General News of Wednesday, 12 September 2012
The highly-anticipated explosive banter that most members of the public had expected following the decision by businessman Alfred Agbesi Woyome to finally appear before the Public Accounts Committee to explain circumstances under which he was paid GHC51m judgement debt in 2010, failed to happen.
But there were a few notable incidents nonetheless.
The businessman refused to give any evidence on the controversial judgement debt payment and opted to clam his mouth shut, thus forcing the Chairman of the PAC, Hon Kan Dapaah to adjourn hearing and to also discharge Mr. Woyome and Officers from the Attorney Generals Department and the Ministry of Finance.
As expected, the conference hall at the New Block of Parliament, where the PAC had been sitting to consider the 2010 Auditor-General’s report on the Consolidated Fund, was packed to capacity when Mr Woyome finally made his historic appearance before the committee.
Moments after the committee members introduced themselves, Counsel for the embattled businessman stressed that they have preliminary issues and until those issues are raised, his client will not want to swear the oath.
After being given the leeway, Mr Woyome's counsel, who stated that there is evidence that the cabinet of the previous government truncated a contract it had with Mr. Woyome, however added that whether it was lawful or otherwise remained to be seen. He pointed out that since the Chairman, Hon Kan Dapaah and another committee member, Hon Hackman Owusu Agyeman were members of that cabinet, he believed a likelihood of bias could occur.
He also argued that the issues about to be discussed are being reviewed by other bodies and pending before Court and therefore subjudice.
After his submission, the Deputy Attorney-General, Mr Gyambibi, on the instruction of the A-G, Benjamin Kunbuor, requested permission from the Chair to address the committee. According to him, it will not be appropriate for his outfit to discuss the subject under review other than in the courts, and so will not say anything about the Woyome case lest they risk being in contempt of the courts.
In buttressing his point, the Deputy A-G quoted from the 1992 constitution, Article 137 clause 2, which states inter alia; "that neither the president nor parliament nor anyone acting under their authorities nor any other person whatsoever shall interfere with judges, judicial officers, or other persons exercising judicial power in the exercise of their judicial functions and all organs and agencies of the state shall accord to the courts such assistance as the courts may reasonably require to protect the independence, dignity, and effectiveness of the courts".
This provision, he added, makes it clear that when a matter is before a court, that same matter should not be sent or discussed anywhere else or it will be in contempt of the court.
After his address, other members of the committee including John Tia, sided with the deputy A-G's advice and urged that sitting be suspended.
Hon Kan Dapaah then took over and addressed the committee saying eventhough the A-G's office can proffer advise to the committee, it cannot compel the committee to accept its counsel.
After invoking his powers and citing various articles and precedents, he ruled the case will heard by the committee.
Basing his argument on the same Article 127 clause 2, the PAC Chair said "we hear that no one should interfere with judges, judicial officers, or anyone exercising judicial power, but I fail to see how our investigation interferes with the work of any judge. I am unable to accept the advice that we stop on that account. I will accordingly rule that Mr. Woyome tell us his story with good conscience and the help of his lawyers."
"Regarding the issue of me presiding on the case with an eye to my alleged bias, I am willing to allow someone to take my place. I assume my vice chairman, also a member of Kufuor’s cabinet, will not be acceptable. Asiamah should chair the committee.
"My colleague has argued that the committee should suspend sitting and have some discussion before we continue, because the witness, through his lawyer, has raised concerns about two issues. The chairman has the prerogative to rule when such objections are raised and I intend to rule accordingly. On the substantive matter that the auditor general has presented his report to parliament. According to article 187 clause 5 says that he must submit this report to parliament and draw attention to fiscal irregularities and other matter deserving of parliament’s attention within that report. He submitted it and it was referred to this committee. Under article 165 clause 2, the public accounts committee shall examine audited accounts. One would want to ask whether it is not the case that this committee is merely operationalizing parliament’s constitutional duties under article 165. One might ask if the standing audits could override the constitution. We should not refer in ways that would prejudice the case against the witness. We will not do this, instead we are simply performing a constitutional duty. The parliament of Ghana is not sovereign, it is a creation of the constitution to which it is subject. In my opinion, it must follow its constitutional mandate and can thus not be held accountable to any conflicting subsidiary legislation. All the investigative bodies in Ghana must go through the Attorney General to prosecute their reports and cases, but for the auditor general it must go through parliament. Is it the intention of the constitution that matters in court can’t be heard from parliament? The constitution specifies when it does not want to hear such cases, but there is no such prohibition against parliament. Instead, the constitution says that an answer given to parliament by a witness cannot be used in court. This committee is not embarking on a judicial investigation and Woyome is not a defendant here, he is a witness. If a witness appears before the committee, he has the right to council and the right not to engage in self-incrimination. How can we do our job when material witnesses do not testify? The people of Ghana do not deserve the half baked reports that would come out of such processes."
"The committee will adjourn at this stage, thank you. I now discharge Mr. Woyome and the Officers from the Attorney Generals Department and the Ministry of Finance," the PAC Chairman ruled.