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Ghana’s judges at an official function. The government now has the herculean task of cleaning up the country’s judiciary to ensure that it can dispense justice without favours │© Femi Awoniyi/TAC

Anas Aremeyaw Anas: How one man’s war against corruption may change Ghana for good

Investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas, whose trademark is his anonymity, has become famous all over the world for his unconventional way of unearthing corruption. His recent exposé video recordings, revealing corruption in Ghana’s judiciary, has been watched by millions across the world. Reporting from Accra, Francis Sackitey writes on how the sensational scandal can affect foreign investment in a country that enjoys a good international reputation and how it may impact the forthcoming general election in the West African nation.

It was a day of shame for the Ghanaian judiciary recently when the ace international undercover journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, brought to the public domain videos and pictures of higher and lower court judges accepting bribes to influence judicial decisions. Some of the scenes in the videos were so disgraceful that many well-meaning Ghanaians bowed their heads in shame.

There were instances of judges arranging to exchange justice with sex. In one of the videos, a woman was sent to a hotel room and the judge was seen clearly discussing how he would let go of a person involved in a criminal case after having sex with the woman; sex for justice! There were also scenes of collecting goats and cash in exchange for justice.

Although the video came as a shock, it was not a surprise to many Ghanaians. This is because allegations of corruption in Ghana’s judiciary abound. Countless anti-corruption perception surveys put the Ghana Police Service and the Judicial Service as the top two in their lists. These two bodies, however, have condemned these surveys and demanded evidence every time they are published. Of course, since no one was able to produce the evidence they often demanded, the issues have always been swept under the carpet.

The demand for evidence was what prompted the investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw to go undercover to attempt to induce judges and other court workers with goats, cash and sex. Unfortunately, many fell to the inducement to the point that some criminals who were standing trial were released on dubious grounds.

Anas Aremeyaw Anas explaining his work to an international audience at TED 2013, Long Beach, California, USA. With anonymity guaranteeing his seeming invisibility, the investigative journalist unearths institutional corruption as a way to pressure the state to clean up governance in Africa │© James Duncan Davidson
Anas Aremeyaw Anas explaining his work to an international audience at TED 2013, Long Beach, California, USA. With anonymity guaranteeing his seeming invisibility, the investigative journalist unearths institutional corruption as a way to pressure the state to clean up governance in Africa │© James Duncan Davidson

The evidence is now here. Anas quickly petitioned the President, the Chief Justice and the Attorney-General, who quickly interdicted the 32 judges and court workers involved and formed a committee to investigate them.

Some of the judges, after hearing the news, fled the country while others resigned. Few, however, decided to fight Anas and his investigative company, Tiger Eye PI. They filed injunctions against the premiering of the video and challenged the procedure used by Anas and his company in making the recordings. Their lawyers contested that what Anas did was against the privacy of these judges and also amounted to the inducement of their clients. The government, who took interest in the judiciary scandal, gave Anas immunity against prosecution under Ghana’s whistle-blowers act.

Ghanaians have thrown their weight behind the journalist and are encouraging him to investigate some other state institutions such as parliament and the country’s health sector. The support of Ghanaians for Anas and his work was shown when he premiered the video to the general public late last year. Many prominent Ghanaians queued to watch the video. It has become a common mantra now in Ghana that “Anas will come after you” any time people suspect crime. 

Some members of parliament and other analysts have, however, cautioned Ghanaians and have warned that the scandal has the potential of damaging Ghana’s image before the international community, thereby scaring away potential donors and investors. They also say that since the cases are still under investigation, people should be careful not to prejudge the judges by concluding that they are corrupt.

Foreign investors in the country have also expressed deep worry over the alleged corruption in the judiciary as revealed through the investigative work of Anas Aremeyaw Anas. They said that the revelations could negatively affect foreign direct investments into Ghana. They described the unfolding saga as unfortunate, saying it is one that must be resolved quickly as it has put the judiciary in focus. “The judiciary is critical because you want to know if you can rely on the judiciary in time of any dispute,” one of them said. While they commended the Chief Justice for the swift action taken so far, the investors said that “this exposé might be a big blow, but what people will be looking for is the speed and manner in which it is dealt with.”

The World Bank identified corruption as the biggest impediment to investment in a survey of nine African countries. More than 35 per cent of companies surveyed had been deterred by an otherwise attractive investment because of the host country’s reputation for corruption.

Corruption’s negative effect on foreign direct investment can amount to an extra 20 per cent in tax, thus discouraging investment and reducing profit margins. IMF research suggests that corruption reduces investment by around 5 per cent and that an “increase of 1 percentage point in the corruption index can result in a reduction of foreign investment by as much as 8 per cent.”

Speaking to The African Courier in separate interviews in Accra on condition of anonymity, some foreign investors cautioned that it is important for any country that wants to attract foreign direct investment to manage the negative effect of the factors affecting investment, one of which is corruption.

They complained bitterly that bribery and extortion are so common that the undocumented flow of money into the personal pockets of government workers virtually assures perpetual corruption. “We have to be careful of institutionalising corruption under the explanation that ‘this is Africa’,” one investor warned, describing corruption as stealing and disenfranchising the poor.

The two main political parties in the country, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) have been very cautious in commenting on the case. Their wings seemed to have been clipped when information came out that Anas might have finished an investigation on the parliament and was going to come out soon with damming revelations on corruption in the legislature.

Meanwhile, one of the main campaign messages of the NPP is corruption. Its leaders have cited the NDC’s numerous judgment debt payments to some of their own members such as the businessman Agbesi Woyome. Judge Ajetina Sam, who freed Woyome, was named in one of Anas’s videos. He has since vamoosed from the country.

The coming general election in November would, however, not be decided on judicial corruption but on “dumsor”, as frequent electricity outages are called in the country, and the general economic malaise which the Mahama administration seems to be struggling with. 

There is no doubt that the Anas judicial scandal has brought some sanity into the country’s judiciary. Some of the judges cited have been dismissed without getting any benefits, while others will have access to some sort of benefit.

Ghanaians, especially politicians and public officials, have been awoken by Anas’s work and are careful in the way they go about their duties. Even though more needs to be done in fighting corruption in Ghana, such as strengthening institutions and dealing decisively with corrupt persons, Anas’s efforts have shown great potential of deterring more people from indulging in corrupt acts since one may not know whom one may be dealing with.