I’m called ‘clearing agent’ but mere allegation not enough to legally nail my appointees- Akufo-Addo
Ghana’s President Akufo-Addo is fighting back anti-corruption critics, making a case that thay more often than not refers to him as a ‘claering agent’ because they hold the view that mere allegations are enough grounds to legally nail his appoitees, although his administration has undertaken, arguably, the boldest initiatives since independence to reform and strengthen the capacity of anti-graft institutions to tackle head-on corruption within the public sector.
According to President Akufo-Addo, “government has fought corruption not in words, but in concrete deeds. We have shunned mere exhortations and showy denunciations of unproved corruption. It has been a holistic approach.”
Delivering the keynote address at the National Anti-Corruption Conference, organized by the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), on Friday, 10th December 2021, the President stated emphatically that “we have protected the public purse, we have made institutional reforms, we have enacted additional, requisite laws, and we have resourced more adequately the accountability organs of state. Our fight against corruption has been grounded on legislative, financial and institutional action, and not on lip-service.”
Outlining the initiatives put forth by his government, since coming into office in 2017, he stated that he has, first, had to make sure that every single alleged act of corruption levelled against any of his appointees have been investigated by independent bodies, such as CHRAJ, the CID, and, in some cases, by Parliament itself.
Citing the example of the suspension of the then head of the Public Procurement Agency, the President indicated that “following recommendations from CHRAJ, based on their investigation, I removed him from office in October 2020, and the Office of Special Prosecutor is seized with the matter of prosecution. If an appointee is cleared of any wrongdoing, the evidence adduced and recommendations made by these agencies, after the investigations are concluded, are what clear the accused persons, not myself.”
Continuing, President Akufo-Addo indicated that “there are some who refuse to accept my method of proceeding, and have characterised me as a ‘clearing agent’, because, for them, the mere allegation without more is enough to merit condemnation of the public official, even though they did not apply this principle when they were in office. For my part, I will not set aside due process in the fight against corruption, no matter how much opprobrium this incurs for me.”
With a clear understanding that corruption thrives in an atmosphere conducive to its concealment, he told the gathering that his government has ensured the passage of the Right to Information Act, 2019 (Act 989), which will foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public affairs.
In addition to this, President Akufo-Addo revealed that Parliament has passed the Witness Protection Act, 2018, (Act 975), to which he gave his assent on 24th August the same year. The Act, he explained, established a Witness Protection Agency to establish a witness protection scheme as a vehicle for offering protection to persons, who are required to co-operate with law enforcement agencies as witnesses in the investigation and prosecution of cases, particularly corruption cases affecting public officers.
Last year, he stated that the Criminal Offences (Amendment) Act, 2020, (Act 1034), was passed to amend section 239 of the Criminal Offences Act, to categorise the offence of corruption, previously a misdemeanor, as a felony, and to guarantee stiffer punishments of terms of imprisonment of not less than twelve (12) years and not more than twenty-five (25) years in prison.
The President indicated that other laws passed by his administration, and which have enhanced significantly the capacity of the State in the fight against corruption are the Revenue Administration (Amendment) Act, 2020 (Act 1029), Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2018 (Act 982), State Interests and Governance Authority Act, 2019 (Act 990), Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2020 (Act 1044), Corporate Restructuring and Insolvency Act, 2020 (Act 1015), Companies Act, 2019 (Act 992), Narcotics Control Commission Act, 2020 (Act 1019) and Real Estate Agency Act, 2020 (Act 1047).
Underlying the digitalisation agenda of his government, which comprises a robust national identification system, digital property address system, paperless port system, e-justice system, pensions and insurance data, a digitised land registry, and mobile money interoperability system, he stressed, is the overarching objective to improve transparency, accountability and efficiency in the public sector.
“A digitised environment, ultimately, helps to eliminate and prevent corruption in various institutions and agencies. The passport office, ports and harbours, Registrar-General’s Department, National Health Insurance Service, Driver Vehicle and Licensing Authority, which, hitherto, were fertile grounds for corrupt activity, are being transformed beyond recognition,” he said.
He continued, “The introduction of the Ghana.Gov platform has significantly reduced the risk of public sector corruption through embezzlement, making it possible for services to be accessed and payments made online by card or mobile money, with a considerable reduction in the conduit of middlemen or ‘goro boys’”.
Touching on the allocation of resources to the accountability institutions of State, President Akufo-Addo stressed that “it is also an undeniable fact that budgetary allocations for institutions actively engaged in public sector accountability, i.e., the Office of the Auditor-General, the Judiciary, Parliament and the Ghana Police Service, have witnessed unprecedented increases since I assumed office in 2017”.
At the end of 2021, he indicated that the budgetary allocation to Parliament had witnessed a one hundred and ninety four percent (194%) increase, compared to what was inherited in 2016; the Police had seen its budget increase by one hundred and sixty-two percent (162%) at the end of 2021, in comparison to 2016; the Audit Service had recorded an eighty three percent (83%) rise in its budgetary allocation at the end of 2021, as compared to 2016; the budget of the Judiciary had risen by fifty-one percent (51%) at the end of 2021, compared to 2016; the budget of the Office of the Attorney-General had increased by fifty percent (50%) at the end of 2021, compared to 2016; whilst the budget of CHRAJ had increased by twenty-one percent (21%) at the end of 2021, compared to 2016.
These figures, according to President Akufo-Addo, “reflect my resolve to ensure that institutions of state of relevance in the anti-corruption agendum are properly equipped to discharge satisfactorily the mandate of their offices”.
On ensuring value for money through the review of single source and restricted tender applications, he stated that the Public Procurement Authority, between January 2019 and August 2021, recorded savings to the tune of GH¢2.3 billion.
“In 2017, my first year in office, the savings, made over the year as a result of such reviews, amounted to some eight hundred million cedis (GH¢800 million). Contrast this to the situation in 2016 where a grand total of zero savings was made,” he added.
In the area of investigations and prosecution of corruption and corruption related offences, the President noted that a distinct innovation was undertaken by his administration in 2017, with the decision to set up an Office of Special Prosecutor, through the passage of the Office of Special Prosecutor Act, 2017 (Act 959).
“The establishment of the Office of Special Prosecutor represents the most courageous measure by any government, since independence, to prosecute corruption in the executive arm of government. The monopoly of prosecutorial authority by an Attorney-General, hired or fired by a President, had been identified by many as a key factor standing in the way of law enforcement and prosecution as a credible tool in the fight against corruption before 2017,” he added.