The 2023 Ghana Bar Conference is on the theme: Ensuring High Standard and Integrity in Public Life: The Role of Legal Profession
I am grateful to the Bar Council for the invitation and opportunity to address this year’s Bar Conference, my seventh time of doing so as President of the Republic. I am aware that it is a privilege, which I will continue not to abuse.
Before I touch on the theme of this year’s conference, “Ensuring High Standards and Integrity in Public Life; The Role of the Legal Profession”, I want to place on record my appreciation, once again, to the Council for making me a member in permanent good-standing, i.e., one who does not have to pay dues. It is an enviable status, one which I cherish. I am also very grateful to the President and members of the Council for re-arranging today’s programme in a manner that allows me to fulfill other important engagements of the day. It means, unfortunately, that I will not be able to enjoy the fellowship of the traditional lunch after this ceremony, which allows us all to break bread together. God willing, next year, we will resume the fellowship, as I continue to be extremely proud of my membership of this Association, which has been, and continues to be, so devoted to advancing the public interest of our nation.
Learned friends, I come from a background where public service is considered a duty, and where privilege and good fortune demand even greater commitment to the common good. Generations of my forebears and relations established this rich tradition of public service, to which I am greatly indebted, as it is a source of constant inspiration.
Indeed, Kofi Abrefa Busia, Prime Minister of the Progress Party government of the 2nd Republic, and one of the great Ghanaians, said in these pregnant words: “We regard politics as an avenue of service to our fellow men. We hold that political power is to be exercised to make life nobler and happier.”
I am fully aware of the responsibility the job of President of the Republic brings, as I am fortunate enough to carry a sense of the history and struggles that made that job possible, as well as being apprised of the challenges and opportunities of the future. Crucial to the progressive and prosperous future I seek to help create for the Ghanaian people is how to sustain their confidence in the democratic journey on which we have embarked.
We celebrated, this year, thirty (30) years of multiparty democracy under the Constitution of the 4th Republic, which has provided the framework for the longest period of uninterrupted, stable, constitutional governance in our otherwise turbulent history. Next year, we will be going to the polls, for the ninth time in the 4th Republic, to elect a new President and new Members of Parliament. We will, in the results of those polls, witness either the changing of power from one political party to another, as we have done on three (3) separate occasions in the 4th Republic, or the breaking of the eight, something that has never happened before in the 4th Republic. I am sure I do not need to tell you what my preference is. It is public knowledge. What is important, however, is that the Ghanaian people have demonstrated that they are fully conversant with the process of peaceful democratic transitions, and need no lessons in the exercise of their democratic rights.
Maintaining high standards and integrity in public life is key to extending our association with multiparty democracy.
As one writer put it, and I quote, “Standards in public life help to maintain the health of the democratic system and uphold public confidence in it. They help prevent politicians and officials from being swayed by outside interests in their decision making, and help to maintain a political culture that fosters open and constructive debate. They, thereby, contribute to a political system that is fair, inclusive, stable, and effective.”
The Ghanaian people are expectant that Parliament, the legislative arm of government, will continue to grow into its proper role as an effective machinery for accountability and oversight of the Executive, and not be its junior partner. Parliament must stand out as an institution that represents all the values that we hold dear and in which citizens can take pride. Our Judiciary must inspire confidence in the citizenry, so we can all see the courts as the ultimate arbiters when disputes arise. A Ghanaian judge must be a reassuring presence and the epitome of fairness.
Ensuring High Standards and Integrity in public life has its own impact on the image of our nation, and our ability to attract the substantial amounts of investment, foreign and domestic, needed to help grow our economy. We will attract the requisite investments if we continue to hold ourselves as a haven of peace, security and stability; and if we continue to show that we are a country where the separation of powers is real and the principles of democratic accountability and respect for the rule of law, individual liberties and human rights are firmly entrenched in our body politic. The legal profession has a catalytic role to play in guaranteeing the sustenance of these values, and, thereby, in helping us uphold the maintenance of integrity in the ordering of our state.
Learned friends, in recent times, the debate on standards and integrity in public life has centered, largely, on the fight against corruption, and whether or not this President and his government are doing enough to combat this canker.
It is true that corruption is not an exclusively Ghanaian phenomenon, but one which permeates all nations of the world. It results in reputational damage to businesses and establishments, and undermines the public trust in governments. The manifestations of corruption are getting increasingly complex, as they often occur with the aid of professional enablers, such as accountants, lawyers, bankers, real estate agents, shell companies and opaque financial systems that provide opportunities for the laundering and concealment of illicit wealth. If not controlled, corruption can stultify the economic aspirations of any nation. Globally, the World Economic Forum has estimated the cost of corruption around the world at some US$2.6 trillion a year.
I accepted the invitation to speak here in order to take advantage of this occasion to place, once again, my government’s record on corruption for public scrutiny. It will show that my government has undertaken, arguably, the boldest initiatives since our nation attained independence, nearly sixty-six (66) years ago, to reform and strengthen the capacity of our institutions to tackle corruption in the public sector.
Charity, they say, begins at home, and that is why, so far, every single alleged act of corruption levelled against any of my appointees has been investigated by independent bodies, such as CHRAJ, the CID, and, in some cases, by Parliament itself. It is not my job to clear or convict any person accused of wrongdoing, or of engaging in acts of corruption. That is the job of the courts and the law enforcement agencies. 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 action, including, if necessary, the suspension of the affected official, pending the conclusion of investigations. That is exactly what has been done since I assumed the mantle of leadership on 7th January, 2017. From the allegations against the then Minister-Designate for Energy, Boakye Agyarko, at his parliamentary confirmation hearings in 2017; to that against the former CEO of BOST, Hon. Alfred Obeng; to those against the then two deputy Chiefs of Staff at the Office of the President, Hon. Francis Asenso Boakye and Hon. Samuel Abu Jinapor; to the conflict of interest allegations against the Minister for Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta; to the claims of extortion against the then Trade and Industry Minister-designate, Alan Kyerematen, at his parliamentary confirmation hearings in 2017; to allegations of doubling in visa racketeering against the then deputy Minister for Youth and Sports, Pius Hadzide, and the then Director General of the National Sports Authority, Hon. Robert Sarfo Mensah who, even though exonerated by the CID, later resigned; the Chairperson of the Board of the National Sports Authority, Hon. Kwadwo Baah Agyemang ; to the allegations of bribery levelled against the Secretary to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining, Charles Bissue; to those involving the dismissed acting CEO of the Public Procurement Authority (PPA), A. B Adjei; and the dismissed CEO of the National Youth Authority, Emmanuel Asigiri – they have all been investigated and, in most cases, cleared by the authorised institutions of our state, and not by President Akufo-Addo. The latest episode involving the former Minister for Sanitation and Water Resources, Hon. Cecilia Abena Dapaah, is evident for all to see. I am not aware of any government in the 4th Republic subjecting so many of its officials to such investigations and inquiries. At the same time, several officials of the previous Mahama administration, such as William Matthew Tetteh Tevie, Alhaji Salifu Mimina Osman and Eugene Baffoe-Bonnie, in the infamous $4 million NCA scandal, have been tried and convicted of various corruption-related offences, and several others, including Dr. Stephen Opuni, the former CEO of COCOBOD, and Hon. Cassiel Ato Forson, the Minority Leader in Parliament, are standing trial as we speak.
None of the accountability institutions of state, including the new Office of Special Prosecutor, have ever indicated any pressure from the Executive over their investigations. 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. 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, and that access to information is a vital tool in the fight against corruption, my government, in its first term, ensured the passage of the Right to Information Act, 2019 (Act 989), in order to give true meaning and effect to article 21(1)(f) of the Constitution. The Act, which successive governments had failed to pass, sees to the implementation of the constitutional right to information, held by a public institution, to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public affairs, subject to exemptions necessary and consistent with the protection of the public interest in a democratic society. The Act is being implemented fully now, with the governing Board chaired by an experienced, retired High Court Judge. The Ministry of Information has trained information officers in various Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government to support the full application of the law.
In 2018, again during my 1st term, Parliament passed the Witness Protection Act, 2018, (Act 975), to which I gave assent on 24th August the same year. The Act 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.
The Criminal Offences (Amendment) Act, 2020, (Act 1034), has been passed to amend section 239 of the Criminal Offences Act, to categorise the offence of corruption, previously a misdemeanor, as a felony, and to provide stiffer punishments of terms of imprisonment of not less than twelve (12) years and not more than twenty-five (25) years in prison.
Other laws passed by Parliament, at the instigation of my 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), including its provisions on the register of beneficial owners;
- Narcotics Control Commission Act, 2020 (Act 1019) and
- Real Estate Agency Act, 2020 (Act 1047).
Administratively, a series of other far-reaching measures have been undertaken by my government to help in the fight against corruption. A Memorandum of Understanding, on information exchange and collaboration in combating corruption and crime in general, has been signed by CHRAJ, EOCO, Parliament, Office of the Attorney-General, Ghana Audit Service, Ghana Police Service, Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), Narcotics Control Commission, Internal Audit Agency, National Investigations Bureau (NIB), and the Office of the Special Prosecutor, to this end.
Underlying the digitalisation agenda of my 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, 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. 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’.
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, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), the Ghana Police Service, the Economic and Organised Crimes Office (EOCO), and the Financial Intelligence Centre, have witnessed unprecedented increases since I assumed office in 2017. At the end of 2022, the budgetary allocation to Parliament witnessed a one hundred percent (100%) increase, compared to what I inherited in 2016; the Police saw its budget increase by two hundred and seventy-four percent (274%) at the end of 2022, in comparison to 2016; the Audit Service recorded a two hundred and fifty-eight percent (258%) rise in its budgetary allocation at the end of 2022, as compared to 2016; the budget of the Judiciary rose by thirty-six percent (36%) at the end of 2022, compared to 2016; the budget of the Office of the Attorney-General increased by one hundred and sixty-two percent (162%) at the end of 2022, compared to 2016; the budget of EOCO increased by forty-seven percent (47%) at the end of 2022, in comparison to 2016; the budget of the Financial Intelligence Centre increased by four hundred and forty-three percent (443%), compared to 2016; whilst the budget of CHRAJ increased by ninety-nine percent (99%) at the end of 2022, compared to 2016. These figures 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.
In the area of investigations and prosecution of corruption and corruption related offences, a distinct innovation was undertaken by my 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 in the 4th Republic, 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 some as a key factor allegedly standing in the way of law enforcement and prosecution as a credible tool in the fight against corruption before 2017. Even though the President appoints the Special Prosecutor, the President cannot, unilaterally, unlike in the case of the Attorney General, remove the Special Prosecutor from office. Article 15 of Act 959 vests the power to remove the Special Prosecutor in a Committee established by the Chief Justice, with the President acting only in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee. His or her independence of the President is, thereby, assured.
Learned friends, in as much as public officials are required to declare their assets upon taking office, as a tool of fighting corruption, a constitutional requirement which has been fulfilled by virtually all officials of both my administrations, I am, however, of the candid opinion that existing legislation on corruption, relating to the conduct of public officers in Ghana, appears to be inadequate to deal extensively with public office accountability. The need to lay down a set of far-reaching and a more fit for purpose set of regulations for the conduct of public officers, which will give effect to the provisions of Chapter 24 of the Constitution on Conduct of Public Officers, is, in my view, now self-evident.
The Attorney-General, on behalf of Government, is leading the effort to enact a law on the Conduct of Public Officers. He has undertaken various stakeholder consultations with a number of public sector organisations, civil society and other interest groups to this end. When passed into law, the Conduct of Public Officers Act will follow the example of legislations in other jurisdictions like the United States Ethics in Government Act of 1978, the Public Officers Ethics Act of Kenya of 2003, and the U.K. Constitutional and Governance Act of 2010, in addressing issues regarding financial portfolios held by public officers before assuming public office, links to family business, improper enrichment, care of public property, professional practices, property, investments/shareholdings and other assets, self-dealing, partiality in the performance of duties, use of public or confidential information to further private interest, amongst others.
The Bill will provide a gamut of stringent administrative measures and sanctions to deal with violations of the law, ranging from a bar against holding public office for limited and indefinite periods, to penal measures. The Bill will also seek to strengthen the role of CHRAJ in the investigation of allegations of contravention of or non-compliance with the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, including conflict of interest, non-declaration of assets, and illicit enrichment. The Attorney General will bring the Bill soon for the consideration of Cabinet and subsequent enactment by Parliament, upon the conclusion of his consultations.
What I have done is to show you that my government has fought and is fighting corruption not just in high-sounding words, but, actually, in concrete deeds. We have shunned mere exhortations and showy denunciations of unproved corruption. It has been a holistic approach. 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 mere lip-service.
I can assure you that the fight to enhance standards and integrity in public life will continue under the Akufo-Addo Government. We will enforce the law, no matter who is affected because it is a necessary foundation for the successful fight against corruption, and for guaranteeing integrity in public life. The law must truly be no respecter of persons.
Learned friends, I know that, in some common law countries, particularly in the United States of America, the political colour of judges is a legitimate topic of public discourse. Indeed, judges at the District and State levels, within the federal structure of the American Government, are elected officials, and, even though judges at the federal level, including those of the Federal Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court, are appointed by the President, with the consent of the Senate, their political colouring is generally well-known and accepted. Historically, this has not been the case in Ghana, largely because of the critical, controlling role of the Judicial Council, a non-partisan body chaired by the Chief Justice, in the process of judicial appointments. It has meant that judicial appointments are conducted essentially on the basis of professional merit and suitability. Appointments to the lower courts, the High Court and the Court of Appeal are done by the President, exclusively on the advice of the Judicial Council. In the case of appointments to the Supreme Court, because of its unique position in our judicial structure, there are the additional requirements of the consultation of the Council of State and the approval of Parliament. In the overwhelming number of cases of justices-designate to the Supreme Court, that approval has been given on a bi-partisan basis. You can count on the fingers of a hand the number of justices-designate whose approval met less than unanimous consent. I have gone into this matter in some detail because of a new concept that has been recently introduced into our public discourse by no less a public figure than the 4th President of the 4th Republic, the perennial NDC presidential candidate, John Dramani Mahama, who has told the world that I have packed the courts with so-called “NPP judges”, and that one of the key purposes of a putative NDC victory in 2024 will be to enable him balance the courts with so-called “NDC judges”. Not only are these concepts of “NPP” and “NDC” judges new in our public discourse, they are also extremely dangerous, and represent the most brazen attack on the independence of the judiciary by any allegedly responsible politician of the 4th Republic. They provide another reason, if more were needed, why right-thinking citizens should ensure the defeat in 2024 of the man whom the first Special Prosecutor identified as Government Official No.1, in the still unresolved Airbus Bribery Scandal.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute my thoughts to this important conversation, and to the deliberations on the theme of this Conference, and I wish you a successful meeting.
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.