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08.07.2005 General News

No absolute freedoms in the democratic world - AG

By GNA

Accra, July 8, GNA - Mr. Joseph Ayikoi Otoo, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, observed on Friday that there were no absolute freedoms in any democracy and all laws which empower the government to interfere with the rights of individuals are absolutely essential for public safety.

He stated that even though the 1992 Constitution stipulated that "every person has the right to own property either alone or association with others", it limits the enjoyment of the said right and made provision for interference with the said right.

Mr Otoo made the observation at a workshop organised by his outfit as part of a series on Excellence in Accra.

The Attorney-General spoke on the topic: "Seizure of Assets Under Ghanaian Law."

"There cannot be any lawful interference with a person's property, except where such an interference is permissible by law."

He mentioned the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) Act, the Value Added Tax Act, Internal Revenue Act, Narcotic Drugs Act and the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service Law, as some of the laws that empower and authorize the State to interfere with properties in the country. For instance, he said, "the law gives the Serious Fraud Office the power to monitor, investigate and, on the authority of the Attorney-General, prosecute any offence involving serious financial or economic loss to the State."

Mr Otoo explained that in order to facilitate investigations into serious fraud, the Director of the SFO could have the assets and bank accounts of certain individuals or organizations frozen.

The Attorney-General explained further that affected persons must be notified within 48 hours of the freezing of their assets and bank accounts.

"The SFO does not need to apply to court before freezing a person's assets, but within seven days, after freezing of the assets and bank accounts, the director must apply to the High Court or Regional Tribunal for confirmation."

Turning to the Commissioner of VAT, Mr. Otoo stated that he had broad powers to seize both movable and immovable property. He explained that the purpose of the Narcotics Drug Law was to bring under one enactment, offences relating to illicit dealing in narcotic drugs, and to further put in place provisions that would prevent illicit narcotic drug dealers from benefiting from their crimes. Mr Otoo said it was gratifying to note that the law had become extremely relevant in view of the rising incidence of narcotic drug abuse in the country, and its international dimensions.

"All laws which empower the government to interfere with the rights of individuals, are absolutely essential for public safety, for the economic well being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, and for the protection of the rights or freedoms of others."

Mr. Stephen Rosen, Head, International Team of Collyer-Bristow Solicitors, a Law Firm in the United Kingdom, who spoke on: "Seizure of Fraudsters' Assets -Extensive New State Powers in England", underscored the need for strong working relationships amongst law enforcement agencies for an effective fight against crime.

Mr Rosen urged governments to create congenial and investment-friendly atmospheres in their various economies, in order to woo investors into their countries.

Mr Gunther Tijdink of the Senegal branch of the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime pointed out that crime was a major barrier to national development and urged the international community to step up the fight for its eradication.

Mr Emmanuel Owusu-Ansah, Deputy Attorney-General, urged governments in developing nations to nurture Alternative Dispute Resolutions in order to use them to dispose of the many cases piled up at the courts.

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