Expediency versus pragmatism ‒ who needs the Special Prosecutor? Featured

By Joseph Roberts-Mensah November 06, 2019 3799 925 comments

I have never pretended to understand the workings of government and the convoluted thought processes which lead to political decision-making. Nor can I even to begin to fathom the intent behind some of the seemingly pointless actions taken to promote the alleged march of progress in Ghana. Nevertheless, for quite a while now, I have been mentally debating the benefits or otherwise of the idea of a special prosecutor. It has not been easy.

One of the chief promises made in 2016 and 2017 by the incoming New Patriotic Party government was to fight corruption. Possibly in fulfilment of this electoral promise came the idea of the Special Prosecutor. The justification for this new role was that, the existing offices ‒ the Attorney General; the Director of Public Prosecutions; the Economic and Organised Crimes Office (EOCO), the designated organ which serves as an independent investigating and prosecution body to make inquiries into corruption, bribery or other criminality at the national level, whether this be in public or private sector; and the Financial Intelligence Centre ‒ did not have the capacity and independence to deal with the challenge of more complex forms of corruption et cetera et cetera.

The other argument made was that given the political climate in Ghana, the country needed to establish a body totally independent of the current government-controlled and government-appointed structures. Entirely reasonable, pragmatic and sincere, one might argue ‒ but was it?

Was the intention really to establish a body capable of making a difference, or simply to give the government a scapegoat and a justification for saying, all the while beating the collective executive chest: “Well, we tried. It’s not our fault”? We are left with a beautiful, noisy, expensive and crippled patsy. There is indeed no art to find the mind’s construction in a political face.

Loyalties lie split

Many have called into question the effectiveness of an office which to date, in its short life, has achieved much by way of noisemaking, grandstanding, whining and bluster, but very little else. Yet is that a fair assessment, or was it designed and destined to fail from the onset?

I love judging others ‒ as do most of us, even though it’s a sin ‒ but why do we not call into question the logic of establishing a competing prosecutorial office knowing the level of hostility that would come with it? Why do we not question whether it would not have been far more sensible to enhance and expand the capacity of the existing organs already established to fight crime and corruption?

Who has chief oversight in the fight against corruption?

Why do we not question how an office established under the supervision of the Minister of Justice and budgeted through the Ministry of Justice was ever going to be any more independent than its supervisor?

Why does nobody question how an office dependent on investigators seconded from the Ghana Police Service ‒ given the mentality of allegiance and loyalties which exist within that entity ‒ was somehow miraculously going to be any better?

Choosing targets

There are several questions of this nature requiring at least a modicum of enquiry. Among these, another one which has always baffled me is why we could not simply have established the office of an ombudsman.

According to Wikipedia, an ombudsman is an official appointed to investigate individuals’ complaints against a company or organisation, especially a public authority, and investigate complaints which haven’t been solved by the organisation complained against or been handled badly or unfairly. This would surely have dealt with the problem of corruption and given the established organs the opportunity to operate, and only kicked in when there was suspicion of maladministration or impropriety. It would have kept them on their toes and given wider scope to our illustrious Special Prosecutor. Yet who am I to question the wisdom of far nobler minds than mine? It’s a thought, though, is it not?

All this said, I am also challenged by the Office of the Special Prosecutor in its own right, which seems practically to have declared an intention to pursue only high-profile political corruption, as if that were all there is. Why would you not, as the new kid on the block, establish a reputation by starting with cases that your limited office, capacity and staffing could handle? How could you possibly hope to be effective, or even to make inroads, in the fight against corruption when you go into the ring as a lightweight in a superheavyweight competition? Why would you not take a few gym lessons and build some muscle first?

Opportunities abound to prove the efficacy of the Office of the Special Prosecutor. Vote buying is a common challenge. Politically motivated dismissal is the long-established norm. There has been a Youth Employment Agency payroll fraud of approximately GHC50 million (US$11.1 million), a huge corruption scandal at the Electoral Commission (EC), contracts have been awarded unlawfully. Government employees at all levels invariably ask for tips; charges are levied for training at/recruitment into the Police Academy; the police frequently act as debt collectors. Is the OSP blind to all the old money-laundering scams, misuse of Ghana’s points of entry by all and sundry, including Church leadership and private business entrepreneurs? Or are none of those things juicy enough? The list of problems to be tackled is endless: if it’s corruptible, Ghana has done it.

Why would you want to go head to head with the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, EOCO and the Ghana Police Service, competing for the same loaf of bread when there is a whole bakery full somewhere else within easy reach? In the abundance of water, is it thirst or vanity that makes one search for a bottle of Hennessy?

Extortion, cronyism, nepotism, parochialism and patronage exist everywhere in Ghana: it’s in the very air that we breathe. So, surely, one can’t be short of other targets? Why would you not start the business of the OSP by undertaking independent audits of critical organisations, and building cases where appropriate, from there? It cannot be rocket science.

Direct our thinking

The government’s formal reasoning has it that the OSP was created “to lessen the burden on existing anti-corruption agencies” and “remove the institutional roadblocks that exist as hindrances to the fight against corruption”, noting “the ineffectiveness of the Attorney General as an effective prosecution and law-enforcement tool in the fight against corruption” because the AG’s appointment and dismissal is determined by the President.

Apart from making the Attorney General look exceptionally incompetent, beholden to the executive and therefore lacking in good, independent judgement and integrity, what has the government achieved so far with this masterstroke of independent thinking? Answers via Ghana Postal Services, please.

The question asked in the introduction, about “expediency versus pragmatism”, maybe simply should have been: “To be, or not to be?” I wish I could say the jury was still out on this matter, but we may find that the jury left the building in disgust and is now ensconced at a local watering hole, drinking its collective psyche into a stupor to drown its sorrows, and pondering what the next well-thought-out plan might be that will emerge from the brilliant minds tasked to strategise on behalf of the people of Ghana.

Readers of a certain age will remember DDT, thalidomide and asbestos as just three of the many modern miracles we no longer use today. We know the reason why.

* Joseph Roberts-Mensah is the Africa director of the Wayamo Foundation, an independent, non-profit-making organisation working to strengthen the rule of law, promote justice and foster transparency through judicial capacity-building. https://www.wayamo.com/

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Last modified on Wednesday, 27 November 2019 13:57


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