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Opinions of Sunday, 18 January 2015

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Suspended CHRAJ Boss Doesn’t Get It, Does She?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK January 16, 2015

Since the Daily Graphic made public the extravagant and opulent lifestyle of the now suspended Commissioner of Ghana’s Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Ms Lauretta Lamptey at the expense of the tax payer in September 2014, she has been trying to defend the indefensible by claiming she had done nothing wrong, was entitled to be re-accommodated by the state if her official residence was inhabitable, etc. However, what I heard her say in a Citi Fm interview as explanations for what happened has convinced me that not only does she not get the public mood over her waste of scarce resource but she is also either incompetent or did not understand her role. This article is the analysis of her responses to some of the questions put to her in the Citi Fm interview in Accra on Friday, January 16, 2015.

In her responses and by way of defence, Ms Lamptey seems to blame everyone including Justice Emile Short, her Deputy, the Estate Officer, etc) except herself. She was also very contradictory in some of her answers. In short, most of her answers were not credible.

On the question of her luxurious and expensive accommodation, she claimed that, she did not make the decisions regarding her accommodation and other entitlements and that the AU Villa was rented for her by others. In fact, according to her, on assumption of office, there was a suggestion of being provided with a new vehicle but she turned that down and used the existing vehicle, which she is still using. She also did not claim the medical expenses for herself and her two children because she was aware that those of the staff had not been paid as well as paid for her own maid though she is entitled to two domestic staff.

Having made the above claims to indicate that indeed, she was frugal, her defence that the decision to accommodate her at the AU Villa was made by other senior staff of the Commission (probably, his Deputy, Head of Finance and the Estate Officer) and so she should not be blamed for it is unacceptable and contradictory. My question is, if Ms Lamptey was honest and being honest with herself to the extent that she turned down the use of a new vehicle for reasons of cost, was she unaware that the cost of the AU Villa was too expensive? Why did she not turn it down and opt for alternative suitable accommodation at reasonable cost to the tax payer instead of attempting to blame those who made the decision? Again, can she really blame those who arranged and rented the AU Villa for her when she was the one who had ultimate responsibility and decision making powers? In fact, her explanation and blame game are very weak, untenable and she should not repeat them before the Judicial Committee.

What was really disturbing was her effort to blame the former CHRAJ Commissioner, Justice Emile Short for the brouhaha over the modification and extension work on her official residence which necessitated her overstay at the AU Village and the subsequent move into a hotel. She claimed that, indeed, whilst Justice Short came out publicly to say that the residence was habitable and just required some painting and few things to be done, he failed to disclose to Ghanaians that it was he, Emile Short who commissioned the renovation. This, to say the least, is pathetic. The man left the Commission more than a year before your appointment and you had the impudence to blame him for failures directly attributed to your demands nearly five years later? Did Justice Short also order the modifications and extension work that were requested by you to suit your preference and family circumstances and which directly increased the cost and caused the long delay in completing the renovation? Is renovation the same as modification and extension work?

Ms Lamptey, this blame shifting and victimhood mentality are childish which no one will buy. After all, you were then in-charge and turned down a new vehicle for your comfort, so why could you not stop the renovation commissioned by Justice Short rather than blame him for your shortcomings and luxurious lifestyle?

Another shocking surprise by Ms Lamptey was that she could not be held responsible for paying two years advance rent, which was in breach of rent laws in Ghana because those decisions were not made by her. In fact, she said, “I am not the Estate Officer”. Really? As head the organisation that is supposed to check such abuses by rich and powerful individuals and organisations against ordinary weak and vulnerable citizens, were you unaware of this problem in Ghana? Where have been, on planet Mars? Were you not reading newspapers or listening to and watching the news in Ghana? Were you aware the buck stops with you as Commissioner?

When she was asked about CHRAJ ineffectiveness in fighting human rights and corruption in general, her response was no different. That, she delegated those responsibilities to her two other commissioners (I guess she was referring to her deputies), so she could not be blamed. In fact, at one point she said some decisions were policy matters that she delegated to others. Does Ms Lamptey understand that as head of CHRAJ without a Board, she and her senior management were responsible for policy decisions that cannot be delegated when it comes to accountability? In fact, she had the final say on policy as well as operational matters and for that reason she could only delegate duties and assignments but not responsibility and accountability. In other words, delegation does not absolve her from responsibility. Responsibility and accountability rest with the one who delegates and not vice versa.

Neither was she convincing on the question of her six months absence from office yet received her full monthly salary. She claimed she was on annual leave for three months, which is fine. The remaining three months she was either abroad attending conferences/meetings or when in Ghana, she was writing policy papers and reports from home or attending workshops and occasionally went to the office once or twice a week, sometimes for half a day. Whilst I agree that working from home is common these days and also common for Chief Executives to be away from office on assignments, the tone of her language was not persuasive. The question is, is that the norm in similar public institutions in Ghana? Were her two deputies also working from home and attending meetings and workshops to the extent that they were often absent from the office? Finally, did her two predecessors (Emile Short and Anna Bossman) also absent themselves from office that often on similar outside engagements or worked from home?

Over all, my impression from her responses is that, Ms Lamptey is out of touch with everyday life in Ghana, particularly, her answer to a question from a female colleague of the morning show presenter. She was asked if it did not occur to her that since Ghana was experiencing financial difficulties her accommodation cost was too expensive and bearing in mind that she was the head of the organisation that is expected to have known better, her response was the same. She did not make the decision to rent the AU Villa. It was rented for her.

My conclusion is that, Ms Lauretta Lamptey is not the one to fight for the rights of the poor, weak and vulnerable in Ghana. She does not understand the difference between delegation, responsibility and accountability and therefore blame others for her lapses. She has caused irreparable damage to the image of CHRAJ by her indiscretion and her continued stay in office as the CHRAJ Commissioner will cause more harm than good so she should resign honourably rather than wait to be sacked.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK