Bright Simons’ thoughts on how to better protect public funds in Ghana.

Bright Simons, IMANI Africa

Building on the $72mil Operational Business Suite (OBS) software scandal that hit the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), the GHS130m inflated waste bins contract to the Jospong group, and many other unfolding public scandals in the country, Bright Simons, IMANI’s Hononary Vice President proposed an unorthodox idea on how we might better protect public funds in Ghana.

He writes:

I have not fully thought through this (there may be complexities my lay mind can’t comprehend yet) but I strongly feel that the Special Prosecutor approach might get bogged down in the courts.

If that happens public confidence in the political elite’s ability to safeguard the public treasury would be heavily undermined.

Already I’m beginning to sense scandal-fatigue and growing distrust of the NPP’s commitment to fight institutional corruption and financial crimes.

Some say that the NPP hasn’t yet earned our confidence that its devotion to the fight against embezzlement is fully genuine.

Cynics say that the Party is waving banners around in shows of piety and using disgust about “corruption” as a political tool to advance its own power.

We may be able to address these perceptions if the government could take interim administrative measures in this general direction:

1. Spur the Office of the Solicitor General to consider all the means available at civil law and in equity to “disgorge” and “dispossess” individuals and institutions who are alleged to have embezzled public funds on the grounds of unjust enrichment.

That is to say there is nothing wrong, to my very lay mind, in initiating immediate civil action to collect money from institutions that have taken our money under less than salutory conditions regardless of the pace of the central effort to reform the criminal prosecution process to deal with public financial crimes. All such civil proceedings must must be telecast.

Bear in mind that because the standard and burden of proof may be lower in civil actions it paradoxically also means that the above approach will raise the bar for public financial conduct from mere “avoidance of criminality” to “justification of reward for performance”. That is to say it can foster “maximal standards”.

Find out about how the EU took back 5 million Ghana Cedis from grants it had provided to Ghana for the building of the GIFMIS software and referred the matter to its Anti-Fraud Office DESPITE the GIFMIS software project having been delivered under budget. This is what is called “high bar”.

2. Establish a stronger ethics committee at the Public Services Commission equipped to conduct character assessments and probes in the wake of such civil actions, and if courts rule against public officials in matters of “unjust enrichment”, to ban the individuals involved from public office. Whilst legislation would be much more effective, we can start with an administrative mechanism where the Commission simply refuses to approve nominees on its blacklist and publicly share its advice to the Public.

A strong President can drive both of these measures. He doesn’t need anything else to push such strong interim measures. It will be hard to scale preliminary barriers if one tried to use the courts to frustrate such measures. And public opinion is very likely to be inflamed by such antics, reducing the likelihood of partisan sponsorship.

We must draw a line in the sand, and thereafter dig the trenches. This is strictly a matter for presidential leadership.

I’m not so sure the same can be said about the Special Prosecutor approach.

What do you think about this idea?

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