Feature Article of Sunday, 1 April 2012
Columnist: Asante, Sam Ohene
Sam Ohene Asante
“But for the nation itself, there will only be a change of embezzlers; a change of the hunters and the haunted” Ayikwei Armah in his much acclaimed novel, the Beautiful ones are not yet born.
And it came to pass. The prophetic one-liner above could easily have come from the bible. My Presbyterian head teacher used to remind us that what distinguishes the Bible from, for example, Shakespeare is a Christian doctrine, which espouses that the men who wrote the bible were “divinely inspired”. In coming up with an exact and accurate divination of the leadership traits of post independence leaders Ayikwei Armah is the most prescient of the Ghanaian if not the African writers.
A duty bound return to the headline topic now follows.
A rueful denouement to the Woyome saga is for the nation to end up “in situ” with the same democratic and constitutional deficit and anaemic institutions of governance that make such unimaginable malfeasances possible. Never in the venal corridors of politics and power has so much been paid to one man from the coffers of the state under a disguised, mendacious and false pretence of a “perverse judgment” debt. To compound the grief, the ruling party and the men and women who starred in this motion picture of planned and engineered malfeasance are relying on the veniality of Ghanaians that eventually it will be business as usual; NDC just have to hold its nerves and win the next election and it will be consigned to history.
Until Woyome’s saga, the common thinking by anyone who has had the faintest look at the current constitution is that the constitution gives too much power to the executive and such powers have to be rolled back. Well it is now clear to all and sundry that the powers afforded to the president by the constitution is as potent as the officeholder. Power without virtue is weak. To buttress this point we just have to ask ourselves basic questions such as:
1) Why was the president’s attempt to stop the payment on more than one occasion failed?
2) Why would one president be able to instruct his ministers to abrogate a contract with a single attempt and another president attempted twice to stop payment of a doubtful, dubious and odious debt with no enforceable contract and failed?
3) Assuming the disregarded “STOP PAYMENT” order was issued to the Vice President, can he be fired by the President? My interest here is on constitutional solution not on personality focused answers
4) Is the statement that the president tried to stop the payment a placebo i.e. was it meant to appease critics of the president who said he was “sleeping and snoring” on the wheels?
5) In contrast or in comparison with Mr. Martin Amidu, are those who blatantly ignored the Presidential Directive (PD) not to pay still on the public payroll?
6) With the real and rare exception of the Woyome saga, have there been more breaches of PDs? This question is worth asking because of the consistent and persistent use of intemperate language by certain appointees of the president and may be the president has tried “twice” or more to stop or discipline them but to borrow from A B Crentsil’s lyric their attitude is like “Mer nkasa President ne ho! Na lar wa yer ol’man odidi me3 a’na omar instructions” loosely translated as ignore the president’s instructions because he is an old man who has had enough to eat.
7) Was the decision not to contest the case a collective cabinet decision or one made personally and exclusively by the Attorney General within the latitude of the right of the officeholder to exercise professional judgement?
8) If it was an exclusive decision by the AG’s Office at what point in time was the decision communicated to the Office of the President and did he consented to the “no contest” policy?
9) Considering the size of the “Under-the-Counter” payment, where was Parliament in all this?
10) Is there a constitutional or public policy requirement placed on the Offices of the Ministry of Finance and Controller and Accountant General to notify Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee in advance of payments exceeding certain amounts?
What are the lessons to be learnt from this saga and what changes does it call for in the structure and form of governance? The answer is a lot has to be learnt from this most suicidal of public policy “clanger” in the history of our nation. In addition, the fact that such heroic failure of institutional checks and balances shines through the saga makes it all the more insidious.
Another troubling dimension to the saga is the way some of the best and the brightest brains are overstretching themselves to defend or exonerate the culprits as well as ruining the extra mile to rope in NPP when it is clear that in the absence of an enforceable contract there cannot be a breach of contract. If NPP is saying, they were staring in the face of “anticipatory breach” because it was clear that the contracted party cannot perform then I would have thought they have the right to abrogate the contract with Woyome.
A few examples of blind and blatant loyalties and allegiances from some of the popular columnists on the web:
• Dr. Duffour should quit now before his undoubted integrity is tainted.
If it is true, as is being rumoured (I use the word “rumour” advisedly because I was told by a friend but I suppose this is either false or a public knowledge) that the lodgement of the GHC51million went to a bank owned by the finance minister. You cannot offer free services and oversee the loss of GHC51m paid to party financier without a contract with the funds being warehoused by your own bank and walk away with your integrity intact.
• What is so special about Woyome scandal that stops NDC from focusing on Akuffo Addo?
If the writer wants us to acquiesce with the fact that corruption had been around since the days of Adam and will be there, regardless of who rules as Ayikwei Armah prophesised then I am afraid it calls for a debate about the relativism of corruption so that we can accept which corrupt practices yields utilitarian values to the state. The attitude is not and ought not to be “clap for my boys”. Even the president who issued the disobeyed PDs to stop payment saw something wrong and ordered an enquiry; albeit, he seems to have bolted the door after the horses had left.
• We should go softly on the AG who sanctioned the payment because we risk among other things, adversely affecting the exercise of professional judgment of future office holders. The reason is that it is the only ministerial appointment reserved for a professional person i.e. a qualified lawyer.
Indeed, it is a very fragile, unconvincing, and incoherent argument which, when pitched in the context of a tale of two AGs fails to stand the test of reason. Why should one AG approve the payment and refuses to go to court when there is no contract and as consequence and in the absence of no challenger there could only be one winner and another AG exercising the same professional judgment concluded that he could not condone inherent illegalities that could only undermine the integrity of the Office of the AG?
• NPP appointees in public service are deliberately flouting or obstructing the good works of NDC. The least said on this the better. We can conveniently blame those who read the weather forecasts for the bad weather e.g. flooding.
There is also the deafening silence of the “Pecksniffian” anti-corruption crusader in the person of former President Rawlings. The dilemma is clear to see: he is not gagged but cannot freely air his views on the most inexplicable, indefensible and outrageous corruption ever to occur in the nation’s history. Time was when he had been opining uprightness from “the moral Afadzato”. The public is anxiously waiting for his usual cavilling and caterwauling, which the “greedy bastards” paid no heed. Has the great crusader of anti-corruption regardless of his own duplicity and emptiness finally has his day? Well, every Bin Laden has his Abbotabad! Where is the Abbotabad; Sunyani or Woyome’s case?
Short and snappy summary of failed or toothless institutions of Governance
It turns out that in the hands of a president perceived to be weak and indecisive style of leadership, the idea that the president has too much power is a myth. The excessive powers are as effective as the occupier of the office is. The presidency, in common with any other job has some basic characteristics, which aspiring presidents must have; they are;
a) Ability to filter good advice from bad advice;
b) Making the right appointments;
c) Making decisions without illusions and laid back assumptions that appointees and subordinates will act in accordance with PDs
d) Swiftly firing those appointees whose actions and performance could be a recipe for crises etc.
e) Above all, those who seek to occupy high office must have a firm conviction about what they are going to do once they get there. You do not ascend to the throne and ask yourself “Oh My God what am I going to do?”
o It is interesting to note that the judiciary has escaped its fair and deserved share of the unrelenting opprobrium directed towards the presidency, the AG’s Office etc. In most countries, where, cases are evenly balanced, judges will always find the just and appropriate legal technicality to rule in favour of the state. Let us suppose it is the same as saying, the bench must not take a detached view of national interests when dispensing justice.
o A begging question, an upshot to the above, is the ruling judge telling us that in the absence of the “no show” from the AG’s Office the only conceivable judgement he could deliver was “go and get your GHC51m; it does not matter even if you don’t have a substantive and verifiable binding contract with the state”? The case could easily have been thrown out because of the nonexistence of a contract between Woyome and the State or at the very least he could be ordered to come back to prove to the court that he has an enforceable contract with the state but sadly, in the adjudicating judge’s view the easy way out was if the state is not contesting you win without even having a legal leg to stand on? It is easy for the judge to come back to defend himself that it was the defendant’s (the State) duty to come to court and prove that there is no contract and didn’t need to enquire if there is contract underpinning the compensation claim but he has a duty also to find that out from the plaintiff.
o Who actually bestowed GHC51m upon Woyome?
? The president whose directive to stop payment was no more or less as effective as Asamoah Gyan’s penalty kicks? By the way, compared to our ruling elites, how much did it cost Ghana to train Asamoah Gyan as a footballer?
? The AG who would not go to court to defend the state even when there was no contract?
? The ruling judge who was most certainly not oblivious of the fact that the consequence of his ruling lends legitimacy and credence to an otherwise frivolous claim?
As for parliament, hmmm! It has to be resourced; empowered and unrestrained to do its work else it will only exist by name and numbers.
We need lawmakers like Sen. Paul Sarbanes and Rep. Michael G. Oxley, the co-sponsors of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act. How do we get them? After Enron, these two lawmakers felt something has to be done to control accountants and auditors and came up with a complex piece of legislation to address it. Why can’t our legislators do the same? It is interesting to note that Ghanaian Times of 13th March 2013 carried a story of “Cabinet to allow the review of the procurement law”, http://www.newtimes.com.gh/story/cabinet-approves-restructuring-of-procurement-law
If the legislature needs cabinet approval to review obsolete and ineffectual laws then we are in a mess.
There had been repeated debates and articles about the independence of the AG’s appointment, how its role should be depoliticised and freed from the ambit of the government of the day. The debate is still going on and readers should follow it and form their own opinion. Again, like any other job, it hinges on individual flair and integrity. We now know that had Mr. Martin Amidu been the AG, we would have saved GHC51m.
State Funding of Political Parties
It is very tempting to dismiss how the relevance of state funding of political parties comes into play in Woyome’s saga. On the face of it should lie outside the scope of any serious debate about payment of a “sham” judgement debt. However, in management speak; it is not at all a case of “paralysis by analysis”. It has a real and perceptible impact on the funding of political parties and we do our good selves a favour by debating it with a view to come up with a solution.
Since NDC came into office under President Mills, its congenital apprehension was that Kuffour’s government and leading NPP politicians may have a finger in the pie of EO Group. This resulted in a protracted and uncompromising examination of contracts signed and sealed just to see that “all the ducks were in a row”. Briefly and frankly, that was not the case with Woyome’s payment. One of the reasons ascribed to this in the foreign press was that the incoming government of NDC suspected that it would give NPP an unfair and unequal advantage when it comes to financing elections if their cronies are to walk away with fortunes from the oil find. And, to the one who perceives, perception is reality.
Having examined EO and Kosmos Group contracts with two pair of eyes and accepted its veracity, enforceability and validity; albeit, reluctantly, it put the pressure on NDC to close the so-called perceived gap of NPP’s superior campaign finance war chest.
How do they do it? How do they close this perceived window of campaign finance vulnerability? Well the reader is beginning to see the light. Enter Woyome and Judgment debts; and award of contracts to party honchos such as Asideu Nketsia’s supply of cement to Bui dam with an inbuilt “excess margin” as alleged. How often do we hear the apt or inapt description of Mr Alfred Agbesi Woyome as “NDC Financier”? In the eight years, that NDC was in opposition how much did Mr Woyome give as compared to the period since he received his reprehensible judgement debt booty?
Thus with case stated about the relevance of state funding of political parties to the Woyome saga how do we address the problem? Should we buy heavily into NDC’s irrelevancies, which are seeking to divert attention from indefensible malfeasances by consistently making Nana Akuffo Addo’s leadership credentials the most important and disturbing issue in Ghanaian politics today?
In the 2008 elections, the concern was vote Mills and you get Rawlings. Now we are being led to believe, we voted Mills and we got the Ahwois. Let no one blame the Ahwois, our mandate is with the democratically elected President Mills and he is the only one accountable to the people of Ghana. After all, has he not been bold enough to marginalise Rawlings? If you can take Rawlings on, shouldn’t the Ahwois be the chicken feed?
Those writing copious and encyclopaedic articles all focusing on candidate Akuffo-Addo more than any other candidate ever to contest the presidency should balance it by throwing their microscopic lenses on the only leadership that affects the lives of Ghanaians today ---the incumbent president.
Hardly a day goes by without an expose on Nana Akuffo-Addo’s pale and perceived weakness in his leadership credentials when even we are staring in the face of a “heroic weaknesses of incumbent leadership”. In the main they are all recycled and unsubstantiated rehash with a fair amount of emptiness. There had been copious and encyclopaedic articles all focusing on Akuffo-Addo more than any other presidential candidate in the history of our republic. Is it a case of the citizenry now waking up to the imperatives of leadership as the nation’s Achilles heel? Alternatively, Nana and for that matter anyone aspiring to lead us deserve a well-lit lens on his persona and leadership record? He is being vetted with two pair of eyes on all fronts and by anyone who is “an important somebody” outside NPP.
In the opinion of Nana’s critics, the best diversionary Strategy to deflect voters’ attention from the virtual absence of the very leadership qualities or standards he is subjected to that is lacking in the incumbent president is the casting of Nana as the worst leader we could ever elect. We will only be exhibiting prejudices and biases if we end up subjecting two leaders to different leadership vetting standards.
In the incumbent president, we are looking at the paradox of a president strong in his desire to check or halt venal practices of public officials but weak in his executional decisions. The incumbent is betting on the veniality of Ghanaians to be re-elected by looking at the other way in the venal corridors of power. A president who cannot stop malfeasance when he sees or smells one is in the eyes of our leadership experts better than Nana Akuffo Addo who braved the guns and macho men to fight for democracy. And even to most of Nana’s critics that is not enough. They cherish those lawyers who sided with the military to trample on the rights of citizenry. To those critics one cannot predicate his quest for the presidency on an enviable record of siding with the oppressed but an indecisive, ineffectual and powerless incumbent can predicate his re-election bid on his inability to stop illegal payment because “mofra no aso yer den” ---the subordinates are not only”hard of hearing” i.e. they wouldn’t take instructions from the leader --- they are out of control. Who is in charge the elected president with the mandate of the people or his unelected appointees?
Let no one blames illiteracy in Ghana as one of the adverse influencing factors on electoral outcome. In as much as we continue to bend or twist our fine minds on the side of tribal and political allegiance however indefensible a policy is or directionless a leader may be literacy does not matter.
The case for State Funding of Political Parties is one of those issues with very good debating points on either side but since I am in support of state funding, I will briefly state my reasons and how it should be done and let those against it argue their case. We all love and cherish the democracy we have now and would not trade it off with military coups and should not shy away from financing or supporting political parties, which are the engines that run democracy.
A common misconception about state funding is that the state will give cash to political parties. We can look at non-cash funding. With the state only funding political parties in kind e.g. paying for radio and TV adverts, etc. with a mandatory requirement that it can only be used to sell or market their polices and raising the awareness of its supporters on issues like, voter registration, the dangers of cash for votes, peaceful elections etc. There will be no transfer of state funding between the political parties. Reason: Presidential elections could be decided in a runoff and the party in need of support of the fringe parties must not be permitted to transfer its state funding to such parties. This promotes consolidation of parties with similar ideas and ethos.
It is also worth remembering that the products a political party sell i.e. it widgets are its ideas and policies. If without state funding the parties with weak polices can pay the media just to spread empty messages and also to constantly remind voters of its presence then how regrettable can it be if those with deep pockets but weak policies come out as winners? It will be a great electoral injustice if Party A has well reasoned polices but cannot sell it to the electorates because of financial constraints but Party B with a populist message e.g. I will find the killers of Ya Na can pay to spread such a populist message. Should those parties who can afford to pay the piper to blow the horn louder regardless of the tune come out as winners?
The pressure and the temptation to match the spending of rival parties by whatever means --- fair or foul is very real and not imaginary.
Allocation basis of funding: use the proportion of total votes garnered in the last election. Political parties and independent candidates with less than, say, 5% of the votes should not receive any state funding. Again, this is to promote merges and consolidation and to deter the formation of “fringe” parties because such parties, it could be argued, by their mere presence add to the cost of the EC budget where their names on the ballot paper only contributes to presidential runoffs because of votes splitting etc.
It is interesting to point out that in the Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born, the central story was about an upright man resisting the temptation of bribery and received nothing but scorn from the people he loved. Let no one pour scorn but praise on Martin Amidu. When the axe fell on him to muster courage, uprightness and sacrifice to show the way about how to expose and fight corruption he was up to it. A conscientious objector or defector who could not live with his conscience that men like Utuka and Felli were shot for GHC50,000 but in the eyes of many Woyome should not only walk free but be revered as NDC party financier. We owe men like Martin Amidu eternal gratitude.