As Woyome fights the Public Accounts Committee… (Part I)

Sun, 26 Aug 2012 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The new phrase in the lexicon of Ghanaian politics—judgement debt—has aroused as much indignation as would make the ordinary Ghanaian cringe at its mere mention.

What has begun happening between the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament (PAC) and Alfred Agbesi Woyome, the beneficiary of the 51 million Ghana Cedi judgement debt payment, has pushed that indignation a notch higher.

It also raises several disturbing questions bordering on legal issues and fundamental human rights. More troubling, though, is that it has also revealed the extent to which partisan political interests can jeopardize the work of institutions of state.

Certainly, in our contemporary politics, no case involving public funds has attracted so much public interest (or anger?) as this Woyome one. It is so, not necessarily because theft of public funds is a novelty but because of the circumstances surrounding it—and the fact that it is part of a practice that has hitherto not been highlighted in public discourse on the management of national affairs until now.

The furore that this judgement debt payment has provoked is indescribable. We could tell from public reaction to it that it is a major cause of anger against the government. That is where the politicization kicks in to suggest the existence of two blocks:

• political opponents of the government who castigate the authorities for encouraging impropriety,

• supporters of the government who consider the judgement debt as pre-existing the NDC administration and blame the Kufuor government for it.

Certainly, the NPP arm of political opponents of the government are vigorously campaigning with this matter because Woyome is said to be a financier of the NDC, meaning that the money paid him will definitely be funneled into the NDC’s coffers. Righteous concern.

But beyond that, they are angry just like other Ghanaians because of the shady circumstances surrounding the payment of the judgement debt to Woyome. I am with them as such and want the matter to be taken through due process to a logical and acceptable conclusion. That is what the courts are doing. So, where does the PAC come in again to complicate matters?

Thus, the judgement debt payment problem should be seen in a wider scope for us to understand the fracas between the PAC and Woyome.

The genesis of this fracas is well known, but let me re-state it briefly. The PAC is looking into the Auditor-General’s report and seeking answers from all those against whom adverse findings have been made. Alfred Agbesi Woyome, a supposed financier of the NDC, is one of those implicated by the report; but he has refused to appear before the PAC on two occasions, insisting that once the case is already before a court of competent jurisdiction, he doesn’t see any need to be “tried” again at a different venue on the same “charges.”

Matters have now come to a head upon his refusal for the third time to honour the PAC’s invitation. Not even a subpoena from the PAC would break him down. This is where Albert Kan-Dapaah, the Chair of PAC, has taken umbrage and threatened to cause his arrest.

How does he intend to do so? Through the mechanism of the Ghana Police Service, compelling the IGP to produce Woyome before the PAC. Is Kan-Dapaah right to go that distance? To a limited extent, maybe. Apparently, considering the PAC as analogous to a High Court, one may say that it can take such an action against the recalcitrant Woyome. But there are other legal limitations, for instance, that the PAC will have to legitimize such an action through the normal court system to be able to conclude any action (such as committal to prison) of Mr. Woyome.

This is where the first part of the fracas emerges. Does Kan-Dapaah have the power to go that way without the consent of the members of the PAC? As we can tell from the reaction of a section of the PAC membership—mostly NDC MPs—he can’t do anything of the sort. He can’t unilaterally order the arrest or detention of Woyome.

As the First Deputy Speaker, Doe Adjaho (NDC MP for Avenor) has explained, the best the PAC Chairman can do to legitimize any action of the sort is to pass it through the Speaker of Parliament now that it is clear that Woyome has repudiated the PAC’s invitation and undermined its authority—which means that he has flouted a constitutional provision.

The controversy persists. Although Kan-Dapaah doesn’t disagree with Doe Adjaho, he seems unhappy that some partisan political influences from the NDC members of PAC might endanger the committee’s work. What is the basis for this apprehension?

This is where the second part of the fracas surfaces. The Woyome case is already heavily politicized. After all, from the very moment that it surfaced, the case has assumed ridiculous political dimensions to the extent that opponents of the government have been quick to lump everything together to conclude that the judgement debt payment made to Woyome was an intricate effort by government officials to siphon money from the national coffers to finance the NDC.

Scathing comments to that effect have dominated their discourse and portrayed the NDC as an accomplice. I am not surprised, then, that some NDC followers have also begun seeing Kan-Dapaah as a “conduit” for the NPP’s anti-NDC propaganda on this score.

Putting aside all these issues, we can still perceive this Woyome case as a major challenge. Even before the details of the case emerged, some of us had already condemned the payment of this judgement debt to him and called for stern action to retrieve the money and for the perpetrators to be punished. We still stand by our conviction that something fishy went on to facilitate the deal. That is why the matter must be properly dealt with.

To be continued...

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.