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22.08.2005 General News

Limit A-G’s powers in Whistleblower Bill

Statesman

PARLIAMENT has been called upon to expunge provisions in the Whistleblower Bill that give the Attorney-General enormous oversight powers in the process of investigating disclosures, prosecuting accused persons and compensating Whistleblowers.

The call was made by panellists at a roundtable discussion on the Whistleblower Bill held in Accra Thursday to analyse, critique and collate views on the bill. The forum was organised by the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice and the Ghana Integrity Initiative.

The panellists, drawn from the Attorney-General's Department, Serious Fraud Office, CHRAJ, GII, Centre for Public Interest Law, the Judicial Service, Parliament, Christian Council, Centre for Democratic Development and the Ghana Journalists Association, brainstormed on the controversial articles and clauses of the bill.

Out of the discussion, a five-member committee has been formed to finetune the proposals made and present them before the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional, Parliamentary and Legal affairs for consideration and inclusion in the final draft of the bill. Members of the committee include Charles Ayamdoo of CHRAJ, Kojo Asante of CDD, Theophilus A Codjoe, Acting Executive Director of SFO, Edward Ayine of CEPIL and a representative of the GII.

Sallas Mensah, Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament and NDC MP for Upper West Akyem, argued that the proposed Bill gives too much oversight responsibility to the Attorney-General, which creates a dangerous legal regime for combating corruption. “Giving disclosure to the Attorney-General, who is a political office holder, will compromise and defeat the purpose of the bill. He can make corrupt government officials escape investigations and prosecution. I'm suggesting that we look at this article carefully. Institutions like CHRAJ or SFO can handle these responsibilities effectively,” said he.

In a similar vein, Charles Ayamdoo, a director at CHRAJ, said Article Seven of the bill which provides that “where a disclosure is made to a person specified under section 3, other than the Attorney-General, the person shall submit a copy of the written disclosure to the Attorney-General within five days” appears to limit the powers of the CHRAJ.

“That is unacceptable. Would the Attorney-General have the muscle to prosecute his superior like the President or his colleagues? The Attorney-General's power of nolle prosequi is archaic. It is discretionary, and therefore, refusal to order prosecution must be accompanied by an explanation or reasons,” Ayamdoo contended.

The panellists also suggested the expunging of Article Eight of the bill in order to limit the powers conferred on the Attorney-General. It was proposed that Assembly Members, Pastors and Imams be included in the list of those to whom disclosures could be made. In addition, 20% of the recovered money should be put in the Whistleblower Compensation Fund.

Earlier in a statement, Richard Quayson, Deputy Commissioner of CHRAJ, noted that public discussions on the People's Representation Bill had overshadowed serious debate on the Whistleblower Bill. He said the bill seeks to provide for the manner in which individuals may in the public interest disclose information that relates to unlawful, corrupt or illegal and improper conduct or practices. “The bill has been laid but it has many grey areas requiring the input of stakeholders to make it become a good law,” Quayson said.

On her part, Linda Ofori-Kwafo, Programmes Manager of GII, urged the Attorney-General to impress upon Government to ratify both the African Union and United Nations Conventions on anti-corruption and domesticate them into the laws of the country.

“Whistleblowing improves accountability by enlisting co-workers, businesses and citizens to report corrupt acts. However, in many countries, whistleblowers are often fired or punished, subjected to administrative harassment and exposed to violence. For this reason, anti-corruption efforts need legislation to protect whistleblowers from official sanctions or even to reward them,” Ofori-Kwafo stated.

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