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Opinions of Saturday, 21 January 2012

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

Woyome Must Immediately Deposit the GHc58 million with Bank of Ghana

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

I have avoided the debate on the topic of the moment in Ghana for sometime because the whole affair does not make sense to me. Again, I did not have enough information to make informed contributions that would enhance the discourse. However, with running commentaries and the recent exposure by Martin Amidu in his explosive statement in response to attacks on him by pro-NDC media, his court appearance on Monday to plead for more time and filed an amendment to modify an earlier writ and claims seeking to challenge judgement debt payments to Woyome, his subsequent dismissal on Thursday, the NPP’s decision to boycott the fact finding or investigations by the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) and the Auditor General also wading into the controversy have given me enough ammunition to analyse the scam of all scams in Ghana.

The Woyomegate has now become a circus in Ghana. It’s almost like a pandemonium in the Serengeti where a pride of lions has made a kill and all the predators and scavengers such as hyenas and vultures also want a piece. The only loser is the kill, in this case, Ghana who has none to speak for her. The pride (Woyeme), the predators (NDC) and the scavengers (NPP) are all only interested in filling their stomach at the expense of the kill (Mother Ghana). Please note animals are used metaphorically and no disrespect meant.

When the case was first exposed, the government in its characteristic and amateurish communication trademark in the words of the Deputy Attorney General, claimed that the government had no case and that it was not every case that the state had to defend. It then emerged that his former boss, the then Attorney General after failing to defend the claim in the first place, had gone back to court to challenge the same claim after the state had paid huge sums of money to Woyome. Kwaku Ananse story? No, it’s strange but true. Maybe, I have gone bonkers but those in government and the NDC with sound mind should explain to Ghanaians why the Deputy Minister did not know what was happening in his ministry. How on earth that ministers who have been charged with the responsibility of defending the interest of Ghana should act so negligent and irresponsibly? Was it the case of the then former Attorney General that her ministry did not undertake a comprehensives assessment of the case before she decided not to contest the claim by Woyome, when such a monumental sum of money was involved? Who advised her on this case?

A bizarre twist in this saga is the fact that it appears payments were made directly to Mr Woyome, instead of the company or companies he represented. A registered company is a legal entity on its own that can sue and be sued. Mr Woyome could not sue the state in his personal capacity. He could only sue for and on behalf of the companies he represented. So, why the payments were made to him and not to the companies is anyone’s guess. This sounds like a carefully planned and calculated fraud on the state.

Also controversial is the existence or non-existence of a contract between the state and his companies or himself. Whether there was a contract or not is yet to be determined by a competent court of jurisdiction but what is not in doubt is that there has been a “Woyome”. Though I cannot defend the government, Woyome or his NDC sympathisers, a contract is not always in express terms but can also be implied including verbal. The legal approach in establishing whether a contract existed or not is to consider the sort of relationship that existed between the state and Woyome and or the companies he represented during the period under question. However, considering the huge sums of money involved, it is highly unlikely that an implied contract could not be legally justified. In any case, Woyome is on record to have said that neither he nor the companies he represented had a contract with the state. So, why did he sue the state?

I am at a loss why some NDC appointees, supporters and sympathisers are defending Woyome and the payments. The argument that the payments were judgement debts and therefore justified does not hold water. Only God knows why they are refusing to be rational and to question the potential fraudulent method used in securing the judgement. The fact that a court ruled that he should be paid the money does not make it right and defendable for three reasons. First, the failure and negligence of the then Attorney General to put up a defence against the claim at the court; second, the deception used by Woyome and last, the amount involved should have raised eyebrows. Even if a contract was unlawfully terminated, how much was the value of that contract, how much did termination cost the companies or Woyome in terms of lost income, profits, accrued charges and interests, damage to reputation and goodwill, etc? These are basic questions that all rational beings should be asking irrespective of political affiliations. It’s time NDC and NPP realised and accepted that they are Ghanaians first and foremost and put Ghana’s interests above all others. Some matters are unjustifiable and indefensible, no matter how much spin or propaganda that is manufactured to justify and defend them.

Mr Martin Amidu’s position became untenable when he failed to name those he accused as having committed gargantuan crimes in his statement “colleague minister of state who perceived my integrity and professionalism as a lawyer was a threat to the concealment of gargantuan crimes against the people of Ghana in which they might be implicated”. No matter how good intentioned his response to the attack on him by the “NDC rented media” was, the language used by the minister fell far short of what is expected of a cabinet minister. It was undiplomatic and unacceptable for a minister of state to cast such insinuations against his colleague/s. He should have made the allegations directly to the President or at cabinet and secured assurance from the President to deal with the alleged criminality or resign after his public statement. Though it was good he made the allegations public, the language in his statement and the failure to disclose the identities of those he accused of “concealment of gargantuan crimes” when asked by the President were poor judgement on his part. Mr Amidu may appear to bold and courageous and even a hero in the eyes of many Ghanaians, but his approach was misguided and wrong. Was he a whistle blower? No, at best he appeared as an angry person determined to seek revenge on those who attacked his competence. Now that he is no longer a minister, nothing stops him from making public further details about “the concealment of gargantuan crimes” and substantiating them. He should be bold and may become a hero if he is proven right.

The President found himself between a rock and a hard surface with Amidu’s damaging allegations. Wherever he hits there would be pain. Allowing Amidu to continue in office would have weaken the President’ authority, especially, when he stated in his statement that he did not beg the President for the position of Attorney General. His allegations could have created air of suspicion and lack of trust in him by his colleague ministers. On the other hand, his dismissal will dent the President’s commitment to fighting corruption at least, in the short term but he could redeem his reputation in the long term if the allegations are dealt with effectively and to the satisfaction of the Ghanaian public. In my view, the President had no option but to dismiss Amidu for refusing to substantiate the contents of his statement after making such egregious allegations against his colleague/s but the President must not stop there. He should ensure the allegations are properly investigated and the outcome made public.

The amendment sought by Martin Amidu to modify the earlier writ at the court on Monday has added another political dimension to the Woyomegate (the usual NDC/NPP hegemony and the rivalry between the two political ideologies). According to media reports, he claimed that the matter has constitutional implications because the contract awarded under the NPP administration to Woyome or the companies he represented was not approved by Parliament. If that was the case, could that not explain why the contract was terminated? Was he trying to blame the previous NPP government and could that be the reason why NPP as a party and former ministers of the regime are boycotting EOCO? Is this a grand scheme by both NDC and NPP to blame each other and fail to properly investigate the theft of huge money from the state?

The NPP as a party is having a field day on Woyomegate but at the same time shying away from what is required to unearth the truth and what really happened. The decision by NPP to boycott EOCO is not in the best interest of Ghana and the party itself. In fact, their position may in the end damage the party and leading members who are now challenging the authority of EOCO to investigate Woyomegate. NPP is quick to resort to using the judiciary to run away from accountability but I am afraid on this occasion, they may fail as I am convinced that justice would be done. Why do I say so? One of the main roles of the third arm of government, (the Judiciary), is to check excessive powers of and the abuse of powers and office by the Executive and the Legislature but not prevent them from performing their duties. EOCO is a body established under an act of Parliament and therefore, the Executive has the right to refer matters of economic crime and what appears to be organised crime against the state to EOCO for further action. I have a lot of respect for Ex-President Kufour but he is wrong in saying that because EOCO is under the Executive it cannot investigate Woyomegate. BNI is also an arm of the Executive but it investigated the corruption allegations against Mills’s first Sports Minister. What institutions did his government use to investigate allegations against his ministers and appointees and were such institutions not under the Executive? His argument is illogical and not valid.

NPP having failed in their scheme to run away from being accountable for their actions in government with their suggestion for an independent body to investigate Woyomegate (because that would have guaranteed them automatic immunity from prosecution), then came up with the idea that the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament should investigate the matter. NPP knew very well that the Public Accounts Committee will turn this matter into party political football with opposing views between NPP and NDC members on the Committee. Finally, when it goes to the august house (Parliament) for a vote, NPP would boycott the vote because NDC will use their majority to push through their wishes. In such scenario, nothing would come out of the Public Accounts Committee’s investigations. In any case, had President Mills initially appointed an independent committee to investigate Woyomegate, the same NPP would have objected to it and accused the President of appointing his or NDC cronies as members.

NPP should take a hard look at itself and tell the nation how many Ghanaians accused of wrong doing in the Auditor General’s reports have been made to account for their misdeeds by the Public Accounts Committees since the Fourth Republic? In the words of the current Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (NPP member of Parliament, Mr Ken Dapaah), “his committee’s work appears to be irrelevant since recommendations made are not well implemented by the implementation committees of various institutions and until an independent implementation committee is set up to take over such a function it will be challenging to reform the operations of public sector institutions considered to be corrupt” (interview with City FM). Was that the reason why NPP leaders are insisting that the Public Accounts Committee should deal with Woyomegate? NPP’s decision to boycott EOCO and suggesting an independent body or the Public Accounts Committee to investigate this matter is disingenuous. NPP has the right to raise their doubt about EOCO, since it is alleged that Woyome was the first to suggest EOCO investigation the payments to him. However, the party should give EOCO the benefit of the doubt. Ghanaians should test the robustness, efficacy and independent judgement of institutions like EOCO.

When senior civil servants begin to speak for governments then there is something fishy. The Auditor General’s intervention on this matter is worrying. If the very body charged with the task of ensuring that public accounts are accurate cannot be precise with its figures, then, Ghana is in serious trouble. The Accountant General has also damaged its independence and may lose the trust and confidence of the people by appearing to defend government.

The Woyomegate stinks. Sadly in the midst of all the euphoria by NPP and confusion by NDC, Ghana has been forgotten by both and the institutions that are expected to protect her interest. As politicians continue to argue among themselves over the issue to score cheap political points, Woyome has the money in his bank accounts and may gain millions in interest for him. Should something happen to Woyome before the end of the appeal at the court (God forbid), how and from whom would the state recover the money? Again, if the state wins the appeal but by that time Woyome has spent the money or laundered the money into secret foreign bank accounts, how would the state get the money back? To avoid these risks and for the above analyses, I strongly recommend that the state through the Acting Attorney General must apply for an ex-parte motion at the High or Appeal Court to compel Woyome to deposit all the GHc58 million plus the interest at Bank of Ghana until the appeal is disposed of. If he wins the appeal the money will be returned to him. This should be done as a matter of urgency and without any further delay. I welcome your comments but please do not “Woyome” me.

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK