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Opinions of Saturday, 7 December 2013

Columnist: Graphic.com.gh

Drill ship galamsey

By Colin Essamuah

I watched in awe on television the short, but rather revealing testimony of Ambassador Chris Kpodo at the Judgement Debt Commission of Justice Appau last Wednesday.

The testimony was factual and terse, limited to events surrounding the day Mr Kobina Tahir Hammond gave him the bank draft covering the $3.5 million balance from the sale of the GNPC drill ship, which has captured people’s attention in the past few weeks.

Ambassador Chris Kpodo was the immediate past Deputy Foreign Minister from 2009 to 2013 under President Mills and later President John Mahama. He had been a career diplomat for the greater part of his professional life, and his measured responses revealed a lifetime of unemotional yet thoughtful expressiveness.

After the testimony, I kept wondering why Mr Hammond had mentioned his name in the first place because Ambassador Kpodo’s involvement in the history of the bank draft was extremely limited. Indeed and in fact, he was virtually kept in the dark as to the reasons behind the entire exercise involving the satisfaction of a purported judgement debt. This, in spite of the fact that at the time he was our Minister Plenipotentiary and High Commissioner to the Court of Saint James, and perfectly capable by experience and appointment to take part fully in the matters that brought him before Justice Appau last Wednesday.

The question that leaps to the fore is obvious: Why was our Ambassador treated like an errand boy in this cavalier fashion? The answers are many and varied, and very well may indicate the mindset behind the lucrative business of judgement debts for its dedicated practitioners.

I believe that Mr Hammond intentionally dropped the name of Ambassador Kpodo to convey the perception that public servants of impeccable record were involved in this very confusing matter, to lend a veneer of respectability to the whole sordid transaction. The testimony and the perfect diplomatic countenance of Ambassador Kpodo put paid to this intention.

Secondly, I am coming around to the belief shared by many of my friends left and right that the smoking gun in this whole matter, if there is one, would not be found in the $3.5 million residue from the sale of the drill ship, but elsewhere. If we are to believe Mr. Hammond, every cent in the special account opened by the London Mission on the orders of Mr Osafo Marfo has been accounted for in the providential document dropped in his pigeon hole by his guardian angel. Of course, it would be interesting to know who would want Mr Hammond defamed and accused of depleting this amount.

This is because I am extremely doubtful any useful prosecutions can be pursued in this matter, taking into account the patchy history of such prosecutions arising from such fact-finding inquiries. The nature of our constitutional arrangements should have stiffened the backbone of Mr Hammond, and not to break down and then turn around, after the event, to deny what we all saw on television, the sheer emotional and teary abjection that overwhelmed him when he appeared before the commission.

Thirdly, in all this, no one has produced the judgement of the court that provoked the sale to satisfy our French creditors. Where is that judgement? The people of this country do need their own guardian angel to proffer the ‘fiili-fiili’ evidence that the disagreements of GNPC with Societe Generale resulted in a court process that ended with the republic being ordered to pay so-and-so amount. I am waiting for that guardian angel. He needs to be given the highest national honours by the president.

The decision by President Mahama to set up this commission has revealed to us that judgement debt has been a source of unearned income for all sorts of individuals and corporate institutions.

I did write in this very paper sometime in early 2012 - at the time that Mr Alfred Woyome was arrested - that too many professionals in the legal profession in this country were ready and willing to fleece the republic using this means.

The arrest and continuing prosecution of Woyome indicated firmly the resolve of our government to come to grips with this problem. The reactions to that article at the time, and later when the presidential and parliamentary campaign heated up, would be the subject for later reflections.

The fierceness with which these matters are being politicised may leave some of us gasping for breath, and wondering whether any tangible progress can be made in the general concern for development and progress. But it would seem some of us are contesting issues, not to clarify and educate, but to confuse, obfuscate and indeed, to compel circumstances that will require a regime change.

Let me exemplify. In the midst of all this, Fortiz Equity Fund has quietly complied with the requirements demanded of it by the Bank of Ghana, as it acquires Merchant Bank.

Why was this not publicised? Because financial institutions require confidentiality to sustain the public trust which is the currency of their daily operations. Some of us are hell-bent on destroying this confidentiality, and provoke a run on the bank, then turn around to blame SSNIT for destroying the bank. We must see through all this for what they are worth; political sabotage harms all of us, and should not form the inspiration for criticism.

We must not forget that Rupert Murdoch himself shut down the News of the World because it had nurtured media practitioners and their political supporters who religiously believed that they could never be wrong and were above criticism.

That paper and its ethos were bent on destroying the common humanity and decency that bound all in the social contract. We should remember this when we engage in the mindless bloodletting that some of us exhibited when the reasons behind the Justice Appau Commission and the Merchant Bank brouhaha broke upon us.