WHAT GHANA NEEDS IS A PROPER ‘OMBUDSMAN’ WITH A BIG STICK

Too much cleverness ends up producing utter stupidity!

Let us look at our native precepts and see how we could put that in the vernacular. Have you heard of a proverb that says: “Wani te dodo a woma odwan akye!” [If you become too clever, you bid ‘ good morning’ to the sheep!]

Now, why would a “clever person” wish ‘good morning’ to a sheep? He would do that because he’s been taught that it’s good manners to wish everyone ‘good morning’. And that should include the sheep, because a sheep breathes – just like a human being. And it “talks”. Okay, what a sheep says when it bleats may not be understood by human beings. But are all the languages spoken by human beings comprehensible to all other human beings?

If I say “Jambo!”, can a Hausa-speaking person who has never met an East African, tell that “Jambo!” is a way of saying “Hallo!” or “Greetings”, in the African language of Kiswahili, which is spoken over a wide area of East-Central Africa?

The reason why I have taken you on this rigmarole about language and cleverness is that we in Ghana have become adept at using abstract words to evade concrete responsibilities. And nowhere is this as clearly demonstrated as in our concept of what in other countries is known as the office of the “Ombudsman”, which was introduced to the world by the Scandinavians.

I am going to quote to you, the way that a certain country defines the functions of the “Ombudsman”.

QUOTE: Office of the Ombudsman
Powers, Functions and Duties
The Office of the Ombudsman shall… investigate and prosecute on its own or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public officer or employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient.” It has primary jurisdiction … in the exercise of his primary jurisdiction. It may take over, at any stage, from any investigatory agency of Government, the investigation of such cases.

[The Office shall] direct, upon complaint or at its own instance, any officer or employee of the Government, or of any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, as well as any government-owned or controlled corporations…. to perform and expedite any act or duty required by law, or to stop, prevent, and correct any abuse or impropriety in the performance of duties. UNQUOTE

DOES Ghana have any similar bodies that are entrusted with such “catch-all” powers?

Yes– we do not have one, but TWO, of such bodies!

One is THE COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND ADMINISTRATIVE JUSTICE , instituted under ACT 456 of 1993.

That Act was passed, as you can see, twenty-nine years ago! But can you readily recall any instances in which this Commission (CHRAG) has made any earth-shattering findings that fulfil its mandate to: “investigate complaints of violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms, injustice and corruption; abuse of power and unfair treatment of persons by public officers in the exercise of their duties? A body that has “power to seek remedy in respect of such acts or omissions, and to provide for other related purposes”?

What, I ask, can explain why an Act meant to usher in a new period under which citizens might challenge the acts or omissions of officialdom, should have its sections arranged in such a way that the first and most important “Part One” should be devoted to the membership criteria of the Commission?

Okay, let’s move to: PART II – FUNCTIONS OF THE COMMISSION
Section 7 (sic) —Functions of the Commission. [These are]…. to investigate complaints of violations of fundamental rights and freedoms, injustice, corruption, abuse of power and unfair treatment of any person by a public officer in the exercise of his official duties;”.

Note please, that these provisions are relatively weaker less clear and specific than the provisions of the Ombudsman Act that I quote earlier.

Be that as it may, the CHRAF law raises expectations of a spectacular nature, by stating in “Part 2 Section (b) of the Act, that it may investigate complaints concerning the functioning of the… “the administrative organs of the State, the offices of the Regional
Co-ordinating Council and t he District Assembly, the Armed Forces, the Police
Service and the Prisons Service….”

But wait! What follows that appetite-whetting peroration? Only this: [that the investigations must be concerned only with complaints that arise…”in so far as they (complaints) relate to the failure to achieve a balanced structuring of those services or fair administration in relation to those services; to investigate complaints concerning practices and actions by persons, private enterprises and other institutions where those complaints allege violations of fundamental rights and freedoms under the Constitution;
to take appropriate action to call for the remedying, correction and reversal
of [the] instances specified…. [by, for instance] negotiation and compromise between the parties concerned; causing the complaint and [the Commission’s] finding on it to be reported to the superior of an offending person; and bringing proceedings in a competent court for a remedy to secure the termination of the offending action or conduct, or the abandonment or alteration of the offending procedures. Not exactly earth-chattering, if you ask me!

Certainly, the Commission’s power are nowhere as far-reaching as those I quoted to you from the Ombudsman’s Act of another country.

To make matters worse, the Commission’s responsibilities are unnecessarily broadened to include investigating all instances of alleged or suspected corruption and “the
misappropriate steps “ (??) including “reports to the Attorney-General and the
Auditor-General, resulting from such investigation.” That needs clarification, doesn’t it?

More important, does the mention of “corruption” in this Act not pre-empt the functions of the “Public Prosecutor?” set up in 2018, that is, years after CHRAG came into being?

Yes – twenty-five years after the CHRAG law came into force, another body was created entitled “Office of the Special Prosecutor”. Its date of Assent was 2nd January, 2018. The “object of the Office” was to “investigate and prosecute specific cases of alleged or suspected corruption and corruption-related offences; recover the proceeds of corruption and corruption-related offences, and take steps to prevent corruption.

Now, we have these laws with good intentions. But what happens when we are placed in a situation that demands truthful and speedy information? Are we not in an information vacuum, in relation to one of the worst calamities that have ever befallen our country, namely, the explosion at Apeatse on 20 January 2022?

Will we have a properly-empowered judicial enquiry into the mishap or will we allow it be probed by a mere departmental enquiry under the overall aegis of the Ministry of Lands and Mineral Resources?

That could NOT happen if the accident had occurred in the Philippines – a country that, unlike ours, is not noted for its enlightened approach to matters of law and order.

For – yes – believe it or not, the provisions of the Ombudsman’s Act which I quoted at the beginning of this article, are from all places, the Philippines!…. The Philippines, I ask you!

BY CAMERON DUODU

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