KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY THE HONOURABLE ATTORNEY-GENERAL AND MINISTER FOR JUSTICE OF THE REPUBLIC OF GHANA AT THE FORTIETH INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON ECONOMIC CRIME
THE CHAIRMAN OF THE SYMPOSIUM, Mr. Saul Froomkin, KC,
THE CO-CHAIRMAN OF THE SYMPOSIUM AND PROFESSOR AT THE CENTRE OF DEVELOPMENT STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE, Prof. Barry Rider,
HER MAJESTY’S ATTORNEY-GENERAL FOR ENGLAND AND WALES,
HONOURABLE ATTORNEYS-GENERAL FROM VARIOUS COUNTRIES REPRESENTED HERE,
HONOURABLE MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
THE RT. HON. LORD MAYOR OF THE CITY OF CAMBRIDGE,
THE RT. HON. LORD MAYOR OF THE CITY OF LONDON,
SENIOR MEMBERS OF THE JUDICIARY Gathered here,
HEADS OF LAW ENFORCEMENT INSTITUTIONS AROUND THE WORLD gathered here,
THE DEPUTY ATTORNEY-GENERAL & DEPUTY MINISTER OF JUSTICE of the Republic of Ghana,
Good morning everyone.
I bring you greetings from the President and the people of the Republic of Ghana. I feel honoured to be invited to deliver a Keynote Address at the 40th Cambridge Symposium on Economic Crime.
This is my third appearance at this forum, and my second as Attorney-General and Minister for Justice of the Republic of Ghana. My sincere gratitude, and congratulations as well, go to the Chairman and Co-Chairman of this Symposium, Saul Froomkin KC and Prof Barry Rider, as this week will see a consolidation of the noble activity they have been engaged in the past 40 years. Year after year, this forum literally brings under one roof those at the helm of the prevention and reduction of abuse to the financial system worldwide, and whose voices and actions matter globally, in the establishment of values that protect the global financial system from the consequences of economic crime and misconduct. From Attorneys-General around the world to senior legislators, judicial officers, diplomats, leading academics in law and business and police chiefs in over 100 countries, participants have regularly analysed and examined the constantly evolving threats facing the global financial system as a result of criminal and other nefarious activity.
In all of this, distinctly, the Cambridge International Symposium on Economic Crime is far from being a mere talk shop. Its enviable track record for being a global platform that delivers practical solutions to economically motivated crime and misconduct worldwide is truly established. We must applaud Prof Barry Rider and Saul Froomkin KC for the consistency in the organisation of this symposium.
The theme for this year’s symposium – Integrity – could not have been more appropriate. Integrity is the one word which runs through the grain of everything we do as persons concerned with enriching any system we work with. In the words of former US Senator, Alan K. Simpson, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you do not have integrity, nothing else matters”. Classically, this sums up the importance and indispensability of integrity in every situation including the creation of a world economic order insulated from the nefarious activities of criminal and unethical behaviour.
Whilst noting that the use of the word “integrity” may be more common in professional and personal contexts, the intricate relationship between integrity and economic practices cannot be lost. The creation of a clean, transparent and accountable financial environment is dependent on structures and systems anchored in integrity. The deployment of sophisticated schemes to circumvent procedures and facilitate the commission of crime and other kinds of improper conduct in the global financial space, brings into sharp focus questions of ethics and integrity. The manifestations of economic crime are increasingly getting complex because of various actions by professional enablers whose conduct borders on unethical behaviour. These are breaches of procedures, violation of laws, laundering, creation of shell companies, opaque financial systems and concealment of illicit wealth.
Mr. Chairman, the intricacy and multidimensional nature of economic crime undoubtedly enjoin us to have a network of gatekeepers such as lawyers, bankers, real estate agents, insurance service providers and luxury service providers who are bound up by strong rules of ethics and accountability. A free, progressive and equitable society requires a world with men and women of integrity.
GHANA’S EFFORT IN PROMOTING INTEGRITY IN THE ECONOMIC SECTOR
Ghana has had and continues to have its fair share of threats to its financial and economic sector. In my role as Attorney-General and Minister for Justice of the Republic, I have come to understand that any serious endeavour to fight economic crimes must be firmly rooted in the establishment of systems for its deterrence, undertaking of smooth investigations where same occur and a sound vehicle for prosecution and punishment in a fair and efficient manner.
These systems have a close connection with the peculiarities of the Ghanaian society. In Ghana, public procurement plays a preeminent role in the development of the nation. At the same time, public sector corruption evokes strong emotions. In view of this, the nation has enacted a set of rules, from the Constitution of the country to specific laws in the financial sector, founded on the principles of integrity, to regulate procurement in the public sector and to curb abuse and insider trading. Thus, public servants are forbidden by article 284 of the Constitution from placing themselves in situations where their personal interests interfere with or are likely to interfere with the discharge of their duties.
One piece of legislation that is directly intended to prevent economically motivated crimes and the abuse of office is the PUBLIC PROCUREMENT ACT of 2003 (Act 663). Annually, the Ghanaian government and public institutions enter into many contracts, for the provision of infrastructure, goods, and services. The Procurement Act regulates such procurement undertaken with public funds. The guiding principles of the Procurement Act of Ghana are fairness, transparency, non-discrimination, the attainment of a clean process in order to obtain value for money, promote a competitive local industry and increase the confidence of stakeholders in public procurement processes in the country.
In addition to this, the Public Financial Management Act, 2016 (Act 921) enshrines a body of laws to regulate the financial management of the public sector within a macroeconomic and fiscal framework and defines the responsibilities of persons entrusted with the management and control of public funds as well as the accounting and audit of public funds.
Mr. Chairman, the question to ask is, have these sets of laws been foolproof for wrongdoing? The answer is a resounding no! Indeed, it is the case that wrongdoers will always find a way. They will constantly devise artful means of evading the long arm of the law. In spite of these protective measures, corrupt activities occur at various stages in the procurement process. These unquestionably have a significant negative impact on the economy and harm the development of society. Insider trading is just one of many unethical behaviors. Some officials responsible for procurement activities in various public institutions abuse the trust by engaging in what is popularly known as “behind the scenes” business with contractors and suppliers. The unique position they occupy gives them access to insider information, which they unethically convey to contractors or suppliers to hand an unfair advantage to them over their competitors in a bidding process. This practice results in dissatisfaction and defeats the principle of fairness in procurement. The detection of false or inconsistent claims by contractors is hampered by the illicit protection extended by public procurement officers who have the mandate to detect and revise them.
The most chilling, and perhaps shocking case of insider dealing was witnessed when a former head of the Public Procurement Authority was implicated in what was notoriously dubbed “Contracts for Sale”. As the head of the Procurement Authority, he was alleged to have established a company in which he held majority shares and which also actively bid for government contracts. This company was alleged to usually win the contracts which were then sold to other contractors at a higher price. The revelation of these acts promptly resulted in the termination of his employment by the President of the Republic and a withdrawal of his membership of various professional institutions and subsequent prosecution which is still ongoing. The record also shows a trial of other cases involving insider dealing in various courts in Ghana.
Mr. Chairman, last year, I spoke about a phenomenon that afflicted the financial sector of Ghana between 2018 and 2020, that is, the emergence of many unlicensed financial entities operating illegally. The leaders of such entities often lived a lavish lifestyle on the proceeds of their illicit activities. I indicated that prominent among such entities was an amorphous organisation operating a microfinance institution under the guise of – guess what – gold trading and illegally using the name of a bank. It called itself Menzbank, before metamorphosing into “Menzgold”. It dealt in the purchase and deposit of gold collectibles from the public and issued contracts with guaranteed returns to clients without a licence from the relevant authorities.
The modus operandi of that company highlighted some of the major factors for the success of some fraudsters. These are ignorance, vulnerability and greed of the victims. In this situation, the vulnerability and ignorance of thousands of otherwise hardworking Ghanaians was the oxygen for the operations of the company, as we often witness in the case of many Ponzi schemes around the world. People paid their life savings to the suspects in the case, resulting in losses worth millions of dollars and in some cases, loss of lives. The misery and distress caused to many homes nearly unleashed a social crisis as riots and demonstrations broke out on the streets of Accra and other parts of the country. In reality, people lost their homes, and some marriages even broke up as a result of the Menzgold saga. I am happy to state that after painstaking investigations, criminal prosecution has commenced against the perpetrators. At last, by the Grace of God, justice will be served to victims of those dastardly acts.
In my respectful view, transparency is the bedrock of integrity. Thus, with the understanding that the haven for economic crimes is an atmosphere conducive to its concealment, and that, access to information remains a vital tool in the elimination of economic crimes, the Government of Ghana in 2019, ensured the passage of the Right to information Act 2019 (Act 989). The Act provides for the implementation of the constitutional right to information held by a public institution to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public affairs, subject to a few exemptions necessary and consistent with the protection of the public interest in a democratic society.
I have observed an increased utilisation of the Right to Information Act, by Ghanaian citizens to access information from public officers. Accountability is indeed the winner.
Mr. Chairman, the Government of Ghana has boosted the whistleblower regime by promoting a law to amend the Whistleblower Act, 2006 (Act 720) which introduces a reward system for whistleblowers. The new amendment, passed by Parliament only about a month ago, ensures that thirty percent of all revenue accruing from cases conducted on the strength of a whistleblower’s activity is paid into the Fund, and 10% of the income directly generated by the whistleblower’s efforts is paid to the whistleblower.
Coupled with the centrality of access to information, we have identified a deliberate policy of digitalisation of the Ghanaian environment as crucial to the creation of accountability and integrity in society. Policies like a robust National Identification System, Digital Property Address System, Paperless Port Systems, E-Justice Systems, Pensions and Insurance data and a digitized Land Title Registry have as their overarching objective, the need to enhance transparency, accountability and efficiency in the public space. A digitised environment ultimately helps to eliminate and prevent corruption in various institutions and agencies. Important institutions of state like the Passport Office, Ports and Harbours, Office of the Registrar of Companies, National Health Insurance Service and the Driver Vehicle and Licensing Authority, which hitherto were fertile grounds for corrupt activity, have been remarkably transformed. The introduction of the Ghana.Gov platform, making it possible for services to be accessed and payment made online by card without the conduit of middlemen, has significantly reduced the risk of public sector corruption through embezzlement.
There is an inimical tendency on the part of public officers to enter into contracts with high rates of interest especially compound interest. In order to curb this tendency, my Office has successfully sponsored the enactment of an amendment to the Contracts Act, 1960 (Act 25) to prohibit the payment of compound interest by the State in transactions entered into on her behalf by public officers. This amendment was passed into law in July, this year, a month ago. The state’s hard-pressed purse will be further protected by this amendment to the Contracts Act.
The need to ramp up international effort and cooperation to tackle economic crimes
Our survival as a global community depends on the continuous trust reposed in us. We must bear in mind that businesses exist to do business and to make profits which, ultimately, will be at the expense of the rights of others. The extent to which they succeed depends on the society, population, and “culture” in which they operate. We must be acutely aware that the development and integrity of the global financial system are at risk from exploiters of weaknesses in the system to perpetrate financially motivated crime. But we can conquer wrongdoers and opportunists through a coordinated effort based on mutual cooperation between criminal justice partners and the private sector worldwide.
Criminals exploit differences between countries to further their objectives, enrich their organisations, expand their power, and avoid detection or apprehension. They gain influence in government, politics and commerce through corrupt and illegitimate means. The need for states to cooperate in combating the threat of economic crimes is, therefore, more than imperative.
Certainly, the interaction between business, politics and justice is crucial and that is what makes this forum truly remarkable.
The consequence of a failure of integrity is far too dire to contemplate. When those who have been entrusted with authority to ensure that right procedures are followed derelict on same, the trust and confidence of the people are abused.
We need to punish corruption and other forms of economic crime through a fair, honest and efficient justice system. As I have said before, a robust legal system, underpinned by the rule of law, goes hand in hand with economic prosperity as it bolsters the confidence of the people and deters the perpetration of wrongdoing. The efficiency of a nation’s justice system is tested particularly by the speed and efficiency with which cases seeking to hold high-profile members of society to account as well as top financial crimes, are conducted.
May we be guided by the words of the famous American salesman and author, Zig Ziglar “Integrity gives you real freedom because you have nothing to fear since you have nothing to hide”.
I wish you a fruitful week as we listen to the rich insight of distinguished and accomplished speakers from around the world gathered here.
Thank you. God bless us all!!!
GODFRED YEBOAH DAME
MINISTER FOR JUSTICE