Opinions Thu, 26 Jan 2017

Live from the Woods: What are Akufo-Addo’s nominees hiding from Ghanaians?

There appears to be a subtle ploy by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) to shield its ministerial nominees currently facing Parliament’s Appointments Committee.

Hard evidence may be lacking, but as far as the posture of NPP legislators on the Committee is concerned there’s nothing to deny.

One would think government would want Ghanaians to be confident that the integrity of the nominees are intact and unassailable, but it seems the NPP’s are hoping to hide that instead.

I doubt if the original intention for vetting of government appointees is for Ghanaians to merely get to know the credentials of the nominees. If everything about vetting of ministerial nominees is cosmetic as has happened in the past, there is no need for the exercise.

Ghanaians might understand that and possibly be fine with ministers assuming work the very moment they are introduced by the President.

But as far as the ethics and ethos of democracy are concerned, the thrust of vetting and by extension such activities in other facet of the society is for constituents to be assured of the policy views, credibility, honesty, integrity and the non-compromising philosophies of the nominees.

Vetting is one of the air hoses of our democracy which breathe life into our political system. Therefore, we stand threatened if actions of Members of Parliament (MPs) prance all over the hose. People who want to lead us need to safeguard the air.

Tamale North MP, Alhassan Suhuyini

All of us as citizens can’t scrutinize the background and past dealings of the nominees and that explains why our MPs have been given the authority to do that.

Although we’ve had grounds to register our displeasure with the confirmation of some appointees in the past by Parliament, the 2017 exercise that's to confirm the 36 ministerial nominees smacks of a deliberate attempt to smuggle them through the process ‘unscathed.’

I’m not sure concerns raised by Ghanaians are too demanding that our legislators are incapable of addressing them. We are seeking a rigorous process which takes into consideration “troubling personal issues” that might compromise the safety and integrity of the country.

North Tongu MP, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has promised to root out corruption by purging the nation of corrupt public officials. He has served a stern warning to NPP members he has appointed to hold high the integrity banner which was led down during the former President John Mahama's government.

To achieve this end, persons appointed to various positions need to come under intense scrutiny both for their policy views and potential conflict of interest.

Are vetting issues raised by National Democratic Congress (NDC) MPs sour grapes for the NPP MPs?

First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Joseph Osei Owusu believes so and has almost always found it appropriate to interject.

First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Joseph Osei Owusu

It’s clear that NDC MPs have so far been able to ask the nominees “kidney” questions. However, most of these questions have been flagged by Appointments Committee Chairman, Mr Osei Owusu and met with arrogant displays by the nominees.

North Tongu MP, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa and Tamale North MP, Alhassan Suhuyini have shown the mettle to be critical of the nominees who have been vetted.

But if there’s anyone member of the committee who has been a source of trouble for Akufo-Addo’s nominees, it's Mr Suhuyini, formerly the host of Alhaji and Alhaji on Accra-based Radio Gold.

Finance Minister-designate, Ken Ofori-Atta

Mr Osei Owusu has come to the rescue of Finance Minister-designate Kenneth Ofori-Atta and Energy Minister-designate, Boakye Agyarko. Personally, I see the Committee Chairman’s interjection in the case of these two nominees as unwarranted.

Mr Ofori-Atta has on his resume submitted to the Committee that he is on a board of an Off-shore company and the former journalist wants to be assured that the interest of the nation would not be compromised. Mr Osei Owusu stopped him in a manner that’s tantamount to the use of the gavel by a judge presiding over a case.

For me, the question is relevant considering some world leaders were hit in 2016 when a huge leak document revealed how the rich and powerful use tax havens to hide their money from their own people. The files which were leaked from a Pananmanian law firm named Mossack Fonseca linked 12 current and former heads of state in the data.

In one such document, the eldest son of former President John Kufuor was cited for appointing the law firm to manage his offishore account called The Excel 2000 Trust. It was further revealed that he controlled a bank account in Panama, a North American country worth $75,000.

Energy Minister-designate, Boakye Agyarko

Why should we not be worried when some of the leaders cited had their political careers gone downhill because of the documents? Ghanaians were denied the opportunity to know how safe we are as far as Mr Ofori-Atta’s dealing with the offshore company is concern.

The other incident was when Mr Suhuyini sought an assurance from Mr Agyarko who was the Vice President of Bank of New York when its branch in London was involved in some money laundering triggering prosecution of some staff. Although the Minister-designate showed the readiness to answer the question, Mr Osei Owusu found it appropriate to overrule it.

Mr Agyarko might not have been a party to the issue as he made it clear at the vetting, but it doesn’t hurt if he clarifies matters to Ghanaians.

I am not here to sympathize with Mr Suhuyini for what he has described as a needless heckling. I agree with the Chairman of the Committee that the former Radio Gold programme host has to respect the ethics that come with the political career.

Propaganda works on the NDC affiliated station is not equal to a legislator work which calls for attributes nobler than what are sometimes exhibited by media practitioners.

However, I want to find out whose side the members of the Committee are. Is it Ghanaians or the nominees? If the answer is the former then we require high and quality work from them, but if the answer is the latter it clearly means we have a lot to contend with as a country.

If there’s anything the NPP is hiding from Ghanaians as far as backgrounds of some of the nominees are concerned, we need to be told in clear terms. Else the Appointments Committee has to be taken to task to work in the interest of the people.

If the public is to have confidence in the work of the seventh Parliament, it has to properly address issues that are relevant to the citizens. We need a rigorous scrutiny of the nominees.

NDC MPs have so far faced uphill battle in their attempt to seek clarification on issues of integrity of some of the nominees. Outnumbered in the House, it’s a foregone conclusion that they won’t be able to scuttle Akufo-Addo’s nominees whose credibility is questioned.

The behavior of NPP MPs brings to mind the maxim that “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” They can bully their way through because they are in majority now and this time the NPP commands a huge presence in the House. They can do everything they want without eliciting concerns from the NDC minority, but there’s always a day of reckoning as the NDC has come to respect.

The Chairman of the Committee without compromising the Standing Orders of the House must do everything possible to dispel concerns of Ghanaians that he’s being heavy-handed in the way he chairs the meeting.

The members of the committee have to know that no matter which side of the aisle they find themselves, Ghanaians demand quality and uncompromising work from the. Ask relevant questions. Demand more clarification and insist on transparency. It is time the interest of the nation is made the focus of the governance radar.

Columnist: Austin Brakopowers