Ghana’s Special Prosecutor; a cover for the rhetoric on the war against corruption in Ghana or genuine intentions with bottle necks?
By Papisdaff Abdullah Ali
In March 2018, Martin Alamisi Amidu was appointed as Ghana’s first Special Prosecutor by President Nana Addo Danqua Akufo-Addo. The former Attorney General’s job is to investigate and prosecute corrupt persons in public service. The announcement of this new portfolio was a fulfilment of a major campaign promise by the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) to save the public purse which they alleged was being heavily looted by the erstwhile Mahama administration. Ghana, like most countries on the African continent has been battling with financial infractions, and exploitation of state resources among others by persons in public office for personal gains. Indeed, issues bothering on corruption often makes headlines in the media, making it convenient for the political class to spin and or center their election campaign messages on that.
As a member of Ghana’s largest opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Martin Amidu’s historic appointment was welcomed by many, including civil society and the general public due to the fact that his appointment was a departure from the usual practice in the country where most appointments are made on partisan basis. Considering his exploits as a citizen vigilante which resulted in winning back millions of cedis allegedly paid illegally as judgment debts back into the state treasuries, Mr Amidu is considered by many in Ghana to be very independent and strong willed. A former President in Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings said “The President [Akufo-Addo] couldn’t have made a better choice.” His statement on the nomination said Mr. Amidu rose above “partisanship” and recognized him as “a highly principled citizen.”
Eight months after his nomination and parliamentary approval, the Government of Ghana gave the Office of the Special Prosecutor GH¢180 million with a promise to provide additional resources later this year. This comes after series of lamentations by the Special Prosecutor over lack of logistics and funds to help his office carry out its mandate of investigating and prosecution.
The written protest cited the resignation of US Attorney General Jeff Session as a case which could be repeated as a result of the fate he is being left to face. The former Attorney General and Minister of Justice said he is being starved of resources either deliberately or inadvertently.
“One year down the line,
the Office of the Special Prosecutor
(OSP) has only a small three bedroom house as an Office woefully inadequate for lack of sheer physical space to accommodate any reasonable number of employees, lack of subsidiary legislation, and consequently also financially crippled without any ability to acquire the requisite expensive operational anti-corruption and other equipment for the Office let alone to function efficiently,” he wrote in the article titled ‘The Whitaker Scenario – Stifling Independent Investigative Agencies of Funds’.
His sentiments reflected largely the concerns and questions about what the office has been doing since its inception. Dean of Studies and Research at the Institute of Local Government Studies, Dr Oduro Osai, is reported to have said, “the Special Prosecutor has failed us.” Others who have also petitioned the Special Prosecutor on cases of alleged corruption express open disappointment in the slow pace of work by President Akufo Addo’s entrusted man to fight graft in Ghana. They feel Mr Amidu has not walked his talk nearly 18 months after his assumption of office.
Some actors in the Civil Society space have also been demanded openness from the OSP while questioning the delays in getting results. Edem Senanu of the Citizens Movement Against Corruption has urged the office to be transparent and open with information. “I do not know whether it is the style of the Special Prosecutor not to give anything out, but it is not helpful,” he stressed.
Others wonder how structures had been set for the operation of the newly created six regions, but the government did not seem to have what it took to establish the office properly and completely to work efficiently. This is because even the budgetary allocation and resource disbursement of the office is anything but certain. The opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) is however not shocked by the seeming inaction of the Special Prosecutor. The party’s General Secretary Johnson Asiedu Nketia declared his ‘prophesy’ that “Martin Amidu would come under criticism for doing nothing” had come to pass. Member of Parliament for Tamale North, Alhassan Suhuyini, expressed concerns about President Akufo-Addo’s approach to the fight against corruption. “Corruption under Akufo-Addo is nothing to write home about. Anytime there is scandal in this government the only pattern Akufo-Addo takes is, ‘suspend’, ‘cleared’, ‘reinstate’ or ‘reassign’ and this attitude isn’t changing. This is the rotten pattern they know,” he stated.
The later part of August 2019 saw the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) sitting on a case involving the Chief Executive Officer of Ghana’s Public Procurement Authority (PPA). Mr. Agyenim Boateng Adjei. He was suspended by the President Akufo Addo in the wake of an investigative report alleging improper conduct on his side.
The suspended CEO according to an investigative documentary titled “Contracts for Sale” was found engaging in acts of selling government contracts using a private company. “You are accordingly being invited both as the Chief Executive Officer of the Public Procurement Authority and a Director and Shareholder of the said companies to assist in the investigations pursuance of section 29 and 73 of the Office of the Special Prosecutor Act, 2017 (Act 959) and Regulation 10 of the office of the Special Prosecutor (Operations) Regulations, 2018” a letter from the Office of the Special Prosecutor said.
Prior to that, the Special Prosecutor had filed one case in court; 24 others are reportedly being investigated by his office. Leaked documents purported to be coming from the office of Martin Amidu shows there are 25 cases on his desk at the moment. Former President John Mahama who is seeking to be president again, is reportedly being sought-after by the Special Prosecutor for his alleged role in the diversion of $13m from the E.O Group, a company with a 3.5% interest in Ghana’s 2007 oil find. The former President who is said to be a respondent in the case has ridiculed the claims. This is an allegation made by the Special Prosecutor, Martin Amidu in December 2016 during his days of writing articles that became a source of media stories and political debates in Ghana.
There is also a case of money-laundering against Nana Oye Lithur, former Gender and Social Protection Minister in the Mahama administration. Still in the NDC, a case against Mahama Ayariga, a former Minister of Information, who is accused of evading tax in the importation of vehicles. Also a subject of interest for the Special Prosecutor is the governing party’s chairman, Freddie Blay after fulfilling an expensive promise to get each of the 275 constituencies a mini-bus in part. The $11m promise appealed to delegates and got him retained as NPP National Chairman. His re-election however ignited accusations of vote-buying and questions about how Mr Blay who is also the Ghana National Petroleum Commission (GNPC) Board chairman could pull off such a deal that included funding from banks.
Again, former Chief Executive of the Bulk Oil Storage and Transport (BOST) Alfred Obeng Boateng who has been fingered in the decision to sell 1.8m barrels of crude oil at a discounted price which allegedly cost the nation 30m cedis in revenue is also of interest. The wife of maverick NPP MP, Kennedy Agyapong who is a beneficiary of a $100 million sole-sourced contract is also reported to be on the list of the Special Prosecutor.
Authenticity of list
Board Chairperson of the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP), Mrs Linda Ofori-Kwafo, has asked the Ghanaian public to disregard a list of cases making the rounds. She said the list, if authentic, should rather be a cause for concern for all, as it would mean that there was a mole in the office leaking information not meant for the public yet. “The list that is supposed to come out, according to the law, is a list of investigated cases. So if anyone puts out a list of cases being investigated and others yet to be, it is not right,” she said in response to a publication detailing the cases at the office of the Special Prosecutor.
She said as the chair of the board, she did not know about current investigations at the office, neither did any board member. “If we knew, that would amount to interference in the operations of the office,” she said. “I know the expectation of Ghanaians is to see some prosecutions; however, we must make sure that the office works procedurally,” she stated.
Director for Advocacy and Policy Engagement at pro-democracy think tank, CDD-Ghana, , in an assessment of the office since its establishment, said there were gaps to be filled at all the stages in the establishment of the office. Dr Kojo Asante said the appointment of an executive secretary to run the office and consult on the passage of the Legislative Instrument to operationalize the Special Prosecutor’s Act, 2017 (Act 915) was still outstanding.
No lawyers have been recruited yet, a human resource crisis that underlines the office’s slow pace of work and fast-growing public criticism. “Without a bigger place, new officers would not have a workings space. However, the processes of recruitment can start, in anticipation of the office being ready. This means the President must exercise his discretion to delegate the power of appointment of Staff to the Board or the Special Prosecutor himself as quickly as possible,” Dr Asante said.
He again stressed the need for the board of the OSP to draft a medium-term strategic plan for the office despite the fact that a lot of things ought to be prioritized. “Not only does this ensure continuity at their early stage; it also provides a framework for those who want to support the office,” he said. Dr Asante also emphasized the need for stronger coordination among governmental anti-corruption institutions because of the duplication of efforts in investigations into the same issues. For instance, he said, some tax evasion cases before the OSP were also being investigated by the Economic and Organized Crime Office (EOCO). Dr Asante also identified gaps in the financing and operations of the OSP.
President Akufo Addo’s sworn way out of political graft in Ghana is through a man he has appointed Special Prosecutor, first in the history of the West African Country. Martin Amidu, a former Attorney General and Minister for Justice may have an enviable record of protecting the public purse through his personal initiatives and exploits. But events, actions and or inactions that has characterized his time in office so far is anything but encouraging. Already, there is growing apprehension among majority of Ghanaians; the skeptic are convinced that the office is a cover for the rhetoric on the war against corruption in Ghana judging from what has happened so far. But as time goes by, the optimists are patiently waiting to confirm their position that this is a genuine intention with bottle necks.