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Opinions of Monday, 31 January 2005

Columnist: Antwi, William

Stinking Official Corruption And Declaration Of Assets And Liabilities

Now that the President had submitted his major appointments and Parliament ready to rubber stamp them - their NPP compatriots are going to vote for them any way notwithstanding how despicable some of them had behaved while in office - let us once more turn our attention to one major issue that seems to elude us as a nation, namely, declaration of assets and liabilities of our public officials. The sermon this morning is not whether the President's appointees will be able to deliver the goods while in their assigned portfolios - that is an issue for another day. Rather, all that concerned citizens want to know is whether they will be able to discharge their duties with integrity without engaging in any financial shenanigan. This troubling issue has become even more compelling and imperative in the wake of sordid revelations unraveling before the Appointments Committee vetting the President's men and women.

OFFICIAL CORRUPTION GALORE.

Haven't we lived long enough under this "zero tolerance" government to come to the depressing knowledge that official corruption is not a phenomenon of the past? Isn't it disconcerting that this government continues to play hide and seek with the cherished principles of probity, accountability, transparency and sunshine that first catapulted them to power? It is a truism that this government has done everything in its political power to manipulate our flawed constitution to its maximum advantage in total disregard for the health of our democratic experiment. We will be fooling ourselves big time if we continue to be apathetic to official corruption which invariably degenerates into political instability.

One surest way to tell the President and his other public servants that we are watching is for them to publicly declare their assets and liabilities without cowering behind a flawed constitutional provision. Is this too much to ask? Indeed, if they have nothing to hide, why are they afraid to declare to the public what they have honestly accumulated over the years? Aren't we tired of such classless nonsense that "we were rich before we came to power", or "our friends and relatives are looking after our children for us"? We may ask: Where were all these "friends" and "relatives" all the years that they weren't ministers of state? Why are they all of a sudden taking care of their children and foreign travels? Do these wretched crooks have any shame at all? We truly understand why some patriotic Ghanaians are calling for the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act to assist the public's scrutiny of the assets and liabilities of our public servants but some of us seriously t! hink that the process should not leave out ARTICLE 286(3) OF THE CONSTITUTION.

THE CRUDITY OF ARTICLE 286

Article 286 tells us that some public officials including the President, his ministers and deputies, the Speaker of Parliament, parliamentarians etc should solemnly and conscientiously declare their assets and liabilities before taking office and after leaving office. Their completed forms should then be filed with the Auditor General. We are wondering how many of the President's men and women complied with this simple constitutional edict on or before leaving office. In fact, this plain, commonsense provision clearly and readily recognizes the simple fact that there is an overwhelming need for our troubled society to hawkishly protect its meagre resources from some of our public servants who seek to callously and fraudulently exploit their various and varied offices for personal gains. It is true to state then that the provision was not enacted for the economic and political comfort of these public officials but to protect the financial infrastructure of the country. It is ! therefore the barometer to measure and monitor the financial dealings of our public servants while they serve us in office.

It follows logically then that there should be some modicum of openness and transparency about their assets and liabilities so that the government and the public in general will be able to monitor aggressively the way and manner they accumulate their wealth and fortune. It is, however, unfortunate and disturbing that the public is disarmed from freely examining the completed assets and liabilities forms of these public officials. Is it not interesting to note here that the only times those voluntarily completed forms can be opened to the public eye are
    1. with the consent of the public officials involved and

    2. when they are ordered to be produced before a court of competent jurisdiction, a commission of inquiry OR a commissioner for Human Right And Administrative Justice?
Insultingly, until a credible accusation is made and there is an on-going investigation against a public official bordering on illegal accumulation assets, the public cannot freely see, much more examine the assets and liability forms filed by these public servants.

AMEND ARTICLE 286(3) NOW!!!

Isn't it therefore smarmy to expect the public or even an investigating agency to aggressively monitor these public officials if, we, the public are effectively disabled to freely examine the assets and liabilities declaration forms? We think the clear and unimpeached intent of Article 286(1) of the constitution is subverted by SUBSECTION (3) of the same article.The plain truth of the matter is that those who inject themselves into public life by seeking political or public offices know the necessary darts that come with them. Therefore, why should any public official who has solemnly and conscientiously sworn to uphold the integrity and dignity of his or her office be afraid to let the public examine a document he or she has voluntarily and truthfully made and filed with the Auditor General? For emphasis, why should they shield their assets and liabilities forms from public scrutiny if they are acting honestly and scrupulously? Why such a document be treated with such unc! ommon secrecy beats our imagination and thinking!

The self-serving, deceitful and arrogant argument normally serve us for public non-disclosure of the voluntarily completed assets and liabilities forms is that it will deter highly competent individuals from serving the nation because their assets and liabilities will be unduly opened to the public on whose behalf they serve. This is an entirely wrong attitude we should take as a nation particularly at this critical stage of our national democratic development when official corruption continues to enjoy a gleefully ride on the back of the unconnected and downtrodden in our society. We need a radical approach to stem this destructive tide swallowing up our society.

This flawed constitutional arrangement should have touched and rankled the nerve of the NPP government in their "avowed" fight to root out official corruption in our country but time and time again what we see is a government which is totally in league with this defective constitutional provision and in no way eager to change it although it has the numbers and the President's imprimatur to boot. What is coming out of their political and legal repertoire is the perpetuation of the same old, bankrupt, corrupt and discredited status quo. There is a deeply troubling perception (possibility?) that the NPP political leaders are massively exploiting this flawed provision for thier own selfish economic gains.

Article 286 as presently written is designed as a deliberate and shameful attempt to hide and shield their ill-gotten wealth from the plying eyes of the public. Such brazen attitude erodes public confidence in our struggling political system which invariably goads military adventurers and their civilian cronies and cohorts to act.

A cold reading of the foregoing should tell anybody that our outrage meter is set so high against the NPP government because they talked so much about their love for democracy but are blatantly and maliciously refusing to deal effective with official corruption. This is political corruption at its slimiest! Having the poltical mandate to effect positive change for the good of the country and refusing to do same is tantamount to political corruption. It is as simple as that.

Opening up the assets and liabilities forms filed by public officials for public scrutiny is one sure way to bolster the faltering confidence of the public in our political leaders. To do otherwise is politically and economically dangerous. Once more we are extending our patriotic call to the NPP government to effect a positive change to the present constitutional arrangement to cure the obvious flaw in Article 286. It has been over four years since we first made this call and if recent revealing events before the Appointments Committe are anything to go by, then, we understand why they do not want us to see their completed assets and liabilities forms! How are they going to tackle corruption in our society if they are seen to be engaging in corrupt political and economic activities? The sooner they act the better it will be for our emerging political system. Need I reiterate that they have the votes to do this job and a legacy to protect?

Countryfolks, there is too stiff a price to pay if we allow party affiliation to stifle our ability to exert maximum pressure on our leaders to make this necessary change to our constitution.

God bless our country.

We shall be back.


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