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Opinions of Saturday, 19 August 2006

Columnist: Afedo, James O. K.

The Alleged Missing Cocaine Saga And Ghana's International Image


Over the past couple of weeks, Ghanaians have been saddled with interesting stories about missing parcels of cocaine allegedly imported in to the country but subsequently missing. This issue has been the food in the mouth of the media for several weeks. The magnitude of the reportage on the so-called missing cocaine saga perhaps could only be likened to the unproductive noise about a non-existent Gizelle Yazji who claimed to have had sex with our dear president, an allegation which has not been substantiated.

The National Media Commission is said to have slammed the media for unfairly reporting the proceedings at the committee set up to investigate the issues. Apart from this, the National Democratic Congress both in parliament and as a party is also making a lot of demands in connection with the investigations which some perceive as politicizing the issue. Meanwhile, the latest to also add a voice is the Committee for Joint Action (CJA), a pressure group, which is also demanding the establishment of a presidential enquiry into the matter. But have we bothered to think about the impact of this saga on the international image of the country? This article primarily analyses the various developments and the impact on Ghana’s external image. But before then, it is prudent to examine the product itself: COCAINE.

Information available at an American government website indicates that Cocaine which is extracted from the coca plant is the most potent stimulant of natural origin. It is said that this substance can be snorted, smoked, or injected. When snorted, cocaine powder is inhaled through the nose where it is absorbed into the bloodstream through the nasal tissues. When injected, the user uses a needle to release the drug directly into the bloodstream. Smoking involves inhaling cocaine vapor or smoke into the lungs where absorption into the bloodstream is as rapid as by injection. Evidence has it that each of these methods of administration poses great risks to the user.

According the statistics provided, the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health in America,says approximately 34.2 million Americans ages 12 and older had tried cocaine at least once in their lifetimes, representing 14.2% of the population ages 12 and older. Approximately 5.7 million (2.4%) has used cocaine in the past year and 2.0 million (0.8%) had used cocaine within the past month. Among American students surveyed as part of the 2005 Monitoring the Future study, 3.7% of eighth graders, 5.2% of tenth graders, and 8.0% of twelfth graders reported lifetime use of cocaine. This was a significant increase in the previous year’s survey which were 3.4%, 5.4%, and 8.1%, respectively. Other surveys also have tattling results on the use of the drug by Americans young and old.

It is evident that the negative health effects of cocaine use far outweigh the positive. Cocaine is a strong central nervous system stimulant. Physical effects of cocaine use include constricted blood vessels and increased temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure. Users may also experience feelings of restlessness, irritability, and anxiety. It is also suggested that users who smoke or inject cocaine may be at even greater risk of causing harm to themselves than those who snort the substance. For example, cocaine smokers also suffer from acute respiratory problems including coughing, shortness of breath, and severe chest pains with lung trauma and bleeding. A user who injects cocaine is at risk of transmitting or acquiring diseases if needles or other injection equipment are shared. Even though these statistics and information are on America, there is a lot to be learnt from it in the Ghanaian context. It is not surprising that America and the rest of Europe constitute a major market for the drug traffickers. But where exactly is the substance produced?

The Andean highlands of South America which constitutes Colombia, Bolivia and Peru is said to account for almost all worldwide cocaine productions. It is reported that much of the cocaine available in the American market and the rest of the world is transported from these South American nations particularly Colombia. But one wonders what is that special about this product that it sells like hot cake. Reports suggest that a gram of cocaine sells at a minimum price of $25 in New York to $150 in Detroit. In this regard, who would begrudge someone for dealing in such a highly profitable venture? But there is more to it than the money.

Several countries around the world have enacted laws which restrict the usage of cocaine and any activity in it. Ghana for instance also has strict laws to regulate the trade and use of narcotic drugs. But what is most worrying is that in spite of the good efforts of several governments over the years and the present government, Ghana is still regarded in international circles as not only a transit point, but a major transit point for dealers in the narcotic drugs. As a result several well meaning Ghanaians are subjected to serious humiliation and inhuman treatment on their travels abroad. Several forms of searches are conducted on them. So the recent cocaine saga also adds to a serious dent on our country’s image.

Locally, it is believed that the drugs trade in very booming in Ghana. Many people are quick to tag the use of luxurious and expensive custom-made cars on the streets of Accra, Kumasi and Takoradi as dealer in drugs. These may well be based on mere perceptions but recent developments may seem to be providing a basis for such perceptions. Certain areas in Accra such as Adabraka, Nima, Kokomlemle, Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Newtown, etc are believed to be the haven for both dealers and transporters. Since Ghana is a third world country with many people below the poverty line, it is very easy for otherwise innocent and good individuals to be lured into the trade for the money it yields. There are also increasing perceptions that another point of sale and courier activities is Legon On-The-Run restaurant. Students from the university especially the ladies are said to be recruited as couriers of the drug to London, US & Germany on holidays. Meanwhile there are many stories about how some families are suffering as a result of one of their members being addicted to the use of hard drugs.

The developments in the last couple of weeks have made many Ghanaians to begin to question the source of the wealth of some individuals. This I think is not necessary. But it is becoming clear that the illicit drug trade seems to be rising in Ghana. What may be the reason for this? Your guess is as good as mine. But what can be done to erase the negative publicity this might bring to Ghana in the international scene?

As regards the allegations of the missing cocaine, it is my humble opinion that the Georgina Woode’s committee will certainly establish the facts at the end of its work. I can state without any fear of contradiction that the present brouhaha over the missing cocaine and other related matters has a serious impact on Ghana’s international image. For a country which is struggling to fight the already dented image as a major transit point for narcotics drugs to be caught up in yet another drug related controversy of such caliber is a serious indictment. More so, the attempt to give it a political twist even worsens the situation. I believe this issue could be avoided and more especially so, the politicization. Meanwhile certain actions of government in relation to this alleged scandal needs to be commended.

In matters of such allegations against top-notch public officials, the only reasonable thing that any responsible government could do is to first of all set up a committee, be it ministerial or presidential to investigate the issue and establish the facts or otherwise. Hence Hon. Albert Kan Dapaah’s ministerial fact-finding committee led by her Lordship Justice Georgina Woode is commendable. This shows to the international community that government is serious in unraveling the mystery surrounding the alleged missing parcels of cocaine and to deal with the culprits. The membership of this committee alone tell me that a good job is expected to be done. More so, the attempt by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Hon. Joe Ghartey to amend the narcotics law to make it more difficult for drug peddlers and addicts to deal in the substance is equally encouraging. I am happy to say that we are beginning to get things right this time.

However, I am only quite worried about certain developments. One of such is the arrest of the otherwise witnesses in this saga. There is a debate as to who ordered the arrest and whether it was justified and necessary or not. I must admit that I lack the requisite legal acumen to categorically state my opinion; hence my analyses will be based on common sense reasoning.

First the committee is not a commission of enquiry and therefore lacks the power of a court. It cannot subpoena any witness to appear before it. It is only a fact finding committee which would present its findings to the IGP. For it to be able to unravel the truth, all witnesses must voluntarily cooperate with it. Anything that makes a witness not to be forthcoming with information will cripple the effectiveness of the committee’s work. Viewed this way, the arrest of the six witnesses in the case was more detrimental than beneficial. Predictably, the suspects who are otherwise witnesses have refused to cooperate with the committee. This I think will make its work very difficult.

Relatively, the charges pressed against the suspects seem flawed. Specifically, one of the charges, “Count Three-Importation of Narcotics Drugs: Section 1(1) of PNDC Law 236/90: The five suspects during the month of November 2005 in the Greater Accra Circuit and within the jurisdiction of this court; did import into this country 78 parcels of Narcotic Drug without license issued by the Secretary of Health.” The legitimate question is what evidence does the state have to support these charges? Even at the time of the arrests, the committee was yet to establish the exact number of parcels on board the said vessel and the real owners of the product. So what is the justification for the arrests? At this juncture I strongly believe the committee has been shot in the foot by this action

But wait a minute; these are alleged dealers who are highly intelligent and always device ways and means to outwit intelligence agencies. It is highly possible that if they are not put under close surveillance, they would vote with their feet. Hence there is the need for them to be arrested. In as much as this argument makes a lot of sense I still believe that their arrest was actually not the best. I think they reserve the right to refuse to cooperate with the committee since they are being prosecuted at the court. At this point, they are only daring the police and the attorney general that if they have evidence against them, then they should meet in court. This is legally justified. The committee will now be rendered useless. But I am only hoping that the AG and the police have enough evidence to prosecute and jail these suspects if they are found guilty. It would be humiliating for the court to acquit and discharge these suspects for lack of evidence.

Until this development, the call from the National Democratic Congress (NDC) that a bi-partisan parliamentary enquiry should be instituted to conduct the investigations was pointless. It would have also been unnecessary for the CJA to say a presidential enquiry was needed to do the investigations. But the arrests and the subsequent refusal of the suspects to cooperate with the committee seem to vindicate the NDC and the CJA’s positions.

Meanwhile I don’t believe it is time yet for the Inspector General of Police to resign. Yes his name might have been mentioned on the so-called recorded meeting in ACP Kofi Boakye’s house, but in what context? Had he a fore-knowledge of the alleged importation? Is he aware of the number of parcels and the people involved? Does he have a share in the substance? Or better still has he received any of the alleged bribe money? For me, the answers to these questions are not yet clear. Hence any call for the IGP’s resignation would be unreasonable. It is however expedient that ACP Kofi Boakye who is alleged to have had that meeting and being fingered in the allegations has been asked to take his leave. It is also in the right direction that Mr. Ampewuah the deputy CID boss has also taken his leave. I think Supt. Tabiri, the investigative officer should have also taken his leave to help the investigation. But for the IGP, I repeat that decision should be left entirely to him. When it is established that he also played a leading role in the bribery allegations then any call for his resignation would be justified and acceptable.

Further more, the media’s reportage on the whole saga has not been that negative. It is my believe that despite a few skirmishes the reportage so far has been good. It is the duty of the media to keep the public informed on the proceedings and revelations at the committee and most of them did just that. In spite of this, the advice of the National Media Commission is also necessary. I consider it more of a useful advice than a slam. The media must always try to desist from the unnecessary sensationalism and report just what they observe. They must not try to impugn official complicity in these matters in their reportage if that is not the case.

We all know the harm that has been caused this nation by the current saga. We also know how humiliating it is for a country’s diplomat or a law maker to be arrested in another country for allegedly dealing in narcotics drugs. That is why I think it is necessary for us all as Ghanaians to exercise some level of restraint and assume some responsibility in protecting the image of our dear nation. Meanwhile, there is no doubt that Ghana’s international image has been further dented by this saga. But someone will ask, what must be done? The answers lie in the following paragraphs.

The way forward now I think, is for the president to exercise his discretion in constituting a commission of enquiry with the approval of parliament, with the necessary powers of the high court to compel witnesses to appear it, to investigate this issue. If you ask me, the present committee would have done a good job had the witnesses turned suspect not been arrested and now facing prosecution. It is good however to wait for the committee to finish its work and let’s see what their conclusion and recommendations will be. But it would not hurt for the president to set his commission while the present committee is yet to finish its work. As I said earlier, the latest developments would affect the effective functioning of the Gerogina Woode’s committee.

In the realm of things, I think certain institutional adjustments must be made to help the fight against the drugs trade. Firstly, I agree with Dr. J.B. Asare of the International Narcotics Control Board that there is the need for the political head of the Narcotics Control Board of Ghana to be changed. For any effective impact to be made, I strongly believe that the board must be made autonomous. The head of the board once appointed should become autonomous and cannot be removed by anybody until retirement. The current arrangement where the chairman of the board is a deputy minister of the interior does not help much in the fight against illicit drug trafficking. The arguments are many and cannot be analyzed in this paper.

Secondly, it would also be very expedient for the board to include other security agencies as the police, armed forces, air force, navy, and immigration. This way, there can be effective collaboration in arresting and prosecuting illicit drug traffickers. Apart from this, I strongly recommend that the NCB must be empowered by parliament to do their own prosecutions. The current system where the NCB makes arrests and hands over the case to the police and Attorney General for prosecution does not also help enough. This perhaps may explain why a good number of suspects run away after a while. Parliament must pass an act empowering the NCB to prosecute.

Finally, much more would be achieved if the country appoints an independent NATIONAL DRUGS CZAR separate from the NCB. This person with tact and experience must be nominated by the president but approved by parliament. This suggestion which comes from one Prince Nicholas Zu, an MA candidate in New York’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Administration of the Syracuse University is an excellent one and I absolutely share in his opinion. The National Drugs Czar must constantly monitor the drugs situation in the country and make recommendations to parliament on what actions to be taken to fight the drugs situation. The judiciary must also be very proactive in delivering judgments in narcotics cases. They must as always live above reproach. These would be the best ways to change Ghana’s heavily dented image in the international system as regards the narcotics trade. In fact I am absolutely convinced that if the executive and legislature consider these suggestions and act on them, Ghana’s image will be repaired.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.