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Opinions of Sunday, 6 August 2017

Columnist: A. C. Ohene

Retrieve our stolen monies now!

Imagine having GH¢40 billion in the coffers of this country. What could that do? A typical example of what it could do is building a city the size of Kumasi! You remember the still-born STX Korea deal? It was to spend US$10 billion. It was to build 200,000 housing units across the country for security personnel and the general public. And, 200,000 housing units were reckoned to occupy a space bigger than Kumasi at the time. That was 2009/2010; even today, GH¢40billion is only slightly smaller than $10 billion. And, GH¢40b is the figure OccupyGhana says it came up with after researching the amount of public funds people have misappropriated since 1992.

Whaaaat! Say, the group may have exaggerated, and, I will not contest that; let us agree to half the figure, and, you have GH¢20b! How many public universities couldn’t we have built from GHC20b – or how many years couldn’t we have bankrolled Free SHS with it – when you consider the fact that we start such public universities as the Ho University of Health and Allied Sciences and the Sunyani University of Energy and Natural Resources with just GHC5million each?

It is in view of the enormity of the stolen public funds that, today; I opted to skip the apparently more beckoning Budget Review to critique the state-owned Daily Graphic lead story of yesterday. Story quotes the Audit Service as saying the property of even dead people who received or took funds from the public purse wrongly will not be spared, as it begins surcharging persons and organisations implicated in the annual Auditor-General’s reports. Speaking to Accra journalists at a media conference Wednesday, Daniel Yao Domelevo, the Auditor-General, stated he was issuing certificates of indebtedness to those deserving that to say that, “you have used government money wrongly; pay it back.”

Supreme Court ruling

In its judgement on June 14, this year, in a case brought before it by pressure group OccupyGhana, the Supreme Court had ordered the Auditor-General to surcharge any individual who was found to have expended public funds unlawfully. The Supreme Court further ordered the government’s prosecution arm, the Attorney-General’s Department, to ensure the enforcement of the orders by initiating criminal prosecution, where necessary. It was this order from the highest court of the land that the Auditor-General was smarting under.

24 years of negligence

Something is better than nothing: Ghana Today, thus, doffs its hat for Mr. Domelevo for making such an avowal. May the words of your mouth and meditation of your heart be acceptable in the sight of the Lord such that He will renew your strength and courage day-by-day. But, seriously, did we need to wait for OccupyGhana to haul the Auditor-General to the Supreme Court for that court to give the edict before Mr. Domelevo evolves plans to retrieve our monies from the living and the dead? Surely, not! Supreme Court ruling or no Supreme Court ruling; the responsibility is spelt out plain and simple: “Article 187 Clause 7 (b) of the 1992 Constitution enjoins the Auditor-General to disallow the use of state funds in a manner contrary to law and also surcharge persons found to have used state funds unlawfully,” as quoted by the Daily Graphic of yesterday. And so, for the last 24 years that our successive Auditor-Generals have reneged on retrieving our monies and our Attorney-Generals have prosecuted too few of the prominent thieves, Ghanaians have been terribly let down.

With horrifying impudence, local assembly officials have diverted coins meant for the sustenance of the disabled in their communities; Health Insurance staff have stolen monies that should have saved the lives of thousands of our relations; bursars and headmasters have pilfered monies that should have fed and trained our future leaders more efficiently. As for those who have no contracts with the state and yet are handed tens and hundreds of millions of the taxpayers Cedis; they have the temerity to tell us they deserve even more. The laws have always been there to deal with them; the will to deal with them has hardly ever been there.

Where there’s the will…

Just recall the crass negligence of police personnel who look on for Delta Forces, Bolga Bulldogs, Azorka Boys, Invisible Tigers, Footsoldiers and High-jackers etc., to terrorise, beat, maim or kill their opponents or the very people their parties pledge to serve. Ask them why they stand by and the police plead impotence because, “this is political.” It is not that there is no enabling law; the heart of the matter is that those who should act lack the heart and the will to act. Wherever there is the will, there is the way.

A little digression here won’t hurt; if only it will be a useful illustration. Gordon Guggisberg who governed the Gold Coast Province in the 1920s used his own earnings – salaries – to buy and pay for the property now called Achimota Lands. He established Achimota School there in 1927 and there was extra space for the University of Ghana in 1948 and the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration in the early 1960s. The land Gordon Guggisberg bought with his hard-earned Three-Thousand Pounds or so was as big as a sub-district; so big that it still allowed for keeping an ecological-balance forest. Today, where is the Achimota Land bought with the personal money of an imperialist? Powerful, influential and rich Black African and Ghanaian people have encroached on more than half of the land. Where is the Achimota Land bought by Guggisberg for an Educational District of a country not his motherland? Today, most of our school lands, hospital lands, market lands, forest reserves, land banks, and edges of lakes, rivers and streams have been stolen for building and farming. What are we doing to ourselves and the next generations of Ghanaians?

Be bold, or forget it

It is the willingness to act that has eluded us up till now. And, I am afraid, if the likes of the current Auditor-General fail to marshal enough will and determination, they will be stopped in their tracks. Convicted thieves and their equally dishonest attorneys will keep frustrating them and refuse to pay the surcharge – even after they have been ordered by courts to pay. You don’t need to go far to remember a typical example.

Finally, the need to prevent the looting of state coffers and property cannot be gainsaid. There are laws on contract awards, procurement, fees collection, disbursement and periodic rendering of accounts that have been crafted to preempt – or at least reduce to the barest minimum – the incidence of corruption in public office. Surely, there are laws meant to prevent the carrying away of doormats and window blinds from the bungalows of departing Speakers and Ministers of State. Every conceivable offence in this country has a law that is supposed to prevent it from being committed. Article 187 Clause 7 (b) of the 1992 Constitution enjoins the Auditor-General to “disallow the use of state funds in a manner contrary to law.” It is when you have failed to prevent it that you are enjoined to retrieve the booty.

Act to prevent

Prevention is better than cure; that is why King Solomon would admonish that there is no use allowing the snake to bite before you desperately apply the snake charm or serum.

Where this nation has reached; where this continent has reached; we need leaders in all fields of human endeavour who will stand up to be counted. It takes honest, determined, action to get the right things done. There are too many good laws already. Our Attorney-Generals, Auditor-Generals, courts, and other bodies should just faithfully apply them. Even where the law is nebulous or weak, faithfully do the right thing and leave posterity to judge.