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Opinions of Saturday, 14 July 2012

Columnist: Atawura, Phillip

Are we serious?

It saddens me whenever I sit behind my television set to observe the Public Account Committee (PAC) trying to seek information from witnesses. The processes in which such people are reviewed with regard to the judgment debt brouhaha is very appalling.

The PAC, and all other committees of Parliament was set up under Article 103 (1) of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana which mandates Parliament to set up committees to effectively run its duties. It states “Parliament shall appoint standing committees and other committees as may be necessary for the effective discharge of its functions”. Section 5 of the same Article expressly states that “The composition of the committees shall, as much possible, reflect the different shades of opinion in Parliament.” This, to me, implies that the committees must make up of the Minority and Majority sections of Parliament.

The PAC is one of the key accountability Committees of Parliament. The PAC in collaboration with other Parliamentary Committees has resulted in the innovation in work and the performance of government on many occasions. According to Article 103 (6) of the Constitution, the PAC is granted the powers and privileges of a High Court in relation to

i. enforcing the attendance of witnesses and examining them on oath, affirmation or otherwise;

ii. compelling the production of documents; and

iii. issuing of a commission or requesting to examine witnesses abroad.

Making the proceedings of the PAC public boosts Parliament’s efforts to promote accountability and combat corruption, which has been a major canker in most African countries.

Judgment debts are debts that have been reviewed by a judge in a court of law, and found to be valid. The judge rules in favour of the creditor or lender, and orders the debtor to pay the amount specified by the court to the winner of the lawsuit.

Over the years, judgement debts have been paid to individuals and organizations. However, the recent payments have called for a sitting to look into the amount of monies paid to the creditors. Most recently are the cases of Alfred Agbesi Woyome and that of African Automobil Limited (AAL).

In our bid to know the truth, however, the proceedings for some days now are characterized by confusion among members of the committee and witnesses claiming the Chairman was unfair to them during the sittings. In other cases, some members seem to take over the Chairmanship of the committee and shows signs of disrespect to the Chair. In Thursday’s sitting which involved Betty Mould Iddrisu, former Attorney General of Ghana, on the Settlement Agreement with Construction Pioneers (CP) over €94m Judgement Debt Payment, some of the committee members actually walked out during the proceedings.

Notwithstanding, Betty herself expressed her sincere discomfort at some of the comments that were made towards her by some members of the committee, including the Chairman. She said some of the comments have insinuated criminal conduct on her part leading to the public attacking her personality and credibility as a former Attorney and as a current lawyer in practice.

In other instances, there was a clear disagreement between Minority and Majority members of the committee to an extent that the Chairman’s credibility and fairness were put to question.

The case of Dr. Benjamin Kombour, the Interior Minister, was no exception. In that case, the Chairman of the committee had different paged document while the witness also had a different paged document. In this case too, some members were not aware of certain documents that the Chairman had provided.

These incidents, coupled with others, do not speak well of the committee. The committee has also faced internal confusions on so many occasions. It puts one on a level to understand that, perhaps, preliminary meetings are not held by the committee before they meet witnesses. This is not a good sign of a committee that is supposed to work on corruption related issues concerning the country.

It is about time the committee sits up and does the right thing.

Philip Atawura