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Opinions of Sunday, 19 May 2013

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Is Dr Bawumia Dishonest?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

The fourth week of the presidential petition hearing at the Supreme Court (SC) ended on Thursday May 16, 2013 with the key witness and the second petitioner still standing, especially, when it comes to his consistency (whether it’s about being economical with the truth, making political comments or giving sarcastic responses). These have been his trademark since his cross examination and not even advice from the Justices to cut out the politics and sarcasm has brought a change of heart in him. The petitioners’ key witness cannot be held solely responsible for the commentaries and sarcasm because they the direct results of a collective failure on all parties, including counsels on both sides (petitioners and respondents) as well as the Justices. In this fourth of petition hearing articles, I plan to examine a few of Dr Bawumia’s answers and analyse whether being economical with the truth in the witness box could harm his public image as an honest person or politician in the future.

The key witness was once asked by the lead counsel for the third respondent if he knew or could remember those who represented the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the Electoral Commission’s (EC) Strong Room on the nights of the presidential election. To my surprise, he could mention only one or two names and finally admitted that he was unsure. My understanding is that the EC’s Strong Room was where all the results of the presidential election from the regions are received before they get to the Returning Officer who is the Chairman of the EC. I also understand that each party or presidential candidate had their representative/s in the Strong Room on election nights.

His answer was surprising to me because as the Vice Presidential candidate of Nana Akufo Addo, I expected him to know who represented them in the Strong Room. I did not expect him to know those party agents who represented them at the various collation centres across the country but ought to have known those in the Strong Room. Even if the situation at the time of the election was so hectic that those details were left to the party leadership and not the candidates themselves, has Bawumia not considered it necessary and important to know who they were as head of the committee that gathered the evidence for the petition? Was it not critical for Dr Bawumia to have met and heard from those who were in the Strong Room? Is it really true that Bawumia did not know or could not remember those who were in the Strong Room for and on behalf of his candidacy?

Was the above an indication that either Bawumia or NPP as a whole did not attach any seriousness to the presidential election or the Strong Room? Were they as candidates or as party too confident of victory that, they did not care what happened in the EC’s Strong Room? Was this an indication that, the man who could have been and could still be a breath away from the Presidency was just a candidate but did not really know what was happening?

At another time, he insisted that party agents who represented them at the thousands of polling stations and collation centres across the breath and width of the country were “mere agents” and could not have raised objections or complaints on the alleged irregularities, malpractices and omissions. Even when he was made to read from sections on the roles of the agents as defined under the appropriate electoral rules, he still maintained this same position. Though the key witness is not a lawyer but as an Oxford educated intellectual, I have no doubt that he understood what he was made to read and fully appreciated the implications of what he read and said in the witness box. My question is, was he being only economical with the truth or dishonest? Was he fooling the bench, his party or himself?

I am aware that whether the NPP agents objected to the declared results on the pink sheets and followed that up by completing the complaint form or not, that may not have stopped the EC from declaring the final result but at least, it would have given their petition a big boost and strengthened their evidence.

Is this another indication that either the two candidates or the party did not give much thought to the importance of the role of the agents who represented them across the country or was Bawumia’s attitude some kind of contempt or disrespect for the party agents for their failure to do a good job? Again, is the key witness being economical with the truth or simple dishonesty?

I was dumbfounded when the key witness also claimed that he was unaware that, on the night of December 8, 2012, the General Secretary of NPP declared Nana Akufo Addo and Dr Bawumia winners of the presidential election and told NPP supporters to wear white and go to church the following day. He even had the guts to ask counsel what Muslims would have done or wore (I guess as Sunday is not the official prayer day for Muslims). He also denied being aware that the declaration resulted in the press conference by the Peace Council. Was Dr Bawumia in Ghana on election nights of December 7, 8 and 9, 2012 and if yes, was he aware of what was happening?

Is Bawumia denying what is public knowledge when wide publicity was given to both the declaration and the Peace Council press conference? Was he the only stranger in Jerusalem or is he been clever just for the sake of his petition or ambition? Does he care about his reputation and goodwill after the petition? Sometimes, his answers have been baffling and it came as no surprise to me when the Presiding Justice reminded him that, he was a clever person with a doctorate degree and should help the court. I interpreted that to mean a reprimand for his some of his denials of the obvious.

Despite his denials he accused the lead counsel for the third respondent of being afraid of the truth. At least, he has been honest enough to admit that electoral officials made errors and mistakes on the pink sheets, though he disagreed that such errors and mistakes amounted to statutory malpractices, irregularities and omissions, which are matters of law and could only be decided by the Justices.

I know Dr Bawumia is not the first politician to be economical with the truth and he would not be the last. Bill Clinton told the American people that he did not have a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky but later admitted to doing so and asked for forgiveness. A British minister from the Conservative Party (Jonathan Aitken) was jailed for perjury.

Dr Bawumia will not face prosecution let alone be jailed for perjury at the Supreme Court. In fact, he will be a hero for NPP and all the denials would be forgotten if their petition is upheld. However, if the petition is unsuccessful, his honesty or dishonesty in the witness box will be a subject for debate in Ghana for many years to come. I am not sure if Dr Bawumia is only being economical with the truth or dishonest. Time will tell.

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK