseh, alias Yaw Billa, who was arrested and charged later, has since been freed.

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