Feature Article of Friday, 23 March 2012
Columnist: Akuaku, Bennett
A ‘plonker’ is usually not a great word to know. In fact it is not a common word in the English dictionary, so when three years ago The Chronicle used the word to describe a newly-appointed cabinet minister in Ghana, many media observers had a tough time finding out its meaning.
After a long search it turned out that the word is a British slang with many derogatory meanings including; an absent-minded or naive person, a person prone to making mistakes, an accident prone or stupid person, a fool, an idiot, a cheap wine, someone new in town, and a despicable person.
At the time it looked like the description was too heavy-handed for a lady as charming as Mrs. Betty Mould-Iddrisu, one-time Head of Legal and Constitutional Affairs of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, and then Ghana's first ever woman Minister of Justice and Attorney General, who was in office for just a couple of months.
In fact at the time, little did anyone suspect that she would be entangled in a tall list of errors, one of which would send her crashing. But the paper seemed to know what it was talking about.
It would be recalled that before she was given the nod, one member of the Parliamentary Vetting Committee had cast his own doubts about her capability to handle the two-pronged ministerial office (A-G/Ministry of Justice) without the fear or favour it requires.
Hon. Atta Akyea, Member of Parliament (MP) for Abuakwa, pointedly asked a rhetorical question insinuating that the nominee was too stuck to her office when she headed the Copyright Office at the AG's some time back, and wondered if her lack of courtroom experience and exposure should not be critically considered before giving her the new responsibility.
So in September, 2009, (that was when she was first labeled a ‘plonker’), when her handling of a case involving two lawyers and a mining company over an alleged $850,000 forgery did not seem intelligent enough, many observers, including The Chronicle began to playback her appearance, demeanour and performance before the Vetting Committee.
It recalled her woeful responses to probing questions and regretted her eventual confirmation.
“Her response was to turn on the charm, ear-rings pearling in unison with her smiles, which was enough to get the drooling honourable MPs round the table to pass her. Now, with the universal opprobrium as the A-G, and multiple suits engineered by Rawlings – not a single victory has been chalked by the A-G of Atta Mills, and the NDC - is well and truly exposed.
So the cries for Professor Mills to add her to the list of plonkers are ringing in with growing urgency”….Chronicle (Sept 22, 2009).
Calling her ‘Betty Plonker’ the paper said instead of bracing up for the job she was always full of jewelry in her office (A-G), and described her as the weakest link in the then eight-month old John Evans Atta Mills’ government.
The following day, (Sept 23, 2009), the paper again revealed that a leading attorney, Joe Aboagye Debrah, was forced to resign from the General Legal Council (GLC) due to frustrations from both the A-G and the GLC over failure to take criminal and professional sanctions against lawyers, who have been accused of forgery.
But in a strongly-worded rejoinder Betty wrote among others: “I do not seek praise from Chronicle, in the same way that I do not consider myself answerable to it”.
As if to add insult to injury, the Ghanaian Journal, in its 10th March, 2010 issue, did prophetic a story captioned: ‘BETTY MOULD MAY NOT LAST’.
“There are enough reasons that indicate that the beleaguered Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mrs. Betty Mould-Iddrisu is on her way out of government. Mrs. Mould-Iddrisu had been an institutional attorney all her life and therefore being pushed into an area of pure advocacy was considered by many as being taken to her waterloo. Yet those who recommended her to the Attorney-General’s Department would not consider her shortcomings”, it wrote.
The Today newspaper took a different stance and observed that if at all she was on her way out, it was due to a conspiracy within the ruling party.
“Today has it on authority that the anti-Betty Mould-Iddrisu newspapers are being tele-guided in their stance and unfolding events within the ruling party as per the judgment of the papers, indicate that Betty has failed as an Attorney-General and perhaps should resign honourabl”y.
According to the paper, “The conspiracy against Betty had been hatched right from the day her name came up for ministerial consideration. Some rugged NDC elements pushed for Betty’s candidature for the Attorney-General portfolio at a time the President had penciled her for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”.
And by the time she had spent a year in office, she was already struggling with herself over the commencement of prosecution of NPP officials who were perceived to be corrupt.
Barely a week later, Betty, apparently unable to bear the heat from her own party, shot herself in the foot when she accused the NPP flagbearer, Nana Akuffo Addo, of hounding her and her family, when the latter was A-G in Kufuor’ regime, on suspicion that she was too prominent a member of the NDC..
Her revelation was in response to accusation by some sympathizers of the NDC who claim she was refusing to prosecute corrupt NPP officials because she has many friends within that party. As would be expected, her excuse was seen so lame and smacked of laziness. And following the hue and cry from within the NDC, she was moved to the Ministry of Education.
While there, some teachers, who were also no pleased with her performance tasked President Mills to sack her as soon as possible, or they would hit the streets.
Her chain of woes persisted even at her new ministry until the concave Woyome case, which happened while she was A-G, hit the newsstands.
Of all the mistakes she might have made in her entire 58 years, the failure to defend her country (in court) when it mattered most seems the most fatal to her political/professional career. What compounded matters for her was the parallel nature of the positions taken by her deputy and later her successor.
While Barton Oduro explained that the A-G’s office deliberately failed to put up defense because the case was a bad one and thus indefensible, her successor, Martin Amidu, said paying Woyome monies when there was no evidence of contract between him and government amounted to a ‘gargantuan fraud’.
And one could go on and on and on.
Subsequently, the firing of Martin Amidu by the president for venturing to correct that mistake (by putting the truth ahead of protocol) has worsened the whole matter, hence her exit.
Interestingly, even though it would not repair any dent to her image, her resignation on 23rd January, 2012 seemed to have gone down well with people in almost every political bracket in Ghana.
President Mills could not wait to bid her farewell to his government, Mr. Allotey Jacobs, Central Regional Communications Director of the ruling NDC described it as ‘good riddance’ for the government, and Professor Mike Ocquaye of the NPP said the nation should not stop at the gate of her resignation, but called for ‘further explanation’.
A Political Science lecturer at the University of Ghana, Ransford Gyampo, said her resignation, at the time it came, was ‘long overdue’.
And even though she later hinted in the media that she resigned with a clear conscience, unconfirmed reports of death threats from her to the Minority Leader in Parliament, Hon. Kyei Mensah Bonsu, suggests she might be peeved.
But hey, with all these mistakes here and there, who can fault the media for the ‘plonker’ description? This is not to defend the tag put on her, but honestly, isn’t it one mistake too many?
You may call it a second-hand view, if you wish, but coming to look at it closely, shouldn’t she rather have remained at her Commonwealth Secretariat job instead of joining mainstream politics?
Politics, they say, works for some people, but works against others.
Bennett Akuaku (Negative Realities)
E-mail: [email protected]