Of corruption, prosecutions, et al, what Akufo-Addo said at the GBA conference

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President Akufo-Addo addressing the GBA gathering In Takoradi

It is a pleasure to be amongst you, learned colleagues, and I thank the leadership of the Bar Association for this third invitation to address the Conference. I know, as a member in good standing, that this is a privilege, so I will not abuse it, and do my best to stick to the time allotted to me.

There is a lot that is right about Ghana and about us. We are enjoying the longest period of stability since independence in 1957. We are a democratic nation, with a God-fearing people who are strongly attached to their freedoms. Our country is rich in human and material resources. We can draw on a significant number of educated, hardworking and enterprising people, both at home and abroad. Ours is a nation with a positive international image on a continent that is finally, but slowly, being taken seriously. We are hailed as a beacon of democracy and peace in our region and continent. We have a young, dynamic population ready to define their own destiny. The prospects for the realisation of our immense potential clearly abound.

At last year’s Conference, I did indicate, however, that one apparent restraint to our progress, what we may term the missing link in our governance system, which hampers the rapid economic growth and development we seek, is the deficit in the application of the rule of law.

In recent times, our country has had to deal with phenomena such as vigilantism, illegal mining, smuggling of fertilisers, bank frauds, cyber frauds, sharp practice, identity thefts, stealing of public funds, acts of bribery and corruption, and the behavior of criminal cartels. All these happen due either to the unwillingness to enforce the law by those mandated to do so, or to the failure by the citizenry to abide by the rules and regulations governing the country.

Ten years after World War II had ended, and speaking at the very first “Law Day”, the 34th President of the United States of America, Dwight. D. Eisenhower, the victorious Allied Commander of the War, said, and I quote: “The clearest way to show what the rule of law means to us in everyday life is to recall what has happened when there is no rule of law.” That is why I believe the theme for his year’s conference, “Enhancing National Security Through the Rule of Law: Prospects and Challenges”, is apposite, and rightly so. I assume the topic had nothing to do with the holding the Conference in this air force hangar.

Members of the Bar, it took our country quite a while for a consensus to emerge that the democratic form of governance, i.e. multiparty democracy, was preferable and the better route to prosperity for the Ghanaian people. In framing the document for the governance of our country, the framers highlighted the rule of law as one of the cardinal principles on which the Constitution was based, and it was for good reason.

President Akufo-Addo with Justice Julius Ansah, Justice of the Supreme Court

Governing a nation in accordance with the rule of law means that state power is not exercised arbitrarily by any arm of government, whether the Executive, Legislature, or Judiciary. Respect for the rule of law demands that the separation of powers be real, and requires also that application of the laws of the land be done without fear or favour. Indeed, when one falls foul of the law, one must be dealt with accordingly, and the law enforcement agencies, including the Judiciary, must ensure this is done, albeit within the context of due process.

It is only when this is done, that we can guarantee for ourselves the advancement of the purposes of a law-based state, where citizens can go about their lives normally and strive to improve on the quality of their circumstances, and where the peace and safety of the people can be assured.

We have seen, in recent times, what the breakdown of law and order and a clampdown on freedoms have meant for some countries in the ECOWAS Region, on the continent, and in other parts of the world. Cities have been laid waste, millions of lives have been lost, and these countries have had the torrid task of rebuilding themselves, mostly with very limited levels of success. Indeed, the scourge of terrorist activities and violent extremism thrives on the absence of the rule of law.

I have said it before, and it bears repeating on an occasion like this. Many a bad headline can be traced to a law and order problem. The story of every bank, financial house, or savings and loans institution that has had problems can be traced to someone or some people breaking the law, or trying to cut corners by flouting regulations. When a building being constructed collapses and lives are lost, the cause can, in many cases, be traced to someone or some people breaking the law, or cutting corners. When a road that was built barely a year ago develops potholes, someone or some people have been breaking the law or cutting corners.

Government has taken concrete steps towards ensuring that persons who engage themselves in some of the vices that have grabbed national attention are dealt with. Specific new laws have been enacted; institutional deficits in logistics and personnel of law enforcement agencies, especially the police, from years of neglect, are being addressed with their systematic empowerment; protection of the public purse is being manifest; and prosecutions are ongoing of persons allegedly involved in acts of corruption or financial loss to the state. All this against a background of significant constraints in the public exchequer. 

I am happy to inform you that on Friday, 23rd August, 2019, I gave my assent to the Vigilantism and Related Offences Act, 2019, which, in the words of the Act, disbands vigilante groups, including political party vigilante groups and land guards. The Act also bans acts of vigilantism in the country. Thus, a person who directly or indirectly instigates or solicits the activity of a vigilante, facilitates or encourages vigilantism, or conceals a vigilante to avoid lawful arrest, commits an offence, and is liable, on conviction, to a term of imprisonment of not less than ten (10) years and not more than fifteen (15) years. Let me thank Parliament for the work they did in improving the initial draft proposed by the Executive, and, subsequently, passing the Act to express national abhorrence of vigilantism.

Likewise, on 19th August, 2019, I gave assent to the Minerals and Mining (Amendment) Act, 2019, which has increased drastically the penalties for persons engaged in illegal mining, the notorious ‘galamsey’. We are now talking about minimum mandatory sentences of fifteen (15) years, and a maximum of twenty-five (25) years, for persons caught in galamsey, and the Act has also increased the punishment for foreigners, setting minimum mandatory sentences of twenty (20) years, and maximum of twenty-five (25) years. The fight against galamsey has entered a new, decisive phase. 

We, who are gathered in this room, know that observance of the law is the foundation of every organised and progressive society. Promotion of the rule of law is at the heart of this Association’s vocation, and I urge all members to be the natural champions of a law-based state. Enforcement of the laws is the challenge we cannot fail.

In so saying, Members of the Bar, it cannot be the case that people are condemned on the basis of mere allegations. That is the law of the jungle. I am aware of the orchestrated attempts by my opponents to hang the tag of corruption on the necks of my government and myself, despite all the manifest efforts being made to deal with the phenomenon of corruption. I just have one simple answer for them. It will not work. I did not come into public life to enrich myself.

So far, every single alleged act of corruption levelled against any of my appointees is being or has been investigated by independent bodies, such as CHRAJ, the CID, and, in some cases, by Parliament itself. From the allegations against the then Minister-Designate for Energy at his parliamentary confirmation hearings; to that against the former CEO of BOST; to those against the two deputy Chiefs of Staff; to the conflict of interest allegations against the Minister for Finance; to the claims of extortion against the Trade and Industry Minister; to allegations of doubling in visa racketeering against the then deputy Minister for Youth and Sports, the then Director General of the National Sports Authority, who, even though exonerated by the CID, later resigned, and the Chairperson of the Board of the National Sports Authority; to the allegations of bribery levelled against the Secretary to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining; to the latest involving the suspended acting CEO of the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) and the dismissed CEO of the  National Youth Authority – they have all been investigated or are being investigated by the authorised institutions of our state, and not by President Akufo-Addo.   

It is not my job to clear or convict any person accused of wrongdoing, or of engaging in acts of corruption. My job is to act on allegations of corruption by referring the issue or issues to the proper investigative agencies for the relevant enquiry and necessary action. That is exactly what has been done since I assumed the mantle of leadership on 7th January, 2017. 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. None of these agencies has ever indicated any pressure from the Executive over their investigations.

More so, Members of the Bar, Government has systematically increased the funding for the accountability institutions of our State, such as Parliament, the Judiciary, the Office of the Attorney General, CHRAJ and the Auditor General. 2017 witnessed a 25% increase in allocations to these five institutions over those of 2016; 2018 witnessed a 34% increase over 2017; and the 2019 mid-year budgetary allocation is virtually at par with 2018. Indeed, the Auditor General, on 18th June, this year, when thanking Government for the “substantial increase in support” his outfit received, said, and I quote “the Executive has played its part. I hope you are aware when there was a change in government, the first announcement we heard was a ban on procurement of vehicles, is that not it? But this was the time government gave us the permission to buy thirty-four (34) vehicles to support the audit service. We had never bought ten (10) vehicles in the history of the Audit service before.”

We have fulfilled the campaign promise to establish an independent Office of Special Prosecutor to focus on the prosecution of corruption-related offences. The Office is up and running, manned by an experienced, well-known prosecutor, who, we are all aware, has been an active member of the opposition National Democratic Congress, and cannot be described, by any stretch of the imagination, as a member or sympathizer of my party, the ruling New Patriotic Party. His appointment was deliberate to highlight the independent nature of the Office. I am optimistic his work will justify the confidence the Ghanaian people and I have in him.

So far, 21 officials of the previous administration are standing trial over their involvement in alleged acts of corruption or causing financial loss to the state, amounting collectively to the tune of some GH¢772 million. Their trials are being conducted in the normal manner, with the safeguards that the law affords all accused persons, so that due process is respected. The courts will, at the appropriate moment, deliver their verdicts. I am expectant that the criminal conduct, if any, of those responsible for the banking crisis, which is undergoing detailed scrutiny, will be brought to justice very soon, if prima facie evidence of criminality is found, which, according to my information, is likely.

Government is committed to protecting the public purse, and, in spite of the recent happenings at the PPA surrounding its suspended acting CEO, GH¢2.75 billion has been saved for the public exchequer from January 2017 to July 2019 as a result of the PPA reviewing contracts brought before it for approval either under sole sourcing or restrictive tendering procedures. This is in sharp contrast to the performance of the PPA in the years before 2017, when approvals were given as a matter of course, and no savings achieved at all. An isolated case in point is the contract awarded in 2016 for the supply of two hundred and fifty thousand (250,000) bags of ‘Asaasewura’ cocoa fertilizer. The contract sum amounted to $11.5 million, i.e. $46 per bag of fertiliser. This same contract, under my administration, was reviewed by the PPA in 2018 for $7.87 million, i.e.  $31.50 per bag, resulting in a savings to the exchequer of $3.62 million. There are many such examples. Indeed, only 47% of applications for restricted tender and 56% of applications for sole-sourcing were approved in 2017, as opposed to approvals of 99% for restricted tender and 96% for sole sourcing in 2016. The data for 2018 will be made available soon, but I am confident they will mirror those of 2017.       

The Akufo-Addo government is committed to fighting corruption not just in words, but, more importantly, in deeds. Many of the actions taken by this Government in dealing with alleged acts of corruption, and much of the narrative I have outlined, were unheard off in times past. The days when the “punishment” of erring public officials was their relocation to the Presidency are over. Where prosecutions are called for, they have been or will be initiated. The war against corruption will not be won overnight, but, with political will, it will be won.

Members of the Bar, the Constitution of the 4th Republic guarantees freedom of expression, including freedom of the press and other media, as a fundamental human right, and makes elaborate provisions to protect the freedom and independence of the media. That is why, as Attorney General, under the government of the great Ghanaian statesman, His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor, the 2nd President of the 4th Republic, I led the process, in Parliament, for the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law. The repeal, when it occurred, on 27th July, 2001, was a very happy day for me, representing one of the high points of my public career. In my time as President, the Right to Information Act, whose passage had, hitherto, become a taboo, was finally enacted by Parliament. My attachment to the vital nature of freedom of expression in promoting national progress and security has not changed since I became President.

Ghanaians are, today, as they have been doing for much of the 4th Republic, able to give boldly and freely their feedback on policies and programmes of government; civil society organisations are able to interrogate fearlessly government actions and positions, compare them to global best practices, and offer views and critiques aimed at complementing the efforts of government; and the political opposition is able to raise dissent openly, and canvass without intimidation for alternative viewpoints. No effort is being made to suppress freedom of expression in Ghana. Indeed, the continuing vitality of the Ghanaian media and the intense diversity of our public discourse remain some of the most internationally admired traits of Ghanaian democracy.

However, as I indicated at the World Press Freedom Day event in Accra, last year, there is the need for continuous training, self-regulation and an insistence on acceptable media ethics and journalistic standards by media houses, practitioners and their organizations, as part of the process of installing a culture of accountable governance, requiring high standards and professionalism in the Ghanaian media. This is the one of the surest ways of addressing the current shortcomings and ills of our media landscape.

Deliberate misinformation campaigns, which in themselves are not new in politics and war, have now gained added currency, with the proliferation of media channels, including social media. A major threat to the integrity of the news world, as we have known it, has, thus, emerged. Also, the publication of unverified claims, in the haste to be first to break so-called “news”, is a very worrying trend that must be checked by regulators and media practitioners alike. In such cases, even after the public has been misinformed, and the true facts are later made known, media often chickens out of an honest open acknowledgement that “we erred.” The response is often to refuse to apologise or sweep it under the carpet, and move on to the next big story. Politicians are not the only persons who make mistakes. Media practitioners, like all human beings, can also make mistakes, and, when they do, they should have the humility to acknowledge their error, and not have their misdeeds atoned under the guise of “media freedom”. Irresponsible media practice is an abuse of freedom of expression, not its manifestation.

It was a sad and unfortunate moment for us all, when journalist, Ahmed Suale, was shot and killed by still unknown assailants. It was equally sad and unfortunate, when this heinous act was described, without any evidence, as an attack on media freedom. The tragic murder of a Member of Parliament, the late J.B. Danquah Adu, the prosecution of whose alleged assailants, three years later, is still pending, has not been characterised as an attack on Parliament, and for good reason. Crime is crime, and our law enforcement agencies are required to ensure that the perpetrators of crime are rapidly apprehended and prosecuted. Strenuous efforts are being made to find the killer or killers of Ahmed Suale, who will be found and made to face justice.    

The media has immeasurable power to build up the confidence and values of our society and its institutions. I call on Ghanaian media practitioners to take a second look at the power they wield, and the responsibility they owe society, with a view to ensuring that they do not sacrifice integrity and the future of our society for today’s headline or breaking news.

Members of the Bar, permit me to delve, in conclusion, into a topic which, for me, is also at the heart of the theme of this Conference. Adlai Stevenson, another American statesman, observed, and I quote, “What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility … a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

I dare say it takes patriots to fight corruption, and resist the selfish lure of corruption. It needs state institutions with a patriotic culture and personnel to throw the book at those who steal to deny the school child a table and chair; the driver a motorable road; the senior citizen access to free medical care; and the economy the oxygen to grow for the greater happiness of the greatest number of our people. The true test of our patriotic character is to stand for the right thing, even if it is unpopular or against your own perceived self-interest. You cannot be a patriot, and yet continue to indulge in acts of indiscipline which cost the nation dearly.

Patriotism requires equanimity in the face of criticism when it is well-founded, and anger when the criticism is vicious or irresponsible. The peace, prosperity, and unity of this and coming generations of Ghana can be assured only by our deeds and words of true patriotism, by which we must consciously and steadfastly abide.

“My country! When right, keep it right; when wrong, set it right!” a quote by Carl Schurz, a 19th century German migrant to America, means if you love your country, then play an active role, however seemingly insignificant, to give it the best. Patriotism abhors the pull-him-down attitude. Patriotism celebrates success, and denigrates failure.

If so, then let me encourage all of you gathered here to associate patriotism with the common good, with the aim of responding to conflicts and other difficulties in ways which ensure that everyone, or at least the greatest number, benefits. Associate patriotism with your own productive contribution to nation building.

Let us all make patriotism the backbone of Ghana’s development, cementing the values of the Republic. Patriotism is vital for preserving national unity and state security. It is vital for social and economic development. It is vital for individual fulfillment and self-realisation. It is the “steady dedication” of patriotism that will enable us to build a Ghana Beyond Aid, a Ghana that has discarded a mindset of aid, dependency, charity and handouts, and chartered a path of self-reliance for her progress and prosperity, grounded on an intelligent, disciplined use of her considerable human and material resources. A new Ghanaian civilisation beckons.  

I wish you a successful conference.

May God continue to bless the Ghana Bar Association, and us all, and may God bless our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong.

I thank you for your attention.

SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC, NANA ADDO DANKWA AKUFO-ADDO, AT THE 2019 NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF THE GHANA BAR ASSOCIATION, AT TAKORADI, WESTERN REGION, ON MONDAY, 9TH SEPTEMBER, 2019.

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