Law on causing financial loss must stay – GII

Tsatsu Tsikata - went to prison under the law

Whilst some politicians in the country are craving for the law on causing financial loss to the state to be repealed from the statute books, for fear of it being used as a tool for political vindictiveness against political opponents, anti-corruption agencies, such as the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), is asking for it to be strengthened to check public officials from corrupt practices.

Those who have called for the repeal of the law on ‘Wilfully causing financial loss to the State’ argue that it is a highly controversial law that could be subjected to elastic interpretation.

In addition, they claim that it could stifle official initiative and discretion. However, the GII believes that if governments want to remain committed to the fight against corruption and its related incidence, there was the need to strengthen the law to give meaning to the mantra of ‘Zero tolerance for Corruption.’

In the wake of the controversy surrounding the use and application of the law, the Executive Secretary of GII, Vitus Azeem, says there is need to take a second look at it in order to erase any doubts of abuse.

He was speaking in an exclusive interview with The Chronicle, over the weekend. “I think the law is a good law; it may have some weaknesses, which can lead to people abusing it, but then that is no reason why it should be scrapped,” he emphasised.

Instead, he noted that those weaknesses should be looked at again, and addressed in the form of an amendment.

To him, the perception of politicians or governments in power abusing it can be addressed with a government which is actually committed to fighting corruption, and operating in a transparent way.

“In that case, the law seeks to ensure that public officials, when they are taking decisions, or when they are transacting public business, will make sure that they exercise due diligence, to avoid unnecessary losses to the country,” he noted, stressing “As far as I’m concerned, I think it is a good law and must be retained.”

As the law currently stands, Mr. Azeem said he was not sure whether or not there was indeed a need for it to be amended taking into consideration the fact that he is not a lawyer.

However, he noted that if those with technical knowledge in law believe there are sections of the law which need to be amended, they should proceed for it to be done, since it would save the nation.

A noted Economist, Professor George Ayittey, also shared similar thoughts with Mr. Azeem, since according to him, “if it is scrapped, there would be no incentive or mechanism for holding officials accountable for their actions in office, any incompetence or ineptitude is just passed over.

“If you believe in the rule of law, you should enforce that law, since causing financial loss to the state is a criminal activity,” he stressed.

Asked whether the law was being used as a tool for political vindictiveness of political opponents, he noted, “well that’s what those are guilty of malfeasance will say.”

Furthermore, Prof. Ayittey said, “if we have a Minister, who because his own incompetence or ineptitude causes losses to the state, that Minister should be held accountable and responsible. If it’s a lapse of competence, that Minister should be fined, sacked, and should be held accountable.”

Some political commentators and social analysts have called for a review of the law on “Wilfully causing financial loss to the State”.

Somewhere mid last year, the then Minority and now Majority leader in Parliament, Hon. Alban S. K. Bagbin, served notice that he would oppose any move to repeal of the law on ‘Wilfully causing financial loss to the State’.

He thinks that the First Parliament, under the Fourth Republic, was right in passing the law, and therefore it should be retained. “I think Parliament was right in passing the law on causing financial loss to the state, and I will resist any move to repeal it,” said.

Hon. Bagbin made these remarks, when commenting on an answer by Justice Jones V. M. Dotse, an Appeal Court Judge who appeared before the Appointments Committee of Parliament, on his nomination by the President, as a Supreme Court judge.

When asked about his views on the law, Justice Dotse said it was “dangerous” for him to comment on the law, since some of the cases before him in court bordered on it.

He, however, said it had “a negative backlash, considering the manner it has been applied.”

In that regard, he noted that if in its wisdom, Parliament as an institution believed there was the need to repeal it, he had no objection.

The Director of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), Mr. David Newton, also had cause to express worry about the said law, since in his opinion, the law was vague, stressing that its merits only lay in the discretion of the judge.

Mr. Newton said even though there was the need for a law to be in place. to control the actions and inactions of public officials, it must be clearly stated as to the point at which one becomes guilty of causing financial loss to the state.

The law on causing financial loss to the state was passed in 1993, as an amendment to the Criminal Code.

It was sparingly applied under the National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration, but during the reign of President Kufuor and his New Patriotic Party (NPP) government, the law saw some former Ministers of the NDC regime going to jail.

Those jailed under the law and pardoned include Kwame Peprah and the late Victor Serlomey, Finance Minister and Deputy respectively, Dan Abodakpi, Trade and Industry Minister, Ibrahim Adams, Food and Agriculture Minister, and George Sipa-Yankey, a former Chief Director at the Finance Ministry, as well as Mallam Yusif Issah, a former Youth and Sports Minister.

The former Chief Executive of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), Tsatsu Tsikata, was also sent to jail by the same law.

Source: The Chronicle

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