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07.09.2009 Feature Article

BNI has “one foot in the old ways of doing business”

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In July 2009 when Mr. Barack Obama was visiting the Kremlin, in Russia , for the first time as the President of the United States of America , he made a very strong statement to Mr. Vladimir Putin, currently Russia 's Prime Minister and formerly the President of that country.

Speaking to a gathering from the media in the White House before his departure for Moscow , President Obama described Prime Minister Putin as someone with 'one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new.”

In Ghana today, the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) is probably one of the institutions that fits quite well in the description of “having one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new.”

This depiction the BNI has attained on the back of the bureau's firm hold on its past ways of conducting itself, amidst the wind of change that has swept the length and breadth of the country. The BNI has in the past been, and I think it continues to be, associated with vengeance tactics, especially regarding effecting capricious arrests, seizure of traveling documents and spontaneous searches, particularly of opposition parties' functionaries.

The recent and on-going battle with Mr. Stephen Asamoah Boateng, former Minister of Information, over investigations it is conducting into Mr. Asamoah Boateng's past deeds is a case in point. We are no longer in the 20th century. We are in the 21st.

In the latest development, the BNI on Thursday, August 13, 2009, arrested and detained the former Minister at its premises. Supporters of the former Minister were immediately convened at the premises of the bureau in a somewhat violent mood. The Police Service therefore had to apply some sort of force in order to maintain peace and order. One of the supporters, regrettably, is reported to have died as a result.

The arrest of the former Minister took place when he “voluntarily”, accompanied by his wife and lawyers, visited the BNI. For the rest of the day on Thursday and the day which followed, it was being speculated in the media that Mr. Asamoah Boateng went to the BNI based on media reports that he is wanted by the bureau. Around the same time, another speculation which was making the rounds was that he (the former Minister) went to the bureau to inquire why he and his family have been barred from traveling on some occasions. Tensions and fears were in the meantime heightened as the BNI kept mute.

All these stories turned out to be false on Saturday when the Deputy Minister of Information, Mr. Okudzeto Ablakwa, mentioned on “Alhaji and Alhaji” on Radio Gold, an Accra-based radio station, that Mr. Asamoah Boateng, together with five other individuals, have earlier been invited by the BNI for business as usual. While the other invitees had honoured the invitation, Mr. Asamoah Boateng was still at large, Mr. Okudzeto noted. It was again revealed that the BNI, on Wednesday August 12, 2009, applied and obtained an arrest warrant from the Court to help it compel the former Minister to honour its invitation. This was subsequently communicated to the lawyers of Mr. Asamoah Boateng who then promised to ensure that the former Minister honour the bureau's invitation. On Thursday, they followed suit.

With regards to such developments, especially tensions and fears that were subsequently heightened, I wish to put across two legitimate questions for the BNI. Does the bureau has a Public Relations Office or an Information Desk as the Police, Military, and Prisons, just to mention a few, do? When tensions and fears are heightened upon such developments, especially the speculations and a mute BNI, what stops the bureau from breaking its silence in order to diffuse tension and calm fears?

In the past the BNI has been associated, and I think rightly so, with substantial suspicions and fears as it observes little or no relationship with the media, and the public at large, over its conduct. It saddens my heart to note that even agencies established exclusively for the purposes of gathering intelligence elsewhere observe some form of relationship with the media and the society at large, let alone a public investigative body, though with some intelligence gathering intents.

It is not being suggested, however, that the BNI publishes all its invitations to persons being investigated. But when stakes, tensions, and fears are this high, the BNI must of necessity intervene to calm the situation. It is high time that the bureau reviews and restructures its organizational structure to ensure a friendly media and public relations. Such review with its attendant structures, I believe, are what can ensure that both legs of the bureau are firmly grounded in the present.

Alhassan Atta-Quayson
University of Ghana , Legon.
[email protected]
(P. O. Box UC 353, Cape Coast, C/R)

Alhassan Atta-Quayson
Alhassan Atta-Quayson, © 2009

The author has 17 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: AlhassanAttaQuayson

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