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28.01.2005 Press Review

EDITORIAL: Of Whistleblowers & Freedom of Information Acts

By Ghanaian Chronicle

Knowledge is power. To acquire knowledge, one must have information. Many public servants hide under the Secrecy Act, to refuse giving out information sought from them, especially when they have reason to suspect it would expose certain questionable acts they had indulged in.

Anytime the government has been accused of not doing enough to fight corruption, it has enumerated some measures that it has put in place to help minimize the incidence of corruption that plague our country. The Public Procurement Act, 2003 (ACT 663), Financial Administration Act, 2003 (ACT 654), and The Internal Audit Act, 2003 (Act 658), are readily cited as having the potential of tackling corruption.

Two bills, The Whistleblowers' Bill and The Freedom of Information Bill, have been in Parliament for some time now. These bills need to be urgently translated into Acts because no matter what other laws exist presently to fight corruption, persons who have firsthand information about incidents of corruption would not be bold to expose them, for fear of reprisals from their employers.

It is The Whistleblowers' and Freedom of Information Acts that would protect whistleblowers from victimization by their superiors, and also enable citizens access information.

Since it is the people closer to places where corrupt practices occur who get firsthand knowledge, it is only through them that timely and accurate information could be obtained to protect the public purse.

The Oath of Secrecy, that public officials are made to take, though originated to prevent vital information of nations falling into the hands of their enemies, has often been subjected to absurd interpretations, thereby exposing states to the treachery of local 'enemies'.

Many patriotic Ghanaians in the public service, have at various times been subjected to acts of intimidation and in some cases, summary dismissals, for daring to stand in the way of unscrupulous top officials, in their attempt to suck the nation.

So, rather than protecting the nation, the Oath has been deployed by these suckers to cover up their corrupt practices. The enactment of the two Acts', would, without doubt, facilitate the constitutional injunction under Article 35(8) that: 'The state shall take steps to eradicate corrupt practices and the abuse of power.'

As the vetting of the President's nominated ministers goes on in Parliament, many Ghanaians are at a loss as to what assets and liabilities these potential ministers are coming into office with.

Persons who come to occupy public office with a lot of assets, even when they do not pilfer the national kitty or indulge in corrupt practices, are at times falsely accused of corruption, because their lifestyles have now become public.

On the other hand, a minister who for instance, comes to occupy public office heavily indebted, and indulges in neck-deep corruption to pay off creditors, may not even risk being accused of abusing his/her office because such ill-gotten wealth would not be physically manifest.

Under Article 286 of our Constitution (1992), all public officials are required to declare their assets and liabilities prior to assuming office, and also after every four years, and at the end of their service.

Under these two Acts, it should be easier to have these assets and liabilities publicly declared so that it would be possible to properly assess public officials on the corruption scale.

This is very important because it is only knowledge of the true state of the declared properties and liabilities at the time of assuming office, that the public can monitor and alert the appropriate investigative arms of state on dramatic changes that may take place, for verification.

The Act, when enacted, would surely seek to protect and embolden citizens who would seek to expose acts of corruption and impropriety, thereby saving the country the loss of considerable wealth.

We call on this Parliament to attend to the two Bills to enable them become laws, and help combat corruption to save a HIPC nation!

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