The Executive Director of the Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) has said that the dispute between the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) and Labianca Company Limited (‘Labianca’) raises a number of troubling questions about the state of governance in Ghana.

His statment follows the OSP’s recovery of an amount of ¢1.074 million from the company owned by a member of the Council of State, Eunice Jacqueline Buah Asomah-Hinneh.

The OSP contended that Madam Asomah-Hinneh used her position as a member of the Council and member of the Board of Directors of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) to get a favourable decision from the Customs Division of GRA.

In a press release issued by CDD-Ghana, Prof Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi questioned why the President would appoint Madam Asomah-Hinneh to the board of a public agency when she has private business dealings with the agency.

He explained that this sets up the Council of State member for a conflict of interest.

“Is it appropriate for the President to appoint a member of the Council of State to a state agency board? Was there an objectively compelling public interest-related reason for the President to make such an appointment? And finally, was the appointment run by the Council of State?” he quizzed.

Prof Gyimah-Boadi explained that if the Council of State had approved its member for the position of board member, it smacks of institutional self-dealing on the part of the Council of State.

“In conclusion, it is obvious that the entire sordid episode speaks specifically to the entrenchment  of incumbent leaders and political elite capture of Ghana; and generally, to the alarming decline in governance standards in our 4th Republic.”

“Therefore, as a recommendation, this unfortunate event highlights the urgent need for an ethics czar at the Presidency, Executive Branch, Council of State, and other important decision-making and public resource allocation agencies and institutions.”

Background

On August 8, 2022, the OSP published an investigative report which revealed that Labianca Group of Companies, a frozen foods company owned by a member of the Council of State, Eunice Jacqueline Buah Asomah-Hinneh, evaded import duties.

He recovered an amount of ¢1.074 million representing a shortfall in import duties paid to the state.

The OSP contended that Ms Asomah-Hinneh used her position as a member of the Council of State and member of the Board of Directors of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) to get a favourable decision from the Customs Division.

The report signed by the Special Prosecutor, Kissi Agyebeng, alleged that the influence-peddling by Ms Asomah-Hinneh led to a reduction in the tax liabilities for her frozen foods company, Labianca Company Limited.

A Deputy Commissioner of Customs in charge of Operations, Joseph Adu Kyei was also cited by the OSP for issuing what it described as an unlawful customs advance ruling.

This, according to the report, reduced the benchmark values of the goods imported by Labianca Limited translating to reduced tax obligations of the company to the state.

Many anti corruption campaigners and institutions commended the OSP for his investigations while raising questions about the operations of Customs.

But, Speaking at the Customs Division Management Retreat at Kumasi, the Commissioner of Customs, Col. Kwadwo Damoah (Rtd) insists the report of the Special Prosecutor was released with malicious intent.

Col Damoah (Rtd) believes it was meant to discredit the Customs officers adding that the OSP “is trying to indict the deputy and myself.”

Meanwhile, Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) has distanced itself from Col Damoah’ comments.

“The Authority would like to state for the record that it accords the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) the respect and the dignity that the OSP carries,” he said in a press release on Sunday night.

Per his assessment, the comments by the Commissioner of Customs “were made in his personal capacity and do not convey the opinion of the Board and Management of GRA.”

The statement further pledged to GRA’s readiness to assess the OSP’s report and develop measures to seal loopholes that are found to be impeding revenue mobilisation at the ports.

“GRA continually looks for every opportunity to improve on revenue as well as block any leakage,” he added.

Also, the private citizen who petitioned the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) on corruption-related offenses involving Labianca Company Limited has reacted to the findings.

Frank Asare on 16 November 2021 reported the La Bianca Group of Companies for alleged corrupt, illegal and questionable dealings between Labianca and the Customs Division resulting in unlawful markdown or reduction of benchmark values of frozen food products imported by Labianca under the guise of customs advance rulings.

While commending the OSP for working and probing his petition, Mr Asare noted that the funds recovered from Ms Asomah-Hinneh’s company is grossly understated.

He also noted that stringent punishment should be meted out to serve as a deterrent to other public office holders.

On the back of this, he said he would petition the appropriate bodies for her removal from the Council of State.

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.


DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.