ISODEC CALLS FOR TIGHTER RULES AND TRANSPARENT PROCUREMENT PROCESSES TO CURB JUDGEMENT DEBT ABUSE
The Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC) has been following keenly, accusations and counter accusations by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) over who is to blame for huge financial losses suffered by Ghana in recent months through the payment of questionable judgement debts and compensation claims, and is appalled, as many Ghanaians are, by the manner in which the political elite of this country have abused the trust reposed in them by the people to further their parochial partisan and personal interests.
It’s so far played out like a well rehearsed theatrical performance. A government awards contracts. Some are suspected to be dubious. Another government succeeds this earlier government, and decides to cancel these contracts it suspects to be dubious. It does so, sometimes, through arbitrary and in some instances capricious use of power. The offending parties do not contest or make their claims for compensation but wait till the party that awarded them the contract returns to power and then resurface with suits and claims for restitution. Because this party that has returned to power is the one that awarded the contracts which were cancelled, it does not contest but proceeds to assist the aggrieved parties to secure judgement against the state, and in some cases negotiate settlements out of court, blaming the government that cancelled the contracts for not respecting the contracts. In the end huge sums of money that could have been expended on essential social services such as water, health and education are lost senselessly to individuals and firms whose services the state did not enjoy.
ISODEC is particularly surprised and indeed unenthused by the fact that the political leadership of this country could enter into questionable contracts on behalf of the state in spite of the existence of earlier rules, subsequently replaced by a National Procurement law and Authority established to regulate all public procurements.
We are also disappointed that parliament, which is expected to represent and protect the interest of the people by exercising effective oversight over the executive have failed in ensuring the exercise of proper due diligence in contracts and have consequently failed to prevent the wanton abuse of the procurement law.
What is more worrying in all these developments is their potential ramifications on foreign investments and donor assistance.
We note that, the CP, Waterville, Woyome, ISOFOTON, and Africa Automobil scandals are nothing but a tip of the iceberg. There have been other instances such as the mysterious presidential jet that the NDC procured and the Kufuor administration refused to use because, as it claimed, it could not establish the purchase agreement or the owners of the jet.
There have also been issues related to the contract for the construction of the Presidential Palace under the Kufuor administration. To date the actual cost of the project remains a mystery.
In all these we have failed as a country to do a proper diagnostics of the legal and institutional weaknesses that have allowed these things to happen, and have consequently not instituted appropriate remedial and preventive measures to forestall future occurrences.
The ongoing attempts at political equalization on these issues are totally unacceptable. Our worse fears are that the national interest would be completely lost if this is allowed to pass as a partisan issue.
It is in contributing to righting this anomaly, that ISODEC throws its weight behind the call by Dr. Joe Abbey of CEPA, other individuals, and civil society groups for a high-level public inquiry into these affairs with a view to identifying those through whose actions or inactions this country has incurred these monumental losses, and making any body found culpable pay for these losses, and punishing such people to deter those who may be tempted to behave in like manner.
The members of such commission of inquiry must be non-partisan, drawn from recognised and respectable professions such as judges, lawyers, accountants, finance experts, the clergy etc.
The Commission’s recommendations should include needed policy, legislative, and institutional reforms; guidelines on how to deal with suspected dubious contracts inherited by a successor government, when or under what conditions to go for negotiated settlements; as well as principles to guide the negotiation of settlements if that becomes an option.
Meanwhile, we have a few thoughts to share on some aspects of the judgement debt debacle that confronts the nation today:
1. We are convinced that the situation where a particular ruling party is made to negotiate settlements alone with offended parties does not best serve the national interest. Where negotiated settlements is the preferred option, we recommend that a multi party team is constituted to represent the state
2. While we admit that a successor government has the moral and legal authority to review all contracts and liabilities it inherited from a previous government, it is imperative that, any decision to abrogate a contract is disclosed publicly together with the reasons, which should include the cost and benefits projections.
3. As a preventive measure, we strongly recommend open contracting across all sectors of the national economy, as opacity provides cover for shady contracting which eventually lead the country into avoidable disputes and costs.
4. We also call for a review of the National Procurement Act, in view of the inherent weaknesses that have allowed the festering of dubious procurements.
Finally, we urge all well-meaning Ghanaians, the Trades Union Congress of Ghana, Ghana National Association of Teachers, Ghana Medical Association, Ghana Registered Nurses Association, Ghana Private Road Transport Union, Ghana Bar Association, Christian Council of Ghana, Ghana Pentecostal Council, the Moslem fraternity, National Union of Ghana Students, youth associations, NGOs and all other groups and individuals to join CEPA and ISODEC in their call for a non-partisan high-level public inquiry into recent revelations of possible abuse of judgement debts and compensation claims. This certainly will be a campaign we, at ISODEC, are prepared to commit ourselves to between now, December 7, 2012 and even beyond.
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