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Opinions of Saturday, 18 March 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

The Amoateng Saga And Why It Must End Now!!

I was just as stunned as other Ghanaians, I am sure, when news flashed that a Ghanaian member of parliament, a very honorable position, has been arrested for trying to export fine grade cocaine into the USA. As if the timing was not bad enough, the news itself was stridently jarring. As it stands, the charges are very serious allegations and if proven to be true, could land the honorable MP in jail for a long time. Most Ghanaians that I have talked to, feel sorry for the MP but at the same time, feel betrayed that an MP of our nascent democracy should even be linked with such a dirty act. I understand that bad luck is also a fact of life. Since we all share in the notion that one is innocent until proven guilty, we will continue to fatten our hope on the watch purchase story by Amoateng until the trial is over. I wish Amoateng all the best in his attempts to clear his good name.

While Amoateng stays warm in his orange jump suit, hopefully readying to sing canorously like a well fed lark, the good people of Nkoranza continue to live without a representative in parliament. The contract that exists between them and Amoateng is being violated by Amoateng. You see, the people of Nkoranza voted for Amoateng with the simple understanding that he will physically show up in parliament and represent their interest. Even those who did not vote for him rightfully require able representation from him. The people of Ghana as a whole also rely on Amoateng to help craft meaningful legislation and carry out other parliamentary business. The latter is the reason why Amoateng is paid and called an MP. I mean car loan and ploughed land all included.

A visit to parliament these days shows Amoateng?s seat to be vacant. The cold seat has been vacant for more that fifteen days of parliamentary sitting. This means that Amoateng is not physically able to perform his job. The question therefore arises as to how we are going to get his job done legally and physically. Physically, it is not much of a problem to find another warm body in place of Amoateng. However, the legality of removing Amoateng to make way for his physical replacement seem to have been politicized by the inept NPP. The conundrum here is that you cannot put somebody in his place if he is legally an MP. We must also not pay two people to do the same job. Not in a country where every drop helps. The right option then is to legally remove Amoateng. It is for this reason that the constitution must be vigorously enforced by the lily-livered speaker. My Speaker, this is not the time to cower, play partisan games and dither nervously. Please muster courage to break ranks with the hardcore party hacks and do what is right for your country. We need you good judgement at this crucial time.

As has been echoed by professor Asare and others, no one person or political party owns a parliamentary seat. Parliamentary seats are not chieftaincy stools where one is potted in there for life. Seats in parliaments belong to the people primarily and the country secondarily. If for any reason, one is not able to meet the stipulations of the constitution by carrying out his or her functions, even by dint of bad luck, they should not encumber a seat at the expense of their constituents and the country at large. One person?s interest must not override that of a whole electoral district or country. The constitution makes is rather clear that absence from parliament for a stipulated time, tantamounts to desertion of one?s seat and therefore requires immediate removal. There are no ifs, ands or buts around this. So why is the NPP dragging it feet on this one? Why can?t the NPP use the same resolute tenacity that got ROPAB passed in this instance? Oh it is one of the boys huh? Why was the provision to remove an MP after several absences encased in the constitution, if the party in power can decide when and when not to extract an AWOL MP from office?

Now let me address these recalcitrant NPP scofflaws who contumaciously want to hold on to a seat that is for all intents and purposes legally vacant. Amoateng does not own that seat neither does the NPP. The NPP does itself no favor by holding a seat for an MP who is accused of dealing in fine cocaine powder. In any civilized setting, the first order of business will be the resignation of the embattled MP. Why is the MP so reluctant to resign? What will he lose by resigning? On what principle or legality does the NPP hold that seat open? The sluggishness of the NPP on this matter can only continue to fuel rumors that this high flying MP is such a huge asset to the NPP that they can?t let him go. But go they must let him if they want to be a credible party. Since Amoateng is not known for legislative wizardry, one can extrapolate then that his value lies in his alleged drug money used charitably to fuel the NPP V-12 wagon. The logical conclusion is that, the NPP is in on these cocaine deals. I am not saying that this is the case here but the latter conclusion may not be far-fetched with some fickle-minded Ghanaians. The NPP should have done the right thing by first asking Amoateng to resign. If he refused to resign, the party can suspend him pending the outcome of the trial. Following in the same beeline, the party can ask the speaker to remove Amoateng from office so as to pave way for elections. The speaker has every legal basis to remove Amoateng if he can garner some starch in his spine.

Removing Amoateng from office is not an admission that he is guilty. It is also not unsympathetic. It is the right thing to do given the situation. This is because no one knows how long Amoateng needs to defend his good name. In the meantime, the people of Nkoranza and Ghana as a whole must not pay for services that we are not getting. If I or anyone should be arrested in another country for a crime I did not commit, my employers will not hold my position open indefinitely. Yes, it is sad but that is the way of the world. That is fine reality and we must not defy gravity on this one. Why should Amoateng have his seat open indefinitely for private reasons? Was Amoateng inspecting some alleged cocaine doused pots on behalf of Ghana? Amoateng will have enough time to seek redress and compensation if it turns out that he was/is wrongly and maliciously confined.

There are some who argue that removing Amoateng may sound more like a sledgehammer approach. While I am sensitive to your views, I beg to strongly differ. We have to keep in mind that we cannot run a country on sympathy alone. You cannot run a business, which is what parliament is, by bending the rules and gorging on sympathy. There comes a time when the cord must be cut and that time is now. Amoateng must be released so that he can find time to defend himself. The last thing Amoateng wants at the moment is to worry about the people of Nkoranza. Right now, his worry should focus on himself. He should be kind enough to make it possible for the people of Nkoranza to elect another representative ASAP. If Amoateng really cares, he will free the people of Nkoranza to elect a new representative by resigning. The president and leader of the NPP should pick up his shinny phone and call Amoateng in the jail house. Mr. President, use your influence to induce a resignation from your MP.

Now to our sluggish judiciary! I am duly informed that Professor Asare has filed a law suit asking that the courts declare Amoateng?s seat vacant. I fully support this lawsuit and want to add my voice to all those who want a speedy trial on this one. You see, ours is a nascent democracy, frail in its sway and weak in its foundation. Therefore, what precedent we set may well become the norms of future practice. It is therefore important that we do not nurture such recklessness and unbridled partisanship. Our courts must move with Katrina swiftness and without partisanship flavor whatsoever. They must act now in the interest of our country by deciding one way or the other on this issue. The world is replete with innumerable examples of situations where courts have to put everything aside and jump on nation jarring matters. This matter is that important. I am therefore asking the courts to move swiftly on this matter. We need speedy action here and we need it now. Interpret the constitution as it was written and let?s move on. Some of us will be watching attentively and any attempts by the courts to drag their feet will be met will stiff criticism or possibly civil action.

This is one issue that must not be handled in a partisan manner. Our democracy is at stake here. We are either going to make our people believers in democracy by doing the right thing or risk shattering the political faith of our people thus creating an untenable situation in an already politically tensioned environment. The president must show leadership and statesmanship in moving to get this matter resolved quickly. Instead of worrying about whether a governmental institution is questioned or challenged, Mr. President, please get on the ball to resolve the Amoateng saga. The longer it drags on the more ill-served we are. It is my hope also that the NDC will stop it childlike tantrums and work assiduously with the ruling party to overwhelmingly bring this breach to a quick and logical end. We will be watching and wish you all well in your efforts to solve a thorny problem. Let us score one for mother Ghana! Long live Ghana!

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.