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Opinions of Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Columnist: Ebo Quansah

Mahama can take no pride in botched CHRAJ report

By Ebo Quansah

One of the happenings in society that interested me in politics as a boy growing up was the return of one-time opposition leader Kofi Abrefa Busia from exile in Europe, after the February 24, 1966, coup d’etat, and heading the Centre for Civic Education – fore-runner to the National Commission for Civic Education.

As a student of the Suhum Secondary Technical School at the time, I used to mimic the words of the man, who was to become the Prime Minister of the Second Republic, on the school compound.

“Don’t Accept Gifts, They are Bribes…’Don’t Accept Bribes, They Corrupt’…’Be Your Brother’s Keeper’ and many more. Later, when he became Prime Minister and information began to filter through of plots to overthrow his regime, Dr. Busia responded thus: “The torch of democracy cannot be extinguished at the butt of the gun.”

His Second Republican experiment was curtailed by then Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, who led a group of military personnel with their cross-belts to occupy the Castle, which was Government House at the time.

The fact that Ghanaians now cling to democratic principles and cherish our freedom from military dictatorship, after several bouts of military interventions in national politics, tells everything good about Busia’s faith in democracy.

What might not serve his memory well is the report released on Thursday by the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice into an inquiry it conducted into the Ford Exhibition saga, in which the sitting Head of State accepted a car gift from a Burkinabe friend of his, who, incidentally, had been hand-picked to fence a national property in Ouagadougou at an ‘outrageous’ cost of $650,000.

It is not the clearing of the President that is the scandal. For me, the facts adduced by the state-funded Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice in arriving at the decision, clearly insult the intelligence of the average Ghanaian.

According to CHRAJ, while the acceptance of the Ford Expedition car gift from Burkinabe Contractor Mr. Djibril Kanazoe, contravened the President’s own Code of Conduct for Public Officers, it did not amount to conflict of interest.

Read what CHRAJ told Ghanaians: “At the end of the preliminary investigation, the Commission has come to the conclusion, based on the extensive evidence assembled, that the allegation that the respondent (President Mahama) has contravened Article 284 of the 1992 Constitution, by putting himself in situation of conflict of interest, has not been substantiated.”

Under Article 284 of the 1992 Constitution: “A public officer shall not put himself where his personal interest conflicts with, or is likely to conflict with, the performance of the functions of his office.”

In this article, it is my intention to establish that the President of the Republic of Ghana, in the Ford Expedition saga, did put himself where his personal interest did, indeed, conflict with the performance of the functions of his office.

According to CHRAJ, the President’s lawyer, Mr. Mr. Anthony Lithur, submitted before the Commission that “the gift was completely unsolicited, as neither he (the President) nor Mr. Kanazoe had previously not discussed Mr. Kanazoe’s intention to give the gift of the vehicle to my client,” and “that the vehicle has remained in the presidential car pool since…”

The tragedy of this nation is that the eminent men and women at CHRAJ accepted this bunkum.

When those phony donors in Anas exposé presented goats and other gifts to Mr. Justice Ajet Nasam, and other judges now facing disciplinary proceedings from the Judiciary, there was no evidence that the judges were privy to discussions on the presentation. Why would the President be required to hold a meeting with the Burkinabe contractor on the gift before he could be deemed to have fallen foul of the law?

In a matter of this nature, it is not the decision to whitewash the report that matters, it is what impacts on the people that is the issue. For me, the President of the Republic failed the litmus test. The white-wash from spineless men and women at CHRAJ, who, obviously, covered up, is not what would save him.

President Mahama would go down in history as the sitting President who was bribed by a Burkinabe contractor while in office, I am afraid.

The tragedy of this nation is that people who tend to conduct investigations into mis-adventures by men and women in authority over the years appear to have no balls to look at officialdom in the face and come out with the truth.

In the case of the Ford Expedition, the facts are simple. A Burkinabe contractor in need of contracts from the State of Ghana loses the first tenders for contracts in Ghana. He is then taken to the Vice-President of the Republic.

Read Mr. Kanozoe’s own account as captured by Ghanaian journalist Manessah Azuri Awuni of Joy FM. “When we made the first tender, we didn’t win. One day, he (Mr. Mike Aidoo, a Ghanaian contractor friend of Mr. Kanozoe) told me he knew the Vice-President (John Dramani Mahama), so let’s go and salute him. We went to salute him, and I showed him what we do in Burkina Faso, and we became friends. We talk a lot. One day, my father died; he sent a delegation to my village to salute the family,” explains the Burkinabe contractor.

Juxtapose this against how the Ford Expedition gift followed the first contract, and you have a perfect match for bribery. This experience was between the first contact with then Vice-President Mahama in 2010 and 2011. According to Djibril, the contractor, in 2012 he was approached to submit a quotation for the fencing of a Ghanaian property in Ouagadougou.

The interesting bit is that Djibril’s sole bid was sent to the Ghana Foreign Affairs office in Accra, where an outrageous amount of $650,000 was approved for Mr. Kanazoe’s firm to construct the fence wall. According to the contractor’s own account, the fence wall was around landed property the size of a football field.

It was when he received payment for the project that he sent the Ford Expedition car to the Ghana Mission in Burkina Faso, to be sent to the President as a gift. The juicy bit about this saga is that it took four years, and a young reporter’s expedition to Ouagadougou, for hapless Ghanaians to be appraised of the Ford Exhibition gift, and the circumstances leading to the presentation.

It is interesting to note that following the presentation of the gift, Mr. Kanazoe was given two more juicy contracts, funded by the State of Ghana. The first was on the Eastern Corridor road for a whopping 25 million Euro, and the other GH¢82 million to fix the Hamile Road in the Upper West Region. In all these three contracts, the procurement laws of the country were clearly breached.

Mr. Kanozoe was handpicked by bungling state officials and awarded the contracts without any competitive bidding processes. The fact that he tended the car for use by the state is immaterial, as far as I am concerned.

If I take a gift after assisting someone to get a contract through the back door, and later tend it over to charity, it does not mean I have not accepted a bribe. The President of the Republic is a friend.

Mr. John Dramani Mahama is a very nice man. But I am getting worried about his conduct, with the public purse in mind. Not too long ago, a leaked letter from the Office of the Chief of Staff, suggested that the President of the Republic had instructed the Ministry of Finance to take steps to appoint West Blue Company as the new operators of the national single-window at the country’s ports of entry.

Dated May 12, 2015, the letter read: “Pursuant to His Excellency the President’s decision, you are directed to formally engage West Blue (Ghana) Limited in undertaking the following… (1) Software implementation and support activities to GRA (Ghana Revenue Authority) and related agencies for a takeover of functions of DICs ( Destination Inspection Companies) on 1st September 2015…You should take the necessary steps to secure the Public Procurement Approval, in order to engage West Blue on Single Source basis,” the letter instructed.

That is not the only reason why I fear for the President, even when he steps down.

Do you remember the acquisition of a certain aircraft from Brazil? According to Citizen Vigilante, Mr. Martin Amidu, former Attorney-General, deceased President John Evans Atta Mills constituted a committee to probe the atrocious cost to the state. The whole matter was aborted, following the untimely death of the sitting President at the time.

There is the botched up STX Korea deal, under which a South Korean company was to construct a number of housing units for the security services. Quite a bit of public funds have still not been recovered, after the deal was abrogated. Under Mahama, corrupt practices are the norm rather than the exception.

Many in this country would swear that the reason corruption has found fertile soil under the National Democratic Congress regime is that it would be very difficult to insulate the very top from the dissipation of public funds now gaining credence all over the place.

For me, the Ford Expedition saga would not go away, simply because spineless CHRAJ officials have white-washed the report. Rather, it goes to strengthen the allegation in opposition circles that corruption in Ghana appears to enjoy the blessing of the very top of the political echelon. How I hope I am wrong!

I shall return!