Monday 21 August 2017

Doing business in Ghana tough — US Ambassador

Doing business in Ghana tough — US Ambassador
(Ghana Web 08/11/17)
Robert P. Jackson, U.S. Ambassador

Quoting the Danish Ambassador to Ghana, Ms Tove Degnbol, he said: “These companies would rather lose an order than become involved in the endless game of paying and being required to pay even more.”

“I can tell that American companies feel the same way. And the problem confronting foreign investments also stymie foreign assistance,” Mr Jackson said at the opening of the Ghana Good Corporate Governance Initiative round table in Accra yesterday.

He, however, stated that there were more American businesses waiting in the wings to invest in Ghana to create opportunities for trade and bring the much needed jobs.

But he said there was a caveat: “Businesses want to ensure that the money they invest will not go to waste. They want assurances of transparency before they invest, as well as strict enforcement of the Public Procurement Act to end sole sourcing of contract and the passage of the Right to Information Bill.”

To hammer home his point in what has recently been cited widely in the diplomatic community as the reason corruption seems to gain roots in Ghana, he said the failure to prosecute corrupt public officials, including those involved in the arson at the Central Medical Stores (CMS) in Tema, needed to be addressed.

“After two years, we are still waiting for justice in the CMS arson. The fire destroyed more than $80 million worth of medical supplies and drugs, including $7 million in donations provided by the American people.

“This fire, which was ignited to cover up corruption, dealt a significant blow to public health in Ghana. The currencies of the international partnership, trade and aid are at risk unless we stand together, with one voice, and demand that these systemic issues be addressed,” he told the gathering of leaders from civil society organisations (CSOs), businesses, religious bodies and diplomats.

In a speech that rallied diplomats, business and religious leaders, as well as CSOs, to step up their game, Ambassador Jackson said it was time to deal with a canker that hampered investment and growth and limited opportunities.

He also made a strong case for the quick establishment of the Office of Special Prosecutor to deal with corruption-related crimes after a thorough and robust stakeholder consultation.

As if listing the diplomatic community’s expectations of the Akufo-Addo administration, he said: “We would like to see an end to judicial impunity. No one’s interest is served if justice is sold to the highest bidder and those with power, money and influence go unpunished.

“We desire free exchange of information between the government and the international community on combating corruption and so ask the government to establish a single point of contact, someone who is authorised to engage with us specifically on these issues but also empowered to carry out significant change.”

Although Ghana’s performance improved in The Doing Business 2017 Report last year, it was still considered far below the top business-friendly countries in Africa.

The Doing Business 2017 report, titled: “Equal Opportunity for All', showed that Ghana placed 108th out of 190 countries surveyed in the Overall Ranking of Ease of Doing Business - an improvement from the 111th position in the previous report.

The Ease of Doing Business index ranks countries against one another based on how the regulatory environment is conducive to business operations.

Government’s response

Responding to the concerns, a Deputy Chief of Staff, Mr Samuel Abu Jinapor, said the current administration was committed to tackling the canker of corruption without fear or favour.

He said although the country had done well in establishing the needed legal frameworks to deal with corruption, including the Public Procurement and the WhistleBlowers acts, a lot more needed to be done by way of punishing corrupt public officials.

“The problem is with how we deal with corruption when we find out. Someone is involved in corruption, the laws are there, the institutional frameworks are there and the courts are there, but once a politician, public servant or anybody else who is supposed to protect the public purse engages in corruption, our attitude towards dealing with it has not been good,” he stated.

He said while the current debate over the Special Prosecutor’s Bill was healthy, that office was necessary to take political interference out of the investigation, determination and prosecution of persons caught in the web of corruption.

He gave an assurance that the office of an independent special prosecutor would be in place by the end of the year.

“It will be a legal framework which will reasonably give that office holder protection and security of tenure and an appointing mechanism that will produce a Ghanaian of extraordinary integrity in whom we can repose confidence, so that when Minister A from the NPP is caught in corrupt conduct and another person from the NDC is engaged in corruption, both will be dealt with in accordance with the law,” he stated.

Good corporate governance

The Good Corporate Governance Initiative is aimed at deliberating on ways to promote good corporate governance, as well as fighting corruption in public office and in the private sector.

A collaboration among Action Chapel International, Krif Ghana and the American Chamber of Commerce, the initiative is part of a series of initiatives to fight a canker that many say has become institutionalised in almost all spheres of national life in Ghana.

While accusatory fingers are almost always pointed at politicians and workers in the public sector for topping the corruption chart, Rev. Kennedy Okosun, the Chairman of Krif Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, said people forgot that it was the private sector and citizens who offered or tempted public officials.

He also took issue with what he described as the challenge with corruption and good governance, saying: “It is politicised, denying us of the opportunity to dispassionately dissect, analyse and find solutions to it.”

To curb the trend, he said, the initiative would place the burden of a fair and just society on all sections of society, instead of always pointing accusing fingers and waiting for solutions from the government.

Corruption laws

Ghana’s laws make corruption a high-risk venture, but, in reality, many see it as a thriving venture where businesses evade tax, public officials receive bribes to facilitate transactions and ordinary citizens are compelled to offer bribes before basic services — including birth certificates, passports, driving licences, electricity meters — are delivered.

In 2014, Parliament unanimously adopted the 10-year National Anti-Corruption Action Plan (NACAP 2015 - 2024) as a non-partisan document, a blueprint for fighting corruption in the country.

Referring to the document, a former Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Mr Justice Emile Short, stated that it was unfortunate that discourse on the fight against corruption in recent times had been without reference to the document which was produced out of broad consultations.

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