Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The un-tenability of Justice Georgina Wood’s Position

“No punishment has ever possessed enough power of deterrence to prevent the commission of crimes. On the contrary, whatever the punishment, once a specific crime has appeared for the first time, its reappearance is more likely than its initial emergence could ever have been. “- Hannah Arendt

In many other societies the Chief Justice (CJ) of the Republic of Ghana, Madam Georgina Wood, would have resign her position.

To maintain her personal integrity and safeguard the integrity of the institution of the judiciary, Madam CJ should have thrown in the towel.

The CJ occupies such an exalted position that any whiff of impropriety will easily bring it to dis-repute. But we live in a society where people cling tenaciously to office when their position has become simply untenable.

No less an institution that the ruling party, the National Democratic Congress, NDC has, through its regional chairmen seriously indicted the CJ and passed what goes for a vote of no confidence in the CJ, yet she made no reply and she clings to office. This is not good enough.
That she was made CJ in very murky circumstances should be bad enough, but that she should be perceived to be politically biased should be totally unacceptable. What about the allegation that she has taken over the task of allotting cases?

The judiciary is the third arm of government and a very important one for that matter. Perhaps unknown to most people, the judiciary is actually the most powerful of the arm of government.

Civics books teach that the legislature makes laws, the executive executes it and the judiciary interprets the law. This means that the law is what the judiciary says it is. No mortal can challenge the order of the CJ because there is simply no higher authority in matters judicial. Those familiar with the role of interpreters in colonial Africa will know that they are often the most powerful people in the system.

The judiciary is the only arm of government that can actually punish someone. The President, however powerful, cannot order the arrest and detention of any citizen. A mere circuit court magistrate can incarcerate the most powerful citizen by judicial fiat. And whereas the legislature can, sitting collective, condemn someone for contempt, a lone magistrate sitting in a dilapidated room in some obscure place can so do in a jiffy.

But with these awesome powers come some profound responsibilities. Invested with such grand powers, the judiciary is expected to place itself beyond the ordinary plane. It is expected that our Judges operate in a rarefied space that will continue to awe ordinary folks with its majesty.

What also should not be lost on us is the simple fact that the judiciary derives its authority solely by being the only arm of government that required rigorous learning. That might explain why Judges are called LEARNED.

Whilst the executive and the legislative arms of the triad are peopled by every manner of ragamuffin, Judges are expected to be people who have gone through first a university training and then attend the Law School.

Whilst a minister of state might brandish nothing more serious than a bulging bank account and a member of parliament might be a confirmed buffoon, a Judge must be literate and well educated. His\Her comportment must also be above reproach.

Maybe because they hold such awesome powers over us, Judges have always been judged by different standards than accrue to the rest of the hoi polio.

Recent events in our dear land have dented this hallowed image that a judiciary must carry that yours truly will join those that call on the Chief Justice to tender her resignation with immediate effect.

In justice, as in politics, perception is everything. But whereas the executive and the legislature can afford to have their images drag though the mud, it is a price the judiciary cannot afford to pay. The authority and legitimacy of the judiciary is based on the perception that is in an impartial arbiter of the law. Remove that and the judiciary has lost it all.

Whereas a Minister or a MP can survive a scandal, a Judge must always be above reproof. He must always appear sober and with an air of piety. And no Judge can survive been tainted with political biasness. And for a judge to be accused of trading judicial gossip at a drinking bar is totally moxious.

And the situation where we have a sitting judge openly trading political mudslinging with an official of the Attorney General’s office is unwholesome. It shows that Madam CJ is not in control of her turf. There should be no need for a senior judge to come out publicly and open his mouth ‘anyhow.’ Verbal pugilism is not among the credentials we expect from our Judges.

Sans the perception that our judges will deliver impartial justice, there is little sense in appealing to the law to settle disputes. Comprehending this simple logic is what is appearing to me missing in the many jejune arguments being postulated by political jobbers.

Our system of justice is in a very fine mess. What need to be done is recognition of the sad fact and look for ways to rectify the rottenness in the system. Pretending that things will correct themselves is sheer illusion we will do well to avoid.

We need not read unnecessary politics into the issue. The big question here in whose interests are laws made, administer and adjudicate?

If as we all agree it is in the interest of the common man, another important question arises: what is the perception of the masses about our system of justice.

Less us leave hypocritical vituperations aside; unless someone just arrived from Mars, almost everyone knows that our judicial system is corrupt beyond measure. A cursory reading of letters to the editors or the opinion pages on the webspace will show the depth of our people’s disgust with the judicial system currently operating in the country. And the angst of the people is for good reasons.

Wittingly or not the judicial is creating in the minds of the people that contrary to what we are being told, the law is a respecter of well-heeled persons.

“How can law contradict the lives of millions of people and hope to be administered successfully?” Richard Wright

We cannot but fail to notice how poor people are being punished very severely for the least infractions, whilst rich and powerful people are made to go scot free on what the legal people called ‘technicalities.’

“A man's respect for law and order exists in precise relationship to the size of his paycheck.” Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

Rightly or wrongly we are being told that the dispensation of justice depends on one’s pocket. I have argued severally in this column that it is illogical for us to continue to operate a system of justice that makes little or no sense to the vast majority of our people. How on earth can we claim to be interested in justice when very few of us understand the mechanics of the legal system? And people in the legal profession will tell us that ignoratia legis haud excuse. To wit: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. In the opinion of our learned judges, we should be punished for our ignorance!

We did ourselves great dis-service when after regaining control of our national affairs from the colonizers, we elected to keep in place the very system they imposed to oppress us.

Why did the simple logic that we cannot use the same instruments\institutions that our colonial masters used to oppress us to build our modern societies evade us?

Our police continue to oppress us like agents of colonial officers rather than friends, with whom the people could feel free and secure. Even a child born yesterday knows that our police officers are uniformed bribe-takers. Many will even tell you that from the lowest to the highest echelon, the whole gamut is riddled with corruption. And yet, it is the same police we expect to be at the frontline of our justice system. And it is the same people we expect to lead the fight against corruption!

How many of us have not encountered police officers shamelessly begging for ‘something small,’ on our roads? How many of us who have had occasions to seek assistance at police stations have not been embarrassed by the open corruption there? And it is the same police we are told will impartially execute the law?

I have had few occasions to visit some of our law courts. If we are truly serious as a people, we will admit that what we call justice system is one huge joke where every manner of charade is played out by those we charge to administer our justice system. Our courts make Arab bazaars look sanctified. Any honest person will tell you that justice is for sale, and openly so. Everything in our law courts has its price and the haggling is done almost openly.

We operate a very rotten political and judicial system and we pretend not to know why there is so much chaos in our society.

Below are some recent headlines (and stories) about how justice is administered in our dear land:

Plantain thief jailed 12 months

Noble Plantain-Thief Jailed 18 Months! Elitist Thieves are Free!

Cable thief jailed six years

A circuit court at Goaso has sentenced Kwame Frafra, a 32 year old unemployed to six years imprisonment in hard labour for stealing a quantity of electric cables

Two brothers pay heavily for stolen booze
Two brothers, Kobina Daffour, 22 and Kofi Sasu, 24, both unemployed and resident at Jukwa near Cape Coast, were on Friday fined GH¢500.00 each by the circuit court in Cape Coast for stealing a bottle of ‘Kasapreko Alomo bitters,’ an alcoholic beverage valued at GH¢1.50 from a drinking spot.

Two remanded for stealing goat
The Akim Swedru Circuit Court has remanded Kwadwo Akpakah and John Kwadwo, both farmers, in prison custody for stealing a goat valued at GH¢100.00, a property of Nana Kwasi Nkrumah who is a fetish priest.

We have the situation whereby our learned Judges find it expedient to jail petty thieves, many of them unemployed, to stiff jail terms. The same Judges will find ‘technical’ excuses to set free those who looted millions and billions from their employers.

Some judgments from our law courts are truly bizarre. Recently nursing mother was sentenced to six month jail term by a learned judge who made no provision for the care of her baby. The poor woman was unable to pay a fine of 400 cedis and for that she has to spend six (6) months in jail. It took the intervention of a kind-hearted Regional Minister to pay help pay the fine and rescue the poor woman!

It is difficult to keep pace with the spate of corrupt cases in our society today, but the most obvious ones are the Ghana@50 secretariat where billions of (old) cedis were allegedly mis-appropriated.

Look at that word (mis-appropriation), again. When educated, well-connected folks steal money from their employers (private or public), they are said to have mis-appropriated it. Whereas a poor Kwame who steal 10 cedi in order to buy for his family their only meal of the day is, in view of our laws, a plain thief or robber as the case might be. But the big man, who sit in a big office and use his pen to illegally divert billions of cedis to his private accounts is said to be guilty of mis-appropriation!

The truth is that it is far easier for the proverbial Camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to see the inside of a jail.

We are all witness to the daylight robbery former Speaker of parliament, Mr Ebenezer Begyina Sekyi-Hughes, perpetrated in broad daylight. The departing speaker looted his official residence and to date no charge has been proffer against him. He is walking free and is probably considered a man of god and a pillar of his society.

“Good order is the foundation of all good things.” - Edmund Burke

“Where laws end, tyranny begins.” - William Pitt the Elder

And consider these headlines:
STATEMENT: Dep A-G Must Apologise By Justice Anthony Oppong
NDC Chairman: We'll Clean Judiciary Of Rot If Chief Justice Fails To Act
A-G replies Judge: Your comments are reprehensible, unprofessional
Chief Justice Georgina Wood is politically tainted – NDC
Feature: Tainted professional conduct and the Ghanaian judiciary
Dep A-G: Go To Hell, I Won’t Apologise Today Or Tomorrow To Judge Oppong

How on earth do we expect untainted, unbiased justice in these poisoned atmospheres?
To call the law an ass is an egregious insult to all asses!

“As President, I have no eyes but constitutional eyes, I cannot see you.” - Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Making our institutions work

The Mirror (Ghana) of Saturday, August 7, 2007 edition carried my letter to the editor entitled: “Deal with alcohol-related accidents.”

Incidentally, the same issue carried another letter from compatriot, James Annan, who wrote from Kumasi and titled his letter, “Ban unworthy commercial vehicles.’

This is what I wrote in my letter:

“Hardly a day passes without reports of gruesome vehicular accidents on our roads claiming lives, maiming limbs and leaving families and the nation disconsolate.

My own observation is that most of these accidents happen over the weekends. The reasons also seem to be clear cut. Most of the ones I have witnessed are alcohol-related. To wit: people journeyed to their hometowns and villages to partake in one do or the other. They get carried away and get seriously drunk on variety of easily-available and cheap liquor. Of course, inebriated brains are not going to observe the injunction of not driving when drunk. The results are that we have people with enough ethanol in their system to power a Jumbo Jet getting behind wheel to ferry themselves and loved (sic) ones. Of course, these drunks think of any highway as a race course and consider any challenge as an affront to their demented macho dignity. These champion drivers will now and then crash with the resulting calamities.

What is baffling is why the police authorities have not decided to take advantage of these recalcitrant drivers to enforce the laws; make some good money for themselves and save lives.

Since we all know that our people love to party, and it is a given that many of us like to get seriously drunk on weekends, the police should rise to the occasion by making the errant among us pay. We can borrow a leaf from the Dutch Police.

Very practical people, the Dutch government did not see reason why they should continue to subsidise the police when there are enough felons around to be taxed. The result was a very efficient police to be found around every corner with breath analyzers and receipt books. The taxes are huge enough to sober up the most hardened felon.

It looks like our police take Sundays off and are mostly off the roads after sundown. This is not very clever. Let them sit up and try to rigorously pursue this idea for three to six months and see whether or not there will be changes on our driving habits.”

Exactly ten days after my letter was published, the newspapers headlines were full of stories of two horrific accidents that occurred near Sege and near Ada in the Greater Accra Region.

HORROR! 19 killed,” was the headline of the Daily Guide (August 17, 2010). “BLOODY MONDAY – 23 Perish in 2 gory accidents” was how the Daily Graphic bannered the stories.

Twenty three innocent compatriots lost their precious lives in the ghastly mishaps in which alcohol and fatigue were believed to have played their roles. The Daily Graphic reported that the more horrific of the accidents had a Mass Transit Bus (MTB) ramming into a stationary lorry parked at the shoulder of the road killing 19 people! The bus was ferrying passengers who had gone to participate at a village festival.

The Transport Minister, Mike Hammah, was reported to have visited the site together with many top guns from several of the institutions that were supposed to guarantee that we travel safely on our roads. One of these was the National Road Safety Commission.

According to the sector Minister, the spate of accidents in the country cost US$16.5 million annually, and is also partly responsible for retarding the nation’s development agenda.

Have we not heard all these before?

Of course, like the sanctimonious hypocrites that we are, we will lament loudly even if only for a few days. And, of course, we would go back to our daily lives, so soon forgetting the latest nasty mayhem. The blood-soaked images will soon fade away; no one will remember the mangled bodies. Prime lives wickedly cut short would soon become a thing of the past. Our officials will puff and they will fume; but nothing will come out of it.

Ah, there are more pressing issues to be tackled. Our politicians are already busy doing what they do best – making lotta of noises without making any sense at all. Elections are still more than two years away, yet our ear-drums are being bombarded with rancorous noises of those who make it their profession to politrick.

Lamentably, in years gone by, idealistic men and women, motivated by a desire to make a positive difference in the lives of their fellow beings, go into politics.

The Yoruba word for politician is ‘Oselu.’ It means literally: ‘A town planner/organizer.’ It was a very positive appellation which in those days must be earned with honest sweat.

Today, our political landscape is littered with every sort of ragamuffins who are out only to make easy money.

Today, politics has become another money-making venture. We now have a new class of entrepreneurs – why not call them politreneurs. These are unprincipled men and women who join politics to pursue selfish agendas. It is not for them to strive to improve their community. No, they want all the goodies of life and believe that politics offer perhaps the only avenue for them to grab all the grabables. Four years of ‘service’ will earn them enough ex-gratia (what should we be grateful for?)
The Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah ruled this country for nine years, he left not even a single room to his name. No matter what his detractors say, no one can accuse him of personal corruption. He was out to make a difference and he did make a difference. Today, a District Chief Executive only has the ambition to build a big mansion within two years.

Sadly for us, we have not evolve a system whereby our leaders can be grown organically. Our institutions are far too weak and far to corrupt to create unselfish and patriotic leaders. The weak institutions are the bane of the society and they are what is causing all the troubles for us.

What is baffling, at least to yours truly, is our capacity for self-deception. We hate to tell ourselves home truth. We all believe in playing the hypocrites. I do not know if this stem from the unwillingness to give offense or from splain cowardice.

If truth be told, our institutions are far too gone for the cosmetic surgeries we are applying on them. Instead of a radical overhaul, we are busy trying to prop up institutions with shaky foundations. Our elders say that the house built with spittle will be fell by dew. Instead of radically re-writing our constitution, we are calling for amendments. We not only operate an alien system that makes little or no sense to the majority of our people, we also pretend not to know that they are not working for us. Our political\electoral system has become so obscene that many of our folks are thoroughly disillusioned. And the sec-Gen of the ruling party was recently sufficiently miffed to take a giant swipe at the judiciary.

I fully sympathise with the NDC scribe. How could a judicial system that could sentence poor Kofi to ten years for stealing fingers of plantain be expected to be taken seriously when it can free treasury looters on what it termed TECHNICALITY?
Let’s take the carnage on our roads as symptomatic of institutional failure. Vehicular accidents happen for two reasons – mechanical failure or human error.

Even a dumb, blind and deaf could see that there are vehicles plying our roads that have long passed their prime. In many other countries, many of the mechanical contraptions that ferry cargo and human across our country will only be found in museums.

Yet they are there. We all see them and those who we pay to ensure that such monstrosities are confined to the junkyards also see them. Our police have checkpoints strewn across the length and breadth of the country. Officers (male and female) manned these checkpoints; they see the antediluvians vehicles breaking our laws and they do absolutely nothing about it.

Sorry, of course, they do something – they collect their bribes (illegal, unreceipted tolls) smiles and wave the law-breakers off.

Which child born in Ghana today do not know that our police are corrupt beyond redemption? Yet, like the great pretenders that we all are, we look the other way – see no evil, hear no evil.

Police officers who are total disgrace to the uniforms they wear will turn up on our tubes to pontificate about fighting corruption and we all listen to them. They are the pillars of society. They are solid men and women who are leaders of their communities and elders of their churches.

And what happen when our policemen deign to arrest a driver? In broad daylight we see officered men and women haggling with arrested felons over what to pay as bribes. The police officer is more interested in how much he can squeeze from a driver than in ensuring that the laws are obeyed. And we all pretend not to notice.

If our police force is corrupt beyond redemption, our judicial system is on a different league entirely. That the law is no respecter of anybody is a fiction maintain only in Civics classes. You and I know that the moneyed class easily gets away with crimes for which ordinary mortals will suffer greatly. No one who has attended any of our courts will not be saddened by what passes for justice in our dear land.

I have argued elsewhere that the institutions we inherited from the colonisers need modifications to suit our peculiar traditions and environment. The system of justice we operate makes sense only to lawyers and the judges who serve there. Even the most educated among us will be truly mortified by our judicial system where cases are left pending for decades on end.

In the letter to the Mirror I advocated our borrowing ideas from the Dutch who very practically ask the police to earn their own keep. We can go further.

In my letter I did not write about the various steps the Dutch police have taken to bring sanity to their roads. One of these is a constant patrol of the highways not only to ensure free flow of traffic but also to ensure that broken down vehicles are promptly towed away before they cause accidents like what happened with the MTB. Of course, the heavy bill is promptly dispatched to the vehicle owner. This ensure that: 1 – people think twice before bringing unhealthy vehicles onto the roads and 2, that broken down vehicles do not cause traffic hold-up or accidents.

We can set up Fast Track Traffic courts whose sole remit is to try, what else, traffic offenses. The Motor Transport Unit (MTU) of the Ghana Police Force should be strengthened with officers empowered to summarily summon offending drivers. Justice at these courts should be speedy and the fines should be hefty enough to make drivers think twice before committing traffic offence.

Of course, all these measures require a well –maintained national identification database. How do we do this in a country where streets are not named and houses are not numbered?

Solutions anyone?

Monday, August 9, 2010

And The Parliamentarians Blink First

According to press reports, the parliament of Ghana spent the better part of Monday the 5th of May 2010 discussing one Mr. Kofi Wafo.

The eccentric politician had called various MPs some unpalatable names and this, reportedly, got the goat of some of them. At the end the day, after blowing plenty grammar, the threat was made to drag the political maverick before the Privileges Committee of the parliament.

Of course, Mr. Wayo robustly (and characteristically) called the bluff of the puffing MPs. And as to be expected the cowardly MPs blinked first.

After wasting inordinate man-hours, these expensive-to-maintain MPs could only spew one silly excuse after the other on why they would not dare invite Mr. Wayo to appear.

But we know better: he who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.

In issuing their stupendously stupid threat, the parliamentarians clearly revealed how badly ill informed they were. Had they correctly read the public mood, they would have known that they were being obtusely silly.

Although our MPs singularly failed to read the public mood, methinks that simple common sense ought to have dictated to them that they were embarking on a very imprudent enterprise.

How could our expensively maintained MPs have hoped to win a shouting match with a very loquacious, basket-mouth character like Mr. Wayo, whose every pore is spoiling for a verbal warfare? Even his very imposing physique suggests a man built to fight.

"Bring it on," cigar-chomping Kofi Wayo cried with joy when he heard that he would be summoned before parliament.

Of course, our "honourables" scurried back to the comfy of the parliament house!

But wait a sec... Was it not the same parliament where members boycotted proceedings a few months ago in sympathy with a guy (Darko) that libelously accused former president Rawlings of setting fire to his own house?

How did the Darko case warranted the emblem of "freedom of speech," while Kofi Wayo is to be criminalized for running his mouth? We truly live in a very funny country!


Wise saying:

" Never use both feet to test the depth of the sea." - African proverb