The resilience of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) towards protecting the human rights of Ghanaians cannot go unnoticed.
Though bedeviled with challenges, including lack of resources, funding, understaffing, CHRAJ has stood the test of time to establish itself as a beacon in the protection of human rights in Africa and beyond.
Mr Joseph Whittal, Commissioner of CHRAJ, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency, says the Commission has been consistently ranked amongst the top three Commissions in Africa in performance.
The Commission’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it is the only Human Rights Institution in Africa and the world with the triple mandate of being the Ombudsman and Anti-Corruption Agency.
By acting as the Ombudsman of Ghana, the Commission promotes administrative justice in public administration and secures improvement in public sector service delivery in Ghana.
CHRAJ’s hard work earned it the chair of the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) in 2013.
Mr Whittal is currently the Deputy Chair of the Network and next year, a Biennial Conference will be held in Ghana to elect him as the substantive Chair for the next two years.
He is currently the President of the Network of National Human Rights Institutions in West Africa (NNHRIs-WA), a position he has occupied since 2019.
The Secretariat for the Network is set up within the Commission here in Accra.
CHRAJ was established under the 1992 Constitution of Ghana by the CHRAJ Act, 1993 [Act 456].
It has three broad mandates: Human Rights, Administrative Justice, and Anti-Corruption.
After the approval of the 1992 Constitution, there was a directive that within six months of it coming into force, Parliament shall enact a Law establishing the Commission.
The directive also stated that within the same six months, the Commissioner and his two Deputies must be appointed.
As at the time of establishing CHRAJ, Ghana had just come out of Military rule, as such, during its initial stages of operation, more focus was channeled towards Human Rights.
Greater emphasis was placed on ensuring that the culture of respect for human rights and the fulfilment of human rights by the State was carried out, much to the neglect of the other two mandates: Administrative Justice and Anti-Corruption.
It, however, did not take long for the other two mandates to kick in after the Commission engaged more staff to help undertake Administrative Justice and Anti-Corruption work.
CHRAJ investigates complaints concerning the functioning of the Public Services commission, the administrative organs of the State, the offices of the Regional Co-ordinating Council and the District Assembly.
It also investigates the Armed Forces, the Police Service, and the Prisons Service as far as the complaints relate to the failure to achieve a balance structuring of those services or equal access by all to the recruitment of those services or fair administration in relation to the services.
Again, they investigate complaints concerning practices and actions by persons, private enterprises, and other institutions where those complaints allege violations of fundamental rights and freedoms under the Constitution.
CHRAJ exists to take appropriate action to call for the remedying, correction and reversal of instances specified in paragraphs (1), (2) and (3) of the clause of the Act establishing it through such means as are fair, proper, and effective measures.
These measures include negotiating a compromise between the parties concerned, causing the complaint and findings on it to be reported to the superior of an offending person.
Other measures involve the bringing of proceedings in a competent court for a remedy to secure the termination of the offending action or conduct or the abandonment or alteration of the offending procedures.
Also, CHRAJ brings proceedings to restrain the regulation by challenging its validity if the offending action or conduct is sought to be justified by subordinate legislation or regulation, which is unreasonable or otherwise ultra vires.
As part of the functions, the Commission investigates all instances of alleged or suspected corruption and the misappropriation of public monies by officials and takes appropriate steps, including reports to the Attorney-General and the Auditor-General, resulting from such investigations.
POWERS OF THE COMMISSION
The Commission has the power to require an institution or person to submit information, documents, records, or other materials that will assist in the Commission’s investigations.
It can require any institution or person to appear before the Commission to assist in its investigations.
The Commission can go to court to seek remedies, including compliance with its recommendations.
WHAT COMPLAINTS DOES CHRAJ HANDLE?
CHRAJ handles complaints about any violation of human rights, including discrimination, prejudice, bullying, slavery and/or servitude, torture, trafficking, mistreatment, forced labour, abduction, domestic violence, unlawful arrest, search, and detention.
Others are sexual harassment, degrading punishment, early or forced marriages, parental neglect, denial of access to child, restriction of peaceful assembly and association, inhibition of freedom of thought, conscience and worship and restriction on access to healthcare or education.
Anyone whose rights have been violated is supposed to complain to the Commission as soon as possible but not later than 12 months after the violation or denial one wants to complain about occurred.
Every person, group of persons or an institution that comes before the Commission is given the opportunity to present their case through a process that is fair, just, and transparent.
The Commission’s services are free, empowering, user friendly and accessible to all.
Where the circumstances demand, a person may lodge a complaint on behalf of another.
Complaints can be made to the Commission via phone, email, post, fax, or in person at any of the Commission’s offices (Head Office in Accra, Regional or District Offices).
When making a complaint, one should give as much detail as possible, including supporting documents, contact addresses and phone numbers of persons who may assist the Commission in its investigation.
You should provide all relevant information that will assist the Commission communicate better with you and the person or institution you are complaining about. This should include full name, contact addresses, and contact phone numbers.
The complainant should also indicate to the Commission the remedy he or she seeks.
MATTERS OUTSIDE THE COMMISSION’S MANDATE
The Commission does not have power to investigate a matter pending in a court or judiciary tribunal.
It cannot investigate a matter between the Government of Ghana and another Government or International Organization.
Also, CHRAJ does not have power to investigate a matter where the President exercises his or her prerogative of mercy (such as the grant of a pardon to a convict).
Mr Whittal says about three years ago, the Commission had only ninety-nine District offices, even though the Constitution states that CHRAJ shall have a branch in every District—a constitutional directive that has not yet been met.
However, he says there had been great improvement in recent times, adding that, today the Commission has 184 districts with about 1,001 staff.
Another challenge is the Government’s inability to release sufficient funds and resources to the Commission.
The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) in January this year, embarked on the first-ever actual corruption survey to provide the right information on the levels of corruption in the country.
The two institutions evaluated about 250,000 households, using the methodology of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), a United Nations corruption agency, for the survey.
Mr Whittal says the survey will not only expose how corruption manifested in households and the regional prevalence but also serve as a baseline to deploy effective measures better than what the corruption perception index offers.
He says the data collected and its analysis will help Ghana define the level of corruption with data of real cases, instead of the corruption perception index, to support the fight against the canker.
“The results will serve as a better tool to track progress and determine which areas in the sector needs to be given attention in the area of corruption.”
Mr Whittal says Ghana is the only country aside Nigeria to carry out this survey.
In the area of Corruption Risk Assessment, he says CHRAJ is assisting some State agencies to assess the loopholes within their systems that are giving rise to corruption and design mitigation measures.
He says they have carried out assessmenst with the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture, and the Ghana Health Service under the Ministry of Health, with technical support from UNODC.
“We don’t want to wait for complaints to come up before we go and investigate. We believe in preventive measures and that is why this step is necessary for us to take.”
“When the full report comes out with the loopholes, weakness and mitigation measures, it will give an incentive to other Ministries, Departments and Agencies to work closely with the Commission to block such loopholes and prevent corruption from happening,” Mr Whittal says.