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Parable of judgment debts

BY: Dr Daniel Nkrumah
 Mr Martin Amidu — Former Special Prosecutor
Mr Martin Amidu — Former Special Prosecutor

The country has been rocked by another judgment debt. The International Court of Arbitration has awarded a total judgment debt with interest and legal fees of about $165 million against the government for the cancellation of a power contract agreement with GCGP Limited.

For a country facing economic challenges, it is extremely disturbing that we are on the verge of losing this amount of money. Also disturbing is the seeming absence of a clear culprit to point fingers at.
The silence from government spokespersons is discomforting.

There is little doubt that time and again, these judgment debts reflect a parable of a political chess game; one political party awards a contract, sometimes in a storm of controversy; then another assumes power and thinks the contract does not grant the state value for money, is not needed, or can be best performed by another contractor, therefore, proceeds to cancel it amidst a hail of criticism and caution on the risk of incurring judgment debts.

Groupthink

Obviously, political actors sometimes fail to appreciate that they are supposed to act in the best interest of the State, and not in pursuit of their interests and egos.

There is dearth of honest men in our politics. The masses are always left stewing in poverty and in extremely crippling darkness with phantom realities; this is a country where propaganda can be flamed so fiercely that it burns down legitimate concerns over disgusting graft.

There is a culture of Groupthink within our political sphere —- the desire to achieve institutional harmony for fear of being labelled a ‘betrayer’ is overpowering.

But that is not a culture we should be cultivating in our political parties, and government, if we want to lift our country out of poverty.

To build a strong nation, there is a pressing requirement for strong institutions and not just strong men.

It has been more than a decade since former US president Barack Obama gave us this sterling advice, but we are still struggling to establish a credible and truly independent Office of the Special Prosecutor to fight corruption.

The truth is, we cannot develop as a country with such Groupthink orientation within the political elite.

Award, termination

First, it is important to start with the procedures that lead to the award and termination of contracts. Over the years, we have dribbled ourselves with various policies that were intended to sanitise the system, only to awkwardly realise that we lack the political will to make them work.

What factors and procedures influence the award of contracts? What procedures and legal arguments inform termination of contracts?

Who bears ultimate responsibility, if there is a judgment debt to be paid? It is important to re-examine the institutional mechanisms and procedures guiding the award and termination of government contracts, and establish safeguards to assure some economic prudence.


Case

Perhaps, the challenges with contracts and judgement debts provide reasons for revisiting the issue of strengthening anti-corruption institutions, and making them truly independent.

It may require stronger political will, considering the nature of our politics.

However, the NPP government under President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo deserves some commendation, for at least, taking the step to establish the Office of the Special Prosecutor.

But then, they need to recognise that a toothless dog supposed to ward off criminals is a drain on the owner’s resources if it can bark but not bite.

While Martin Amidu made bold ‘noises’, his office lacked any serious power. The new Special Prosecutor has been quite demure; little has been heard and one can easily predict that little will be done. It is a script all too familiar.

If political leaders will not act, then the citizens and civil society organisations should rise. The next step is to begin a national debate on how we can make anti-corruption offices truly independent of any government control and empower these institutions to investigate cases bordering on corruption.

Sovereignty resides in the people, but unfortunately, it has been hijacked by politicians, and if Ghanaians should rally together and make their voices heard, the government will be compelled to establish truly independent institutions that can help effectively fight corruption.

It is our biggest bane and a shared responsibility. We cannot afford to fail.

The writer is a lecturer.
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