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Opinions of Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Columnist: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina

Respecting National Institutions

On Monday, the fast-track court presided over by Justice S.T. Faakye sentenced Hon. Dan Abodakpi, MP for Keta to ten years imprisonment for willfully causing financial loss to the state and defrauding by false pretences. This case was in connection with his tenure as Minister of Trade during the NDC administration.

The purpose of this article is not to discuss his guilt or innocence because I was not in court to hear all the evidence. Indeed, as one human being to another, I pray that he and his family have the strength to go through what must be a difficult time and wish him luck as he pursues his legal options. It is to discuss the reaction of the opposition National Democratic Congress to the verdict.

Let me first of all make it clear that NDC members, like all other Ghanaians, have a right to express any opinions of the verdict. It would have been commendable if they had protested the fact that a case tried by a fast-track court took five long years to complete. It would have been commendable if they had sought, as parliamentarians, to examine the operation of the law with a view to improving it. Unfortunately, the NDC decided to withdraw from parliament in protest against the verdict. Amongst other things, they alleged that the application of the law under which Mr. Abodakpi was sentenced, had been tainted by politics. Furthermore, they claimed that Justice Faakye, the presiding judge had been “spoken to” before the verdict. Fortunately for the judiciary and Ghana’s reputation, the law in question as well as the presence of Justice Faakye on the bench had been NDC bequests to the NPP administration. For example, in 1999, Justice Faakye awarded the then Minister of Roads and Transport, Edward Salia forty million cedis in damages in a libel suit he brought against the “ Ghanaian Chronicle”. There was, of course no suggestion from any quarters that the NDC-appointed judge had been “spoken-to” before the verdict. On Wednesday, the NDC poured salt into the wound, by threatening to jail NPP members under the same law if they win the 2008 elections.

My purpose here is to examine the implications for the judiciary of the NDC’s actions and pronouncements. • First, since they are protesting an action by a member of the judiciary in the legislature, are they admitting that while they were in power, the judiciary took its marching orders from the executive and that judges were “spoken to” before verdicts? • Second, since Mr. Abodakpi has not exhausted his legal remedies, why did they not wait for the legal process to run its course? • Third, what do they want parliament to do? Have the judiciary “spoken to” to acquit Mr. Abodakpi? • Fourth, since they have threatened to use the law in question to prosecute NPP members, how can the public believe that convictions under a future NDC administration will not be tainted by politics? • Fifth, why did the NDC not protest the conviction of Mallam Issah in the early days of the NPP administration?

The behaviour of the NDC has clearly demonstrated that they do not believe in the independence of the judiciary. This raises serious doubts about their commitment to our democratic system of government. The sad fact is that we cannot in good conscience, consider this an isolated incident. A few months ago, when the former first lady, Mrs. Konadu Agyemang Rawlings was arraigned before a court on similar charges, the NDC top brass were in court, not just to support her, but to condemn the government for charging her in the first place. This was before any evidence had been presented. It is unfortunate that the party whose founder, former President Rawlings, once claimed accountability as his signature-tune now appears to be opposed to accountability.

It bodes ill for the independence of the judiciary and the viability of our institutions, when a party that hopes to form the next government appears to be so contemptuous of our institutions. Let there be no doubt that while causing financial loss to the state and other such offences can be defined with more clarity, our nation needs such a law on the books. It is time for the NDC to demonstrate its commitment to the independence of our judiciary and other institutions by respecting and supporting their work. The prosecutors and the judges during the NDC era were not NDC prosecutors and judges; they were Ghanaian prosecutors and judges. Similarly, the prosecutors and judges now are not NPP prosecutors and judges; the are Ghanaian prosecutors and judges. That is as it should be and any talk or action that tends to undermine their independence, undermines Ghana’s reputation in the international community. For our democracy to survive, no government should shield criminals or persecute the innocent.

Fortunately for the NDC and the nation, they have a Presidential candidate and leader who is well suited to provide leadership to his errant party in this particular circumstance. As a former law professor and legal luminary, former Vice-President and NDC Presidential candidate John Atta-Mills, understands the significance of the independence of the judiciary and due process perhaps better than anybody in his party or the nation. Let him return his party’s parliamentary caucus to parliament where they belong and get them working to strengthen the judiciary instead of undermining it. Let them act, through proper parliamentary channels to hold hearings on the judiciary and how prosecutorial decisions are made. The question is, will professor Atta-Mills lead? Will he stand up to be counted for principle or will he ask his mentor for direction on this crucial issue? Leadership on this issue will demonstrate to the nation the kind of leadership he will bring to the presidency if he is elected. The NDC cannot undermine the very institutions they hope to lead if they become the governing party.

Let Prof. Atta-Mills lead! Let him act!! Let him stand up for the rule of law rather than the rule of man. Such leadership will be a great 50th birthday present for Ghana.



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