Ghana’s first Special Prosecutor, Martin Amidu, resigned from office in November 2020, alleging partisan political interference in his work.
But the man who has succeeded him, Kissi Agyebeng, says he does not fear that that kind of interference. Rather, those he’s worried about are chiefs, religious leaders and his inner circles.
“I do not really fear political interference, because before I took this position there were some assurances I [got] from the powers that be and it is not everything I can say in public. But …traditional leaders that is where I fear most. I have gone and told them something to tell their royals that if any one of them shows up at my doorstep with all due respect, I won’t accept an apology. That is resonating,” he said at a press conference to mark International Anti-Corruption Day in Accra on Thursday.
He continued: “I’m not doing it publicly, but that is what I fear most. Interference from church, friends, family. I have a family and imagine there is a family meeting and someone has committed corruption and corruption-related crime and my family head is begging on the person’s behalf, that is more difficult than the President saying this is our political person. Look the other way. That, I do not fear at all,” he said.
Mr Agyebeng is not the first public officer holder to harbour such fears—senior police officers, for instance, have complained about requests to abandon cases from religious leaders and chiefs.
Interference and precedence
Mr Amidu, who verbally brawled with President Nana Akufo-Addo after his resignation had attributed his decision to step down to the traumatic experiences he went through after he released the findings of his corruption-assessment report on the Agyapa Royalties deal.
In that transaction, the government was seeking to raise a billion dollars from the London and Ghana stock exchanges in exchange for 49% of Ghana’s mineral royalties for development projects. The deal raised suspicions from civil society and the Minority in Parliament.
Mr Amidu investigated the deal and raised issues with some aspects of it, which he said lacked value for money and also breached the country’s international transaction laws.
When Martin Amidu was appointed on February 20, 2018, many hoped that his office would become the state’s biggest arsenal against corruption. But it never was.
Mr Amidu had complained about the lack of logistics, office space, and personnel to champion his cause.
His successor, Kissi Agyebeng said he inherited an office that was in a coma and “immediately triggered the processes to set up and operationalise the Office, to staff it with specialized trained personnel and to fit it with the required material resources and equipment.”
He said the fight against corruption had, in effect, been put in reverse for three years, but his work in the last four months had resuscitated the fight to protect the public purse with a “renewed fervour.”
Mr Agyebeng, the 43-year-old Special Prosecutor, who abandoned his successful law career in August this year to chase looters of the public purse, said his office had completed a review of all the alleged cases of corruption and corruption-related offences before it.
A line up of cases
“Currently, the OSP is investigating thirty-one (31) active cases and it will, in due course, commence the prosecution in the courts of the cases it considers probatively strong with evidence. There is no case commenced by the OSP pending in the courts at the moment,” he said.
He declined to go into the specifics offhand, but that list could include the recent Juaben MCE bribery scandal, the sacked Public Procurement Authority, A.B. Adjei’s contract for sale scandal, and the “galamsey” bribery scandal against a presidential staffer, Charles Bissue.
“Putting things out there when you are not too sure whether you want to prosecute at this stage is that you may end up destroying people’s reputation for life. Because immediately you mention that you’re this or that person there is negative attention to the person. That is why I have refrained from touching on the specific cases.”
Corruption League Table
Mr Agyebeng also plans a name and shame initiative for next year. Modelled on the globally respected Corruption Perception Index (CPI), the Annual Ghana Corruption League Table will assess perceived levels of public sector corruption in the estimation of experts and business people to be published on December 9, every year.
He calls it a “pressure pressure-for-progress drive” his version of a localized barometer of Ghana’s most corrupt institutions.
“In aid of this, public agencies would be ranked against each other on a corruption barometer,” he said with a smile.
In 2019, the Special Prosecutor’s office was allocated 180 million cedis as the war chest for the fight against corruption. Out of this, the Office received only three million cedis.
For the 2022 fiscal year, the OSP budgeted GHc 1.2 billion for capital and recurrent expenditure. However, only GHc 80 million was allocated, representing only 6.6% of what was requested.
While appreciating the government’s effort, Mr Agyebeng did not hesitate in pointing out that his office would move at the pace of a tortoise without adequate funding.
“Without money, we can’t do anything. We will be reduced to writing long letters without any force,” he said.
His predecessor wrote more epistles than he prosecuted cases.
“We need money for everything, especially our operations. On the question of whether what has been allocated is sufficient, generally in Ghana, nothing is sufficient. What has been put there, I have seen but it doesn’t match up to my expectations. But I cannot give up. I’ll continue pushing the envelope to get what we would require to establish and operationalize this office well.”
Corruption risk assessment of contracts
While his predecessor did only one risk assessment that he said informed his decision to quit, the current OSP is opening the scope to cover more than contracts.
“The OSP would carry out anti-corruption risk assessment and review of all major public contracts, legislation and draft legislation. This is intended to avoid toxic deals and the prevalence of judgment debts and arbitrary awards,” he said.
“The OSP would also require all public institutions, departments, agencies, and companies to prepare and submit Integrity Plans intended at assessing deficiencies in their regulations, procedures, policies, guidelines, administration, instructions and internal control mechanisms to determine their vulnerability and exposure to corrupt practices and the prescription of curative measures to manage such susceptibility to corruption and corruption-related offences. I am setting up internal control mechanisms to prevent corruption at the OSP itself,” Mr Agyebeng said.