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Opinions of Saturday, 20 May 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Ocquaye?s Dilemma: How Other Public Officials Can Aviod It

As I watch Prof. Ocquaye struggling to defend his good name, he is not guilty of anything yet, I can?t help but to wonder how he got himself in this hot pickle. He has landed in a briar?s patch and even if he proves his innocence, some mud may still linger. It is easier to ruin one?s reputation with a stroke of pen that it is building it. Unfortunately, alleged corruption is on such an upward swing within this government that, projects the kind and magnitude that the professor is accused of implementing may inspire allegations of corruption. The good news is that our people are beginning to stay alert but we hope they will do it in a responsible way to avoid mottling the hard earned reputation of innocent people. What we need to know is the truth and it is time that we took this to a more formal setting.

After having sympathized with Mr. Ocquaye, I am duty bound to ask how he got himself into this situation? Has Prof. Ocquaye officially declared his assets? If so, can we see it? You see, I went back to the constitution to verify the claim that Ministers of state are supposed to declare their assets before taking office. What I found in chapter 24 (Code of conduct for public officers) convinced me that Ocquaye has himself to blame if he did not declare his assets. Why do I say that? Ok let me give you direct quotes from Chapter 24 to make my case.

Article 286, clause (1) A person who holds public office mentioned in clause (5) of this article shall submit to the Auditor General a written declaration of all property or assets owned by, or liabilities owed by, him whether directly or indirectly.

(a) Within three months after coming into force of this constitution or before taking office, as the case maybe,

(b) At the end of every four years; and

(c) At the end of his term of office

Clause 5 referred to above covers the following people:

(a) The president of the republic

(b) The vice president of the Republic

(c) The speaker, the Deputy Speaker and a Member of Parliament;

(d) Minister of state or Deputy Minister

(e) The chief Justice of the superior Court of Judicature, Chairman of a Regional Tribunal, the commissioner of Human Rights and Adminsitrative Justice and his Deputies and all Judicial officers

(f) Ambassador and High Commission

(g) Secretary to the Cabinet

(h) Head of Ministry or government department or the equivalent office in the Civil Service;

(i) Chairman, managing director, general manager and departmental head of a public corporation or company in which the State has a controlling interest; and

(j) Such officers in the public service and any other public institution as Parliament may prescribe.

These are rather clear stipulations and I can?t see why the president will or should drag his feet on this. First let me ask this, how many members of Kufour government have complied with this provision as we speak? Did NDC ministers fully comply with this mandate as well? Are we working under a constitution or the rule of law only applies to the poor? What cogent case can the president and his phalanx make for arrogantly and blatantly violating this constitutional provision? Why is the NDC not taking this government to court for not following the constitution? My gawd! What really is the use of any opposition if all they do is go on caustic marches over mundane or humdrum issues without helping to shore up the constitution? This should have been the first fight between the NDC and NPP. Come on!! What is so hard about this? Go for it NDC! Here is a nice chance to act in the interest of the people.

Now, it obvious that if Mr Ocquaye had complied with this constitutional mandate, he should be able to start making a case for his innocence. At least we would know what he had before and what he is doing now. Clause 4 of Article 286, enunciates that, ?if any acquisition of property or assets cannot be reasonably attributed to income, gift, loan, inheritance or any other reasonable source?, it ?shall be deemed to have been acquired in contravention to the constitution?. So, if Mr. Ocquaye did comply with this provision, let him show what assets he had before his appointment and explain how he acquired any other since he has been in office.

While this may not completely stanch corruption and there are ways around it, it is a fair starting point. As a law professor, Mr Ocquaye should know better and conform to the dictates of the constitution if he has not done so already. There will be rough sledging for all who refuse to comply with this provision. Even if not with this current government, the next government other than the NPP must probe vigorously all that took place under the watch of our dear president. I am all for cyclical prosecutions depending on who is in power and who just got booted out of office. This should be good news for the tiring people of Ghana. Let us draw a line in the sand. This provision may not stop corruption but it gives us something to work with for starters. If only the constitution had spelt prison terms as punishment for not complying, it would have done us all a huge favor.

As for the Palaver, Article 287 clause (1) demands that they make their allegation to the Commissioner of Human Rights and Administrative Justice. Let them make a formal case against the Minister so that a full-scale investigation can be done. If the result of the investigation proves that Mr. Ocquaye has used his office to acquire wealth, may the law find its due course. This kind of press banter is good for public consumption. However, what will really seek the interest of the people is to have this issue formally investigated and the air cleared up. This also moves the allegations from rival political mudslinging to national duty. It is rather sad that the opposition has not been able to do much in this area. Hopefully, the press will take advantage and serve the public cause. I know the Palaver has been accused of being a mouthpiece of the NDC but if this allegation turns out to be true, they have done their civic duty. Even if it is not true, it should serve notice that people are watching and willing to question authority. I hope the Palaver did its homework before making this accusation. It is ok to raise these questions so long as it is not a statement of fact and wrongly accuses an innocent person.

Let me turn my pen on the president and his men now. Mr. President (Kufour), you came to office with high-sounding rhetoric about zero tolerance for corruption. While you?ve personally done little to singe corruption, you have refused to strictly enforce Article 286. As we speak, we don?t know how many of your ministers have declared their properties. In the name of good governance, we ask that you comply with this constitutional mandate. Why should constitutional mandates serve as mere suggestions? I would even venture to say that this should be public record for all who care to see. If you are serious about fighting corruption, use this constitutional provision as a friend in your war against corruption. Mr. President, you must lead and not just preside over lawlessness.

If we don?t know what assets these public officers have, how can we report to the police, as you recommended, that they?ve acquired additional properties outside their means? This is rather disgraceful and the situation must be remedied immediately. To those in office now who aspire either higher office or continued service, it will be in their interest to comply with article 287 of the constitution. If they don?t do it now, we will use it against them in any election they stand for. Of course we can also ask a court of law to enforce the constitutional provision. If the president is not demanding compliance, it does not relieve public officials from conforming. A public official has a constitutional duty to conform to the constitution. Either way, these politicians must conform. We are not just going to make noise and let this ride off into the sunset. We demand action now!

My fellow Ghanaians, we must find a way to fund efforts that will help in the enforcement of the constitution. We need processes and organizations to champion efforts that shore up our constitution. Without constitutional discipline, our democracy will be saddled with inordinate turbulence. Dr S. Kwaku Asare has led marvelously in this effort and it is time that we team up with him to hold the feet of these elected public servants to the fire. We employ these folks and we must not allow them to disobey the laws and act as if they own us. They are put in place to serve the public interest and we serve the public interest by holding them accountable. If we fail in our duty, these folks will take us to the cleaners. We must be vigilant or else our destiny will go with the wind. The servant must never be the lord with arrogance to boot. Let all public officials who are required by the constitution to declare their properties, do so now. It is in their interest to do so now or there will be hell to pay. The orange jump suits may not be as far away as these officials think. Do the right thing! Declare your assets now!

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