Heated debate in Parliament over Public Officers Bill.
A clause in the Conduct of Public Officers Bill, 2013, which is currently before Parliament generated a heated debate yesterday, compelling the First Deputy Speaker, Mr Ebo Barton-Odro, to ask that it be stood down and discussed later at the committee level and amendments made to it if members agree.
The “thorny” clause states: “Where a public officer, after declaration of assets, acquires an asset which is required by section five to be declared, that asset shall be deemed to have been acquired unlawfully unless that asset is shown to have been acquired from the lawful income of that person; a loan or any other lawful means; or an acceptable gift; or an inheritance.”
In effect, if after the declaration of assets, a public official is found to have acquired more assets while in office, he or she would be deemed to have acquired that asset unlawfully or through corrupt means unless he or she can prove that the property was acquired through lawful income, a loan, an inheritance or a gift.
Members of Parliament (MPs) who are public officers by definition of the country’s laws were not pleased with that particular clause.
They contended that the country’s laws, including the 1992 Constitution, placed the burden of proof, in cases where allegations were involved, on the accuser.
The MPs wondered why if there was a suspicion of corruption, the person who was alleged to have been corrupt should rather be the one to prove that he or she was not corrupt.
A few, however, were of the view that the clause should be made to stand because as the nation was moving towards a new anti-corruption regime, the laws needed to “bite hard”.
Mr Alexander Afenyo-Markin (NPP, Effutu) and Adwoa Safo (NPP, Dome Kwabenya), the main advocates of that section being looked at again, said the clause violated the right to acquire property, a right upheld by the 1992 Constitution.
They said since corruption was a criminal offence and the burden of proof in all criminal cases, and indeed in all the country’s laws was placed on the person making the allegation, asking a public officer to prove that he did not acquire a property through fraud was wrong.
Contributing at different times on the floor of the House, they said laying the burden of proof on the public officer violated the supreme law of the land.
In their view, that clause must not be allowed to stand.
The member for Wenchi, Prof. George Gyan-Baffuor (NPP), viewed the clause as “dangerous” and suggested, among other things, that it could be used to hound political opponents.
The member for Sekondi, Papa Owusu Ankomah (NPP), reminded members that it was only when there was a dispute over the nature of acquisition of assets that a public officer would be required to provide proof of how they (assets) were acquired.
Ms Hanna Tetteh urged members to, among other things, consider the mischief that the clause in question sought to cure.
The Minority Leader, Mr Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, reminded members that if one had a bank account and, suddenly, GH¢ 1 million was paid into the account, the bank would call the customer and question him or her about the origins of the money and the customer would have to state how he or she acquired the money.
In the same vein, he said if a public officer acquired property while in office, it was prudent that he or she was made to state how it was acquired.
It was right, in his view, that the burden of proof was shifted to the officer.