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US to consider visa restrictions for Ghana officials over failure to act on human trafficking, convicted criminals

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Mr. Robert P. Jackson (left) during the interview.
Mr. Robert P. Jackson (left) during the interview.

The US government is displeased that Ghana has shown no real efforts in combating human trafficking in the country, despite support from the US.

The US Ambassador to Ghana, Robert P. Jackson speaking in an exclusive interview with ghanabusinessnews.com, Tuesday July 5, 2016, said if the Ghana government does not act to curb the situation, the US government would be compelled among other sanctions to cut development aid to Ghana and withhold the second tranche of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) financing of nearly $500 million for the energy sector, which should have been disbursed to Ghana by the target date of June end.

He also warned that, for not cooperating with the US government in regards to people who have been convicted of crimes in the US and have returned to Ghana, the US government would be compelled to consider a proposal by a Senator to restrict visas to all Ghanaians.

“We could consider it. Actually one Senator (he didn’t mention the name) has proposed that we restrict visas to all Ghanaians because we are not receiving cooperation on people convicted of crimes in the US who have returned to the country.”

Asked if the US government would consider restricting visas to government officials if it gets to the worst point.

After taking a deep breath he said, “We could consider it. Actually one senator (he didn’t mention name) has proposed that we restrict visas to all Ghanaians because we are not receiving cooperation on people convicted of crimes in the US who have returned to the country.

This is under discussion by my government, but again that is a very drastic step that I would be very reluctant to take, and that I would only take if there are no remaining options.”

Mr. Jackson expressing his deep concern about the conditions of human trafficking in Ghana at present said, “for three years now we have seen the number of prosecutions decline and for me this raises issues about the commitment of the government of Ghana to addressing this issue.

We are not talking about children helping their families. We are talking about real slavery in the fishing industry, in the mining industry, about children and adults being forced into prostitution. Some of them taken out of the country and made to believe that they are going to be given jobs, but are locked up and forced to have sex with total strangers,” he explained.

He indicated that there are three areas to look at a country’s actions – prevention, protection and prosecution.

“Prevention, talk about trafficking and let people know what it is and how to prevent it from happening.

There were more investigations last year than the previous year, but there was not a single prosecution. How come the Attorney General’s office couldn’t find anyone from those investigations to prosecute?” He asked.

He was surprised that after more than 100 investigations, there was not a single prosecution.

“It raises questions in my mind about the interest and seriousness with which this crime is viewed and pursued,” he said.

On protecting trafficked people who have been rescued in the country, Mr. Jackson said the shelters for trafficked victims in Ghana are in abysmal conditions, despite the fact that last year the US government signed new agreements to provide $15 million to help protect children and adults.

When asked where the money was.

He responded, “Most of the money hasn’t been used.”

The US Ambassador said when government officials meet him, they tell him nice things about what they are doing, but he sees no action.

He pointed out that the Ministries of Gender, the Attorney-General’s Department, Employment and Labour and Interior are all responsible in tackling the menace.

“When I meet those officials they say the right things to me, but there doesn’t seem to be much being done. They are not prosecuting people, they are not closing down these employment agencies that are sending men and women to the Middle East and forcing them into prostitution.

They are not looking at the deplorable conditions of the children working in the fishing industry on the Lake Volta or along the coast,” he charged.

Referring to a BBC story on trafficking in the fishing industry in Ghana, about nine years ago – he said not much has been done about the situation.

“We are calling for government action on the matter. If not my government would be forced to cut development aid”

“We are calling for government action on the matter. If not my government would be forced to cut development aid,” he warned. Adding that, “It has to be a partnership with the Ghana government.

The press release that we issued on the Trafficking in Persons Report is the first step. We met with government officials before we issued the press release. I have been assured that government is doing something, but I want to see results.

There is a difference between children helping their families and children being held in slavery?” He pointed out.

The 2016 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report was published last week. The TIP report includes narratives for 188 countries and territories, including the United States.

The report classifies Ghana as a Tier 2 Watch List country, meaning that the government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons and failed to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in the past year.

The goal of the report is to stimulate action and create partnerships around the world in the fight against modern slavery.

According to the US authorities, any country ranked on the Tier 2 Watch List for two consecutive years must be downgraded to Tier 3 in the third year unless it shows sufficient progress to warrant a Tier 2 or Tier 1 ranking. Ghana has been on Tier 2 for two consecutive years.

“A Tier 3 ranking indicates a government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons and is not making significant efforts to do so,” the press release said.

It noted that Ghana could be subject to an automatic downgrade to Tier 3 in the 2017 TIP Report.

Asked why the US government is not working with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), he responded, “We are working with CSOs, but they don’t have the power to prosecute.

We have no authority to go and take these children out of slavery – the government has, the police has. Some say the root cause is poverty. People take kids and say I will take care of them, and they don’t. Parents don’t follow up to see if their children are being well taken care of.”

When it was suggested to him that the issue is also a sociological problem and asked why they are not using sociologists in the fight to combat trafficking in people, he admitted it is.

“I want to see this become a campaign issue”

He further indicated, “I want to see this become a campaign issue.” But it was pointed out to him that it won’t because it won’t win votes for anyone.

“But I want to see the public interested in this issue. Members of the public who see a child in slavery should report it to the police and if there were enough reports being made, it would be hard for the Attorney General’s office and the police to ignore.

I asked why there are no prosecutions, but I didn’t get any answer. Well, if we don’t see action, our next step is to say that our entire assistance protection is in jeopardy. All non humanitarian assistance is on the table,” he said.

When he was reminded that the amount involved could be insignificant to Ghana. He dug deeper and spread some numbers.

He said there is the $500 million from the MCC, another $500 million that will be invested by the private company that would manage the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) – that is $1 billion.

“There is some $146 million for health education and agriculture. Additional money for the military, counter-terrorism training, and so on.

In total, next year it will be about $250 million. Not very significant money for a country like Ghana, but enough to make a difference,” he said.

“I am cajoling but my cajoling has not gone far. Hopefully we shouldn’t get that far.”

“If you could be assured that the investment in the electricity sector would allow factories to operate without worry, without having to use their generators, if you could be assured that every primary school would have books, and if you could be assured that some more people would be enrolled on the national health insurance and investments in agriculture, isn’t that concrete enough?

I am cajoling but my cajoling has not gone far. Hopefully we shouldn’t get that far.

We cannot want this more than Ghanaians. I am not Ghanaian, I am a foreigner here,” he said.

And when reminded that he has a moral obligation. Mr. Jackson remarked, “Ghanaians have a moral obligation too. They have obligations to their children, their relatives and their people, but they are not taking that obligation seriously enough,” he countered.

Asked if the US government would consider restricting visas to government officials if it gets to the worst point?

After taking a deep breath, he said, “We could consider it. Actually one Senator (he didn’t mention the name) has proposed that we restrict visas to all Ghanaians because we are not receiving cooperation on people convicted of crimes in the US who have returned to Ghana.

This is under discussion by the US government, but again that is a very drastic step that I would be very reluctant to take, and that I would only take if there are no remaining options. If the government doesn’t budge, then you would see cuts in the system.

You will see sanctions,” he warned.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Copyright © 2016 by Creative Imaginations Publicity
All rights reserved. This news item or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in reviews.

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