You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2015 11 23Article 395833

Opinions of Monday, 23 November 2015

Columnist: Africanus Owusu-Ansah

To err is human, to blame someone else is politics

PORTIA: The quality of mercy is not strain’d

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes,

‘T is mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch letter than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice.

The Merchant of Venice: Act 4 Scene1

MR JUSTICE AMEGASHIE was until 2013, the Chief Executive of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA). In his position as Chief Executive, he inherited a contract between the Authority and Foto – X Limited, for the production of driving licenses signed in 2006. The contract sum, then, was $2.7 million. Foto – X Limited applied to DVLA to pay additional money for ‘consumables’.

The authority refused and that was the time Honourable Joe Osei – Owusu was there as head. When Joe Osei – Owusu resigned from the Authority to do active politics, his successor was again approached with the same demand. This was again flatly refused, on the ground that, all the ‘consumables’ had been included in the contract sum of $2.7m. This was under the NPP government. In 2009, with a change of government, and government power shifting into the hands of the NDC, a new Chief Executive, in the person of Mr Justice Amegashie, was appointed.

The contract was renewed through sole – sourcing and this time around, the company’s request for the additional payment for the ‘consumables’ was readily answered, and an amount of GHn Mr Amegashie made an appearance before the Parliamentary Select Committee on Roads and Transport, he could perhaps explain how the contract sum changed from $2.7million to $3.6million, but could not explain how $3.6 million changed to read $9.9 million. Mr Amegashie was on the airwaves explaining profusely that he could not see how $9.9million had been put on the document on which he himself had appended his signature. Ei, asem beba dabi (trouble will come some day)

Surreptitiously admitting or rather, conceding his mistake, he chirped: “To err is human”. He could have added, “To forgive divine”. He could have been very good at Literature trying to re – echo Alexander Pope’s poem:” Ah ne’er so dire a Thirst of Glory Boast, Nor in the Critick let the man be lost! Good – Nature and Good –Sense must ever join, To err is human to Forgive, Divine”. A Latin rendering “Errare Humanum est, sed Concedere Divinum” reminds me of the motto of Akrokerri Training College: “Non scholae, sed vitae” (not for school, but for life). The point In “Errare humanum est…” is that it stresses the fact of every human being’s susceptibility to making mistakes. At some point in time, every human being commits crimes and sins. It is acknowledged that it is difficult to forgive – but the one who forgives, takes on the garb of divinity. And that despite the inability of human beings to forgive, they should all aspire to do as God does, that is, be imbued with the spirit of mercy and forgiveness.

Shakespeare touted ‘mercy’ as a quality most valuable to the strongest, highest and most powerful in society. When Bassanio could not repay the sum borrowed from Shylock, the Jew insisted on taking a pound of Antonio’s flesh, as in the contract for the loan taken by his friend, Bassanio with him as guarantor. Portia, disguised as a judge, spoke with great eloquence to plead for mercy from Shylock. She prayed: “Therefore, Jew, though justice be thy plea, consider this, That in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy”. Shylock had harboured hatred for Antonio and he could not hide it: “How like a fawning publican he looks! I hate him for he is a Christian! But more, for that, in low simplicity he lends out money gratis and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice”.

No one could understand the problem at DVLA for the delay in issuing out new or renewed licences. I had applied for one since the old one expired in October, 2012. I have been holding on to a temporary one which had been constantly renewed at the DVLA offices every three months. A friend would say: ‘Inconveniences’. So, now we know or can guess the source of the problem.

The NPP, in a press conference, called on the President to commission an investigation into the $9.9m scandal that has hit the DVLA. It is suspected that the DVLA inflated a contract awarded Foto – X for the printing of the new drivers’ licences from $3.9m to $9.9m. The NPP led by the Acting Chairman, Freddie Blay, was afraid that “this matter will become just like the many cases of corruption which come out. We talk about them for a while until another case comes up and we move and no action is taken by those empowered to do so”.

The NPP is worried that “such is the travesty that while drivers and motor vehicle owners are asked to pay more after each national budget is read for keeping their vehicles on the road, the revenues raised are rather used to fund NDC corruption”.

The NPP would also “want the GH¢16 million unjustifiably paid for ‘consumables’ to be refunded and the culprits punished. Again, we want the GH¢4.2 million paid since 2012 for the printing of drivers’ licences when none was issued for three years to be investigated”.

In Ghana, ‘institutional corruption’ and ‘institutional fraud’ or rather ‘corruption in institutions’ and ‘fraud in institutions’ have been the bane of our economy for a long time. We have been told of an institution which had in stock paper and other writing materials that would last a 100 years; and the authorities there had not factored in the possibility of a paper-less environment for their operations. And a contract was signed for the supply of the paper and the materials.

There are other similar tales of such reckless dissipation of government funds in many of our public institutions. The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament is inundated by similar reports, and has often exposed them. But for how long can we as a nation contain and brush over such deviance?

Do we take Mr Amegashie’s edict as an admission of guilt? Or could it be a white lie or a bare-faced lie? Has he been known as a pathological liar to tell pathological lies (pseudologia fantastica and mythomania)? O, these huhudious medical terms!

‘To err is human’, so Justice Amegashie is attributing his action to human weakness or an example of human foibles in signing a contract for $9.9m which he had not authorised? ‘Haba’, as I.K. Gyasi would say. Kari Dako in ‘Ghanaianisms – A Glossary’ describes ‘haba’ as an ‘exclamation’. The dictionaries describe ‘exclamation’ as impassioned or emphatic utterance, showing protest or complaint. It is like ’cheep’, ‘oh’, but embedded in this one, ‘haba’, is a note of resignation – acquiescence, submission, uncomplaining endurance of adversity. Perhaps, Mr Amegashie has a better explanation to give. We cannot deny him his individual freedom, can we?

Some people are already saying: “You may tell it to the marines, because the sailors will not believe it”. Sir Walter Scott in his novel ‘Redgauntlet’ in 1824 laid stress to the mariner’s gullibility and credulity that would make them believe tall tales, including one that talked about ‘flying fishes’. Perhaps it is too early in the day to pass judgment.

Let the investigation begin: some of the questions could be: What figure was agreed as the contract sum? Who drafted the contract? What was the trail before final signature?

We can only wish Mr Amegashie well, and it is a genuine wish, not said tongue in cheek. It is said, and Mark Antonio emphasises it, that, “The evil that men do lives after them”; we also know, and can say with Macbeth, that, “Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more: It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing”. To err can be human, but to blame someone else is something else—politics.