I have always been fascinated by the statue of the blindfolded lady wielding a sword in one hand and a pair of scales in the other. It is a symbol that a Lawyer friend once explained to me, represents the very embodiment of what justice should be about.
My impromptu law tutorial from my friend revealed that the blindfold on “Lady Justice”, as the statue is called, symbolizes impartiality as she cannot see who she dispenses justice to, the scales indicate a fair assessment of the facts of any case, while the sword stands for punishment for the guilty.
Ghana’s law enforcement and justice delivery system are premised on the ideals espoused by Lady Justice as it should be everywhere else.
There have been long-standing claims about how those down the social ladder in our country do not have full access to justice.
Recent happenings in our country have brought home forcefully, just how lopsided our society is and raised serious questions about the fairness of our justice delivery system.
Two Chinese women, Aisha and Helen Huang, alleged to have committed serious environmental crimes in illegal mining and rosewood felling respectively, have escaped justice in a way that leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
The former, referred to as the Galamsey Queen, who is said to have raided forests in the Ashanti Region in search of gold with the active support of Ghanaian officials, was deported under mysterious circumstances after an even stranger nolle prosequi was issued to discontinue her trial which many expected would lead to conviction and possible jail term.
Senior Minister, Yaw Osafo Marfo, courted public anger for himself when he attempted to justify the Ghanaian government’s decision to let her off the hook, with economic diplomacy. According to the elderly Minister, Ghana stood to benefit from the economic might of China, as exemplified by the $ 2 billion Sinohydro deal, if it was appeased with the release of its citizen even if she has been involved in a serious breach of Ghanaian law.
Even before the public uproar surrounding the controversial deportation could die down, another Huang, this time with the first name Helen, was publicly displayed by police officers after she was arrested for transporting two truckloads of rosewood, a specie of tree whose felling has been banned as an environmental conservation measure. The similarity of the name of the second Huang to the first, and her Chinese nationality, prompted fears that her case too may not see the light of day.
The worst fears of the skeptics appeared to be coming to fruition following reports of Helen Huang’s disappearance amid suspicion that she had jumped bail. News broke last week that she had been re-arrested and hopes were revived that she would be made to face the full rigours of the law. That hope was dashed two days later when it came to light that she had also been deported to China. This has sparked another round of public outcry.
At the same time that Helena Huang was declared “missing”, a Koforidua Circuit court handed down a 16-year total jail sentence to four Ghanaian illegal miners. As is to be expected, immediate comparisons were drawn between the soft treatment given the Chinese offenders whose alleged crimes vastly outweigh those of the Ghanaian illegal miners. The unavoidable question has arisen as to how the Ghanaian law enforcement system can be so unfairly tilted to benefit foreign nationals who come from wealthy nations.There are those who side with the Senior Minister and have called for a pragmatic analysis of the situation. $ 2 billion they say, can go a long way to alleviate the suffering of thousands of Ghanaians who will benefit from many badly needed infrastructural projects. They argue further, that freeing two Chinese nationals in exchange for the provision of roads, schools, hospitals and potable water is more than a good bargain.
Deportation of Chinese nationals involved in crimes in Ghana is not a new phenomenon. In August 2016, 30 Chinese nationals were also deported for engaging in galamsey instead of being prosecuted.
Similar considerations as the current one informing the deportation of Aisha and Helena Huang were clearly at play back then. According to the Lands and Natural Resources Minister,194 foreign nationals have been deported to date for their roles in Galamsey and other crimes.
It is all well and good to have development assistance and cooperation from economically powerful nations like China. The argument however, that economic assistance especially in the form of a loan or barter, that we will repay with high interest, is enough to warrant the mortgaging of our dignity as a nation simply doesn’t sit well with me.
It is bad enough that after sixty-two years of nationhood, we have not achieved the sort of economic development that we should have. To undermine our own sovereignty by freeing nationals of economic superpowers in exchange for financial assistance is the ultimate indignity any people can bring upon themselves.
To clamp down heavily on our citizens driven into illegal mining because of unemployment and deliver stiff punishment to them, even if well deserved, and at the same time be willing to let serious offenders get away with their alleged crimes on account of the contributions of their countries to our development, is a grave injustice that we must address.
A very wrong signal is sent in a situation like that which can breed apathy and erode confidence in the entire justice delivery system. Law enforcement and justice delivery must be equally and fairly dispensed and no excuses should be made for individuals because of their social status, nationality, or economic might.
Even as most Ghanaians are outraged by this sad development, it is not too clear what Lady Justice will make of the case of the two Huangs and the four Ghanaians currently languishing in jail for lesser offenses than their Chinese counterparts.
Writer: Serwaa Amihere