Yesterday in the afternoon, I was in court when a call came from Joynews seeking an interview on government’s plan to make corruption a felony by amending portions of our laws on crime.
I have known there is something wrong with that general claim by anti-corruption crusaders and even by very senior lawyers and retired judges that corruption thrives in Ghana because it is punished as a misdemeanour – i.e. petty crime. Well, I was under the same impression until the trainer of judges and Court of Appeal’s Justice Dominic Dennis Adjei pointed me to the correct situation sometime in 2015 during the Chief Justice’s Forum.
That years’ forum, coming on the back of the rot within the judiciary as captured by the enigmatic Anas, focussed on how to combat judicial corruption. The main speaker, a mate, and best friend had brilliant solutions but also made the hackneyed call for amending the law to make corruption a felony. I had just prepared a special paper on a review of sorts of our anti-corruption laws. This paper was for leaders and key stakeholders in the anti-corruption fight, and I had made a similar call as part of my many recommendations to make corruption a high-risk offence and the laws a lot more effective.
I had to later fix that part of my paper accordingly but to say that an amendment should raise the threshold of the punishment from five to ten years minimum. The maximum sentence according to the 1965 amendment is twenty-five years. So, while corruption is generally classified as a misdemeanour in the 1960 law, it is not punished as a misdemeanour (i.e a maximum of three years in jail and potentially without hard labour), but corruption has since 1965 been legislated to be punished as a second-degree felony. This punishment of up to twenty-five years in jail often, automatically, comes with hard labour. So, there is point – this business of making major the campaign promise to elevate the offence of corruption to a felony might not be necessary after all. The Finance Minister mentioned the sections in the 1960 Act 29 up for amendment to include the mother section on corruption 239: “Every public officer or juror who commits corruption, or wilful oppression, or extortion, in respect of the duties of his office, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour. Whoever corrupts any person in respect of any duties as a public officer or juror shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.”
But this together with ancillary sections including the section 151 on extortion, 251 on deceiving a public officer, 124 on stealing, 131 on defrauding by false pretence, 138 on fraud et al have been elevated from misdemeanour to felony by section 5 of the 1965 Act 261: “A person convicted of a criminal offence under any of the following sections of the Criminal Offence Act, 1960 (Act 29) ….is liable to a term of imprisonment not exceeding twenty-five years.”
Yes, like Ace Ankomah, I think often we waste precious time on what to do when we indeed have some of the best laws to eradicate corruption. The problem isn’t the lack of biting laws as it is about the lack of enforcement. Ever heard about the Government Contracts (Protection) Act, 1979 (Act 58)? This is a scant but monstrous six-sectioned one-paged law crafted to exact high-quality execution of government-sponsored infrastructural contracts and service delivery. A violation, especially making fraudulent payments attracts a refund of up to three times the value of the contract plus a possible jail term of up to ten years.
Guess what? This watertight anti-corruption law with a clear purpose to not only jail but recover the loot in threefold and deny looters a chance to return to enjoy their loot, is not known to have been used since it was enacted in 1979.
Over $1 billion is paid in bribes around the world each year. This enriches the corrupt at the expense of generations. An act of corruption each contributes to global poverty, obstructs development and drives away investment. That’s the World Bank speaking in 2004. The framers of our constitution as far back as 1992 recognised this and required in article 35(8) that: “The state shall take steps to eradicate corrupt practices and the abuse of power.”
Let’s just do it, and stop the ritual grandstanding political tokenism of lip service. Next Saturday, God willing, I should share practical experiences about how the fear of politicians by some of the best police officers, BNI, EOCO, CHRAJ, etc work to either weaken these fine laws or lead to their misapplication and the state’s inability to get many convictions as a result. I am talking about the BNI that arrested and detained a man for allegedly taking pictures of cars parked in the compound of a company belonging to a National Security Adviser. How do you expect a police officer to do their work professionally when they get transferred for allegedly heckling one of the montie three after one of their contempt sessions at the Supreme Court?
Samson Lardy ANYENINI