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Feature Article of Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Columnist: Appiah, Ben Ofosu

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

It is often said that if you have a bad case you have a bad advocate. African automobile limited has been brought to the fore of public discourse in recent weeks following a disclosure by a deputy minister of information that the company is making a claim for $1.5 Billion dollars against the government.
Ever since this Galloper issue broke, the plaintiff African automobile has been conspicuously absent and silent in the ensuing public debate. Instead what we are witnessing as usual is that the issue has turned into an NDC-NPP political football. Mr Felix Kwakye Ofosu has come out to say that Nana Akufo Addo should be blamed for the $1.5 billion claim being made by government. (See Blame Akufo Addo for $1.5 billion debt http://politics.myjoyonline.com/pages/news/201207/89857.php) Before that, Maxwell Ofori Dwumah of the NPP also called for the arrest of Samuel Okudjeto Ablakwa for his role in this issue. The reader should note that Mr Kwakye Ofosu has already called the $1.5 billion a debt and has by this statement declared that government is guilty. Likewise Mr Ofori Dwumah has pre-judged Mr Ablakwah. Such posturing doesn’t help us in our quest to find out the truth and it is a pity to say the least. I firmly believe Ghanaians deserve much better.
What are the main issues in this case? I believe the prime concern is whether the government, through its actions and inactions has caused damages to AAL amounting to an astounding $1.5 billion as the deputy minister disclosed. It is presently immaterial who was responsible for this alleged breach. The process of prosecuting those who may be responsible for this payment can only begin when it has been clearly established by a court of competent jurisdiction that the state has indeed breached said contract and is liable to pay damages. For me, before we go any further in this issue we should find out if we owe AAL $1.5 billion as is being claimed. We currently have no answer to this question but our government for an inexplicable reason has decided to ‘shake hands with the devil’. We can only find an answer to this question by going to court. But as things stand, government has decided to settle out of court. It may be of interest to the reader to note that in 2005 when AAL sued government for damages resulting from a breach of contract, it did not include in the suit a claim for some $918 million dollars resulting from its loss of a Mistubishi franchise. It is also worth mentioning that AAL lost the Mistubishi franchise before 2005.
One cannot help but question why our government is so keen to settle out of court. Unless one places the Galloper issue within the context of other negotiated settlements such as the Woyome default judgement payment. To borrow from Mr. Bentum Quantson a former national security chief, the ‘automatic alacrity’ with which the NDC government negotiated with Mr Woyome, CP and Rockshell has been brought into play in the galloper scandal. Those unprecedented settlements will forever amaze the Ghanaian populace and it seems that government in its quest for more unprecedented achievements has sought to do with AAL with it did with Woyome, CP, Waterville et al. To add insult to injury, a former minister of local government who entered into the agreement with AAL for the supply of the 110 galloper vehicles for use by the 110 district assemblies has also come out to advise government to settle. He has also shown how patriotic he is by threatening to bear witness against government in the case. And his threat is not to be taken lightly; he has done it before in the matter of CCWL vs Accra Metropolitan Assembly. Why the haste? After all if we should lose in court we can still negotiate as is often done, so why don’t we take our chances?
I remember very clearly that when the Woyome issue broke many were those of us who wondered why no member of the previous administration was consulted during the negotiations but what happened instead was that they were consulted only after payments had been made. I will make no comment on the nature of the ‘consultation’. Likewise in the current matter of the 110? Gallopers government hasn’t officially invited or sought any information from members of previous government as far as I am aware. Yet government soothsayers are already declaring members of the previous government responsible. What happened to the legal principle of audi alteram partem (hear the other side) And more importantly why is no member of government speaking as if Ghana is innocent until proven guilty?
Government keeps bringing up cases where the previous administration abrogated or repudiated contracts without going through laid out procedure for one reason or another to create the impression that they are only solving the so called mess that the NPP left behind. Make no mistake, I am not against bringing the NPP to book for its actions and inactions, I would be the first person to support proper prosecution of former officials if they flouted the laws of the land. However until this government successfully prosecutes one member of the NPP government I can only be cynical about the purpose of these revelations. Additionally I wonder why we are being force fed these stories only after a public uproar on the judgement debt spree that this government has embarked upon. Why were we not told of these issues long ago? Well the answer is simple we were not told because the government was at that time neck deep in settling out of the court with the likes of Mr Woyome and CP and thus government failed to predict the level of public disaffection these payments would generate for it.
I wonder whether this NDC government will ever be surfeited on negotiated settlements even after they settle with African Automobile. The earlier the government does a U-Turn on this issue and proceeds to court the better it will be for them and for Ghanaians. Government communicators should stop banging crockery and direct their focus to establishing if there is liability and not the presently nugatory issue of who caused such liability if any. Otherwise the cynical members of society maybe proven right when government goes ahead and pays out any amount of money to African Automobile Limited.

Anthony Appiah is a student.
Contact: Appiah.anthony@gmail.com

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