Witnesses, experts and other persons who assist in criminal investigations and their family members are to get state protection with the passage of the Witness Protection Bill, 2017 which is currently before Parliament.
There is currently no law in Ghana that guarantees the safety and protection of the witness, who is such an important factor in the fight against crime and graft in the society. Though there is a Whistleblower Act, 2006 (Act 720), it does not address matters relating to witness protection in the broader context.
While a witness protection law provides for the protection of witnesses and other persons who cooperate with the law enforcement agencies in the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences, the Whistleblower law, among other things deals with mechanisms by which people may expose corrupt practices in the public services.
The testimony of witnesses in criminal investigations is often critical to the work of intelligence agencies, the police and other agencies tasked with the maintenance of law and order, and safeguarding the security and safety of the nation. The evidence of witnesses is commonly required to prevent or prosecute crimes such as human trafficking, illicit arms dealing and money laundering.
The purpose of the Bill is therefore to establish a Witness Protection Agency to administer a witness protection programme. The implementation of the programme by the Agency would protect witnesses, experts and their relatives against potential retaliation or intimidation as a result of their cooperation with law enforcement agencies.
At the second reading of the Bill on the Floor of Parliament last week, the Chairman of the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ben Abdalla Banda, noted that the passage of the Bill would fulfil one of the country’s key obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, of which Ghana is a party.
Per Article 32 of the UNCAC, Ghana is required to take appropriate measures to afford full protection to witnesses, experts and victims who may face possible threat of intimidation or physical harm.
His Committee was satisfied that arrangements have been made in the Bill to ensure that the proposed Agency is well funded to discharge its responsibilities. According to the Committee, “Apart from the annual budgetary allocation which will be approved for the general activities of the proposed institution, the Bill also seeks to establish Victims Compensation Fund to rake-in additional funds to support victims, witnesses and related persons under the programme.”
Sources of the fund are expected to come from moneys approved by Parliament, subject to any other enactment, proceeds from the sale of property forfeited to the Republic in connection with crime, grants, gifts and donations among others.
Opinions were divided at the Committee level in the issue regarding the establishment of the proposed witness protection agency to administer witness protection programme in the country.
According to the Committee report, some members of the Committee held the view that a new department be created under the Office of the Attorney General to administer the programme instead of creating a new body. With the explanation that the creation of a new institution would impose a burden on the public purse.
Others held a contrary view that the Agency as envisaged in the Bill must be maintained. They explained that the Office of the Attorney General is already burdened and should not further be constrained.
Parliament is expected to begin the consideration of the Bill which has been arranged into sixty provisions this week to ensure that adequate protection is given to witnesses and their close relatives in the fight against crime and graft in the country.
Source: Clement Akoloh/afriwakeradio.com