Parliament has passed the Office of the Special Prosecutor Bill after its third reading.
The Bill was passed amid debate over whether the Special Prosecutor should be immune from prosecution.
The setting up of the office of the Special Prosecutor was one of the key campaign promises made by President Nana Akufo-Addo ahead of his election victory in 2016 and it is aimed at tackling corruption.
When operational, the Special Prosecutor’s office will be independent of the Executive, which observers believe will allow it to adequately deal with corruption-related issues which have plagued past governments.
This Bill is expected to, among other things, define the modalities for the appointment and operations of the Special Prosecutor.
The office of the Special Prosecutor will have the mandate to investigate and prosecute cases of alleged corruption under the Public Procurement Act 203 Act 63 and other corruption-related offenses implicating public officers, political office holders and their accomplices in the public sector.
The Prosecutor will also be mandated to trace and recover the proceeds of corruption.
A Ranking Member on Parliament’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Inusah Fuseini noted to Citi News, after the Bill’s passing, that it was now awaiting President Nana Akufo-Addo’s assent.
“What has happened tonight is a demonstration of our commitment towards establishing institutions of State that will fight corruption and corruption-related offenses.”
Mr. Fuseini said the Bill was intended to be passed today [Tuesday] “so that it can find space in [the 2018] budget” which will be read on Wednesday.
“Now the ball is squarely within the court of the NPP and they have to help the institution of State and especially the office of the Special Prosecutor to fight corruption,” he added.
Friction from NDC Minority
The Bill appears to have been passed with little fuss from National Democratic Congress Minority today despite earlier contentions when processes for the laying of the Bill begun in July 2017.
But Mr. Fuseini echoed fears from the Minority that the Special Prosecutor could be used for witch-hunts.
“We have always had that fear. The Minority has always had the fear that this office can be used to witch-hunt political opponents,” he stressed.
There were heated exchanges on the floor of Parliament at the laying of the Office of the Prosecutor Bill in July.
The issues came on the backdrop of varied opinions on the creation of the office.
The Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu, in an earlier Citi News interview, insisted that the Special Prosecutor’s office could not be established without tinkering with Article 88 of the constitution, which deals with the role of the Attorney-General.
“…That is my understanding of the law. It belongs to the executive chapter of the constitution which is entrenched; therefore you cannot be seeking to review that through an Act of Parliament… I am certain that article 88 is entrenched, and not that which can be reviewed simply through a process of an Act of Parliament,” he explained.
At a point, the government withdrew the Special Prosecutor Bill from Parliament after the Minority challenged the procedure in which the Bill was laid, claiming it was unconstitutional.
Haruna Iddrisu argued that the Bill did not fulfill the mandatory 14-day constitutional process for its introduction in Parliament.
The Majority Leader and Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu, who withdrew the Bill, however, did not explain the reasons for withdrawing it before it was re-laid before the House.
Possible holes in Bill
Former Attorney General, Martin Amidu, cited some possible lapses in the Special Prosecutor Bill in a 25-page paper critiquing aspects of the Bill.
He questioned why there was a clause that sought to limit the Special Prosecutor to specific crimes.
“The attempt to distinguish types of corruption offenses that may be investigated and prosecuted by the Special Prosecutor sends the clear message to Ghanaians that the President and his Government now accept that certain types of corruption offenses are not serious for prosecution or at least to be prosecuted by the Special Prosecutor.”
“…the question may be asked, who will be responsible for investigating and prosecuting categories of corruption offences by the same public officers and politically exposed persons not meeting the standards in Clause 3 (4), or are they then immune from prosecution for such corruption offences?”