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25.11.2005 Press Review

Editorial: Ghana needs a crusade against drug trafficking

By Statesman
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THE case of Eric Amoateng and the $6 million heroin deal undoubtedly raises many questions, not least concerning the integrity of the man himself and even that of his party.

Such questions have of course been gleefully considered by the media in the days following the identification of the Nkoranza North MP as one of two Ghanaians initially arrested in the United States over the alleged multi-million dollar illegal drugs shipment, with repeated calls for the not-so-honourable Member of Parliament to resign his seat. Past allegations of visa fraud have been gloatingly remembered, as the politician's and party's reputations have endured a predictable battering.

Yet other, more important, questions have gone unasked: What of the wider, and ever wider, drugs problem in Ghana; the growing drugs industry, which has long occupied the shady corners and dark backstreets of our country, even if the international spotlight is only now being shone on this shameful issue? What of the widely held, if little discussed, reputation of Ghana as a staging post for the transfer of drugs to the US, Europe and other consumer continents? Foreign traffickers continue to strengthen their presence in the country, as Ghanaian traders gradually set us up as a central drug-hub for the entire sub-region. What of the lax border controls, into and out of our country, which are allowing this to happen? And what of the apparently ineffectual Narcotics Control Board, which is supposed to control the issue of drug trafficking and consumption, but is spectacularly failing to do so?

Whilst the expected resignation of Mr Amoateng will no doubt go some way towards assuaging the embarrassment of the Government, Mr Kufuor has more damage to repair than that done by this single, albeit high-profile and highly-embarrassing case. Perhaps the blinding humiliation of this sudden international attention will wake Government up to the extent of the problem it faces, the problem it has ignored for too long. The Statesman calls upon the President not to shy away from the unwelcome exposure this case has brought, and not to let the Ghanaian drugs issue dodge back into the backstreets of Government priority. Instead, Mr Kufuor needs to summon the police, the Narcotics Control Board, the Attorney General and other appropriate bodies, to wake up and start acting; he needs to summon the courage to own the problem and start dealing with it more effectively now.

According to Section 1 of the Narcotics (Control, Enforcement and Sanctions) Law, 1990, any person found guilty of importing or exporting narcotic drugs without a license is liable to no less than ten years in prison. Under Section 1, any person found guilty of the unlawful manufacture, produce or distribution of narcotic drugs in Ghana is liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment of not less than two years. Some say, this is far too lenient.

Yet in order to be found guilty of breaking such laws, it of course stands to reason that effective policing and enforcement needs to be in place – laws without law-enforcers are pointless. Yet narcotic drugs are openly available in parts of our nation's capital and elsewhere, with next to no evidence of any attempt at a comprehensive clamp-down. Tudu, in central Accra, is just a stone's through from the Ministries – but might as well be another world entirely for the amount of attention the Government and its Narcotics Control Board pays to the daily dealings which take place on their doorsteps.

Accra's Kotoka International Airport is increasingly a focus for traffickers, with similar activity all-too-apparent at ports in Tema and Sekondi. Border posts at Aflao (Togo) and Elubo and Sampa in Cote D'Ivoire see significant drug trafficking activity, with far less significant or effective control mechanisms to counter this. As the 'Gateway to West Africa', it would appear Ghana's doors are sometimes too wide open.

Drug dealers need to know that the laws which are in place will be acted upon; and Government needs to ensure that this is the case. Laws need to be more stringently enforced and, moreover, tougher in the first place. In the UK, a conviction for dealing in Class A drugs, which include heroin and cocaine, could incur a prison sentence of up to 25 years (life imprisonment) – and there is no reason why Ghana should be any more forgiving. In addition, drugs-related court cases should be fast-tracked to ensure the speedy and effective sentencing of dealers.

The need for Ghana to launch an invigorated and zero-tolerance approach to drugs are of course obvious: no country wants a reputation as a den of dealers, and with worldwide attention suddenly drawn to the problem, Ghana needs to be seen to be doing something about it.

The most effective way for the ruling party to deal with the unfortunate opposition stigma of Narcotics Peddlers Party is to be seen to be taking extra steps to crack down on the growing menace of drug smuggling. That message of staging a war against drugs has both a local and international audience eagerly waiting and President Kufuor cannot afford to disappoint.

The probable resignation of the MP implicated in the current case is far from enough; if the governing party really intends to provide a responsible government to the people of this country – one of the President's core election pledges – it needs to be dealing with the broader problems. Government needs to be responsible over this issue, and it also needs to be responsive – it must use this inconvenience as an opportunity, to begin a more effective stamping out of criminal drugs activities both in our country and at its borders.

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