Re: Fight Against Galamsey – OccupyGhana’s Response To The President’s Regret On Aisha Huang’s Deportation Without Trial

Re: Fight Against Galamsey – OccupyGhana’s Response To The President’s Regret On Aisha Huang’s Deportation Without Trial

23rd SEPTEMBER, 2019

OCCUPYGHANA® PRESS STATEMENT

RE: FIGHT AGAINST GALAMSEY – OCCUPYGHANA’S RESPONSE TO THE PRESIDENT’S REGRET ON AISHA HUANG’S DEPORTATION WITHOUT TRIAL

OccupyGhana® has noted with wry resignation the recent statement by the President that he regrets the Government’s decision to deport Aisha Huang without first completing the trial of her for mining-related offences. The President specifically said that that decision, “on hindsight, was a mistake.”

We appreciate the President’s candour in admitting this mistake. We agree with him that that decision was a mistake, a grave and regrettable one. What we are concerned with is that it had to take hindsight, an understating of the situation only after it had happened and almost two years after the fact, for the Government to realise how bad a mistake that was. Ghanaians knew right from the start that it was a mistake and said so to the Government, which ignored us, making this regret very little and very late.

And, while the legislative amendment that enhances the punishment regime for mining-related offences might deter some from engaging in Galamsey, we do not see how that, in and of itself, will prevent the repetition of the government’s mistake. That is because the mistake, the decision to free Aisha Huang without trial, had nothing to do with the law as it existed at the time.

We take these positions because there was sufficient basis, at the time of the decision, to show that the deportation without trial would hurt and weaken the fight against illegal mining. Certainly, the Government was aware of the message that that act gave to the whole world: the law will be enforced against citizens, but foreigners who breach the same law would be flown to their countries to sleep in the comfort of their beds and enjoy their illegal made-in-Ghana Galamsey booty. Yet the Government went ahead, took that decision and implemented it. That was the mistake, not the law.

For several years, OccupyGhana has been involved in the campaign against illegal mining. From that, we know that Ghana cannot divorce the scourge of Galamsey from the invidious roles played by several foreign nationals who exploit our weak and sometimes non-existent internal security system to engage in illegal mining.

That is why we were extremely disappointed when the then Minster of Lands and Natural Resources, Mr. Peter Amewu, instead of seeing to it that the law was simply enforced, was reported to have met with the Chinese Ambassador to Ghana and the Mayor of China’s Guangxi Zhuang Province on 27th March 2017, to solicit their help to fight Galamsey, saying, “we are begging you to help us address this particular difficulty that we are having.”

Disappointed in this anemic and pathetic approach by the Minister towards the fight, it was refreshing and reassuring when the President, in a speech at Akyem Wenchi in April 2017, called the bluff of Galamsey operators. We issued a statement on 2nd May 2017 to stand with the President on this matter. Pleased with the stance taken and leadership provided by the President at the time, we expressed the “hope that the fight against this scourge will continue on an even higher level,” and that “with the President taking the lead and the support of all well-meaning Ghanaians, we will win.”

This was followed by the launch of Operation Vanguard by the military in July 2017 to combat Galamsey operations.

However, the matter involving Aisha Huang and the Government’s handling of it beggars belief, insults our intelligence, contradicts the President’s numerous pledges to fight Galamsey, and is probably the most obvious indicator that the Government’s commitment to the anti-Galamsey fight has been at best half-hearted.

When Aisha Huang was first arrested, being as obviously involved as she was in Galamsey, she was only charged with petty immigration infractions, namely hiring foreign nationals and disobeying directives. The steepest penalty for these was a risible and ridiculous GHS12,000 administrative fine!

It took an OccupyGhana Petition addressed to the Attorney-General in May 2017, protesting this and demanding that proper charges are laid under the Minerals and Mining Act, for that to happen. In that petition we pointed out that “the fight against illegal mining in Ghana is a fight to protect, not only the present, but the future of this country. It is therefore imperative that the law must be applied to all who fall foul of it, without fear or favour.”

But we were to be disappointed again when after several fits and starts, the prosecution on the charges laid by the Attorney-General only after OccupyGhana’s petition, was truncated and aborted by the same Attorney-General’s nolle prosequi; and then Aisha Huang was deported without standing trial. The result is that Aisha Huang did not even pay the GHS12,000 in administrative fines for the petty immigration infractions she was originally charged with before our protest and the Attorney-General’s intervention. We recall a petition from the Media Coalition Against Galamsey (MCAG) dated 21st December 2018, pointing out in real time that that decision was a mistake, and which fell on deaf ears.

It was sad that in the face of protests by the public over this action, a Presidential Staffer and the then secretary to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining, Mr. Charles Bissue, in apparent answer to the MCAG’s petition, added insult to injury in December 2018 by claiming that the Government deporting Aisha Huang was to prevent tax payer monies from being spent on her trial and possible imprisonment. What Mr. Bissue was unable to tell us was what that cost of prosecution and imprisonment would have been, compared to the damage that Aisha Huang’s alleged activities had caused, and as compared with the Ghanaians and others who had been tried for, convicted of and punished for the same offence.

Then, as recently as April 2019, the Senior Minister Mr. Yaw Osafo-Maafo compounded the situation, justifying the lack of prosecution of Aisha Huang on the basis of Ghana’s relationship with China and the prospect of receiving $2bn under the Sinohydro bauxite project.

In our statement dated 22nd April 2019 in response, we were emphatic that “the Senior Minister’s comments make complete mockery of the fight against Galamsey and critical decisions Government and the coalition against Galamsey have taken to address this issue. This statement suggests that there is a price tag for the exoneration of foreigners implicating in the appalling desecration of Ghana’s environment, rivers and laws. It positions foreigners who break/flout our laws as untouchable and above the law because their countries offer a trade partnership and benefits, we will receive from them.”

Neither Mr. Bissue nor Mr. Osafo-Maafo has withdrawn and apologised for these offensive and insulting statements. That is why we think that the Government’s alleged volte-face, captured in the President’s “mistake on hindsight” statement gives no, little or very cold comfort.

We are unable to agree with the President’s claim that this would not happen again simply because the punishments provided in the law have been enhanced by a recent amendment. The decision to free Aisha Huang without trial had nothing to do with the state of the law or punishment regime at the time. It was simply an unfortunate political decision, the real reason being possibly what Mr. Osafo-Maafo’s epiphany revealed. The amendment that the President refers to will not compel the Attorney-General to prosecute foreign nationals who are arrested for engaging in Galamsey or any other offence. Indeed, in July 2019 Huang Yanfeng, another Chinese national who was arrested in May 2019 for illegal timber operations, was also quietly deported, reminiscent of a pattern in dealing with foreign nationals who defy our laws regulating natural resources.

Thus, in our view, what the President should do is to assure Ghanaians that the executive power vested in him under the Constitution shall not be used in this manner again. And then we expect the President to order that all persons who have been arrested for being involved in Galamsey, especially the foreign nationals who are routinely simply handed over to Immigration for deportation instead of standing trial, should immediately be put before trial.

This “on hindsight mistake” has been a rather unfortunate, deflating and regrettable phase in the fight against Galamsey and a slap in the face of Ghanaians. We expect that all subsequent acts will match the realisation of the titanic mistake we made with Aisha Huang and more recently with Huang Yanfeng. We will judge the Government in this matter, not based in its words and assurances based on hindsight, but on its acts that are based on foresight. Let the Government beget fruits that befit the repentance of the “on hindsight mistake.”.

Yours in the service of God and Country

OccupyGhana®

OccupyGhana® Calls For Urgent Government Action On Public Officer Conflicts Of Interest

4th SEPTEMBER, 2019

OCCUPYGHANA® PRESS STATEMENT

OCCUPYGHANA® CALLS FOR URGENT GOVERNMENT ACTION ON PUBLIC OFFICER CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

OccupyGhana® has noted, fully identifies with and wholeheartedly endorses the 2nd September 2019 call by the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) for the enactment into law of the long-standing Conduct of Public Officers Bill. It would be recalled that we made the same call in our press statement dated 23rd August 2019 titled “OCCUPYGHANA® DEMANDS FIRM ACTION ON THE PUBLIC PROCUREMENT AUTHORITY AND COLLAPSE OF FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS MATTERS,” where we also stated that “there is no justifiable or acceptable reason for the failure to pass that into law.” Tellingly, we added that “public office holders ought to know that there would be painful legal consequences for engaging in conflict of interest and conflict of duty acts.”

It is almost ironic that within days, Ghana has had to deal with yet another ‘scandal’ involving allegations of conflict of interest concerning a Board Member at a major public institution. Without commenting on the facts of any particular case, these latest issues and the rapidity of them throw into stark relief the urgent and continuing need to enact legislation to enforce public officers to take seriously their duties as guardians of the public purse.

More fundamentally, there is a crying need for thorough investigations and stiff penalties where public officers are found to be placing themselves at potential conflict of interest. This can be achieved by government immediately bringing back to Parliament debate on the Conduct of Public Officers Bill, which has been sitting dormant since 2015.

OccupyGhana® has repeatedly discussed and brought up for discussion, the duties and roles of a Board and Board Members. That is because what is often apparently misunderstood is the utmost duty of good faith and bona fides that comes with serving in a fiduciary position, which is what Board Membership really means. A fiduciary relationship is essentially one of a trustee. It is a basic principle of a trust that a trustee cannot profit personally from the property to which they have been entrusted. A Board Member of a public institution must never place themselves in a position where they may be suspected of profiting (directly or indirectly, including through any company or property they own) from the institution’s funds. That is why Article 284 of the Constitution prohibits, not just actual or real conflicts of interest and duty but even the likelihood (possibility, potential, chance) of it.

That brings into question whether the normal requirements of full disclosure, non-participation in decisions and even full arm’s length transactions, which might pass muster under the common law, are sufficient to meet the constitutional standard in Ghana. If mere likelihood is prohibited, then it stands to reason that under no circumstances should any Board Member allow their company or property to be offered to the public institution for which they serve, whether for profit, personal benefit or otherwise. Thus, it would appear to us that a bid won by a public official’s company, concerning the institution for which they serve, is a tainted bid and brings into question the value for money of the bid concerned, and whether the bid was truly fair and competitive.

We are of the view that simply declaring an interest and not participating in the decisions are not enough to deal with suspicions over the use or abuse of insider information. Worse, declaring their interest could in fact heap substantial pressure on fellow Board Members and staff, especially significantly, on those in the entity who have to take procurement decisions. This can skew the playing field in one direction and would prevent other companies from entering the bidding process with any confidence that they can compete fairly and, on a level, playing field.

We believe that it is for this reason that the framers of the constitution prohibited both actual conflict and the “likelihood” of conflict. In our view, the proper course for a public officer facing a conflict of interest is to remove themselves and any company they own completely from pitches or offers of contracts with the institution concerned.

The proposed Conduct of Public Officer’s Bill makes clear that conflicts and likely conflicts of interest are forbidden. Further, not only must a public officer facing a conflict declare that conflict to the institution concerned, but they must also declare it to CHRAJ or other prescribed body, and comply with any directions thereafter.

OccupyGhana calls for any new Bill to go further and state in no uncertain terms that in any situation of a likely conflict of interest, the public officer must ensure that any bid for contracts or other interaction between their private company or property and the public institution be immediately withdrawn.

It is now imperative that firm measures are brought into law to restrict the excesses of certain public officials, and to provide a key deterrent against further abuse of public office. It will simply state what we accept or do not accept in Ghana. This must be combined with a campaign to educate Ghana’s public on this vexed and deeply misunderstood issue of conflicts of interest and duty.

Yours in the service of God and Country

OccupyGhana®