Last week I stated that the interdiction of St Augustine’s Headmaster was arbitrary, and in a manner that lacked due process. I have received a few reactions from some of my readers who think that it is because the interdiction has to do with St Augustine’s College, that is why people are screaming, that if it was a lesser known school, some of us would not have screamed as loud as we are doing presently.
Well I will like to place on record that I do not support the action of St Augustine’s Headmaster. And I will like to say that I am not an old student of St Augustine’s. I went to Winneba Secondary School. I only did the story because I believed, and still believe that Mr. Connel is only one of many heads of schools who are charging unauthorized fees, and that the action of the Deputy Minister is not sustainable as it does not seem to have been grounded in a known procedure.
In Ghana we turn to confuse the working of institutions with the blatant show of power. In a properly conducted institution, it is the rules and regulations of that institution, properly, fairly, predictably and universally applied that makes the institution independent. It is not when the Director feels the rule should apply, it is not when the appointing authority feels the rules must apply, it is when the rules says it must apply, and it applies, and it applies procedurally at all times, that is when we can say the system is working.
So for instance in the political parties law, the political parties are supposed to file their financial statements with the Electoral Commission six months after the general elections. That is the law. If any political party does not comply with this rule the sanctions must apply.
At the moment we know that the two big political parties, the NDC and the NPP did not comply with that provision in the law. So it is expected that the Electoral Commission, as per the rules, would have gone to court to enforce compliance, and if they fail to comply, the Commission would have cancelled their registration, and they would have ceased to exist as political parties, and it shall be said that the system has worked.
Of course Mrs Charlotte Osei could not have, on her own accord, cancelled the licenses of those non compliant political parties without going through due process. In order words, the independence of the commission is grounded in rules, and the law prescribes what processes that need to be followed in order for any action to be taken.
In my line of work, my organizations have encountered several instances, of strong men who tries to display their powers, some have deliberately put us through very difficult situations, just to show us how powerful they think they are, but I have always faced up to them.
Leaders of our institutions get away with wrong actions because our citizens do not feel empowered to challenge their actions. So those leaders arrogate to themselves powers they do not have, and they act in the name of the institutions in wrong and unfair ways. The leaders fail to recognize that the institutions they work for are also the establishment of laws, and they are also governed by laws.
And because of the ignorance of the ordinary citizens, the institutions themselves become the embodiment of corruption, discriminatory application of the rules, abuse of office, and arbitrariness. The institutions that are supposed to ensure the protection of the rights of the ordinary citizens, rather become the centers of abuse, oppression and capriciousness.
One of the areas I am going to focus on in the next few months in this column, after the election, is the performance of our District Assemblies. In my view the District Assemblies have become convenient centers, not institutions, for large scale corruption, and sometimes I wonder why our society is always focused on Police corruption, and political corruption, when in fact the most corrupt public institutions are the District Assemblies.
I will return to this subject in later publications, but for the purposes of this article let me give you just one specific example, and in order to avoid being wrongly accused, I will give you an example from my own district assembly, the Effutu Municipal Assembly.
There is this illiterate woman who has lived in my village in her house, with her husband and children, for decades. She purchased her land from the traditional authorities in 1982, and built her house several years before the Town and Country Planning Department zoned that location. The house used to be a mud structure, and she gradually turned it into the current block structures, with permits (permit receipt numbers 913378, 0494719 and 0000612) from the Assembly. I was a very small boy when I knew this woman lived where she lives now.
In June 2015, an officer of Town and Country Planning unit of the Effutu Municipal Assembly, under the guise of the Municipal Assembly, and with financial support from a private person, and with a police protection provided without any official processes from the Ghana Police Service, came to pull down a major part of this woman’s house, to pave way for this private person who wanted access road to his house. The Assembly came with no court order, and without notice.
Unfortunately this action resulted in the woman suffering a major stroke relapse, and has since not recovered. She has lost a major part of her house, including what would have served as a toilet facility, and as a stroke patient, she currently struggles with toilet and bathroom issues.
I have in the last one year supported this woman to seek redress. In my view, although the action was taken by a leader of the Assembly, you can clearly see that this is not an institutional action. It is strongmen at work. A Town and Country Planning officer who acted without following due process, but thought that because the woman was illiterate and ignorant of the law, could just, by presenting himself as a government agent, the woman will be afraid, and indeed the woman was afraid, to ask questions. And so this woman looked on helplessly and in tears as her house went down in rubbles.
In a proper institutional framework, and in order not to allow arbitrary use of power, such a decision would have been grounded on a procedure, and informed by recommendations arising out of an objective report, in accordance with law, and possibly a court order since this is a complete house with families living in it, and since the woman holds a permit, she would have been compensated before the demolition took place.
One person could not have just decided that someone (someone whose house was built only a couple of years ago) needs access to his house, and therefore a house built several decades ago with permits should be pulled down, without notice, and without compensation. This is impunity at work, this is power display, and this is an official misconduct, and it feels as though it might have been tainted with corruption.
But of course these are some of the things that happen when you have a poorly run Municipal Assembly. How else do you expect things to happen correctly when you have an assembly where throughout the year the Statutory Planning Committee which is supposed to meet four times a year, to approve building permits, has never met, yet you have several new buildings springing up, and you have permits being granted to developers who need them?
That is what happens when you have one person high-jacking the entire permitting process, doubling as the Municipal Planning Officer, and at the same time acting Regional Director, and he hoards application for building permits, and finds his own ways and means of having them signed without recourse to the appropriate statutory processes.
So the only victims of such dysfunctional Municipal Assembly are people like myself who they know has a lot of information regarding wrong practices, people like us who will refuse to keep quiet over their mishandling of the assembly, we are those who will suffer under such official paralysis.
So yes, the system needs to be allowed to work, and this is one of the things I have been advocating for in the last several years. But the working of the system within the institutions has nothing to do with the whims and caprices of the officers within the institutions. It has everything to do with the procedures, and the processes which are grounded in rules and regulations governing the institution, and the fair, equal and predictable applications of those rules.
Source: James Kofi Annan
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