WHO WILL JUDGE GHANA’S CORRUPT JUDGES? WHAT WE NEED IS A COMMISSION OF ENQUIRY INTO THE JUDICIARY, MANNED BY JUDGES FROM OUTSIDE GHANA
By CAMERON DUODU
THE revelations made by Anas Aremeyaw Anas on corruption within the judiciary are, without doubt, the most explosive ever made in this country.
Usually, we only get to hear about public malfeasance on this scale after the offenders have left office and their political enemies, anxious to justify their existence by blackening the names of their predecessors, make a selective release of material from the official files they have inherited.
In the Anas case, the evidence collected was done independently of politicians – or so one assumes – and has been released to the public solely to enable the offenders to be punished and the inerasable lesson taught that those to whom power is entrusted must exercise it with integrity, or risk being consumed by exposure and the public anger it brings.
I am slightly perturbed, though by the methodology Anas has employed in releasing his material. Ideally, what investigative journalists do is to gather their evidence, cross-check it thoroughly to make sure it is absolutely accurate, and then publish it. Sometimes, in order to ensure fairness, they may ask those who would be affected by the publication of the material to comment on it, and if they find the explanations or other comments relevant, they may include them while publishing the material.
But sometimes, the material is so damaging that the person concerned may use legal processes to try and suppress it altogether, as soon as he/she learns that it has been uncovered. In the case of material that has been obtained from classified documents, prosecution of the journalist(s) might be used as a threat to try and get the material suppressed.
Therefore, many investigative journalists start off on the premise that AUTHORITY — per se — is the enemy, and that alerting any arm of AUTHORITY of what the journalist has uncovered may be the surest way of destroying the chances of the evidence being used to produce the punishment or reforms the journalist presumably wishes to see effected.
That methodology inevitably puts journalists and AUTHORITY at cross-purposes. Some journalists believe that such a state of tension is the only healthy one that should exist between journalists and AUTHORITY. The reason is that the tentacles of AUTHORITY are numerous and all-pervading, and are more likely to be used to protect AUTHORITY figures of all types than to punish them.”High society” has its networks, you see. For instance, when President J F Kennedy heard in 1961 that The New York Times intended to publish facts it had obtained about the US intention to invade Cuba at the “Bay of Pigs”, he personally phoned the publisher of the paper, Mr Schulsberger, and the venerable NYT dropped the story.
Had the NYT done its public duty and published the facts it had gathered, the people killed on both sides during the disastrous operation would have been spared death; the “Cuban missile crisis” of 1962 that nearly brought about World War 3 between the US and the USSR would not have occurred; and the people of Cuba would not have lived through five decades of hardship, created by the embargo imposed on trade between the Western world and Cuba, imposed by the United States.
Another example: the exposure of the Watergate scandal in America is perhaps the best illustration of how far AUTHORITY’s tentacles can extend. When reporters from the Washington Post it detected, at a court hearing, that some of the “plumbers” who had ”burgled” (for which read “bugged”) the Watergate building (the headquaters of the Democratic National Committee), in Washington, had flourished telephone numbers that led to the White House, and the Washington Post’s reporters tried to find out what possible connection the “plumbers” could possibly have with the august White House. Their enquiries immediately triggered a tenacious attempt by AUTHORITY to “cover up” the burglary. This “cover-up” grew and grew and grew until it enveloped a lot of people in AUTHORITY in Washington at the time.
So powerful were these AUTHORITY figures that the informer who fed the Washington Post journalists with information, whom the called “ Deep Throat”, needed to use very clandestine methods to communicate with them. He warned them that the CIA was involved; so was the FBI; as were Nixon’s Attorney-General, John Mitchell; and Nixon’s most important White House aides, John Dean, John Erlichmann and H R Haldeman. And – ha! – Nixon himself! Eventually, Nixon had to resign. Just imagine what would have happened if the Washington Post had gone to Nixon and presented him with the evidence and asked him to “clean up” his administration by sacking members of his staff who had broken the law, and stopped at that! Of course, Nixon would have exploded in anger at his recalcitrant staff and made scapegoats of them!
The Pentagon Papers revelations by Daniel Ellsberg were also nearly suppressed by AUTHORITY, not on the grounds that what the documents revealed would not be in the public interest, but that they were the property of AUTHORITY that had been improperly purloined. It was only the adroit handling of the documents by Ellsberg and his associates that enabled the contents of the dynamite contained in the documents to become public knowledge. Yes, AUTHORITY will always think of “damage limitation” to begin with, and journaluists who do0 not anticipiate that are naive in the extreme.
In the Anas case, what seems to have happened is this: Anas has chosen a two-track mechanism for publicising the material on the corrupt judges: (1) he has given the material to AUTHORITY, by sending a petition to the presidency and the office of the Chief Justice, asking the two most important offices in the land to view the material and initiate action to punish those involved.
(2) Simultaneously, he has given what appears to be limited access to parts of the material to the local media, which are releasing it piecemeal. This is an ingenious way of pressurising AUTHORITY not to simply adopt the usual lackadaisical attitude to it that Ghanaians know so well; in other words, it won’t be enough for AUTHORITY to merely say, (in the memorable words of Super OD): “We shall look to to it!” and promptly go to sleep over the issue. and throw the tapes and related documents into the bin.
But in doing this, Anas and the legal team that is assisting him, might find that by over-extending the use of the material, they might have inadvertently risked creating a smokescreen over it. In these matters, it is essential not to lose the central focus of the effort. Yet, today we hear that Anas has been given immunity by the Attorney-General’s office. What for? Some say in line with the Whistle-blowers legislation. But Anas is not a government employee who has filched national secrets. He is an investigative reporter whose freedom of expression is fully guaranteed by the Constitution.
As we focus on the issue of privacy and immunity, we learn that the Attorney-General wants to prosecute 22 of the more junior of the judicial personnel involved, after they had been interrogated by a committee of the Judicial Council. But what about the senior judges? Have impeachment proceedings been contemplated against them in line with the Constitution, or what? We speculate on, and debate, that possibility as well.
Meanwhile, we hear that some of the suspended judges are going to court to challenge the evidence from Anas that the Judicial Council has been looking at. Ah, so? But who will be the judges who will judge the cases against their fellow judges? What faith can the public repose in judgements made over judges by their ”brother judges”?
Judges are so important in our setup that anything concerning them must be totally transparent and squeaky clean. The least of them is more powerful than the President, because he can deprive his fellow citizens of their liberty and their property. So having gone to all that trouble to collect evidence against such powerful people — with connections which we can only guess at — Anas, in my opinion, should have published it first, before giving the material to AUTHORITY, upon request.
Right now, it can be argued that AUTHORITY has been given the means to only go as far as damage limitation requires and no further. Yet the import of what Anas has so far published is that corruption is so widespread in the judiciary that all arms of it – including the Supreme Court and the Appeal Court – ought to be thoroughly investigated.
For (if only by hindsight) what are we to make of the Victoria Hammah allegation — which was so easily brushed aside because the retired judge asked to investigate it had no power to subpoena her to give evidence — that a Minister in the Mahama Government, had gone “to see” certain judges of the Supreme Court to ensure that the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Mr John Dramani Mahama in the election petition case of 2013?
Having plumbed for a commission of enquiry into the judiciary, I must point out that if it is to enjoy public confidence, the enquiry would need to be carried out by judges drawn from external – obviously Commonwealth — sources. There is a very good precedent for that: in November 1955, a judge from Nigeria, Mr Justice Olumuyiwa Jibowu, was brought to Ghana to investigate allegations of widespread corruption made against members of Ghana’s ruling Convention People’s Party (CPP) over their use of public funds entrusted to the Cocoa Purchasing Compny (CPC). Jibowu was sent by the British Colonial Secretary, who rejected the suggestion of the ”Gold Coast” AUTHORITIES that they could deal with the matter themselves. The British Colonial Secretary was too clever to be “swerved”; in other words, he readily saw through the ruse by the local authorities to use their tentacles — which extended into the local judiciary — to short-circuit any serious investigation into corruption in the ruling circles. And, indeed, no useful purpose would have been served by asking the local judges to investigate the members of the government whom they met privately at “cocktail parties” at least once a month!
A commission of enquiry manned by judges from outside Ghana would be able to use the Anas material to elicit other information relating to miscarriages of justice that have occurred in Ghana up to say, the past 10 years. (Any longer period might become unwieldy.) The commission would have the right to carry out preliminary studies of petitions submitted to it, in order to weed out those that are frivolous.
I repeat: in trying to purge the judiciary, let us not forget that judges are more powerful than any other AUTHORITY. So they ought to command the respect and even reverence of every single citizen. It is no use us throwing up our arms and saying, “We know that there are corrupt judges, but what can we do about it?”
Anas Aremeyaw Anas has given us the bow and arrows with which to “shoot” down corruption in our judiciary. Where and how we shall shoot the arrows is beyond the remit of Anas, but definitely within the ambit of the Ghanaian citizenry as a whole.
If we blow it this time, we are digging our own graves, politically and socially speaking. Let us remember that a member of the Supreme Court had so much contempt for
his fellow citizens that he thought it adequate to give a three-minute judgement in an all-important political case, which millions of citizens had been following on television, for almost eight months. Give such people the privilege of investigating their own wrong-doing tand you must count yourself as a mug amongst mugs.