THE CHAIRMAN OF CONFERENCE AND PRESIDENT OF THE GHANA BAR ASSOCIATION, ANTHONY FORSON JNR.,
HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC, NANA ADDO DANKWA AKUFO-ADDO,
DEPUTY ATTORNEY-GENERAL, MR. ALFRED TUAH YEBOAH,
DEPUTY ATTORNEY-GENERAL, MISS DIANA ASONA DAPAAH,
MEMBERS OF THE BAR COUNCIL,
THE PRESIDENT OF THE UPPER EAST REGIONAL BAR, AMOAK AFOKO,
MEMBERS OF THE BAR,
DISTINGUISHED LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, FRIENDS OF THE MEDIA
I am pleased to be called upon to deliver this address.
On 21st January, 2021, at about 5.20 pm to be precise, I received the most important call of my legal career so far. It was from His Excellency the President. He enquired from me as to where I had been, as he had been looking for me. I politely responded that I was home in my study working on something for him. In response to Mr. President’s command for me to immediately come over to the Jubilee House, I turned on the engine of my car a few minutes afterwards. Immediately, I realised that a radio station was reading out the names of ministerial nominees for the second term of President Akufo-Addo. Dramatically, they announced: “No. 6 is a new one and it is big. Ghana will have a new Attorney-General. It is Godfred Yeboah Dame”. Seconds afterwards, my phone rang persistently with calls from the radio station. I declined to speak to them because the President had not made any disclosure to me.
I walked into Mr President’s office and, among other things, he said to me “you have ably discharged your role as a deputy Attorney-General. Across the party, round the country, everybody is of the opinion that you should be our next Attorney-General. So, congratulations!”
Fast forward – on March 5, 2021, by the Grace of God, I was sworn in as the 25th Attorney-General of our great Republic. Necessarily, I became the official leader of the Ghana Bar. It is thus a great honour to be at this conference and to present my maiden address.
Mr. Chairman, the annual conference of the Ghana Bar Association is the highlight of the Bar’s activities every year. The event reminds us of who we are and the purposes we serve as lawyers. The indispensability of the lawyer in the affairs of State is brought to the fore. The lawyer’s work is crucial to the building of a sound, peaceful Ghana. I posit that the vigilance of lawyers that has ensured the protection of human rights and the welfare of the society is the same required to guarantee the economic development of Ghana.
It is for this reason that I find it most apt the theme for this year’s conference – ENSURING AN INCREASE IN REVENUE MOBILISATION THROUGH TAXATION FOR THE PURPOSE OF ACCELERATED NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT: THE ROLE OF THE LAWYER. The theme calls attention to the role of the lawyer in fostering the economic growth of Ghana. It is a sign that the business of law and government are acting incongruity. Further, it is for me, an affirmation of the Bar’s resolve to confront the practical problems of the day with the utmost candour we can command and depth of understanding, informed by the history of the discipline of our profession, remaining vigilant for the welfare of society and protection of human rights.
Mr. Chairman, unfriendly as the subject may be, taxation is certainly central to national development. The payment of tax is the most basic obligation of the citizen. So it is written in the Good Book, the Holy Bible, that Jesus did not oppose the payment of taxes. In fact, Jesus paid taxes and entreated us in Mathew 22:21, to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”.
In my view, tax constitutes one of the three pillars of revenue mobilisation fundamental for satisfying the ever growing need of the nation for infrastructure, and other social and economic amenities. The other two pillars of the tripod are industrialisation and the building of institutions to minimise revenue loss. The oft touted rapid economic growth of Ghana should increase the taxable capacity of the country and enable a much more significant share of the private sector’s resources to be ceded to the government in the form of taxes, so as to provide public goods and services. Ambitious long term legacy projects undertaken by the Government of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo – the FREE SECONDARY EDUCATION, ONE DISTRICT, ONE FACTORY programme, the massive construction of roads, ONE VILLAGE, ONE DAM, the construction of 111 DISTRICT HOSPITALS are only a few of the constructive purposes our taxes are being put to, for which the business community and the citizenry ought to repay the faith by paying the requisite amount of taxes prescribed by law.
The professional and ethical training of lawyers places us in a position to play a fundamental role in the proper functioning of the Ghanaian tax system. The lawyer performs functions in the nature of structuring, negotiating, and documenting business entities, and advising clients on the tax implications of companies to be incorporated, joint ventures, estates, gifts, international transactions as well as possible exemption from tax. A lawyer therefore must have sufficient knowledge of tax laws and statutory regulations as well as keep abreast of the amendments to the various laws, so as to effectively advise clients.
A major flaw with our tax system is the phenomenon described in popular parlance as “tax evasion”. It is that situation of citizens and persons working in Ghana dodging their tax obligations either by completely avoiding coming within the tax bracket when they ought to be, or deploying illegal means to minimize their tax liability through fraudulent techniques. This practice is disloyal to the State.
Sad to say, many lawyers are caught in the phenomenon of tax evasion as they unjustifiably avoid being caught in the tax net either by understating their profits or concealing their true income. The luxurious lifestyles of lawyers in riding in the most plush of vehicles and acquiring top end properties are hardly commensurate with the amount of taxes they pay. I entreat lawyers to honour the fullest of their tax obligations as, not to do, is not only criminal but also borders on a gross violation of professional rules. The Legal Profession (Professional Conduct and Etiquette) Rules require lawyers to demonstrate the highest level of ethical behaviour and integrity at all times. In practice, this implies that lawyers are required to be the ethical watchdogs in the corporate world. We will have to pay our taxes in addition to walking away from clients who insist on engaging in the criminal act of tax evasion, contrary to good counsel. I will suggest that the Bar should as part of the criteria for publication of lawyers in good standing every year, require evidence of fulfilment of tax obligations.
I must admit that, the failure of lawyers in Ghana to discharge their full tax obligations is not entirely their fault. The absence of effective systems by the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) to ensure that all potential tax payers are brought into the tax net is majorly responsible. The GRA ought to devise the appropriate mechanisms for ensuring that the tax net is broadened to its elastic limit in order to bring within it all potential tax payers including all practising lawyers.
Another part the lawyer ought to play in ensuring an effective revenue mobilisation is by aiding other taxpayers to know their tax obligations and not to fall short of the law.
Mr. Chairman, I owe it a duty to place on record that taxation cannot be the sole means of revenue generation for the State. Industrialisation constitutes a very important source of revenue, and I daresay, the most important, for this Government. Being fully aware of the self-evident truth that Ghana cannot achieve a sound development without a well thought out industrialization agendum, President Akufo-Addo conceives of the ONE DISTRICT, ONE FACTORY programme as key to the realisation of his vision for the economic transformation of Ghana, encapsulated in the policy – “GHANA BEYOND AID”. This policy aims at achieving a prosperous and self-confident Ghana that is in charge of her economic destiny, prosperous enough to be engaging competitively with the rest of the world through trade and investment, and ultimately, beyond needing aid for survival.
One will wonder why the Attorney-General is talking about matters of taxation. Indeed, my Ministry does not superintend revenue generation in this country. Nor does it deal with fiscal policy matters. However, because of the nature of the rule of law, the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice as the protector of the public interest, has a pervasive and particular role in all these activities – ensuring compliance with the tax laws of Ghana, a boost of the industrialisation agenda of Government and the raising of sufficient revenue to address the gaps in the country’s budget.
Ronald Dworkin said in the penultimate chapter of his work entitled “Justice for Hedgehogs”, that law is a “branch of morality”. He was right. Although it may not look like it, I will also say that politics is another branch of morality. One way in which the common purpose of politics and law is achieved is exemplified by the office I hold. It is what puts the Attorney-General at the heart of our Constitution.
Sir Elwyn Jones, Attorney-General of England, 1964 – 1970, said:
“The Attorney is the protector of the public interest generally. This aspect of his duties had a very early origin. He has for long been the proper person to take legal proceedings where the interests of the public are endangered, or acts tending to public injury are done without authority”.
Mr. Chairman, whilst discussing revenue mobilisation, it will be a grave omission not to touch on an issue which has proven its capacity to deter the prosperity of nations around the world, erode public trust in governments and undermine commerce. Corruption is that issue. If not nipped in the bud, all the fine aspirations of maximising revenue and making Ghana a haven for business will be futile. The Government of President Akufo-Addo is fully aware that corruption thrives in an atmosphere conducive to its concealment and the absence of systems to ensure that consequences to the perpetration of corruption are applied in a fair and efficient manner. In order to deal with this, the Government ensured the passage, between 2017 and 2020, of the Right to Information Act, the Protection of Witnesses Act, the Office of Special Prosecutor Act,the Corporate Restructuring and Insolvency Act, 2020 (Act 1015) and the Companies Act, 2019 (Act 992).
The establishment of the Office of Special Prosecutor represents the single most courageous and significant measure on the part of any government since independence, to the extent that it engendered institutional reform and created an organ capable of prosecuting corruption and corruption-related offences in a manner devoid of the perception of possible executive interference. It is my belief that with the right attitude, mindset and understanding of the demands of the office, the new Special Prosecutor, Mr Kissi Agyebeng will measure up to the duties imposed on him by the law establishing his office.
Mr Chairman, I am continuing with the process of strengthening the systems in place for preventing corruption by ensuring that a set of far-reaching and perhaps, a more fit for purpose set of regulations for the conduct of public officers is laid down, through the enactment of a Conduct of Public Officers law. The proposed Conduct of Public Officers Bill, which has already gone through discussions by various stakeholders at a forum organised over a month ago, will follow the example of legislation in other jurisdictions like the United States of America, Kenya and the United Kingdom in addressing issues regarding financial portfolios held by public officers before assuming public office, links to family business, professional practices, property, investments/shareholdings and other assets, self-dealing, partiality in the performance of duties, use of public or confidential information to further private interest, improper enrichment, care of public property, etc. The Bill also seeks to address matters relating to sexual harassment and provides a gamut of stringent administrative measures and sanctions to deal with violations of the law, ranging from a bar against holding public office to penal measures.
Mr Chairman, the State’s hard-pressed purse is grossly affected by the award of judgment debts in various unconscionable transactions whereby the State is ordered to pay huge compound interest on debts accruing from transactions entered into on her behalf by public officers whose primary duty is to protect the public interest. The recent example of a financial house claiming payment of over ¢1.3 billion from a transaction involving a meagre ¢268,000 even after the State had already paid over ¢79 million, simply because the agreed rate of interest was compound interest, comes to mind. It took the intervention of the Supreme Court in the exercise of its inherent jurisdiction, pursuant to an application by the Attorney-General to declare further payment as unlawful.
In order to address these inimical tendencies, I propose to be passed by Parliament, as a matter of urgency, an amendment to the Contracts Act, 1960 (Act 25) to disallow the payment of compound interest by the State in transactions entered into on her behalf by public officers. This urgent amendment to the Contracts Act will explicitly forbid a public officer from entering into a contract on behalf of the State and stating the rate of interest to be compound interest. This will prohibit the occurrence of the situation which called for the Supreme Court’s intervention and save the State enormous income which can be utilised for development. On this, I must say I have the fullest support of His Excellency the President and the Minister for Finance. I expect the cooperation of the Bar as well.
Mr Chairman, the invitation given to me gave me the liberty to address this Conference on any topic of my choice. A blank cheque was thus given to me. In this regard, it will be a sore omission for me not to talk about certain unhealthy practices on the part of lawyers which militate against the justice system in Ghana. I observe a systematic and conscious effort by some lawyers to denigrate the judiciary and undermine public confidence in the sound administration of justice through deliberate misrepresentation of the effect of court rulings as well as false and vitriolic commentary on electronic and mass media purely inspired by a vile motive to run down the Judiciary.
Even when applications duly filled in accordance with law and procedure are pending before the highest court of the land, some legal practitioners do not spare an effort to prejudice the minds of the public with mischievous analysis on public radio, television and social media, all calculated to force the hands of the judge(s) to deliver the verdict in a particular manner, or to whip up sentiments of the public against the particular court hearing the matter in the event of an outcome not favourable to them. These practices are vicious and misguided, to say the least. It holds true that the arena for the lawyer to test the strength of his reasoning or the validity of his argument is in the courtroom, and not the airwaves or modern-day social media.
I need not remind this gathering that the responsibility for a fair and effective administration of the laws of the Republic of Ghana is a product of the collective efforts of all. The nature of our laws enacted by Parliament, the procedure and judgment of our courts, the work of law enforcement officials, the wisdom, skill and zeal of the Bar are all crucial. Throughout the history of Ghana, the Judiciary has served us well in its capacity to develop fundamental principles and give life to the aspirations of the citizen. It is no time to destroy same beyond redemption, or to, may I borrow the words of Lord Toulson at this stage, “to give it a funeral oration”.
I recall that recently, the State was castigated widely in the press for incurring a judgment debt in excess of US$15 million as a result of the activities of the erstwhile Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining about two years ago. In July this year, I successfully led the prosecution of an application to set aside the said judgment. Some lawyers who are active players in the social media, perhaps feeling disappointed that a weapon deployed by them in their attack on the State’s measures to resuscitate the war against illegal mining – “Galamsey” had been destroyed, mounted unwarranted attacks on me and the Judge who delivered the ruling, with some suggesting rather preposterously and absurdly, that the Judge in question should be removed from office. How ridiculous! It is as if they revel in judgments or rulings against the State, and when same are successfully challenged, it is disappointment galore for them.
May I take the opportunity to convey to the Bar of which I am its humble official leader, that, in so far as I am Attorney-General, the State will zealously protect its interest in litigation, just as private legal practitioners will protect the interests of their clients. A victory for the State, to the chagrin of a private person, is no justification for unwarranted attacks on public officers responsible for the State’s victory. It is imperative to state that the necessary efforts are being made to ensure that the industry of state attorneys is properly complemented with a supply of resources required to assist them in the discharge of their constitutional functions.
I must report that in response to a special appeal I made to Cabinet in June, this year, the Minister for Finance has released the entire sum stated as required for satisfaction of the needs, and out of this, eighty-nine (89) vehicles, as well as office equipment necessary for our work, will be procured for the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice. I am happy to say that per the timelines for the procurement activity, the entire 89 vehicles will be delivered within 10 – 12 weeks. All Regional Offices and relevant agencies under the Ministry will have their fair share of the supply. Work on a 12 storey building to accommodate the Office is also steadily progressing and is on course to be completed within about 18 months. We are grateful to you, Mr President. A well-oiled Attorney General’s Department is the biggest signpost for improved conditions in the practice of law.
Mr Chairman, I cannot conclude this address without denouncing the tendency of lawyers, some being senior lawyers who have occupied high offices of state and have been leaders of the Bar, to deploy the traditional and social media to assail the integrity and reputation of senior figures in this country. Such conduct, undoubtedly dishonourable, also occasions a breach of rules of professional conduct and etiquette at the Bar.
I would advise lawyers when using social media to be mindful of the age-old requirements of the profession in so far as ethics is concerned. Technology did not eradicate ethics. Neither did it render the need for ethical compliance any less important or necessary. Spread of false information by lawyers and disregard for the cherished values of the legal profession, apart from being disreputable, poses a far greater threat to cohesion in society, especially when it comes from senior lawyers. The misguided crave for cheap publicity and undue disparagement of others must be avoided. The nation ought to be concerned because, ultimately, a dishonest bar breeds a corrupt bench and affects the core of the society we seek to build.
Mr Chairman, I have no doubt that this Conference will serve its purpose of not only being a refreshing opportunity to network among lawyers before the start of the new legal year but will also refocus all of us on the core values of the legal profession as well as foster closer collaboration between the Bar and Government.
I am aware that this year is an election year. May I take this opportunity to wish the various candidates the very best. May the conduct of the elections be smooth and may the best candidate win. I am grateful for the opportunity.
God bless us all!!!