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Opinions of Tuesday, 3 July 2001

Columnist: Asare, Kwaku S.

TRC, how far back do we go?

Lately, much debate has focused on the need for and terms of reference of a Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC). Some have argued that a TRC, should there be one, should limit its inquiries to the last two decades. Others have argued for any inquiry to cover a more extensive period, perhaps as far back as 1957. Several commentators have also opined on the potential subject matter to be covered by the TRC. The list is long including the PDA, Apollo 568, the 1983 murder of the judges, etc. Below, I present my views on the "what" (i.e., subject matter) and the "when" (i.e., period) questions.

Unfortunately, I believe most commentators have confused or distorted the true purpose of a TRC by bundling controversial policies and outright state supervised and authorized crimes. The two sets of issues are entirely different and are lumped together at significant peril.

For instance, one may believe that the Apollo 568 was controversial, unwise or even unfairly implemented. But whatever one's views, this was a matter that was within the powers of a legally constituted and a duly elected constitutional government. Similarly, one could list an array of unpopular economic and social policies implemented by the PNDC/NDC but these are not matters that a TRC should concern itself with.

The matters that will appear to be particularly relevant for any TRC should include disappearance of people; state supervised murders of people; unauthorized demolition of property; confiscation of assets without due process; mysterious deaths of imprisoned prisoners of conscience; massive injury and harm done to people in the custody of the state; mysterious deaths of alleged coup plotters; etc.

As long as there is government, there will always be bad and controversial policies. This does not mean we should constantly be forming TRCs to investigate such bad policies or even bad governments. The electorate will opine on such policies and such governments at the next polls. However, using public office to engage in heinous crimes against persons causes significant tensions which are not resolvable by elections but by a TRC (or similarly constituted bodies). While bad policies are expected, state authorized heinous crimes are neither expected nor cured by simply replacing the offending government. Cash and carry, celebration of June 4th, SAP, etc. (all controversial issues) may be abolished by voting "asiee ho" but no amount of fingers "down there" will bring back Justice Agyepong, Halidu Gyiwa, Major Acquah, Mawuli Goka, etc.

Now to the "when" question. Set back the clock to 1981 and ask whether anyone was clamoring for truth and reconciliation. Not really because various commissions had already been set up to investigate perceived past injustices. Both the Busia (1969-71) and Limann (1979-81) administrations were short-lived. Generally, by their very nature, civilian governments are subject to checks and balances and few rational people will call for any review of these periods. In any event, as these regimes were overthrown by the military, they have already been subject to intense, frequently, unfair reviews.

That leaves us with the Nkrumah era (1957-1966), the NLC era (1966-69), the AFRC era (1979), the PNDC era (1981-1992) and the "NDC" era (1992-2000). Needless to say, the Nkrumah era witnessed all kinds of atrocities. However, because this regime was overthrown by a military regime, it too has been already subjected to intense review. The many commissions set up by the NLC provided an avenue for the truth of that era to be established. Several cronies of Nkrumah were jailed and many innocent victims of the era compensated. Indeed, by 1979, Ghanaians had made peace with this era so much so that they voted the PNP (a descendant of the CPP) back to power.

That leaves us with the NLC era, the AFRC/PNDC/"NDC" era. Regarding the NLC, the AFRC left us with the impression that it reviewed that era. Indeed, one of the doyens of that era was summarily executed by firing squad during the AFRC days. However, to the extent that there are any unresolved issues (which I expect to be rather limited if not non-existent) of that era, perhaps those issues can be investigated by the TRC. What then does that leave us? The three regimes led by chairman Rawlings.

You will notice quotes around the NDC era. This is because while this era was supposed to be a civilian era and therefore, ordinarily, subject to checks and balances, in reality the NDC was just an extension of the PNDC. It was just old wine in new bottle and continued to engage in some of the state sponsored terrorisms of the PNDC. The "kume preko" killings, the castle shavings which were recently justified by Konadu Agyeman, the agricultural officer shot to death by a castle security guard, the mysterious death of the driver whose car had an accident with the chairman's fleet, etc. are all testimony that the NDC continued with the state sponsored terrorism of the PNDC.

From the forgoing, I conclude that any TRC should be properly focused on the last 2 decades. Two additional points about any TRC. First, reconciliation should not be about witch hunting or forgiveness. That is, the TRC should not deliberately go after anyone but where evidence exists that someone or group of people are responsible for significant criminal activities (e.g., murders), these people should face the full wrath of the law. And this is true no matter who finds themselves on the wrong side of the law. Second, it is rather unfortunate that certain MPs continue to debate national issues from a rather parochial, frequently unjustifiable, perspective. These MPs must remember that a review of the PNDC/NDC era is in the best interest of the principals and key agents of that period. Any delays will just increase the odds that some really aggrieved persons will take the laws into their own hands.