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28.11.2005 General News

Judiciary, A-G's promoting drug trafficking

By Chronicle
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… Judges set extremely low bail conditions and registrars act as accessories A section of a United States of America (USA) report on corruption in Ghana this year, has identified Ghana's Judicial Service and the Attorney General's Department as institutions that are promoting drug trafficking in Ghana. The report stated that despite regular arrests of narcotic traffickers, Ghana has an extremely low rate of convictions, which is likely to be due to corruption in the judicial service.

These were made known last Saturday on Newsfile, a news review programme on Joy FM, which is a private radio station in Accra.

The Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Narcotics Control Board (NCB), Mr. Offniah Moses, confirmed this on the same programme and expressed deep concern about the situation in the wake of the reported arrest of a Member of Parliament, Mr. Eric Amoateng.

Illustrating the porous nature of the judicial system, Mr. Offniah Moses stated that the courts often released suspected smugglers, including foreign nationals on bail conditions that were usually set only at a fraction of the value of drugs found in their possession.

"The courts' requirement of a surety in addition to bail, is either dropped or court Registrars would fraudulently use the identical property as surety for multiple cases," he said.

According to him, In September 2004, the Narcotic Control Board (NCB) was held in contempt of court, for withholding the passports of suspects charged with drug trafficking offences and who had been released on bail.

The report accused the ministry of Justice and the Attorney Generals Department, which was then headed by Hon. Paapa Owusu Ankomah, for not acting on the case by not filing for a request not to permit bail and for passport seizure.

"The NCB retained the passport whiles they waited for the Attorney General to file a request not to permit bail, which was never filed. The NCB had to return the passports," lamented the NCB official.

"The problem is at the courts and the Attorney General's Department too.

The AG was expected to go in there to try and say, 'No!' but it did not," Mr. Ben Ephson, a panelist on the programme added.

The Member of Parliament for Tamale South and minority spokesman on communications, Mr. Haruna Iddrisu, also blamed the Ghanaian court system for promoting drug trafficking in Ghana.

Mr. Iddrisu said there is evidence to pick on the judiciary for promoting drug trafficking in terms of bails that are granted drug traffickers. "It is the reflection of the weakness and corruption within the judiciary, because in granting bail, every judge should be guided by the circumstance of the case and the possibility of suspects jumping bail."

He stressed that the courts have become wings for promoting drug trafficking.

Citing the Afro-Barometer survey to confirm this, Nana Yaa Ofori Atta, the hostess of the programme, said perceived corruption in the Judicial Service increased from 71% in 2002 to 72% in 2005 whiles corruption in the Police Service increased from 79% to 81% for the same period.

The NCB's PRO described the sorry state they were operating in, especially in relation to the judicial system, as unfortunate. He was not happy about the way drug trafficking suspects are given bail, when investigations had not been completed. The PRO mentioned that between 2001 and 2004, forty-six drug trafficking suspects had been granted bail by the courts, for dealing in various huge amounts of cocaine, heroine and cannabis. That also coincided with the period during which the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nana Akufo-Addo was holding the portfolio of Attorney General.

He said there were media reports that a convicted drug baron, who is also a relative of the then Attorney General, had his properties, which included an ice cream factory, released even though the law demanded that properties of drug traffickers ought to be confiscated to the state.

The NCB PRO accused some of the drug traffickers of going behind the scenes to weaken the judicial system by piling pressure on politicians and judicial officials to show that their rights are being infringed upon because the constitution granted the right to bail after 48 hours' detention.

In the opinion of Moses, for the judiciary to be strengthened, public education on drug trafficking should be intensified and the laws on drug trafficking amended to deny suspects bail, until investigations were completed.

Panelists agreed that Ghana's borders are too porous and drug traffickers are exploiting the situation to their advantage, adding that equipment at the border entries cannot detect drugs.

On the Amoateng scandal, the Government Spokesman on Governance, Mr. Frank Agyekum, said the arrest of the MP was shameful and that the NPP and the government would never shield him, saying, "Nobody has made an attempt to cover up Eric Amoateng, as compared to Mr. Benneh of the NDC regime."

There was consensus amongst the panelists about the selection processes of parliamentary candidates within the political parties in the country. They were of the view that the selection process of MPs should be stricter and due diligence conducted.