Ghana's ITLOS victory partly a function of Public Records Administration

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When a steamroller of technology rolls over you, you will either be part of the steamroller or part of the road” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Media Lab.

On Saturday, September 23, 2017, Ghana received one of the most heart-warming news of recent times. The country was declared the winner in a maritime case with Ivory Coast at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). I can recall vividly how the whole country was thrown into a jubilant mood after the verdict.

On Monday, September 25, 2017, it took centre stage in the entire media spectrum. The headlines of some of the major newspapers like The Daily Graphic and the Ghanaian Times captured it “Ghana triumph; Côte d’Ivoire’s rights not violated” “Maritime boundary dispute case: Ghana won against Côte d’Ivoire” respectively.

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Before judgment on that day, a private radio station had called a lawyer to share his views on the implications of the judgment should Ghana either win or lose the case. According to the lawyer, the implications will be costly and daunting if the country had lost the case. After the judgment, the former Attorney General Mrs Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong was quoted by the Daily Graphic as saying “the area which was in dispute is worth billions of dollars and, indeed, the oil companies operating in that area have invested billions of dollars so far. It would have been catastrophic if the decision had gone otherwise”.

In a tribute issued by the former President of the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, in whose tenure the case was filed at ITLOS Special Chamber, was full of praise for the tall list of people and institutions who assisted to get a favourable ruling for the Country.

After listening to most of the commendations that were being showered on the Attorney General’s Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other bodies, I was sad. There was only one important question which kept rolling in my mind; the question was “Where did they get the records from?” This question kept rolling in my mind because all these institutions don’t keep records dating back to the 1800s. If these state institutions do not keep such records the next question is “who supplied the vital records to these gallant lawyers to fight the cause of Ghana? The answer to these questions is the Public Records and Archives Administration Department, PRAAD.

THE ROLE OF PRAAD IN THE CASE

PRAAD is a public institution with a mandate to preserve all public records called ARCHIVES. Archives are documents that have been carefully and professionally appraised and selected based on their primary, evidential and legal values preserved for future reference and research.

At the preliminary stages of the maritime boundary dispute case between Ghana and La Côte d’Ivoire, PRAAD received a team of lawyers from the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office and the legal Department of Ministry of Foreign Affairs; whose aim was to obtain all the necessary documents at the Department which would serve as evidence for Ghana to plead her case at the ITLOS. Staff of PRAAD painstakingly searched, found and made available to the team all the records vital to the case. Indeed the feedback received by PRAAD after Ghana triumphed in the initial round was that the documents provided by the Department was very vital to the outcome of that judgment and as a follow-up, the team of legal personnel made the further request for more of the remaining document to enable it to continue the next phase. Let me mention but a few of these rare documents which were made available to the team.

(I) Geological survey report on the search for oil (petroleum) in Ghana (with table and map of oil drilling activities in Ghana since 1896)

(II) Exploration for oil offshore (Discovery of oil in the Ivory Coast. (Progress on oil prospecting in Ghana.)

(III) Exploration of oil offshore

(IV) Tano Basin Exploration

(V) Acts and legislation relating to petroleum matters.

It was therefore not surprising to me at all that Ghana once again triumphed in the final judgment on that faithful 23rd day of September 2017. The sad part, however, is that when the time came for commendation, the name “Public Records and Archives Administration Department, PRAAD” was conspicuously missing. To me, I expected this news of our victory to be the springboard on which to re-emphasize the need to properly preserve records generated by public institutions in the country and most importantly put measures in place to empower PRAAD by providing all the needed resources to effectively protect the records in its custody.  It was, therefore, disheartening not to hear the name of PRAAD in any of the media discussions, despite all the assistance, it provided.

As a Department housing the collective memory of the nation, it is not receiving any special attention aimed at making these records available at all times. It is disheartening to say that about 98% of all the records in PRAAD are still paper-based and most of the records within the category of rare documents are deteriorating at a very alarming rate. However, the good news is that these documents can be converted to different formats with the aid of modern technology in order to properly preserve them, extend their longevity and also conform to current trends in records and archives management.

SALVAGING THE DETERIORATING DOCUMENTS.

The Department for over a decade now had made several efforts to digitize these documents of national importance but it is yet to receive the needed support. The first challenge of the Department is the insufficient budgetary allocations that have been made to the Department over the years. All the efforts made by the Department to solicit financial support from donor agencies have proven futile. This is due to the fact that the array of people who have shown interest are mainly business people who want returns on their investments. The only favourable response which came was from Tullow Oil Ghana Ltd who took certain steps towards assisting the Department when Ghana won the first round of the case. Unfortunately for the Department, Mr Okyeame Ampadu who was championing our cause at Tullow resigned, putting the entire project in a limbo. Now that Ghana has secured a final judgement and Tullow is safe with it investment we are appealing to Tullow to revisit the assistance as promised.

We have also appealed to the Ghana Bar Association to assist us to refurbish the Search Room where clients sit to conduct research but up till now, the Department is yet to receive any favourable response.

It’s also regrettable that government officials over the years have not shown any practical interest in the Department even though they are aware of its immense contribution to the nation’s development. Often times that they had been called on for any form of assistance, the responses have been “there are other donor agencies who are interested in such projects.” This is very unfortunate! You will agree with me that donor agencies are not direct beneficiaries of the immense contributions these documents make to the country: a case in point is this landmark victory the country had just won at the ITLOS.

ANY HOPE

 As a state institution, governments have the primary responsibility of ensuring every single sector functions properly. It is in view of the above that I am making this humble appeal to the government of the day to give the PRAAD the needed attention to enable it; as a matter of urgency salvage our national memory/heritage because its benefits in the foreseeable future are enormous.

For instance, in his 2017 State of the Nation address in Parliament, the President announced that his flagship policy of the Free Senior High School was going to be funded by the national resources of Ghana including a percentage of the oil proceeds for the benefit of all. Assuming the judgment had gone the other way, its repercussions on the implementation of the Free SHS policy would have been very evident for all to see.

Mr President, the ‘umbilical cord’ of this nation is found at PRAAD formally known as the National Archives. The primary sources of information regarding how we became Ghana, as well as records of all the people that contributed towards that struggle, can be found at PRAAD. For instance, records concerning the Aborigine Right Protection Society, The Bond of 1844, the independence seal and many others can be located at PRAAD. But let hasten to add that they are all deteriorating very fast and if no action is taken now, nothing will be left for us as a country in the next decade (10 years to come).

During an interview on the mid-day news on Star FM on the 25th August 2017, the Executive Director of the Ghana Maritime Authority had this advice to Government “take archiving and digitization of its records seriously because it was archival documents that helped secure the victory at ITLOS against Côte d’Ivoire”. I say, thank you and well said my colleague and I hope and believe the government is listening.

To the rest of the state institutions, time is long overdue for us to change our attitude towards records management. One important responsibility of public institutions enshrined in the State Property and Contract Act 1960 (CA 6),  which have been constantly overlooked is the need to always make an original copy of all contracts and agreements entered into on behalf of the Republic of Ghana, available to the then National Archives now PRAAD. Despite the efforts being made by the Department to have access to these vital records, cooperation is becoming a challenge. If all these records were made available in years past, it would have saved the country from paying most of these judgment debts which were slammed on her. All I can say is that making these important records available to PRAAD will inure to the benefit of the country in the foreseeable future.  

Let me congratulate the Attorney General’s office for making available ten (10) volumes of the ITLOS sitting to PRAAD. We are looking forward to the rest of the volumes and the final judgment because here is their resting place.

In conclusion, I wish to state that our contribution to the victory chalked by the country is our modest contribution to the development of Ghana. It, therefore, gratifies my heart that an unsung public institution like PRAAD played an immense role for Ghana in this regard. The only way we can be in the position to continue contributing to the country’s development in this regard is when critical attention is given to our deteriorating records by the state. Our doors are wide open to receiving assistance from donor agencies as well as all stakeholders.

God bless our Homeland Ghana and make our nation great and strong.