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Opinions of Wednesday, 13 September 2006

Columnist: Amonu, Kofi

No IFs, ANDs, or BUTs, Drop Amoateng Like A Hot Cassava

If you are familiar with the pending Amoateng drug case in the US, you may probably want to read only the last paragraph of this article because the rest is no new news.

For those who are new to the case it is briefly this. Mr. Eric Amoateng, the MP for Nkoranza North in the Brong Ahafo region who is also the chief of a suburb of Nkoranza, got permission from the Speaker of Parliament to visit his sick daughter in New York City but on Saturday, November 12, 2005, he and an accomplice, Nii Okai Adjei, were apprehended at a NYC warehouse with 136 pounds of heroin valued over $6m, hidden in crates of imported pottery. They were arraigned and charged with conspiracy and possession of heroine with intent to distribute. The seizure was one of the largest shipments in recent remembrance. Soon it became a big international scandal because Eric attempted to claim immunity as a parliamentarian from Ghana. Upon request by his counsel, Parliament extended the permission granted to Amoateng to allow him more time to defend himself. On March 17, 2006, the accomplice confessed to the crime and became a witness for the prosecution for a more lenient consideration. Later, the American authorities announced two separate additional charges against Amoateng for drug distribution around December 2003 and May 2005. Mr. Amoateng then wrote a resignation letter that was rejected by Parliament on the grounds that it was addressed to Parliament and copied to the Speaker. Article 97(f) of the Ghana Constitution stipulates that the letter must be in Amoateng's handwriting and addressed to the Speaker, not to Parliament. Ten months after his arrest and detention, Amoateng is still on the books as an MP contrary to the pleas of many well-meaning Ghanaians home and abroad. The highest officer of the country, President Kuffour, who incidentally is a lawyer by profession, has not said a word about the case.

The additional charges seem to indicate that Amoateng's secretive drug activities have been known for a while but the Americans were compiling evidence against him while waiting to deliver the knockout blow and/or his accomplice may have provided additional evidence. Being in detention for nearly a year also indicates that the Americans have undeniable evidence against him, if not, he would have been released before we heard of his arrest. With the abovementioned an American law student will tell you that Amoateng has two chances of absolving himself - slim and none. Opinions vary as to how Parliament should solve this seemingly easy dilemma. Some say Amoateng's seat has to be reserved because he is innocent until proven guilty or only Nkoranza voters can reject their MP or parliament will take over his duties. Other worrying issues pertaining to the case are whether Amoateng is receiving a salary and benefits, and amassing pension as he continues to hold his parliamentary position. If he is being paid, is he getting allowances for working outside Ghana? If he is not being paid, why is he still a parliamentarian? The case must be resolved quickly because it is establishing Ghana as a shameless country with drug dealers and their sympathizers in high office. Amoateng is the accused in this case but every Tabi, Dadzie, and Haruna is also guilty to a certain measure. If you have not heard about the case, you are guilty of being an unconcerned Ghanaian. If you have commented on the case in a way that someone in authority may hear but have not continually organized a 'wahala' in front of parliament, you are guilty of making a deficient effort. If you are in active politics today, you are GOOD FOR NAUGHT for not upholding the constitution.

My strong opinion is that Amoateng should be immediately dropped from parliament like a hot cassava and the Nkoranza seat must be declared vacant. All justifications to hold the seat are nothing but cow manure. In fact, the resignation letter has less value than the paper that it was written on because the plain paper is good for something else. This is why I say so. Amoateng is fighting three concurrent upward battles. First and easiest, he is facing the NPP for a possible violation of the party's charter. I cannot elaborate on this because I am not a party member and therefore not conversant with their individual charters. Second, he is facing the people of the United States of America for drug trafficking. Third and the most critical, he is facing the people of the Republic of Ghana for neglecting parliament. We the people of Ghana have no drug case against Eric so his innocence or guilt is of no consequence. Similarly, the Americans have nothing to say about his parliamentary seat because he is not an American Congressman. Their concern is to arrest and charge him, presume him innocent, prove him guilty and punish him accordingly and our concern is to make sure that he sits in parliament. Our gripe is that by willfully placing himself in a situation that has prevented him from more than 15 parliamentary sittings beyond his permitted period, he has breached our constitution. It is just that uncomplicated. I may be wrong, but I doubt it. Article 97 (1c) states that a member of Parliament shall vacate his seat in Parliament if he is absent, without the permission in writing Of the Speaker and is unable to offer a reasonable explanation to the Parliamentary Committee on Privileges, from fifteen sittings Of a meeting Of Parliament during any period that Parliament has been summoned to meet and continues to meet. Regardless of peoples' sentiments and emotions the constitution must prevail even if it does not make sense.



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