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Opinions of Saturday, 18 June 2016

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

That 'gift' was a bribe and the president knows it!

Cameron Duodu Cameron Duodu

A Nigerian friend of mine once used a word I had never heard before – “to caterwaul”.

It means to “shriek”, or “yowl”. And it is often used to ridicule the propensity of some people to make a tremendous din, whilst twisting common sense tightly into a knot, over issues that are otherwise quite simple and straight-forward.

A journalist working for JoyFM, Manasseh Azuri Awuni, got a story that when he was Vice-President, President John Mahama received a gift, a Ford Expedition car, from a contractor in Burkina Faso, in 2012. That contractor had built a wall, at a cost of over half a million dollars, for the Ghana embassy in Ouagadougou.

The man also later obtained a lucrative contract to construct part of a road linking Ghana with other West African countries.

There is a well-known regulation that governs the receipt, by officials, of gifts given to them by individuals and companies. The regulation limits the value of gifts that can be legitimately received. That limit is way way below the value of the car which President Mahama received from the Burkina Faso businessman.

Manasseh, on getting the story, went to the contractor to confirm that he had indeed given the President of Ghana a car. The contractor, after being shown documentary evidence that the car had indeed been sent to the President of Ghana, owned up and admitted that he had given the President the car as a gift.

This all seemed very straight-forward. Until the President's propagandists stepped into the matter.

Yes, they said, the President had been given the car. But it had been added to the presidential pool of official vehicles!

What, for heaven's sake, is the relevance of that? Did the President accept a car as a gift from the contractor or not? If he did, did it breach the regulations governing the acceptance of gifts by officials? Who asked the President not to order cars for his “presidential pool” but to rely on “gifts” of cars from private individuals to constitute his “presidential pool” of vehicles?

Another line of defence has been that the contractor could not have given the gift to the President to induce him to give him a contract, because the contractor's bid for the contract to construct the embassy wall was “competitive”, compared to other bids!

But who said the issue was about the size of the bids proffered in relation to the construction of the wall? The issue is about whether the President broke the rule in accepting a gift of a certain magnitude, or not!

“Caterwauling” over the motives of Manasseh; or whatever, is neither here nor there, either.

One journalist has gone as far as to say that Manasseh had, in packaging the story, committed some “errors”. But who has ever claimed that journalists do not make mistakes? What is important is the substance of what they publish. If Manasseh's story is substantially accurate, then any minor mistakes he may have made is of no consequence.

The amount of deliberately-created confusion in Ghanaian politics is becoming ridiculously gargantuan with time. Pundits should know that their antics are not being “bought” by the general public, and that if they continue to stand common sense on its head for too long, there will be a time when all that people in power and their defenders have to say will be dismissed as utter rot.

But that carries enormous dangers with it, for, in order that society should run smoothly, there ought to be a basic level of trust between the Government and the governed.

It is the Government that is in charge of public safety, for instance. When the Government makes a pronouncement on public safety, it must be believed and obeyed by everyone. Otherwise, individuals could take their own measures to ensure their personal safety, whereas such measures would almost always go contrary to what is safe for everyone.

A state of affairs in which individuals decide to do what they like, rather than accept what the Government asks them to do, is called anarchy.

Anarchy starts from a total disenchantment, by a society with those that govern it.

The disenchantment, invariably, begins with a cynical attitude to pronouncements by the Government.

In this connection, I would like to draw attention to a statement purported to have been issued by a part of the Convention People's Party, on a pronouncement made by the CPP's own leader, Mr Ivor Greenstreet, on the issue of the Burkina Faso contractor's gift to our President.

The statement reads in part:

“As Ghanaians, we are totally embarrassed by the misconduct of the President and demand his immediate resignation. The President has breached his own code of ethics for Ministers and other Public Appointees.

“The President has breached the Public Procurement Act.

“The President has breached the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) Guidelines on Conflict of Interest.

“The President has breached the 1992 Constitution.

“The President has breached his own Oath of Office and is therefore no longer fit to hold himself as a worthy leader of our country.”

That, I am afraid, states the issue in as straight-forward a manner as is warranted by the facts of the case. No amount of “caterwauling” by those who condone impunity on the part of our office-holders, can cover those facts. He propagandists would do well to learn one thing from this statement: you cannot fool all the people with words all the time! When you try to do so, you will be exposed by completely unexpected members of the public. For members of the public are never as stupid as propagandists think they are.

Another word of warning to the propagandists is this: even people who are hypnotised do snap out of their hypnosis at one time or the other!

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