Mr Special Prosecutor: The crooks are hidden in plain sight

Mr Special Prosecutor: The crooks are hidden in plain sight

Between the late 19th century and the early 20th century, there was a scramble for Africa that led to the partition of the continent and the exploitation of its rich resources like gold, diamonds, bauxite, tin, copper, manganese, cocoa, coffee, and many more.

European countries such as Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, and others, literally partitioned the continent among themselves without any war. They sat at a conference in Berlin in 1885, and gleefully shared Africa by mutual agreement such that each of the colonial powers was allotted a specific area of jurisdiction with licence to plunder. The only caveat was that none should encroach on another’s portion. It was a mad rush for Africa’s resources and the continent seemed helpless to deal with the problem.

Now, we have our independence, but the scramble continues, not from outside but within. Our own people are scrambling for our meagre resources and sharing them among themselves through widespread corruption in high places. As things stand now, politics and political connections have become the preferred avenue to riches because nobody checks anybody.

Corruption has become so systemic that only God can provoke the pangs of our conscience which seems unfeeling. In fact, our status of corruption now fits into the parameters of notoriety. Gradually, we are speeding towards competing with the most notoriously corrupt nations. A recent skit on social media by a group of Nigerian comedians about corruption might place the issue in the right perspective.

In the sketch, a man asks his son to list four corrupt countries in Africa in descending order. The boy mentions Kenya, Togo, Ghana. At this point, the man looks bewildered because he is expecting Nigeria to take the first position but with three down and only one to go, his beloved country is still missing in action.

He thinks, perhaps, his son is being patriotic, so he is reserving the fourth and last spot for his country so that it does not look so bad as the others. But to the man’s amazement, his son calls out Congo as his final choice. “What about Nigeria?” the man asks. His son has a totally different idea altogether. He thinks that Nigeria is in a class of its own. So, he answers: “Papa, when counting sinners, you don’t count Satan.” 

One may also ask: What about Ghana? Our conscience is dead to sin and the dykes that held back the torrents of corruption have been breached. We have earned a badge of dishonour with our own level of deviousness bordering on wickedness. Does the Bible not say that the devil comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy? Is it not what the corrupt officials are doing to us?

It is culturally improper to malign the dead but how could Sir John amass all the assets and properties listed in his will within a matter of just three years? Between March 2017 until his death in July 2020, Sir John, officially known as Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, served as the CEO of the Forestry Commission after his tenure as the General Secretary of the ruling NPP from 2010 to 2014.

Following his death, his will inadvertently surfaced in the public domain, raising eyebrows, and sending shock waves across the country. The disclosure gave Ghanaians a hint about what is really going on behind the veneer of integrity. Within that short span of being in charge of the Forestry Commission, he accumulated such a fortune as would even make General Sanni Abacha envious.

The late CEO’s assets and properties included, at least, 10 plush buildings in top-tier locations of Accra, including a four-storey house demarcated into apartments at East Legon. Six more of the buildings are situated at East Legon, three in other areas like Oyarifa and Ogbojo, while one is at Wonoo, his hometown. Moreover, he had eight vast portions of land spread across Accra as well as two portions of the Achimota Forest with specific dimensions and two other separate portions designated as unspecified.

Sir John’s private vehicles were listed as 13, including three luxurious Lexus saloon cars, Mercedes Benz E 68 Sport AMG, Ford F150, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Pilot, Honda Accord Sport, Honda Accord Touring, Nissan Titan Pick Up V8, Toyota Landcruiser V8 and Toyota Rav 4.

His bank accounts were spread across as many as six local banks and two foreign banks in the US and Canada. He had investment holdings with the National Trust Holding Company and the African Development Bank. He was involved also in joint gold production investments with a certain Francis Owusu on one hand, and three other entities listed as ROTL, FASOH, and MBL

His other businesses included the Afriyie Memorial Hospital at his hometown, Wonoo; a fuel station located at Kentinkrono in the Ashanti Region, 10 fuel tankers, a teak plantation located at Nkawie in the Ashanti Region, farms at Ejura in the Ashanti Region, a rubber plantation located in the Eastern Region, and three stalls at the new Kejetia market, Kumasi. All these in three years? Yes! At least, most of them.

To most watchers, the work of the Office of the Special Prosecutor is not going fast enough. The point is, sometimes, the law seems to be on the side of suspects, even veritable crooks, by the way it offers them the benefit of the doubt.

Legal experts would tell you that the law’s underlying rationale for that benefit is to uphold the moral necessity of protecting the innocent against wrongful convictions. For that cause, the law universally holds that it is better to let the crime of a guilty person go unpunished than to condemn the innocent.

In line with this principle, a thief may be defined, in legal terms, as someone who is not just suspected of stealing, but has been caught in the very act. Thus, you cannot just accuse your roommate of stealing your property, even if he were the only person living with you under the same roof at the time of the theft. You must prove it as well.

That is where the problem lies. Even though sometimes the courts admit circumstantial evidence as credible and helpful to the prosecution, it is not foolproof. A more reliable evidence is always demanded by the courts before they arrive at a decision. I believe this is one reason Ghanaians are not “seeing you in action.”

But, Mr. Special Prosecutor, I am sure you must certainly be gathering vital evidence against the crooks to place you in good stead to successfully prosecute them. But if the process continued like this, it would not move a needle. Let us fast-track things.

We do not have to go far. The suspects have already given you all the evidence you need. They are openly flaunting their ill-gotten wealth right before our very eyes. Mr. Special Prosecutor, the rogues are hidden in plain sight; the crooks are in full view, the nation wreckers are right under your nose!

Thankfully, the law that established the Office of the Special Prosecutor, empowers you, among other things, to take steps to prevent corruption as well as investigate and prosecute specific cases of alleged or suspected corruption and corruption-related offences. The law empowers you to prosecute anyone whose income cannot reasonably account for the acquisition of certain property. Even a casual glance around is enough to reveal a lot of suspects in this category.

Start with the enforcement of assets declaration as stipulated by law. The Akans have a proverb that says, “De3 mmoa adi no, wondi nkɔ; de3 aka no, y3b3bɔ ho ban.” It means: “We might not be able to retrieve the crops that the pests have devoured, but we will protect what remains.”

In order to protect what remains of our depleted resources, we must take immediate steps to seal the cracks. Sir John has given us a clue. The CEOs need to be scrutinised and made to declare their assets before they assume any oversight responsibility.

Besides, all other public servants, including government officials, Parliamentarians, District, Municipal, and Metropolitan Chief Executives, in fact, all politically-exposed persons in both public and private life, must be made to declare all their assets as a condition for eligibility to contest elections.

Talking of DCEs and MCEs, it should not be only Alexander Kwabena Sarfo-Kantanka, who is being investigated after he was caught in a video demanding refund from assembly members for failing to approve his nomination as the Juaben MCE after he bribed them to do so.

What about the others? It is an open secret that politics in Africa, especially in Ghana and Nigeria, favours the highest bidder. Invite all the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Chief Executives and probe them under oath, I bet all or majority of them breached the rules. They all paid for votes.

The recent NPP regional and district primary elections were also tainted with bribery and corruption allegations. Contestants vied to outspend one another in vote buying. This crime is not new, but it is reaching breaking point. Fortunately, the Special Prosecutor has wide-ranging powers to turn the tide against the saboteurs. In fact, he and his assigns can exercise the powers of a police officer. So, go man go!


By Tony Prempeh

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