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12.05.2004 Press Review

Editorial: Agreements Palaver

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The public has been subjected to controversies over public agreements in recent times and we think that the time has come to spare the public such controversies. There were the Telekom Malaysia and the International Finance Corporation controversies and now the China New Techniques Construction and Investment Limited (CNTCI) loan controversy.

As a developing nation, we cannot do without taking loans to develop various sectors of the economy to ensure rapid development. This position is not in dispute and both the minority and the majority parties agree. However, what is important is whether a particular transaction has been carefully scrutinised to ensure that the public interest has been assured.

Our Constitution provides that such public business and economic transactions must have parliamentary approval, under Article 181 of the 1992 Constitution. Nobody wishes to begrudge the House its obligation.

Nevertheless, the big question is whether the House has the capacity to subject such agreements to rigorous scrutiny. Members of the House have persistently been complaining about the absence of adequate staff to help them to do their work. Such inadequacy becomes more pronounced when it comes to international agreements.

The Telekom Malaysia agreement and the IFC loan palaver clearly demonstrate that the House does not have the ability nor the negotiating skills that those agreements deserve. And now it seems that there is some form of suspicion over CNTCI's $300m loan agreement.

Evidently, the minority party is not comfortable with the transaction, even though its members in the House voted for it. Happily, they are not against any loan that would help quicken the country's pace of development. Perhaps it would be necessary that we allow history to guide us to stave off such unpleasant situations.

In 1971, the Progress Party government set up a Cabinet Committee on Public Agreements that was assigned the responsibility of vetting all negotiated transactions before Cabinet approval.The committee was operated for a short period, since the government was set aside about six months after the committee came into being.

Records have it that the military administration under the National Redemption Council sought to review all international transactions that had been "vitiated by bribery or other forms of corruption”.Consequently, it set up the Public Agreements Review Committee, which later became a board, to scrutinise meticulously all transactions to make sure that they were in the best interest of the country.

It had distinguished Ghanaians on it to discharge the task assigned to it assiduously and submitted its recommendations on all negotiated agreements between government agencies and corporate, international and other entities that involved foreign exchange resources before the government's approval.

We humbly submit that the time has come for us as a people to set up a permanent review mechanism to look at such international and business transactions before they go to the House for consideration and approval.

It should be possible to have a body along the lines of the Public Agreements Review Committee. It is the surest way to avoid controversy over various public transactions.