As Ghana undergoes the public consultation phase of its constitutional review process, citizens are forced to question their democratic values and whether or not their political institutions are protecting these ideals. Considered to be central to good governance and effective society is an absence of corruption, but governmental institutions existing to deal with cases of corruption are raising questions about whose vision of justice is actually being served under the existing system.
The Serious Fraud Office, Ghana’s foremost governmental anti-corruption institution, was created in 1993 under the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General to investigate economic crimes against the state. However, a strangling hold on its powers by the Attorney General’s Office impedes its effectiveness. “The institutions that fight corruption are so attached to the executive. They are simply not working,” said Professor Amakye Boateng, a political science lecturer at the Kwame Nkruma University of Science and Technology (KNUST). “The interesting thing with our democracy is that when you have Party A in government, the cases that get prosecuted involve parties of the opposition. So when you have another party coming into office, then you get the cases of their opponents getting prosecuted. So, they will tell you when they get in power that there is no problem,” he explained. Boateng credits this issue to the fact that the Attorney General, who holds the ultimate decision whether to persecute a fraud case or not, is appointed by the president, and therefore likely to favour cases of the party in government.
There is concern about the disproportionate number of corruption cases prosecuted from within the parliamentary opposition. While the Attorney General regularly prosecutes crimes from within the opposition parties, many worry that issues of corruption persist untried within the Government. The appointment of high government officials such as the Attorney General is always a contentious issue in Ghana as it fits into the current debate about how much power should be vested in the presidency and places unnecessary pressure on public officials to abide by the wishes of the ruling party out of the fear of losing one’s post.
Ghana’s official government website even speaks highly of the fact that recent cases against the state brought to the SFO have all been ruled in favour of the government. In a section listing the accomplishments of the SFO, it reads, “The Ministry has dealt with a lot of constitutional codes, prominent among them are the Attorney General verses the NDC on three different occasions which all was ruled in favour of the government, as well as the Attorney General verses Tsatsu Tsikata on the constitutionality of the Fast Track court”.
A possible solution for the lop-sided tendencies of the SFO is to give it the power to prosecute crimes independently from the Attorney General. Even if the SFO is granted a prosecution body however, there remains the fact that the SFO only deals with serious economic crimes. Any instances involving fraud that are outside of its financial purview are ignored by the government’s anti-corruption body.
The SFO, by design, investigates and tries only the crimes of corruption that result in a significant, economic loss to the state. Members of civil society, however, have embraced the fact that corruption can be found in virtually every sphere of life, in one’s day to day interactions with businesses or public institutions, and is not limited to crimes of a strictly economic nature. Ghana’s legal definition of corruption includes only bribery according to Florence Dennis, the General Secretary of Ghana’s Anti-Corruption Coalition. The Coalition, along with Ghana’s Integrity Initiative, a national chapter of Transparency International, are just two groups championing the fight against corruption in civil society. They prefer to use the definition prescribed by the World Bank which includes fraud, extortion and money laundering. Mrs. Dennis commented on Ghana’s idea of corruption, “We are growing. We realize that corruption is more broad [sic.] than it is. It’s like an octopus with so many [legs] and attached to so many things, so we need to broaden our definition of corruption.”
Another option would be to pass the general anti-corruption mandate to a different institutional body. The Ghana Integrity Initiative has been calling for the creation of an autonomous body through which to prosecute crimes of corruption. This does not solve the inadequacies of the SFO, and its own prosecution board would still need to be considered, but it provides an outlet for Ghanaians to have their claims heard, investigated and tried without direct influence by an appointed official.
The main objective of these proposed reforms is to have a body that can investigate and try corruption crimes independently from government influence. Therefore, GACC is advocating for a separation of the Attorney General and the judiciary. “The main issue is to separate the main prosecution body from the Minister of Justice so that we have an Attorney General who does not run like a political appointee. He runs as a professional appointed in his own capacity and he does his work professionally,” said Dennis.
[pullquote]“We really have to link corruption, fighting corruption, to human rights and then to poverty reduction for people to see the effect”[/pullquote]
In a public survey by the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) to gauge public opinion on suggested constitutional reforms on various topics including justice institutions, significant majorities supported granting the Committee for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHIRAG) the ability to investigate cases by its own initiative instead of requiring an official complaint. A group of ‘household’ and ‘elite’ respondents were polled respectively in 22 regions with 77% of household respondents and 79% of elite respondents supporting this amendment. Currently, CHIRAG only has the power to investigate cases that have been brought before it, as well as being bound in the same way as the SFO by the Attorney General who “may” choose to prosecute a case or not after the investigation has been completed. Although the idea has been considered by the Constitutional Review Committee, the suggestion of giving CHIRAG its own prosecution powers was supported by 63% of household respondents and only 46% of elite respondents.
In the same study, 74% of household respondents reported that approval by a two-thirds majority in Parliament as opposed to only presidential prerogative should be required to appoint an Attorney General who is currently the head of all governmental justice bodies.
Though civil society is attempting to fill the gaps in Ghana’s anti-corruption institutional infrastructure, it is certainly not without challenges. The lack of a Freedom to Information Act makes it difficult to access statistics and figures relating to corruption issues. Florence Dennis described the frustrations that GACC is facing in trying to monitor and review the general anti-corruption process in Ghana, “That is a flagship work of the GACC, but it has been quite challenging because getting statuses on anti-corruption is not as transparent in our system as it is in other places. We’ve never had the actual figures, so we always talk in a vacuum.”
Monitoring all of Ghana’s anti-corruption laws and institutions is no small task. Ghana’s various pieces of legislation dealing with corruption issues include the Procurement Law, the Asset Declaration Law, and the Whistleblower’s Act and upward of 15 other institutions. Making significant in-roads is the Whistleblower Act, enacted in 2003. It places everyday Ghanaians into the role of social watchdog to guard against corruption, not only in Ghana’s legal sense of the word, but also the broad definition of ‘corruption’ that includes seemingly minor examples of fraud, perhaps in the school of one’s child, or in the daily workings of a hospital. The UN refers to these instances as ‘quiet corruption’. Though only a few dollars may be bribed, extorted or reallocated at a time, the aggregate effect can be a large loss to the community’s financial resources.
The Act encourages society members to report suspected corruption by providing them with the benefits of formal institutions through which to blow the whistle and police protection if needed. GACC has been holding workshops to train civil society on recognizing potential corruption cases as well as the process of whistleblowing as defined by the Act. Funding for their work with the Whistleblower’s Act comes primarily from a pool fund, called the Ghana Research and Advocacy Program, of which the Canadian International Development Agency is a major funding partner.
As civil society organizations continue working to strengthen Ghana’s various anti-corruption institutions, they are reaching out to the general public to impart that corruption is not only limited to financial matters in the upper echelons of society, but rather, that the effects touch everyone. “When you involve yourself in corruption, it deprives you of certain benefits that make you poorer. That’s when people will relate to it, but if you talk about corruption, and only in isolation, without relating it to poverty, without relating it to a development agenda, people will not see the effect,” said Mrs. Dennis of the need to connect corruption to larger development issues. “We really have to link corruption, fighting corruption, to human rights and then to poverty reduction for people to see the effect,” she said.