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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 May 2003

Columnist: Anane, Baffuor Gyau

The Importance Of Checks And Balances In A Democratic Society

(THE QUALITY GRAIN CASE)

Human nature, as it is, makes it very difficult to completely weed out from the society people who use fraudulent means to acquire wealth. Greed, selfishness, and the desire to show off riches that one did not toil for, will always push people with such character traits to engage in nefarious activities. In other words, economic malfeasance can never be stopped because of human nature. The ability to detect and to fully prosecute this evil that has made most of the countries in Africa poor and always depending on the world’s economic powers for aid is the only deterrent to corporate and individual fraud. Such investigation should not be used as a witch-hunt to go after perceived or real enemies. Rather, wherever there is suspicion regarding an economic activity that will lead to the loss of money to the state, the investigative arms of the state should pursue the case disregarding political affiliations.

Some politicians and some political appointees firmly believe that occupying high offices entitles them to openly flout the laws of the state for economic gain or to personally help friends and relatives to be rich. They use state money as personal largesse. This unconscionable behaviour is very unpatriotic. It is a great honor to be elected or appointed to high office to use one’s expertise or knowledge to help the country. To abuse these high offices resulting in financial loss to the state deprives the nation of funds needed to build schools and other infrastructure. Millions of dollars, and possibly billions, have been stolen by greedy officials and their cronies. The detection and prosecution of crimes against the state are pluses to the democratic process.



The Quality Grain case has shown that Ghanaians are maturing politically, and democracy is indeed working. Another revelation from this case is that top officials who represent the state as signatories to financial dealings could easily be manipulated, duped, or even coerced into using their offices to benefit individual investors or corporate entities without any financial benefit to the state or to these government representatives.



The first revelation is the use of investigative tools to expose any form of malfeasance, in this case financial. Whether it is investigative reporting from journalists, the work of the Bureau of National Investigation (BNI), the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation, or investigation from the Police Department, it becomes very apparent that good governance and the rule of law are working. This then shows that democracy is indeed getting rooted in Ghana.



Under an undemocratic and dictatorial regime these great institutions of democracy do not function properly. Under such a regime if these institutions are allowed to operate at all they do help the dictator to tighten his grip on the country and to have complete control over the wealth of the nation since all top officials kowtow to him. In that kind of atmosphere nothing is working to check the abuse of power. Democracy is being trampled in this situation and the people have no rights as regards accountability and transparency because checks and balances do not exist.



Meanwhile, the state is losing millions or billions of dollars because of individual greed and corporate fraud. This explains the collapse of existing infrastructure in most African countries. Roads and bridges are not being constructed or repaired. Hospitals have no new equipment. Text books and computers and well-equipped labs are beyond the reach of students, and school buildings are crumbling. This is happening because million of dollars are being siphoned from state funds by top officials and greedy entrepreneurs camouflaging as investors.

How do the people become aware of economic malfeasance by the nation’s top officials? Seasoned and knowledgeable investigators and detectives are the reasons why the public is aware of the Quality Grain case and other frauds.

In 1996 the NDC government granted a $13 million-dollar loan to the Quality Grain Company when it had not been approved by the Parliament, according to Mr. Theophilus Cudjoe, the Deputy Executive Director (Investigations) of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). This should not have been the case. As a good investigator and detective, Mr. Cudjoe and his office used all available resources and their rights as Ghanaian citizens to do further investigations. Mr. Cudjoe, the Prosecution’s star witness, got into this matter when his office directed him to investigate the Quality Grain Company after the Company received a seven million-dollar loan approved by the Parliament, according to him.

Further investigation by Mr. Cudjoe and his office (SFO) revealed that “the government had 24 percent of the shares of the Company that was registered in 1995 and that it never held a meeting until he submitted his report in 1999.” Suspicion is setting in here and as a good detective bent upon getting to the truth in this transaction between the government and the Quality Grain Company, Mr. Cudjoe “contacted the Ghana investment Promotion Center (GIPC) where investigation showed that the Company, which was a foreign one, had not registered with the Center.” This is not the proper way to do business and this aroused more suspicion. The good detective is having more grounds to do further investigation. Mr. Cudjoe and his office (SFO) contacted one Dr. George Sipa Yankey, the then Director of Legal Sector, Private and Financial Institutions Division of the Ministry of Finance, who was responsible for the payment of loans at the Ministry. Dr. Yankey willingly “provided documents covering the seven million-dollar loan and a feasibility report on the Company’s rice project at Aveyime in the Volta Region.”

What is happening here is the beauty of democracy. Of great importance to the public is that all this was happening during the Administration of the NDC Party, now the main Opposition Party. Despite the fact that NDC officials were the ones being investigated, the ruling Party bosses willingly, though a few were reluctant at first, opened the books to investigators. This was a clear indication that it was not a dictatorial regime at the time but a government supportive of democracy in its nascent stages in the country.

According to Mr. Cudjoe some top NDC officials wanted him to “cool it.” He did not “cool it.” As a good detective who believes in good governance and the rule of law he pursued the case. The NDC government should be commended for allowing the investigation to go on, though no one could have predicted the outcome if the Party was still in power. For true democracy to continue to work, the NPP, now in power, should also let investigative officers do their work without any interference should one of their own engage in behaviour that will “cause financial loss to the state.”

The second important issue resulting from the Quality Grain Company case is that the nation’s top officials should be on their guard when they represent the nation in financial dealings so that they are not duped by investors.

“I acted in good faith in the Quality Grain Project.” Mr. Kwame Peprah, the former Minister of Finance, said this during cross-examination at his trial for willfully “causing financial loss of over 20 million dollars to the state.” This is a lot of money to help stop the erosion at Keta and to build a new hospital at Bolgatanga. Mr. Peprah went on further to state that, “As a Finance Minister, I was always sourcing funds for the project to sustain it, with due care and also took operational steps to ensure that operational loss did not occur.”

If these statements are not defensive ploys, Ghanaians are looking at a top government official doing his best to keep a project going, hoping that the state would benefit in the near future. Unbeknownst to Mr. Peprah, others involved in the project knew from the beginning that it was nothing but a sham, just a set up to steal from the state. Mr. Ibrahim Adam, the former Minister of Food and Agriculture, could also have thought that the project was going to benefit the state. It is very likely they inadvertently supported this project or they were coerced. The possibility is also there that they knew from the beginning the motives of the investors.

Whatever the motives of all the top officials and investors, one thing could never be disputed. Ghana has lost over twenty million dollars because officials did not do their job they way they were supposed to. At least the public is now aware that checks and balances, and the rule of law made it possible to detect this case and to prosecute those who “caused financial loss to the state.” No matter what, the public is now aware that democracy is indeed working in Ghana


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