Lens -- Contrary to the widely held misconception of the Citizen Vetting Committee of the PNDC as a kangaroo court, the now editor of the Daily Dispatch, Mr. Ben Ephson, writes that “the CVC is [was] very fair. Its fairness has been exhibited on many occasions.”
In a report published in the 5th April 1982 edition of the now defunct West Africa magazine, Mr. Ephson writes, “One thing is clear, the CVC is not on a witch-hunting mission. Once one can prove account for monies in the bank balances and show that requisite taxes have been paid, the Committee has no qualms.”
Mr. Ben Ephson's article, under the headline Checking Corruption in Ghana, dispels misconceptions that persons who appeared before the CVC were tortured, and that people were not allowed legal representation. “People are allowed to bring lawyers, accountants, and children to the vetting room, provided they will be of assistance to them”, Mr. Ephson chronicled.
The article quoted an Accra lawyer, Mr. Kwabena Tabi Amponsah, who told the Committee tat somebody had told him that he would be slapped even before being allowed to sit down, as having said, “There is no iota of truth in what I was told would happen to me”
Mr. Ephson stated quite categorically that, “the Citizen Vetting Committee is not against people who engage in trade or other economic activities for their livelihood.”
On reading Mr. Ephson's article, Miss Marian (not her real name), a 25yrs old undergraduate studying in one of the country's universities had this to say, “We have been misled and misinformed. I have always believed that the CVC was a kangaroo court where people were tortured and quizzed by inquisitors whose faces they could not see because they had been blindfolded. It is not only me, I know most of my friends have the same view of the CVC. You must publish this to let the people know the truth.”
Below is the full text of Mr. Ephson's report. Checking corruption in Ghana Ben Ephson Jnr.
THE Citizens Vetting Committee (CVC) was established by Law One of the Provisional National Defence Council. The Committee's duties were spelt out in Section 4:
(i) to investigate persons whose lifestyles and expenditures substantially exceed their known or declared incomes.
(ii) to investigate persons whose bank balances being in credit are in excess of such sums as the Council may specify.
(iii) to investigate any other matters that may be reasonably related to the foregoing mailers or that may be referred to it by the Council.
By Section 7 (1), the CVC may after investigations and subject to the approval of the Council:
(i) order the forfeiture to the State of any property
(ii) order the vesting in the State of any property subject to the payment of such compensation as the Council may determine.
(iii) commit any person investigated by it to stand trial at a Public Tribunal referred to in Section 10 of the PNDC Proclamation, 1981.
Under Section 11, no Court of the land is to entertain challenges to the findings, orders or proceedings of the Committee.
By Law One, the CVC is made up of 11 members, five of whom constitute a quorum and includes an army officer who is a lawyer as chairman, lawyers, accountants, a quantity surveyor and income tax inspectors. It has powers of arrest and detention in order to facilitate investigations. Anyone guilty of contempt of the CVC is liable to a punishment of a fine not exceeding ¢10,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months or to both.
The CVC has been appealing to the general public for honest, not anonymous, information on people whose "life-styles are worth investigating".
By Sections 4 (ii), persons whose bank balances in credit are in excess of C50.000 have the excess frozen and will be investigated. People to be vetted are given assets declaration forms whose questions range from curriculum vitae, immovable property (e.g. houses), investments (stocks, bonds) and movable property (TV's videos).
People appearing before the CVC take the oath, and are thus liable to perjury. Questions asked bear on sources of income, answers are crosschecked with the relevant declarations made to the Commissioner of Income Tax. Very often, incomes are found to have been under-declared to reduce tax.
Section 61 of the 1975 Income Tax Decree (SMCD5) clearly spells out the penalty for making false declarations and returns in order to reduce taxes. In addition to the payment of tax evaded, the tax evader is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding ¢50,000 and to a penalty of treble the amount of tax for which he %vas liable. Thus, the CVC is only enforcing a law enacted seven years ago.
"Once bitten, twice shy" as they say and the PNDC is making sure mistakes committed during the AFRC rule in 1979 are not repeated. Such mistakes included secrecy of investigations, trials and the lack of records of proceedings. Now, all proceedings are recorded verbatim and representatives of the press including television crew are allowed to sit in. The Committee's sittings continue to reveal shocking cases of evasion of taxes and wanton acquisition of illegal wealth.
Mrs. Juliet Alhassan (nee Osei), aged 31, forfeited all her property to the state. She was granted a loan facility of ¢2m by the Bank for Housing and Construction where her husband is employed as a civil engineer. She used the money to finance the purchase of ladies shoes, and exchanging it on the black market at a time when cocoa farmers were being paid with promissory notes. Within two years of being granted the loan, she travelled 60 times to London, Hong Kong. Germany, Nigeria, among other places, and led an extravagant life. She misused the ¢2m. loan when farmers were denied even ¢10,000 loans to improve upon agricultural output. What was more, she underdeclared her incomes for all her years of operation.
An evangelical society, "Every Home Crusade" engaged in the sale of papers supplied free by World Literature Crusade of Canada, paid a penal tax liability of ¢355,266 out of its bank balance of C750.000.
There are a lot of rumours in Ghana about the CVC, ranging from torture stories to members being masked, It is also said that people being vetted are not allowed to bring anybody into the veiling room. An Accra lawyer, Mr. Kwabena Tabi Amponsah, told the Committee that somebody had informed him among other things that he would be slapped even before being allowed to sit down. Mr. Amponsah said afterwards: "There is no iota of truth in what I was told would happen to me". People are allowed to bring lawyers, accountants and children to the vetting room, provided they will be of assistance to them.
After judgment had been given in his case, Mr. Osei Yaw Akoto, managing director of Biney's Atomic, an Accra construction firm, said: “People frightened me for nothing. The Committee has been very fair.”
Mr. Akoto, who was accompanied by an Accra lawyer, paid a tax liability of ¢42m without the penalty for tax evasion being evoked. Mr. James Amoah, managing director of Jimmaco Construction Company came into the vetting room with a lawyer, an engineer, a clerk of works and a nephew.
Having sat through the Committee's proceedings for over three weeks, I cannot but agree with Mr. Akoto's assertion that the CVC is very fair. It's fairness has been exhibited on many occasions. A 36-year-old Accra trader, Mr. Osei Sampong, made a profit of ¢595,000 on his trading activities for the month of December, 1981, alone. However, in calculating his whole year's (1981) profit for tax assessment, the CVC worked on a conservative profit figure of ¢500,000.
One thing is clear, the CVC is not on a witch-hunting mission. Once one can account for monies in the bank balances and show that requisite taxes have been paid, the Committee has no qualms.
For example, Mr. Felix Tawiah, a superintendent at the Akuse Prisons, had his bank balance totalling over ¢90,000 defrozen after he had paid ¢35.000 to the state for using prison labour on his farm for the past five years. He had almost all the ¢90.000 from sales of produce from his farm.
The Committee explained that since prison labour could be hired to individuals and organisations for a specified fee, it was improper for him to have used prisoners put on daily chores for his bungalow for any purposes which would fetch him income.
The Committee's deliberations have brought to the fore the ineffective tax collection system. This point was brought home by the following statement by Mr. Evans Teye, of Top Schwarb Construction made before the CVC panel. He said: "Taxes are unpleasant things all over the world. It is always under pressure that people pay their taxes but once we are not pressured, we tend to forget about them."
The Citizens Vetting Committee is not against people who engage in trade or other economic activities for their livelihood. It is, among other things, just implementing the existing laws on taxation and to ensure that anybody who earns an income complies with the tax laws. People are given 48 hours within which to pay the penal tax liability, or have their assets confiscated. So far only one out of the 15 people was not able to meet the Committee's deadline.
He was Mr. Osei Sampong who, unable to pay the penal tax liability of ¢3.9m.had all his assets, including a ¢l.9m. bank account, an uncompleted storey building, a Peugeot 305 and a warehouse half-full of goods confiscated to the state. As at March 15, 1982, over ¢l0m has been collected by the CVC as penal tax liabilities.