At mid-afternoon on March 9, 2021, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo stood on the floor of parliament and spoke for nearly two hours, reading from about a 26-page document. He was delivering the first State of Nation Address (SONA) in his second term and his sixth SONA since he was first sworn in as President of the Republic of Ghana on January 7, 2017.
Akufo-Addo’s speech elaborated on the achievements of his government across many sectors in his first term. It also outlined a litany of promises his government would deliver in the next four years.
The State of Nation address was elaborate, but it wasn’t long enough to cover something many Ghanaians consider the most crucial variable in the governance and development equation of Ghana—corruption—a word Akufo-Addo was very fond of as opposition leader.
In the over 9,400-word speech, the words “corruption”, “corrupt”, “anti-graft” or “graft” were absolutely absent. And that wasn’t the first time those words were missing in a SONA speech by President Akufo-Addo.
Two months earlier, on January 5, when he visited Parliament to deliver the last SONA in his first term as president, his over 3,500-word speech also failed to address corruption or even mention the word.
This year’s SONA was the first time in 13 years that a president of Ghana had failed to mention the word corruption while giving the State of the Nation Address. Below is a breakdown of the number of times Ghana’s Presidents have mentioned corruption or corrupt in their State of Nation address since 2008.
In the two SONAs, Akufo-Addo delivered this year, the closest the president has come to addressing the theme of corruption is the repetition of the claim that he had increased or doubled the budgetary allocation of some accountability institutions like the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) (even though accountability is not necessarily same as corruption). However, Fact-Check Ghana has debunked the president’s claim of doubling the funding of CHRAJ as completely false, stating that the government has barely increased funding for the Commission compared to the allocations in previous years.
The president’s seeming neglect of corruption in the State of Nation address, his government’s impasse with the Auditor-General, the acrimonious resignation of the Special Prosecutor and the rising complaints of intolerance against the government by journalists and anti-corruption civil society organisations have added to the perception that corruption in Ghana is rising.
High Corruption Perception
While the President seems to be shutting up on corruption, which is projected to cost Ghana an average of $3 billion every year, the perception of corruption in the government is rising.
As opposition leader, Akufo-Addo heavily deplored the erstwhile John Mahama administration on the account of corruption and built the 2016 campaign that brought him into power on the subject of corruption. However, the annual corruption perception index (CPI) by Transparency International, which ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived, tells a different story.
The report indicates that the worst CPI score under the Mahama-led government is the best CPI score under the Akufo-Addo-led NPP government. Below is Ghana’s CPI score from 2013 – 2020.
The CPI uses a scale of 0-100, where zero (0) is the highest corrupt perception and 100 is no corruption perception. 1st is the lowest rank of corruption perception among of 180 countries. John Mahama was president from July 2012 to January 7, 2017.
Today, 53%of Ghanaians say the level of corruption in the country has risen over the past year, according to the Afrobarometer. The recent Afrobarometer results also reported that 80% of Ghanaians think either some, most, or all of the President and officials in his office are involved in corruption.
Loud corruption rhetoric
In the 2016 election campaign that brought Akufo-Addo into office, corruption was the main weapon with which he slayed the John Mahama administration. He tagged his predecessor’s administration as “incompetent and corrupt”. In the 2016 manifesto of the NPP, Akufo-Addo said his vision for Ghana was one that would combat corruption and build a government different from the erstwhile NDC government.
“Our nation is in crisis: a crisis created and sustained by the mismanagement, incompetence, and corruption of the Mahama-led National Democratic Congress (NDC) government. Economic conditions are worsening by the day and there is so much suffering in the land. But Ghana does not have to be like this. Ghana deserves the best!” Akufo-Addo said in the NPP 2016 manifesto.
He continued, “I have dedicated my life to public service to change Ghana for good. As President, with the help of the Almighty God, I will be committed to a different kind of government, one that governs in the national interest, not for private gain.”
He promised in the manifesto that one of the earliest transformations that would be witnessed in his government was the end to corruption and mismanagement in Ghana. Akufo-Addo had also promised to adopt investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ principle to expose corrupt officials within his government.
“The measures are going to be difficult but there has to be a variety of them…including what I consider the ‘Anas Principle’. Setting up highly motivated professional groups of young people who will work as if you like [as it were] undercover to unearth examples of corruption wherever they can find them and thereby allow the authorities to deal with the issue.
“And not only expose the corruption but you will actually deal with it in terms of sending people to court [and] prosecuting them and hopefully the courts will cooperate and make sure the culprits are found guilty and sanctions appropriately enforced,” Akufo-Addo said in a presidential debate in 2012.
Among other promises to fight corruption, candidate Akufo-Addo promised to amend relevant sections of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) to make corruption a felony [rather than a misdemeanour] and establish the Office of the Special Prosecutor, which would be independent of the Executive, to investigate and prosecute certain categories of cases and allegations of corruption against political officeholders and politicians.
Akufo-Addo and the fight against corruption
On November 14, 2017, the Parliament of Ghana passed the Special Prosecutor Act for the establishment of the Office of the Special Prosecutor. Two months later, President Akufo-Addo appointed anti-corruption crusader, Martin A.B.K. Amidu, who was a one-time Attorney General when the NDC was in government.
The appointment of Martin Amidu, who had demonstrated an unwavering commitment and earned a towering reputation in fighting corruption in the Woyome judgment debt saga, received a lot of applause from both local and international governance and anti-corruption institutions.
The United Nations Association of Ghana, for instance, said the appointment was a “feather in the cap of the executive” and “evidence that Ghana has really come of age in political tolerance”. The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) also commended the President for the appointment.
“We consider the appointment as a big step forward in the fight against corruption and wish to commend the President for choosing the right man for the job. Mr. Amidu’s nomination is ample demonstration of the President’s true commitment to the fight against corruption,” the MFWA said in a statement.
Two years later, the Akufo-Addo government pushed for the passage of a potentially game-changing law for accountability and transparency. It was the Right to Information Law, a bill that had spent about 20 years on the shelves of parliament gathering dust.
Also, true to Akufo-Addo’s promise, in October last year, Parliament passed the Criminal Offences (Amendment) Bill 2020, categorising the offence of corruption as a felony. This meant that any person found guilty of corruption would go to jail for not less than 12 years and not more than 25 years.
The then Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Gloria Akuffo, who was present at the third reading of the Amendment said: “The passage of the bill will strengthen the anti-corruption regime in the country and will lead Ghana’s international commitment in the fight against corruption.”
But critics of the president’s anti-corruption efforts have said laws alone cannot win the battle against graft. And some actions taken by the President and the government subsequent to the legislative efforts appear to prove the critics right.
Akufo-Addo nicknamed “Corruption Clearing Agent”
Contrary to the words of the Attorney General, the passage of the laws appeared to be just on paper and did not lead to any greater commitment to fighting corruption.
In the first four-year term of the government, several allegations of wrongdoing were levelled against appointees of the president. They included but are not limited to:
- Allegations of bribery by the Minister-Designate for Energy, Boakye Agyarko, at his parliamentary confirmation hearings.
- Corruption allegation against the two deputy chiefs of staff at the Office of the President by Kwame Asare Obeng, popularly called Kwame A Plus.
- Allegation of corruption against the MD of the Bulk Oil Storage and Transportation(BOST) for the sale of 5 million litres of contaminated fuel to an unlicensed company Movepiina and Zup Oil. This deal was said to have caused Ghana to lose 7 million Ghana Cedis in revenue.
- Conflict of interest allegations against Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta on the issuance of $2.25 billion bonds.
- Visa Scandal issue at Australia 2018 21st Commonwealth Games involving the Deputy Minister of Sports, Pius Hadzide, Director-General and Officers of the National Sports Authority.
- Allegations of extortion of $2.6 million from expatriates by the Trade Ministry to offer seats close to the President at the Ghana Expatriate Business Awards (Cash for Seat Saga).
With the state security apparatus seen by many as an appendage of the government and governing party, the National Investitions Bureau (NIB) and the police have struggled to justify the credibility of their investigations after several accused appointees were cleared of wrongdoing.
Apart from the finance minister’s and the Public Procurement Authority CEO’s issues, which were investigated by the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, the others were handled in ways that drew criticism from the public and civil society as lacking transparency and shielding the culprits.
This perceived lack of independent investigations has seen critics especially, the opposition NDC, tag the president as a “clearing agent”, a tag the president vehemently opposes.
“It is not my job to clear or convict any person accused of wrongdoing or of engaging in acts of corruption. My job is to act on allegations of corruption by referring the issue or issues to the proper investigative agencies for the relevant enquiry and necessary action. That is exactly what has been done since I assumed the mantle of leadership on January 7, 2017,” he said at the 2019 Ghana Bar Association Conference held in Takoradi in the Western Region on Monday, September 9.
Akufo-Addo’s “Anas principle” rhetoric tested
In 2019, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, whose principle the president had once promised to adopt in fighting corruption, released an expose that saw an appointee of the President, Charles Bissue, on tape allegedly taking bribes to sidestep the laid down procedures for the procurement of mining licenses.
While the matter was on the desk of the Special Prosecutor for investigation, the Police CID cleared Charles Bissue, who was the Secretary to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining (IMCIM), of any wrongdoing.
President Akufo-Addo had promised to put his presidency on the line to fight illegal mining (Galamsey), which is a menacing health and environmental threat to the country. That fight has been dogged with allegations of corruption, including the illegal sale of hundreds of seized mining excavators by the government officials and party members appointed to lead the fight.
No one has been prosecuted. At the National Dialogue on Small Scale Mining, on April 14, 2021, the president said he would not act on hearsay allegations against his appointees engaging in Galamsey.
The opposition NDC has chastised the government for the rising perception of corruption and has called Akufo-Addo the “biggest enabler and promoter of corruption”.
“Instead of punishing his corrupt officials who have been involved in the act of corruption, President Akufo-Addo has turned himself into a chief clearing agent of corruption in his government and has endorsed, whitewashed, and promoted his errant appointees who have been engaged in these corrupt acts,” Sammy Gyamfi, the NDC’s National Communication Officer said in a statement in 2020.
Resignation of Martin Amidu and the hounding of Auditor-General Domelevo
On November 16, 2020, Martin Amidu, the Special Prosecutor, resigned from office citing political interference with the independence of his work. Amidu had commenced investigations into the controversial Gold Royalties Monetisation Transaction arrangement (Agyapa Royalties deal) which many, including the Attorney General of Akufo-Addo’s government, had criticized in an earlier report as not in being the interest of the country. Mr. Amidu, in his resignation letter, accused President Akufo-Addo of being complicit in the corruption in his administration.
“The reaction I received for daring to produce the Agyapa Royalties Limited Transactions anti-corruption report convinces me beyond any reasonable doubt that I was not intended to exercise any independence as the Special Prosecutor in the prevention, investigation, prosecution, and recovery of assets of corruption. My position as the Special Prosecutor has consequently become clearly untenable,” Martin Amidu stated.
In a response to the President’s nine-page reply that denied the allegations of interference, Amidu said he resigned his position as SP “because of the traumatic experience I suffered from the reaction of the President who breached his Presidential oath by unlawfully obstructing me from taking any further steps on the Agyapa Royalties Transactions”.
He further added that “the President whom I trusted so much for integrity only looked like the innocent flower of anti-corruption but he was really the mother corruption serpent under the innocent-looking flower.”
Five months before the resignation of the Special Prosecutor, in June 2020, Akufo-Addo had ordered the Auditor-General (A-G), Daniel Domelevo, to proceed on his compulsory “accumulated” leave. Many anti-corruption crusaders suspected that the A-G, who had been widely hailed for his resolve to surcharge alleged corrupt public officials, was being targeted by the President because he had surcharged the Senior Minister, Yaw Osafo Marfo, for the $ 1 million Kroll Associates deal.
Mr.Daniel Domelevo challenged the president’s order. Also, about 500 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) across the country commenced a campaign to compel the president to rescind the decision.
“We find the entire episode and the justification for the President’s action regrettable and inconsistent with both the letter and spirit of the 1992 Constitution,” Dr. Kojo Asante, Director of Advocacy and Policy Engagement at Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) said on behalf of the CSOs.
However, President Akufo-Addo maintained his position and forced the A-G to take the “accumulated” leave, which some lawyers and labour experts said did not exist in the first place.
In March 2021, when Daniel Domelevo, who was just three months away from retirement, had to return to the office, the Audit Service Board came up with fresh claims against him. The Board claimed that Domelevo was not a Ghanaian, but Togolese. They also alleged he had reduced his age by a year according to a Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) form he had filled in 1978, which differed from the original date he had filled when he signed on to SSNIT.
Mr. Domelevo explained that there was a mistake in his date of birth, which had since been rectified, and that the 1961 date was his year of birth, and not 1960, which the board wanted to use.
Amidst these accusations, the President ordered the A-G to proceed on retirement. Again, CSOs called the order from the president unlawful.
“The questions regarding Mr. Domelevo’s date of birth which formed the recent basis for the President’s letter were not handled in accordance with the Constitutional directive in Article 23. The actions of the office of the President and the Audit Service affirm our belief that Mr. Domelevo has been unfairly targeted.”
Critics say the forced retirement of the Auditor-General by the President and the resignation of the Special Prosecutor are dents on Akufo-Addo’s anti-corruption rhetoric and commitment to fighting corruption.
Safety of critical journalists threatened, fear of reporting corruption
In January 2019, Ahmed Hussein Suale, an investigative journalist and key member of Anas Aremayaw Anas’ team, was shot and killed in Accra. Suale had led in the production of the #12 documentary that exposed corruption among many football officials in Ghana and some parts of Africa.
Ahmed Suale had been threatened by a leading member of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) and Member of Parliament, Kennedy Agyapong. The MP put the undercover journalist’s photograph on television and ordered that whoever saw him should attack him and that he (the MP) would bear the consequences. He was not touched after the murder of Ahmed Suale.
His death was the pinnacle of deteriorating press freedom and the safety of journalists situation in the country. Some critical journalists whose works are known to expose corruption in public offices like investigative journalist Manasseh Azure Awuni have received multiple death threats. At the peak of the threats, Manasseh Azure and his family had to be moved out of the country to a safe haven. He has since been given a police escort even though the threats on his life continue unabated.
Another investigative journalist, Edward Adeti, who was informed by the police of an assassination plot on his life and that of his family has said there was attention in his home. He believed the threats are related to his investigative piece “Cash for Justice” which implicated a Principal State Attorney in a bribery scandal and an earlier investigation that resulted in the resignation of a Minister of State at the Office of the President, Rockson Bukari.
The worsening press freedom situation, critics say, is cowering into silence many journalists and civil society activists who, until recently, did not have to consider the safety of their lives and their families before publishing anti-corruption and accountability stories.
Sadly, today, six out of 10 Ghanaians think that there is fear, negative consequences, and the risk of retaliation when a citizen speaks out against corruption, according to the recent Afrobarometer report.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story shall not be republished or broadcast, in part or in full, in any form or shape without the express permission of the Editor-in-Chief.
You can reach the writer via email at [email protected], or on Twitter @KK_Asante.