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Opinions of Monday, 6 February 2017

Columnist: Africanus Owusu-Ansah

Of some honourables and a haunted house

“Every lie is a poison, there are no harmless lies. Only the truth is safe. Only the truth gives me consolation – it is the one unbreakable diamond.”

Leo Tolstoy

MY HEART NEARLY missed a beat when I heard the alleged bribery charge against Honourable Boakye Agyarko. There we were fidgeting on our seats waiting anxiously for the swearing-in programme to start at the Jubilee House. When it did, the first to be sworn in was Honourable Osafo Maafo. The applause was hushed and modest, as if the friends and relations around had been warned to respect the solemnity of the occasion. But in the case of Honourable Boakye Agyarko, he ‘nearly’ received a standing ovation when called to step forward for his scroll of office by the President, His Excellency, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo. Could there be an iota of truth in the story? – I was musing. Honourable Ayariga says Honourable Muntaka says Honourable Agyarko says to give each member of the Opposition on the Appointments Committee GH¢3,000. Honourable Joe Osei Owusu denied the story. Honourable Boakye Agyarko denied the story. Honourable Joe Osei Owusu asked Honourable Mahama Ayariga: “…Why did you put out the information …?” Honourable Ayariga replied: “…Well, you said John Mahama is corrupt, so your corruption should be out there…”. Honourable Joe Osei Owusu: “…So, it is equalisation (political leverage)… the story is a fabrication…Ayariga knows he is lying… let me make it clear. I have never received any money from Agyarko. I have never handed any money to Muntaka”. Little doubts still lingered on people’s minds, until…

UNTIL… the link – man, Honourable Muntaka came on air–Joy FM’s ‘Newsfile’ on Saturday, 28th January. Before he spoke, people were agitated, unsure of the words that would drop from his cavitas oralis. A colleague NDC man had alleged that a member of the other party, NPP, had paid bribe money to NDC members on the Appointments Committee of Parliament, using NPP man (Honourable Joe Osei Owusu) and NDC man (Honourable Muntaka) as the conduit. Honourable Muntaka spoke: “I am saying this with a lot of difficulty… I know the rules…I am a Muslim and Ayariga is a Muslim; I am swearing by the Allah that has created he (him) and I (me). I never gave Ayariga anything and said it was coming from Joe Osei Owusu (who) has never discussed any money issue with me … and I have never given Ayariga or anybody any money and said it is coming from the Chairman…”

Honourable Agyarko was the target – just smear him and render him effeminate and unable to bite. He had demonstrated at the vetting that he would set up a team to investigate various contracts, including Ameri and KarPower. People thought he was the right person to solve the perennial power problems. The term ‘Honourable’ is a time-honoured title. Elsewhere, including Britain, Canada, and Australia, it is not used capriciously, but reserved for the children of viscounts, barons and earls: in the Parliaments of these countries, it is used when one member is speaking of another–that is, while Parliament is in session. But here in Ghana, many people are given this title, whether earned or unearned: Assembly-men and women, wealthy men and women, influential men and women, name them. One would expect honourable men and women to be honest, morally upright, ethical, righteous and principled. Why should anyone call on Honourable Agyarko to resign?

Parliament was sitting on edge, panicking and reeling. But some of us know the stuff the Speaker is made of. We knew he would be able to weather the storm. So now Parliament has approved a 5 -member committee to probe the bribery allegation. The Committee, headed by Honourable Joe Ghartey, NPP MP for Essikadu – Ketan, includes Honourable Ben Abdalla NPP MP for Offinso South, Honourable Ama Pomaa – Boateng, NPP MP for Juaben, Honourable Magnus Kofi Amoateng NDC MP for Yilo – Krobo. It became necessary to set up this committee after the MP for Tongu, Honourable Okudjeto Ablakwa, and MP for Tamale North, Honourable Alhassan Suhuyini, joined Honourable Ayariga to submit a letter requesting an investigation into the bribery scandal. And Honourable Ayariga is a lawyer! Did he take the money home? What denomination was the original cash? Did Ayariga return the cash? Was it bribery or ‘connection’ cash? Who is speaking the truth? The whole episode is getting murkier and murkier, and as Lady Macbeth says: “Hell is murky! Fear my Lord, fear. A soldier and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?”

Parliament has been pummelled and tormented before. During Kufour’s era, the former MP for Asikuma – Odoben -Brakwa, Paul Collins Appiah – Ofori alleged that his colleague NPP MPs and some NDC MPs were offered $5,000 each during the final vote for the sale of state company, Ghana Telecom to U.K.’s Vodafone at an estimated price of $900m in 2008.

Martin Amidu, the anti – corruption crusader and former Attorney General and Minister of Justice has accused parliamentarians of engaging in all forms of corruption, including payment of bribes by nominated persons to those vetting them and also taking bribes from Ministries, Departments and Agencies before approving their budgets.

The former GIMPA rector, Professor Stephen Adei spoke about the corruptibility of Parliamentarians in the last Parliament. He charged: “We won’t have politicians (collect bribes) who have been privileged to have every need of theirs met but at least eight in ten politicians are glorified thieves”. Professor Adei noted that some Parliamentarians took bribes, in some instances for their girlfriends (their laptops) before approving projects and policies.

NDC, by this singular act, has bared its teeth at NPP especially some of those who think they can flirt with the NDC. You see how they can scheme their strategies to snarl at an innocent Minister and gnaw at him? A weakling may break down – with all these jabs. But of course, Honourable Agyarko is strong – willed, and he has the goodwill of a large number of supporters, including a ‘safe’ majority in Parliament. For the investigative Committee, the basic guiding principle shall be: “…he who asserts a proposition must attempt to prove it and he who denies it need not attempt to disprove it”. So, the onus lies on Honourable Ayariga to prove the charge. Simple.

The episode should serve as a timely lesson! Those in NPP with authority to select and recommend people for certain positions should be objective in their search. They should not allow themselves to be influenced by monetary considerations, as it is being alleged. NDC men, obviously, have money. People are watching, from among those in the diaspora, among the youth, among people who lost their jobs for allegedly flirting with the NPP while working in the NDC government, people who sacrificed their time, money and other resources to help the NPP to win. The phones of those enjoying power are switched off too early; their homes, unlike the campaign period, are guarded by wild dogs, for whom the interlocutor is warned to beware. Let me single out Honourable Asante Bediatuo, the Secretary to the President. He is not only a good ‘adowa’ dancer and country music singer at Bar Conferences: he is good anywhere!

We may not all be like Major Derek Oduro (rtd) to say in response to Professor Stephen Adei’s unholy remarks: “Professor Adei taught about 80% of Parliamentarians and so if they are thieves and corrupt, then he taught them wrongly … if he has about three daughters who befriend corrupt Parliamentarians which he benefits from which is why he passed those remarks, then he should come out and say so”. Charles Spurgeon, the clergyman thinks: “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”. For Honourable Joe Osei Owusu to exclaim that Honourable Ayariga spoke ‘collosal untruth’, makes some of us very sad; a fortiori, it weakens our progress in democracy. Some of us warned Ghanaians: first, it was the Executive; second, it was the Judiciary, bruised by cooked up plots; now, it is the Legislature, and the wound is self-inflicted. We should be careful not to set people up for ridicule. What is GH¢ 3000? For NPP, the battle is the Lord’s; for the NDC, the battle is between Honourable Ayariga and Honourable Muntaka. No need for anyone on the NPP side to fight to restore any image!

At the end of it all, truth will emerge and we can say with John Donne: “… To stand inquiring right, is not to stray; to sleep, or run wrong, is. On a huge hill, Cragged and steep, Truth stands and hee that will Reach her, about must and about must goe. And what the hill’s suddenness resists, win so”.