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Opinions of Saturday, 22 February 2014

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

The Afoko Brouhaha, Is NPP its Own Worst Enemy?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

Mr Paul Afoko’s vetting for Chairmanship candidacy was put on hold pending investigation into a petition received by the NPP Vetting Committee. Since then snippets of what happened at the vetting of Mr Afoko have been made public and from what I have read so far, if what Mr Afoko disclosed in his interview with a Daily Guide journalist is accurate then, it’s very unfortunate and unforgivable. In short, it appears to me that NPP is its own enemy. I say so for a number of reasons that I will address. Below are sections of what was reported in the Daily Guide interview with Mr Paul Afoko.

“After I had told them about the circumstance that led to my imprisonment, they proceeded to ask me whether I had never had any criminal conviction in any part of the world and I said no. They mentioned England specifically and I said I’d never been convicted of even a motor traffic offence in England. I was then asked whether I had not been convicted of any drug-related offence and the reply was in the negative. They said be clear of what you are telling us and I said I was very clear about it”.

“When I was asked to provide the Committee with my address in England, I challenged them with the word ‘why’? When they insisted, I addressed one of the members of the Committee, Mr Ayikoi Otoo, saying he had been Ghana’s topmost lawyer before, and challenged him on whether that is the way to seek information on criminal records from a person. I referred them to the Crown Prosecution Service for the information they needed, because what the members of the Committee were doing was as though they were trying to set me up. They persisted, ‘You have to give us your address in England; we must take your address”.

“They then placed a pen a sheet of paper in front of me as if I was sitting in a prison cell or in an interrogation room. ‘Write your address there! If you don’t have anything to hide, why are you not writing the address?’ I was charged. I finally gave them the address because they were threatening to throw me out of the contest if I did not provide them with my address in England. Yes, and then I was actually told I was going to write the address because the burden of proof was then on me. My reaction was quite harsh thereafter, pointing out to them that they wouldn’t tell me the content of the petition, neither were they prepared to give me a copy nor disclose the author to me; why they were insisting that I clear myself was unfathomable, and I would not do that” (see, “I was Treated Like a Prisoner – Paul Afoko”, Daily Guide, February 20, 2014).

I have reproduced the above to support my argument that NPP is the cause of its problems, though the party leadership and members blame NDC propaganda. Is this the party that boasts of legal luminaries, the party of law and order? What is disturbing is that, the Vetting Committee has a member of the party’s Legal or Constitutional Committee and a former Attorney General and Minister for Justice on it. How could they have administered such injustice to an aspiring Chairman of the party? Where is the fairness?

Why couldn’t the Vetting Committee provide a copy of the petition without the details of the petitioner to Mr Afoko? From the line of question, that is, an allegation of a crime in England that led to imprisonment or an alleged drug related offence are very serious matters that should not taken lightly. We are not told when the Vetting Committee received the petition but could the Committee not have suspended the vetting in order to carry out their own investigations before putting these very serious allegations before the aspiring candidate?

Another serious lapse was forcing the accused to provide his residential address/es in England when he had not been given details of the alleged petition. I am not defending Mr Afoko but it appears the Committee tried to compel him to incriminate himself. Last but certainly not the least, is the Committee’s audacity or effrontery in telling him that, the burden of proof was on him. When in Ghana did the burden of proof shift to the accused on mere allegation/s? Even when one is charged, the accuser must prove the case in court before the burden of proof shifts to the accused. I thought Ghana’s legal system is based on “innocent until proven guilty”? Did that mean the Committee had established a prima facie case against him or accepted the allegations in the petition as the gospel fact/s and therefore the accused must prove his innocence?

I accept that the Vetting Committee had a duty to the party, the nation and the candidate to ensure that the facts were established beyond any reasonable doubt. This is very important because if the Committee failed to do so and as a result Mr Afoko became a candidate and finally won the contest as National Chairman of NPP, it could become a major problem for the party should it later resurface that, indeed, Mr Afoko was jailed in the UK or was arrested for drug related offence. That would be potential ammunition to the ruling NDC in the 2016 campaign, an embarrassment and damaging to the party even if he was forced to resign the Chairmanship. Therefore, it was incumbent on the Committee to ensure that the approved candidates had impeccable characters.

Notwithstanding that onerous task, the Committee also had a duty of care to respect the rights of aspirants and treat them with diginty and fairly. The Committee’s handling of the alleged petition against Mr Afoko leaves much to be desired. What the Committee should have done was to have invited Mr Afoko and provided him with a copy of the petition in advance and give him time to respond to the allegations. If they doubted his response, they could verify the facts from the British authorities by Freedom of Information Request to the London Metropolitan Police either directly or through the British High Commission in Accra.

Because of the nature of the allegations, the Committee required Mr Afoko’s written consent before they could request private and personal information regarding any alleged crime whilst he was in the UK. This is because no personal and confidential information on crime would be released to a third party without the individual’s expressed consent under UK Freedom of Information Act and the Data Protection Act. Such information is protected and privileged which could only be provided for crime prevention or detection, national security and to authorised agencies such as the police, courts, social care services, etc.

All these could have been done confidentially and without all the brouhaha surrounding this matter. I am sure NPP have lawyers in London who could have advised the Vetting Committee on how best to handle the Freedom of Information Request. What is the NPP UK branch for? The Committee could have asked for their assistance in dealing with it.

From the actions and omissions of the Committee, I am finding it difficult to believe that this is the party of law and order. It is for the same reasons that I concluded that NPP is its own worst enemy because from the alleged petition, what would stop NDC from not tagging NPP with drugs? In fact, some people, especially within the NDC claim that the baseless drug allegations against Nana Akufo-Addo originated from within the NPP during the party’s flagbeareship contest in 2008, when a text message to that effect was circulated in Ghana.

Sadly, the incompetence of the Vetting Committee could give credence to the accusation that there is a deliberate ploy to disqualify Mr Afoko or a conspiracy against him. Though this has nothing to do with ethnicity or where Mr Afoko comes from, his supporters are now reading his Northern origin into this. My view is that whether Mr Afoko is from Greater Accra, Central, Asante, Eastern or Northern region, the allegations were serious enough to merit proper investigations and a suspension of the final decision until the matter is properly investigated and resolved satisfactory in the interests of all and sundry.

NPP could have done better than this, Mr Paul Afoko and the party deserve better. I wonder if these are the very people who are fighting to dislodge NDC from power. They claim they are the only party that can rescue Ghana from its current economic hardships. If they cannot even get this right how could they manage Ghana? I need to be persuaded that they can do better than NDC, though I still do not have a vote.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK