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Sale of SSNIT hotels: Prioritise public interest

The decision to sell off hotels belonging to the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) has met fierce contestations. 

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Actors for the sale argue that these hotels are not profitable; that SSNIT has not breached any law; the purchaser (Bryan Acheampong and Rock City) has not engaged in any illegality; SSNIT is a private entity and can do what they want; and Rock City offered the best bid for the taking of the hotels.

These narratives do not consider the ‘public interest’ as an important factor in the decision. These issues will be addressed here and further answer why ‘public interest’ must be prioritised in the decision-making.

Under the 1992 Constitution, agencies are created by the legislature. Agencies function only insofar as the legislature has given them the authority to function. That authority may be exceptionally broad or narrow. 

Fundamental

The agency’s enabling act is the fundamental source of its power and the limit that agency acquires a specific substantive mission and is free to set its own extensive policies and procedures using its discretion. SSNIT, in its corporate form, is established by Section 32 of the National Pensions Act, 2008 (Act 766) making it a public institution as such, their decision and operations are subject to public concern.

Section 34 of the Act sets the functions of SSNIT. 32(e) states: the Trust shall ‘be responsible for the administration and investment of funds within the framework of general directives issued by the Board of Trustees and approved by the Authority’.

This suggests, legally and procedurally, there is no question when, where and how SSNIT can invest in relation to the sale of the hotels. However, that cannot be the only consideration in the decision to sell the hotels. 

Key issues

Key consideration is Bryan Acheampong, a Member of Parliament, at the centre of the controversy. Article 98 (2) of the 1992 Constitution is clear: (2) A member of Parliament shall not hold any office of profit or emolument, whether private or public and either directly or indirectly, unless permitted to do so by the Speaker acting on the recommendations of a committee of Parliament on the grounds that— (a) holding that office will not prejudice the work of a member of Parliament; and (b) no conflict of interest arises or would arise as a result of the member holding that office.

Can it be said, Bryan Acheampong, beneficial owner, is indirectly holding an office of profit at Rock City Hotel, since he is the only shareholder of the company, as such, requires Speaker’s permission?

Also, the public are concerned about the capability of Rock City Hotel in terms of managerial, financial, experience and administrative to take over the hotels of SSNIT. The issue of profitability can be addressed if management is competent.

Thus, SSNIT can employ qualified hands to manage the affairs of the hotels rather than outright sale.

An important consideration is the ‘public interest’ question which comes with accountability. This is a major constitutional and therefore social, political, economic and moral problem confronting Ghana.

All functionaries of government are mere trustees who have the duty of accountability. Public accountability is fundamental to ‘good governance." It is the "requirement that those who hold public trust should account for the use of that trust to citizens or their representatives.

"Inherent in public accountability is the notion of the dominance of the public weal over the individual official. If government functionaries are mere trustees for the public, Bryan Acheampong and all defending this transaction must understand whether this transaction, if allowed, the interest of the public will be served.

SSNIT must uphold certain principles in the exercise of its discretionary powers including, for example: not being capricious, arbitrary, whimsical, bias. It is rational and reasonable.

These principles are important to satisfy the ‘public interest’ which administrative agencies must prioritise in addition to the public weal over individual officials.  

Article 295 of the 1992 Constitution states: “public interest” includes any right or advantage which inures or is intended to inure to the benefit generally of the whole of the people of Ghana’.

SSNIT should thus answer how the sale of these hotels inures or is intended to inure to the benefit, generally of the whole of the people of Ghana and not to the benefit of Hon. Bryan Acheampong and Rock City alone.

As Ghanaians demand termination of the sale of these hotels, based on the principle of good governance, accountability and promotion of ‘public interest’, SSNIT must heed the call and oblige to safeguard the safety and security of citizens. 

The writer is an Executive Director, Institute of Security Research and Policy, a civil society organisation 

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