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Opinions of Friday, 24 July 2015

Columnist: Ackon, Paa Kow

The wonders of Akufo-Addo shall never end

According to Transparency International, around 80% of African people live on less than US$2 a day. It has also been established that corruption is one factor perpetuating poverty whiles poverty and corruption are forcing a lot of people to make impossible choices like “do I buy food for my family today or do I pay a bribe to the police officer?” It is an undeniable fact that most poor people have low access to education and can remain uninformed about their rights, leaving them more easily exploited and excluded.
Although Ghana is endowed with several natural resources, yet the country continue to struggle and scramble for position in the lower rung of the United Nations Development Index. It is worrying that Ghana continues to grapple with the ever changing trends in global politics, economic and technological advancements having little or nothing to do due to the debilitating effects of corruption on the economy. Corruption has contributed greatly to leaving majority of the people in a state of homelessness and hopelessness.
Interestingly, most people in Ghana believe that there is a better way of dealing with corruption than what we are witnessing today. All the suggestions different people have provided connects at separating the Attorney General's department from the Ministry of Justice.
In March this year, former Attorney General and Minister of Justice Mrs. Mould-Iddrisu, who is currently the second vice chairperson of the ruling NDC said “Ghana needs a completely independent and separate Attorney General's Department. She indicated that, just as has been done in Kenya and Namibia, Ghana must strive to separate the office of the AG's Department from the Justice Ministry to ensure its independence”. It was refreshing when she made this revelation on Bola Ray's show on Starr fm. So what has Mrs. Mould-Iddrisu seen that we are oblivious about”? Does Mrs. Mould-Idrrisu have any lessons from judgment debt payments to share with us?
Not too long ago, another Senior member of the ruling NDC, Mr Alban Bagbin, who is the Majority Leader in Parliament, when he delivered a public lecture at the Faculty of Integrated Development Studies of the University for Development Studies (UDS), Wa campus, disclosed that government needs to consider detaching the Attorney General’s (AG) Department from the Ministry of Justice in order to reduce interference from the government in the work of the AG. According to him, a move to separate the Department from the Justice ministry which he described as a “political position” will ensure more efficiency in the delivery of justice in the country. Why is Mr. Bagbin describing the problem to us when he is indeed part of the team which promised to implement this policy?
In all of these propositions, what I find very interesting is when the Presidential Candidate of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo also addressed a cross section of Ghanaians in the UK and point out that if elected president in 2016, he will take practical steps to root out corruption in government by appointing an independent prosecutor. One such step, according to him, will be the creation of a Special Prosecutor's office that will be independent of executive control in order to prosecute corrupt government officials.
Hurrah! This is good news for which Mr. Akufo-Addo deserves a thumps up. However, I would like to remind Mr. Akufo-Addo about what he said at the IEA debate in 2008. The theme for the debate was “Strengthening the Pillars of Ghana's Democracy”. That debate which was the second in the series of presidential debates in 2008 was held on 12th November 2008 at Tamale. The participating debaters were Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo himself, Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom, the late Professor John Evans Atta Mills and Dr. Edward Nasigre Mahama.
According to the IEA, the debate provided a forum for these candidates to present their vision to the nation and debate with each other on the policies and programmes that they believed would best serve the national interest. More importantly, the debate demonstrated the public's demand for accountability from the candidates. Moderators for that debate were Professor Ivan Addae-Mensah, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana and Mr. Israel Laryea, a renowned broadcaster.
The first question to all the candidates read “Good governance depends on sound constitutional provisions. After 16 years operating the present Constitution, is there any aspect of the Constitution, which needs to be reformed so as to impact positively on the lives of the ordinary Ghanaian”?
In answering this question, Mr. Akufo-Addo started by saying “The question is apt. After 16 years of operating the Constitution, especially as both the major political parties in our country have had the opportunity to work with it, there are several matters that have come up for discussion. My intention is to put a Constitutional Review Commission in place soon after taking office, to go around the country, collecting the views of our people to see how strong the demand is for reform. Key issues that need to be addressed include the following:
1. Should Ministers be drawn from Parliament?
2. Should the powers of the Attorney-General be separated?
3. Should we have a Prime Minister rather than a Vice President, as with many of our neighbours?
4. Is the four year presidential term ideal us, or we talking five? years?
5. Should we elect or appoint District Chief Executives?
6. Should we have rules and provisions for creating more regions?
These are the matters the Constitutional Review Commission will take before our people and if the answers are in the affirmative, I will initiate the process for amending the Constitution”.
The difference between what is practicable and what can easily be said is the answer Dr. Nduom gave to the same question when he started by saying “Fellow Ghanaians, this is one of the important questions that we need to answer. You may say good governance; I say responsive governance, because we want a government that is responsive to the needs of the citizens. And so there are indeed, specific areas in the Constitution that I believe need change. What I will do, should I become the next President of Ghana, is to put the review process in motion within the first 100 days of work. First of all, decentralisation - bringing Government to the people, taking power from the hands of the president and ensuring that our people, who now have the right of electing the President and members of parliament, also elect other members of the Assembly, including their District, Municipal and Metropolitan Chief Executives.
The people deserve that right as well as the right to elect all the members of the District Assembly. Secondly, to make sure that people go to parliament only to become law makers so that they may concentrate on the responsibility of making laws and thus separate the executive from the legislature. And then we all know the issues of corruption and difficulties with the laws in Ghana. I want to lay clearly on the table the separation of the Attorney General's responsibility and office from that of the Ministry of Justice so that we can at least deal with the perception that if you are a member of a certain party you go scot-free, but if you are not a member of that party then you get punished heavily. These are some of the very specific things that go to the core of responsive governance. I will deal with them with dispatch to get the rest of the country, together with us, sell the idea to the people and make it happen”.
Beyond the 2008 IEA Presidential debate, Mr. Akufo-Addo had another opportunity again at the 2012 IEA evening encounter with Presidential candidates where Dr Nduom was excluded due to his exceptional brilliance and eye-catching practical solutions. That evening, when Mr Vitus Azeem of the Ghana Integrity Initiative asked the question: “How will you fight corruption? Will you give us three legal reforms and three institutional reforms that you intend to put in place to help you in your commitment in fighting corruption”? Regrettably, Mr. Akufo-Addo's response to this direct question was uninspiring, particularly with respect to the Ministry of Justice. He said that he does not find the argument for separating the Attorney General's office from the Ministry of Justice very compelling. Seriously, Mr. Akufo-Addo’s argument against separation, however, actually my assurance that he does not have the political will to implement this. Do you recall that Mr. Akufo-Addo even cited his prosecution of Mallam Issa, a PNC member who served in the NPP Government at the time as Minister of Sports, as proof that the Attorney-General's office does not need to be independent - all you need is a dedicated team that is not corrupt and they will do the right thing?. Again, with the Mallam Issa case, Mr. Akufo-Addo himself stated that the police brought the issue to his attention. Well, the truth is that the Attorney-General's office did not independently find the wrong doing and this is why the independent prosecutor's office is imperative.
It is important to establish that the Attorney-General’s office needs to be independent so that it can aggressively investigate the activities of all government officials. If Mr. Akufo-Addo was correct that the Attorney-General’s office was independent enough to do the job, why did he not expose the rot within the NPP administration at the time when he was the Attorney General? Should we take this to mean that because Mr. Akufo-Addo is less corrupt than President Mahama, he can implement this policy as President? Rightful conviction leaves me anxious that Mr. Akufo-Addo cannot implement this PPP policy. Winston Churchill, a former British Statesman and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom argued that “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is”. In fact, there is truth in wine and that truth is the promise the NPP made to separate the Attorney-General’s Department from that of the Ministry of Justice in their 2000 and 2004 manifestos. After winning power in 2001 and ruling for eight years with Mr. Akufo-Addo as Attorney General, the NPP could not fulfill its promise of separating the two ministries. The NDC similarly in their 2008 and 2012 manifestos, promised to separate the Attorney General's department from the Ministry of Justice. The NDC party led by President John Dramani Mahama also promised to separate the two ministries and this is captured in page 33 of their 2012 manifesto. In the 2012 NDC manifesto, the party said inter alia to separate the Attorney General’s Department from the Ministry of Justice to promote greater efficiency, and better transparency in the administration of justice. Floating voters are feverishly waiting to hear what the President or Mr. Akufo-Addo will promise again in the 2016 elections. To a great degree, based on these historical records of promises and failures, I believe Mr. Akufo-Addo cannot implement what he is talking about.
Well, it is often said that it is only a fool who does not change his mind. So if Mr. Akufo-Addo is today ready to partner the PPP to achieve this policy statement, why not? It is welcome news. Truthfully, what will make me a believer of Mr. Akufo-Addo shall be his readiness to emulate the example of Dr Nduom by advancing the frontiers of transparency and accountability in governance through the declaration of his source of campaign funds, income tax returns and assets. Until that is done, I shall hold on to my belief that Mr. Akufo-Addo cannot implement what he is talking about. Deeds not Words are the motto of a Catholic girl's school in Cape Coast. As for Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom, I shall forever support him in saying that those who want to control the affairs of the country should demonstrate moral uprightness and the zeal to offer incorruptible and accountable leadership to the people. In all of this, I am convinced that the PPP is the only party that has committed itself to demonstrating the competence of its leaders and to fight corruption starting with its leadership.

Paa Kow Ackon
ackon.pk@gmail.com