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Opinions of Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

Mabey & Johnson: What will Mills do?

The government’s response was unsurprisingly typical.

“President Mills has become aware of a judgment in London, convicting a British company, Mabey and Johnson of and its directors after they pleaded guilty to making corrupt payments to certain Ghanaian public officials,” chief of staff, John Newman said in a statement.

“President Mills has instructed the attorney general to request for detailed information from the authorities in the United Kingdom about the matters that have resulted in the conviction. This is to inform a course of action on the matter to include investigations in Ghana.”

If you know Ghanaian politics, you won’t keep your fingers crossed. There will be no “course of action”. That is to say that no one will be punished and the government will go to great lengths to throw dust into our eyes, telling us some cock and bull stories about the lack of evidence or some other meaningless mumbo jumbo to whitewash the named officials. We are going to be fed with a lot of crap about what happened and what did not happen and at the end of the day, it will be like Mabey and Johnson never happened.

The corrupt deeds for which Mabey and Johnson is being punished took place whiles our current President was vice President under the Rawlings administration. The stinking dossier presented by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office indicates that people very high up in the government took huge sums of money from the British Company to promote the firm’s commercial interests here.

Some of the monies were paid to people who had been tasked with the responsibility of raising money for the ruling party at the time – which is the ruling party now. Some of the monies undoubtedly went into the NDC’s war chest that helped Rawlings to win his second term as a civilian president with Atta Mills as his vice.

Whether he cares to admit it or not, President Mills benefitted from the bribes that were taken by the likes of George Sipa-Yankey and Kwame Peprah. They didn’t stash all the cash in their private accounts. Some of it went to the NDC. Mills knows about it and so does Rawlings.

If President Mills tries to take any action against the named officials, he would come across as a turncoat – betraying the party’s cause. Under the circumstance therefore, his best option is to pretend that he’s going to do something, whiles Ghanaians wait and wait and wait – until we either forget or get some other scandal to blow Mabey and Johnson into the dustbin of history.

Every Ghanaian with pubic hair knows that contracts are not always awarded to those who can best execute the job. They are often given to those who are willing to return the favour by offering kickbacks. Conventional wisdom has it that the kickback is usually ten percent of the contract amount. NDC took these kickbacks under Rawlings – despite all his rants about “probity and accountability”. NPP under Kufuor did no different. In fact, Kufuor allegedly took the monies himself – and kept them in sacks in his office, much to the annoyance of his party chairman who complained bitterly and publicly about it.

So the party in power always uses its power to award contract to raise funds for its electioneering. That is why the ruling party is always rich and the opposition party is almost always broke. Just cast your mind back to the elections last year. If the ballots had been awarded on the basis of the wealth of the contesting parties, the ruling party at the time (NPP) would have won the polls by a landslide. They had money – too much of it – to splurge on gigantic and glossy billboards yet people lined up to give them more. At one of their fund-raising events, people holding sacks of cash were turned away because they didn’t come on time and the venue was full. People came to give because they knew that they more they gave, the more contracts they would receive.

The NDC, on the other hand, struggled to raise funds. Whiles the NPP sold out its fundraising tickets, hoards of the NDC’s were left unsold. They were eventually forced to call off the event.

That was in 2008.

At the next election in 2012, you can bet your last pesewa that there will be a role reversal. The NDC will have more cash and the NPP will struggle to raise money. Businessmen will run to donate to the NDC and the NPP will be hard-pressed to organise a decent fund-raiser.

When that happens, remember Mabey and Johnson.

They are not the only ones who have bribed and corrupted public officials like George Sipa Yankey, Boniface Siddique, Ato Quarshie, Obed Asamoah and Kwame Peprah. There are several other companies who pay cash for contracts.

President Mills knows that this happens. But his hands are tired. He can’t do anything without displeasing his party faithful or jeopardising his own political career. And that’s why he will do nothing.