Minister of interior speaks to Daily Graphic and declares; Let’s work together for peace & security

BY: Daily Graphic
Mark Woyongo, Interior Minister

Daily Graphic (DG). Good morning Minister.  A lot of concern has been expressed by the public over the proliferation of private security agencies in this country. Is there any conscious plan to ensure that they do not become a problem for us some day?

Minister (M): Thank you very much. I think that your concern and the concerns of other people with regard to these security companies are well grounded. I myself have had the occasion to wonder how these security companies are given licences, whether they are really vetted before being given the licences, whether there is a database of all these security companies because every day, every week, I get requests for licence to operate  security companies. As a result of that the Ministry has suspended the issuance of licences until we have built a database.

This will let us know how many security companies that are operating in Accra, how many security agencies operate in various towns and cities, so that at the end of the day we do not have too many security companies in one particular region. That is the first step.

The second step is that we are going to have some discussions with the Police Administration so that all security companies will have their people trained by the Ghana Police. Another plan is that we will have a pool of young men who have been trained by the Ghana Police as security guards so that as and when you form your security company there is that pool of trained security officers that you can go and recruit for your company. I think if we do it that way we will be in a position to as well check the background of all those people who enlist for the training, which will be done by National Security,  Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) and the Ghana Police Service. 

This will also make the training uniform so that standards will be the same for every company. 

DG: Who will finance this training and who will bring the people for the training, the security agencies or the police?

M: We are yet to discuss it with the Police. We will have to work it out with the Police Administration but obviously it will involve some payments at least to cover the facilities that they will use, since we do not have a budget for it. Those who will go for the training will pay a fee. That is what I can say for now.

Let me add that the issue of uniforms is also being looked at. At the moment it is difficult to differentiate some personnel of these private security firms from the regular security services because some have similar uniforms. We will deal with that as well.

DG: Fire outbreaks have become an annual ritual. They are also a security concern which comes within the purview of the Ministry of the Interior. How are you tackling these?

M: Two days ago I launched a national fire safety campaign at the head office of the Ghana National Fire Service. It is a campaign which will draw awareness to these rampant fire outbreaks which bring in their wake destruction of property and loss of lives.  

Fire outbreaks are caused by so many factors, especially in the markets.  One main cause is Illegal connections that are haphazardly and unprofessionally done. We also have the reckless use of gas cylinders that cause explosions in the market and these lead to the outbreak of fires in the markets. 

I know that some of them are done wilfully for reasons known to the arsonists. Some people who might have insured their properties think that is a very quick way to get some money and that is what I find very very unfortunate, especially in this area where the culture of insurance has not caught up with our market women and men. 

Elsewhere, smokers also contribute to some of the fire outbreaks. People smoke and they just throw the remains of the cigarette in the bush and it causes fire especially in the north in the dry season. Because of the harmattan, the least fire extends and engulfs so many areas within a very short period and the consequences are obvious. The fire ravages rice, corn and maize farms. 

We can curb this menace by ensuring that ECG inspects the electrical wirings in all our markets to ensure that there are no illegal wirings and that the wiring is done by professionals. 

We also need to ensure that we do a lot of public education, which is very important. Because for me, I think prevention is better than cure. Preventing a fire is better than fighting a fire because in the process even the fire service men get injured and some lose their lives. We need to educate the public about the need to protect their property against fires. Everybody must be very cautious; they must be weary of the consequences of misuse of fire.  

DG: Talking about education and the programme that you launched, what measures have been instituted? Most a time, after the launch of a beautiful programme we go to sleep. Have there been follow-ups to ensure that the programme is being carried through?

M: The fire service has a team that goes round to inspect premises, either in the market or public premises, to ensure that certain precautions have been taken against fire. 

I know they have even been to your office and I have told them that they should make sure that all sensitive public places are provided with fire extinguishers and other fire protection support so that at least, we can protect those places. 

I think also there will be the need for us to convince the managers of those public institutions to insure their properties. This is part of the sensitisation campaign we are doing. 

DG: There have been media reports of people who have been arrested for recruitment scam. This has gone on and it particularly involves agencies and departments under your ministry. What measures have been put in place to ensure that these criminals don’t take the citizenry for a ride?

M: I think that we need to do a bit of public sensitisation, again through public education. We know that before you are recruited into the police service you would have to apply after the publication has been done in the newspapers. You would have to go through an aptitude test, after that you would have to go through an interview. 

After the interview if you are selected you would have to go and do the medical test. So if somebody comes and is just giving you a letter straightaway to go to the training school, it should tell you that there is something wrong. It should ring alarm bells, you yourself should be suspicious because that is not the procedure. 

Now the police are saying that henceforth people who buy such illegal forms can be charged for possessing illegal documents. And I am sure that if we prosecute one or two people it will send the right signals to the population. 

In my constituency seven people said they paid GH¢5,000 each that is GH¢35,000 (350 million old cedis). 

DG:   Now to peace generally in the country.  You recently returned from Bunkprugu, Nankpanduri area. We know Alavanyo, Nkonya, Peki, Tsito, and Yendi. What has the Ministry been doing and what do you think are the safeguards?

M: Well the Ministry believes that the solution lies in dialogue. We have passed the stage when we can settle our differences through the barrel of the gun. We need to sit down and dialogue and compromise. That   is the only way and that is the message I keep giving to people at the trouble spots. That is why over the last two years I have made very frantic efforts to bring back the Mamprusis, Bawku into peace talks. It has taken me two years to bring them back to the peace stools because I know that in such conflict situations, there is no substitute for dialogue. 

Failing that, the law courts are there. Let the law take its course. Go through the law courts and let them decide who is wrong and who is right. The traditional councils are also there especially when the issues relate to chieftaincy. 

They should go through the traditional house of chiefs, the district traditional council, the regional traditional council, the National House of Chiefs. After you have exhausted all these and you are still not satisfied, the law court is there, the highest court – the Supreme Court is there. So all these avenues are there for seeking redress. So I do not see why anybody would want to take arms to solve dispute. 

You know, up north their problems are mostly chieftaincy related and along the line, I have been urging the traditional council, the district and regional councils and the National House of Chiefs to ensure that every traditional area has a succession plan for every stool/ skin because most of the problems have to do with enskinnment, and I am happy that it is being done,.

Most of the problems are caused by people who do not qualify to be chiefs but because they have some small money, they want to use that money to buy their way and that is what we should guard against. 

DG: What about the increase in armed robbery activities? 

M: With the armed robbery thing it might interest you to know that in the last three to four years the Ministry has not granted any licences to anybody who tried to import arms. 

Yesterday, the arms and ammunition dealers were here in my office and they appealed for licences to bring in their goods. I impressed upon them that it is for their own security and the security of Ghanaians that we have put an embargo on the importation of arms and ammunition.

You know we have very long and porous borders. We do not have enough men to police these long and porous borders. Besides, there are so many unapproved routes and we are not in a position to police these unapproved routes. What is compounding this issue of arms proliferation in Ghana or even in the sub-region is the result of the crises in Libya, Mali and Nigeria. In fact, the general turbulence in some of the countries in the sub-region is what is causing the general proliferation of guns and small arms in the sub-region. 

At the local level, it is only when there is a conflict that there is the need for arms. So the problems we have in Alavanyo, all those conflict spots are recipes for the influx of arms to these areas. So as soon as we are able to bring about stability, peace in those areas, it will help to reduce the need for arms in those areas.

Last week I was in the North, in Bolga, and the police commander in Bawku told me three people had handed over their guns for cash. I am hoping that very soon many more people will return their guns for cash, especially if we are able to continue the peace in Bawku. Because when there is peace there will be no need for arms, more so when it is illegal to possess the type of arms that people have. Nobody will give you a licence to buy an AK47. There are other more sophisticated ones. So if we consummate the peace, the tendency is that people will return their guns and collect the money.

DG:  You said that three people brought their guns last week, this number is small and it underscores the fact that there are still some in the system. So are we just appealing to their conscience or there is also a plan to forcefully retrieve all the arms in the system?

M: I discussed this issue with National Security. We have to do it in phases. Phase one is to ensure that the feuding factions give peace a chance, if they decide to smoke the peace pipe. After they have smoked the peace pipe then we appeal to them, in fact this is about sensitisation. We sensitise them why it is no longer necessary for them to own guns. After that you appeal to them to bring their weapons for cash. After that appeal then you can go all out to search and retrieve those in the system. So it has to be done in steps. 

DG1: So what are your concluding remarks?

M: All that I can say is that all Ghanaians should cherish the peace that we are enjoying. We should count ourselves blessed that we have such a beautiful, peaceful country. A lot of people envy us despite the problems that we have. I admit that we have challenges but most countries also have challenges.

I went to Italy last year for a meeting and I was told they have 300 and something billion as loans, their indebtedness and I said how, Italy of all people, how could that happen. 

I was in South Africa  last year and there was dumsor, dumsor and when I asked my host he said yes there is dumsor dumsor even in South Africa. As for Nigeria, it has been with them for a very long time. However, they have all put their shoulders to the wheel and trying to find a solution to the problem. They are not sitting back and blaming their governments. 

Everybody should also help us to find a solution to the problem and not sit back and just criticise. But that is the Ghanaian culture. Instead of us to offer constructive criticisms and suggestions for the solutions to our problems, we sit back and criticise. That kind of attitude does not auger well for national development.

When there is dumsor dumsor, it does not discriminate. When they put off light in your area, whether there are NPP or NDC, they all suffer in it. So we all have to come together and find a solution to the problem.