There is ricin in the air

BY: Nana Yaa Ofori-Atta
Dr Mahamudu Bawumia
Dr Mahamudu Bawumia

Never mind wishful thinking.  Last seen strutting on Oxford Street in London, Ghana's Vice President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, maintains his jolly smile and jaunt. What to say? Ricin is a highly toxic substance, produced in the seeds of the castor oil plant. 

A few grains of that substance in the form of powder, a mist, a pellet or dissolved in water or weak acid, can kill an adult. There is, indeed, ricin in the air.  A creative killer may look to that which is wafting up from the books of the Auditor General (AG).

The AG,  Mr Daniel Domelevo, has issued his first stink bomb loaded with dire implications for adults who have taken liberties, that is more than a few grains and coins, with the public purse.  

The report investigating the 2016 spend by 31 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) details some GH¢4 billion worth of spending by MDAs, GH¢5.48 billion by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) that the AG has finally exercised the powers of his office to label as 'disallowed' and thus rejected.  It is a first.

And the top five MDAs who most indulged in nefarious financial activity in 2016 were the Ministries of Health, Railway Development, Roads and Highways, Defence and Education.  The Ministries of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Energy as well as the Electoral Commission also received special commendation for taking the mick.

Having issued this report, the ministry of finance is now authorised to approve payments to genuine creditors and work with the AG to stand firm against those demanding payment for unapproved spend.  Worse yet, given how slow the wheels of justice turn, if payments have already been made, then the government of Ghana will have to bear down and go after them.  One after the crooked other.   Mr Alfred Agbesi Woyome's GH¢ 52 million debt to the Ghanaian taxpayer is still hanging.  The record of recouping in real time does not look good,  at all.

It has never happened before now - OCAGOSP

There is a lot to be said for learning by rote.  "River Offin, Pra, Birem, River Densu, Volta...".  I have committed quite a lot to memory: the rivers, BODMAS,  the Solar Systems:  'My Very Eyes May Just See Under Nine Planets'.  So I could manage in theory, at least one or two questions on the geography of Ghana, the positioning of planets and the first six calculations of an elementary maths test in Achimota Primary. Technically.  Things got a lot trickier in secondary school.  And that is another story for another column.

There has been in the last few months, culminating in the last few weeks and days, a quiet convergence of the sort that should also be committed to memory.   The quiet confluence that has occurred in Ghana overtime that citizens should remember is OCAGOSP. It represents the focus and the strength of will by civil society meeting a determined professional response by a public official and a welcome move by a president to deliver a noose.  Now to prosecute with evidence and collect, with punitive prejudice.

Intended and Unintended Effects

It was OccupyGhana (OC) that went to court to compel the Office of AG to actually issue certificates of Disallow and Surcharge when audit findings into public spend demonstrated clear breeches.  Without OC's determined refusal to accept the status quo, we would never have seen the likes of this report.

When OC started their action to compel Disallow and Surcharge certificates, the AG then, was a certain Richard Quartey, he managed to leave office without raising a finger on this matter.  Quartey, retired.  Next,  former President John( IV) Mahama appointed this AG at the very last minute, with unintended effects.  Surely.  2016 Disallows and imminent Surcharges puts the very fundamentals of the Mahama administration firmly under the spotlight.  

It is this President, Nana Akufo-Addo, who has nominated Martin Amidu to lead in the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP). The OSP is to focus solely on the pursuit of corruption by public officials.  After Amidu receives his without a doubt, turbulent moment with the Appointments Committee of Parliament, he has to address OCAGOSP, a quick step we have never danced before.  Evidence provided of public sector corruption, now prosecute.    OC+AG+OSP = OYIWAA.    

At this Juncture

OC has raised the bar, again.  One of their latest public advocacy campaigns is a call for the AG to lean definitively forward, based on the inherent powers of the Office, to verify all assets and liabilities declared by public officials.  Are the assets and liabilities of current public officials in accordance with the law; do said assets as declared actually exist so that a public official does not retroactively acquire them while in office; are declarations submitted within the time prescribed by the 1992 Constitution; will any new assets acquired while in office by a public official subject to the Public Office Holders (Declaration of Assets and Disqualification) Act, 1998 (Act 550) regime be included in an update and verified by the AG?  If public officials do, indeed, declare their assets, on time, why does the current interpretation of  the 1992 Constitution enable them to do so in sealed envelopes?  This action by the OC will target disclosures by current and future public officials.

Right to Information

By happy coincidence, on May 2 and  May 3, 2018, Ghana will host the next global World Press Freedom Day, in partnership with UNESCO, and many others, keen to celebrate and advance press freedom and the cause of journalism.

The Media Foundation for West Africa has pointed out, publicly, again, that Ghana does not have a Right to Information (RTI) law that should enable all citizens including and beyond journalists, to formally request and receive in a timely manner, information, particularly, relating to the conduct of public officials, that enables them to make informed decisions and ask edgy questions about governance.  

Twenty one  African countries, more than half in the sub-region alone, have adopted the RTI in some form or the other.   After OCAGOSP, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, close the circle and push the boundaries of governance even further.  Show us and Parliament the RTI in its current amended draft state.  What are you waiting for?  A suit by OC or a concerned citizen?   There is ricin in the air.  It affects previous, current and past office holders.