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Revealed: Sir John did not declare his assets

The Fourth Estate can reveal that the late Chief Executive of the Forestry Commission, Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, did not register his assets while in office, which has shocked several Ghanaians and fueled calls for accountability in government.

Mr. Afriyie, sometimes known as Sir John, was a former general secretary of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP). On July 1, 2020, he died of Covid-19-related complications while still serving as the head of the Forestry Commission.

Since The Fourth Estate exclusively reported the terms of his will, many Ghanaians have been astonished by the vast money he handed to his family and loved ones.

The enormous plots of land he possessed in the Achimota Forest and the Ramsar site, a protected region where he had urged people against acquiring land while he was in government, have piqued curiosity.

Some have also questioned when he acquired the properties.

Information The Fourth Estate has requested and received from the Audit Service reveals that Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie did not declare his assets before taking office and did not declare them throughout his tenure as the CEO of the Forestry Commission.

Per the laws regulating asset declaration in Ghana—Article 286 of the 1992 Constitution and Public Office Holders (Declaration of Assets and Disqualification) Act—Mr Afriyie should have declared assets relating to the following:

(a) lands, houses and buildings;
(b) farms;
(c) concessions;
(d) trust or family property in respect of which the officer has beneficial interest;
(e) vehicles, plant and machinery, fishing boats, trawlers, generating plants;
(f) business interests;
(g) securities and bank balances;
(h) bonds and treasury bills;
(i) jewellery of the value of ¢5 million [now ¢500] or above; objects of art of the value of ¢5 million or above;
(j) life and other insurance policies;
(k) such other properties as are specified on the declaration form.

Sir John had a long list of properties including 13 houses at various locations in Accra and Kumasi and his hometown, Sakora Wonoo, in the Ashanti Region. These houses are:

  1. House on plot number GA54480 located in Ogbojo, East Legon, and dated February 12, 2018
  2. House on plot number GA 55329 located at Oyarifa No. 2, dated May 11, 2018
  3. House on plot number GA 55475 located at Oyarifa No.1, dated September 27, 2017
  4. House on plot number GA 5881 located at Adjiringanor, Accra, (white House), dated August 7, 2019.
  5. A 6-bedroom house located at Patangbe, Ogbojo, near East Legon.
  6. A  4-bedroom house located in Mempeheusem, East Legon
  7. A 3-bedroom house on plot number TDA 4140 located in Mempehuesem, East Legon
  8. Another 3-bedroom house on plot number TDA 4140 located in Mempehuesem, East Legon
  9. A 4-bedroom house on plot number GA56838 located in East Legon and dated October 25, 2018
  10. A 5-bedroom house located in Sakora Wonoo
  11. A 4-storey building located in East Legon, with 10 apartments, each apartment consisting of 3-bedrooms; and five apartments, each consisting of two bedrooms
  12. A house at East Legon Hills
  13. A house in Kumasi, Ashanti region

Assets Sir John Acquired while in office

Sir John was appointed the CEO of the Forestry Commission in March 2017

His will does not state when most of the landed properties, money in bank accounts and investments were acquired or the businesses he owned were set up.

However, he named dates along with the registration details of five of the houses in his will. Incidentally, all five dates were while he was the CEO of the Forestry Commission.

When he was just six months in office, his house acquired at Oyarifa No. 1 is dated September 27, 2017 with the registration.

A second house at Ogbojo in Accra is dated February 12, 2018, along with the details in the will.

A third house in Sir John’s collection is dated May 11, 2018, in the will, and a fourth on October 25, 2018.

By his 30th month in office, Sir John, a lawyer NPP’s general secretary from 2010 to 2014, had five houses registered in his name. The fifth one came on August 7, 2019.

Eight other houses contained in his will do not have the dates of acquisition.

His listed wealth also included 12 parcels of land.

Sir John’s will also contains 15 foreign and local bank and investment accounts (both individual and corporate ) with one of the local banks having GH₵ 2 million.

His list of businesses includes a fuel station located at Kentinkrono in the Ashanti Region; 10 fuel tankers (worth about $780,000, according to The Fourth Estate’s checks); one teak plantation located at Nkawie in the Ashanti Region; a rubber plantation located in the Eastern Region; three stalls located at the new Kejetia market in Kumasi, also in the Ashanti Region and Farms at Ejura in the Ashanti Region.

That is not all.

He owned a fleet of 15 private vehicles, including a Lexus LX570, Lexus V6, Mercedes Benz E68 Sport AMG, Honda Pilot V6, Honda Accord Sport, Toyota Landcruiser V8, Ford 150 and Lexus Saloon Car, 2019 model.

The Fourth Estate verifies if Sir John declared his assets

The Fourth Estate has, through a right to information request to the Audit Service, found that Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie, who led the country’s forestry sector regulator for almost four years failed to file his assets and liabilities as required by law.

This is clearly in violation of Article 286(1) of the 1992 Constitution, which required that public office holders declare their assets they hold directly or indirectly before taking office, at the end of every four years; and at the end of their term of office.

The law requires that the President, Vice-President, the Speaker, Deputy Speakers of Parliament, ministers and deputy ministers of state, ambassadors, the Chief Justice and managers of public institutions in which the state has interest to submit to the Auditor-General written declarations of all property or assets owned by, or liabilities owed by them, whether directly or indirectly.

Sir John did not.

Asset declaration just a formality?

Critics of Ghana’s asset declaration laws say it is nothing more than a formality since there is no means to verify what public office holders disclose.

This is because laws forbid public disclosure of the assets declared by the public officers concerned unless demanded as evidence by a court of competent jurisdiction, a commission of inquiry appointed under Article 278 or before an investigator appointed by the Commissioner for Human Rights and Administrative Justice.

But anti-graft crusaders including, Vitus Azeem, a former executive director of the Ghana Integrity Initiative, had described the law as opaque with parliament lacking the will to amend it because it wouldn’t favour public office holders.

“It does not make the law an effective tool to fight corruption,” he said, and points to the possibilities of dodging as the ideal situation should be that the Auditor-General could open the envelope and verify if the assets mentioned did exist or “if it was just a blank sheet that has been put into an envelope”.

The case against asset verification 
There have been a lot of cases made against the verification of assets declared. Civil Society Organisations, including the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) noted some of these arguments against asset declarations in their research and publications. One argument against closing the assets declared to the public is the socio-cultural setting.

Some argue that in the context of Ghana’s extended family system, which relies heavily on  relatives, disclosing public office holders’ assets would make them vulnerable to undue pressure from needy relatives.

Another justification has been that publicising the assets of public officials could deter “good” persons from entering public service.

However, CDD-Ghana has shredded these arguments describing them as a red herring.

CDD has noted that politicians and other elites are themselves given to needless displays of ostentation and self-importance, mainly as a way of establishing their “big man” credentials and reputation as “patrons”. It argues that it is disingenuous for these same elites to resist the disclosures of their assets on the grounds that it would give undue publicity to the private wealth of public officeholders.

Controversies in the Sir John era as Forestry Commission CEO

During Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie’s tenure of office, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released a damning report on the illegal trade and felling of rosewood trees had continued despite a ban being in place since 2012.

“Since 2012, over 540,000 tons of rosewood – the equivalent of 23,478 twenty-foot containers or approximately six million trees – were illegally harvested and imported into China from Ghana while bans on harvest and trade have been in place,” the report said.

The investigations found “a massive institutionalised timber trafficking scheme, enabled by high-level corruption and collusion.”

When he addressed a press conference on September 5, 2019, Kwadwo Owusu Afriyie said from 2012 to May 2019, a total of 300,368.94 cubic metres of rosewood equivalent to 257,230 trees had been exported and not six million trees as alleged by the EIA.

As an antidote to the illegal rosewood trade, he said the commission had decided to among other things, burn all seized rosewood in order to deter people from engaging in cutting down the tree since all other measures had failed.

It didn’t happen.

At the heat of the crackdown on illegal mining (galamsey) in 2018, some residents of Koboro in the Amansie Central District in the Ashanti Region, a notorious illegal mining hub, labelled Sir John as an illegal miner.

In his defence, he explained that he had contracted a company to undertake a reclamation exercise and not an illegal mining activity in the Apamprama Forest located in the area.

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