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Opinions of Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Columnist: Adongo, Richard

Of Parliament, privileges and contempt

By Adongo Richard

Ghanaians are basking in the atmosphere of the change which they so overwhelmingly and historically voted for. Historical because the jinx and spell of a guaranteed eight year mandate for any president under the fourth republic has been broken.

This seeming serenity being enjoyed by the Ghanaian electorate is however being disturbed by the ongoing allegations and counter allegations about corruption in Ghana’s parliament.

The prevalence of corruption in the house or the perception of it is something that has lingered for some time now. We recall the Hon. P.C Appiah Ofori and what he said in the run up to the deal regarding the sale of Vodafone.

The Hon. Bagbin is also on record to have made revelations about the corruption in Ghana’s parliament. It still fresh in the minds of most Ghanaians, some scathing remarks made by Prof. Adei and the venerable Martin A.B.K Amidu with respect to the same parliament.

What intrigues me so much about the persons named above and their vituperations of parliament is that the hue and cry about their haulage to parliament through its dreaded privileges committee died as soon as they appeared. Parliament seemed to have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to those issues.

In the past however, persons like Prof. Alex Duodu, Blakk Rasta and Ampem Darko, the former Director General of the GBC were dragged before Parliament with alacrity. Their appearance before the privileges committee was publicized, to what end, I shudder to fathom.

Is it therefore the case that parliament picks and chooses the victims of their feast and maul? It is indeed true that the privileges committee of parliament has been granted certain powers of a High court. Could it be the reason they behave like some of the judges and courts in rural Ghana who administer something, the semblance of justice but really falling short of justice in its spirit and letter?

Contempt, we are told by learned persons, is a quasi-criminal offence. What this means is that it neither fits squarely as a criminal offence nor as a civil offence. But judicial pronouncements abound which speaks of criminal contempt as any scurrilous abuse of judicial authority capable of undermining the power of the said authority in the eyes of the public and with well meaning persons. Civil contempt is defined in some other judicial authorities as disrespectful behavior towards judicial power. An example of civil contempt may be ringing of a phone in court.

Judicial authorities also abound that bodies like the privileges committee of parliament are not courts. They are certainly not High courts. Those who preside over them are not judges and cannot share in the inherent jurisdiction that a High Court has at his disposal. The committee only performs judicial functions.

It would therefore gladden me exceedingly should experienced legislators and lawyers like Bagbin and Mahama Ayariga are brought before the committee to substantiate their allegation. After all, crimes do not expire. As for Hon. Martin Amidu, a Thriller in Manila would be in offing should the committee try summoning him.

From the foregoing discussion, it is clear that the privileges committee of parliament has teeth that really bites, but they pick and choose who to bite.

Suggestions by OccupyGhana for the police to investigate the allegations are welcoming. However, what will be the end results of the probe? Should a prima facie case be established, will the Attorney General have the balls to prosecute? Let’s be reminded that it is the AG’s prerogative and discretion to prosecute criminal cases in Ghana. If she therefore elects not to prosecute, where are we as a people?

This drums home the urgent need for an independent prosecutor. The prosecutor’s work should be such that once he sets his investigative machinery into motion, all forms of Executive, and particularly presidential interferences should either be stopped or made illegal.

I say this with presidential Commissions/Committees Of Enquiries (COE) in mind. With the benefit of case law regarding the judgement (ratio decicendi) of the Ghana @ 50 case presided by Justice Marfo Sau, it is now clear that findings of a COE cannot be used as a basis to ground a criminal prosecution. It is therefore suggested by way of reiteration, that the power of the president to institute a COE should be in abeyance when a particular case is of interest to the special prosecutor.

In sum, it is my believe that the privileges committee of parliament may make adverse findings against any witness who may appear before it. They cannot however convict a witness and sentence same to a fine or prison term. Where the committee purports to convict and sentence a person, an application for judicial review should be made to the regular High courts for a pronouncement.

It is only when citizens are bold to speak about corruption and expose same no matter who’s ox is gored, can Ghana grow.