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Opinions of Thursday, 21 February 2013

Columnist: Teedar, Noble

Credibility Of The Economic And Organised Crime Office

Reinvigorating And Enhancing The Credibility Of The Economic And Organised Crime Office

In a story reported by the Daily Dispatch News Paper, Volume 13, Number 75, Thursday 26th May, 2005 issue, the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICA) Ghana was of the view that, Ghana had adequate legislative framework for the prevention of and control of corruption. According to the ICA, if the institutions of state like the SFO (now, EOCO) and laws like the Procurement Act, Financial Administration Act and the Internal Audit Agency Act were made to work effectively, corruption in the country would be reduced. This was perhaps so because the SFO has had governments continued failure to grant its Director the security and independence that comes with a permanent appointment. The effectiveness of the office has also continued to be undermined by severe under resourcing and neglect by governments.
The Mills’ government voluntary and unilateral declaration of leadership by example (incorruptible leadership) represented the most refreshing initiative of government’s efforts to pursue a good governance agenda. Its appointment of the Executive Director and two Deputies, increase funding, infrastructural development and logistics to the office also represented the boldest decision yet by any government in the history of the office. The approach of the Mills’ administration in invigorating and enhancing the capacity of the office however, appeared to be subsumed under and displaced by the highly nebulous and difficult to understand problems of the Executive Director, incessant nepotism and discrimination, general staff discontempt, corruption (be it real or perception) and poor working relations with other state Institutions whose activities were contingent on the economic crime industry. The two Deputies were handpicked by the Executive Director and seconded to the office from their mother organisation, the BNI. The concern however is that, the positions they occupied are subject to appointment by the president like the position of the Executive Director itself. Seconding other staff to appointive positions was not only seen as an anomaly or inconsistent with the EOCO Act, but with suspicion more especially, where the Executive Director and the Deputy, intelligence, Mr. Justice Tsar both hailed from the twin towns of Tsito and Tsibu in the Awudome Traditional Area in the Volta Region and were connected by family ties. Whatever the motive was, by bending the law and hand picking a relation as his Deputy in a state institution like the EOCO was viewed by many as a subtle attempt to avoid accountability, checks and balances essential in every Public Institution.
Indeed, immediately the two Deputies assumed office, management was dissolved and members transferred outside the Head office. The said Mr. Tsar who happens to be a far senior officer to his counterpart assumed the functions of the Administrator and also usurped supervision of the Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) unit from his colleague. As an Administrator he was in-charge of procurement, personnel, logistics and transport. Out of about 240 people employed by the office about 200 of them were from the Volta Region alone and about 160 out of the 200 coming from in and around the Awudome Traditional Area. There is wanton disregard for service conditions and staff welfare. Promotions were long overdue. Ministry of Finance gave approval for salaries of staff to be aligned with that of the Internal Revenue Service. For no apparent reasons, every staff was pushed down by one rank with the Assistant Deputy Director rank left vacant. The most senior staff has taken the matter to the Court. The SSSS salary has witnessed broken promises by the Executive Director and instead of two to three years arrears paid other sister institutions the office is promised six months to one year for no apparent reasons.
There is also opacity in the disbursement of office funds, awards of contracts for the construction of offices in the Upper East and West, Brong Ahafo and the Ashanti Regions under the guise of operations and National Security considerations. As Supervisor of MLA, he handles matters such as Money Laundering and Cyber Crime (sakawa) involving collaboration with other agencies such as the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) Bank of Ghana (BoG), Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), etc whose combined efforts led to the confiscation of various currencies. Of late, available information closer to these institutions have it that on several occasions the GRA and the FIC, for example have turned down various requests made by the office to them for suspected acts of corruption and or betrayal of trust by the office.
A promising start though these issues no doubt were worrisome and reflected the shortcomings of the government’s overall approach to the crusade against corruption using the office as a vehicle. In the eyes of the public, the office corruption fighting credentials in the ensuing years became seriously tarnished. The image of the office thus sunk so low. There were concerns of loss of momentum and direction of the office. The Executive Director and his Deputies had come to the office pledging “zero tolerance for corruption” and discipline but in the judgment of many failed to deliver.
The approach of the Mills’ administration as stated earlier, was invigorating and enhancing the capacity of the office. Now, the problem of the office is management and credibility. The clarion call is reinvigorating and enhancing the credibility of the office. His Excellency needs to do something to salvage the office and the investment put into the office by his Predecessor, the incorruptible Professor if his government intended to use the office as one of the vehicles be it Yutong or Neoplan to carry out his anticorruption agenda. No matter what value or premium we may place on these observations or any frantic efforts being put to water them down or even refute them, they have serious repercussions on government’s efforts and preparedness to deal with corruption because of the institution and personalities involved.
It is humble recommended that His Excellency consider setting up a committee of enquiry to do case audit and also look into these observations and all other related matters raised and to put the office back on track as the lead institution in the fight against corruption and white color crimes in the country. Take appropriate actions to deal with anybody who may be found to have infringed the law. As a country we cannot afford to sit unconcern whilst any individual or few individuals wielding state power take a whole state institution like the EOCO hostage or for granted as if it was a private limited liability company for the narrow objective of reorganization, but subtle devised ways and means to pursue an agenda which appears not to further the core objectives of the office and the larger national interest.

By Noble Teedar