By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Saturday, August 25, 2012
There is nothing wrong with efforts being made to unearth the truth behind the scandal. Ghanaians are impatiently waiting for the money paid to him to be retrieved and lodged in the national coffers if proved to be wrongfully given him. Ghanaians also expect stiff punishment for such a person and all others implicated in this scandal.
Then, they expect that all the loopholes promoting such thievery will be plugged and the necessary administrative and legal measures taken to guard against recurrence. All the subterfuge that has enabled such fraudulent practices should be detected and dealt with so that what belongs to all of us is not diverted to line the pockets of white-collar thieves parading as businessmen and government appointees.
There is nothing wrong with the PAC’s efforts to look into all the improprieties captured in the Auditor-General’s report. After all, that’s its legitimate purview—its constitutional obligation to help us monitor expenditure and to safeguard the Consolidated Fund against fleecing by faceless people of the sort that the judgement debt syndrome has exposed.
What is wrong with the PAC’s work is the approach that it has adopted, especially in the case involving Woyome. There seems to be an indecent haste to accomplish hidden political objectives.
Left to public opinion alone, Woyome would have been crucified by now. He was found guilty at the court of public opinion the very moment the lid was blown on the scandal. That he hasn’t so far been snuffed out is the result of the due process that he is being taken through in the workings of the judicial system. Is the legal maxim that the individual is innocent until proved guilty still relevant?
Regardless of the haphazard manner in which his case has been handled—with all the euphoria at the initial stages, then, disillusionment and, now, outright dejection on the part of the public at the snail’s pace of the trial—it is incontrovertibly clear that the case is already “sub judice” (being handled by four different courts of competent jurisdiction, namely, the Financial Affairs Court, High Court, Appeal Court, and Supreme Court).
Every well-informed citizen knows that once a case is before court, no public comment on it is warranted. Any violation of this judicial stricture attracts a charge of contempt of court and is punishable. The PAC’s attempt to question Woyome on the matter is a violation of his human rights and an infringement of that legal injunction. Let no one be deceived.
Again, it is obvious that once someone is being tried by a court, he shouldn’t be subjected to any other form of trial, especially an extra-judicial one of the sort that the PAC is poised to carry out against Woyome. The PAC’s work may be seen as an inquiry, but in the case of Woyome, it is nothing but a trial.
Furthermore, the norms don’t permit an accused person to be tried twice for the same offence, especially simultaneously as the moves by the PAC suggest.
This is where the PAC’s handling of this matter raises very serious questions concerning Woyome’s human rights. What is it that the PAC wants to gather from Woyome that his ongoing trial at the courts cannot help the authorities know? Again, how did Woyome get to be prosecuted?
As the state has already had enough grounds to justify his prosecution, it suggests that whatever went wrong in the payment of the judgement debt to him has already been identified as “criminal,” meaning that what the PAC is looking for from him has already been unearthed to necessitate his trial. What again is the PAC looking for?
Or is the PAC apprehensive that some vital secrets are still being hidden by Woyome that it must at all costs yank from him even while his trial at the court goes on? Will the PAC act on its findings or submit them to the authorities for further action? Isn’t that action what is already being taken against Woyome?
While the fracas persists, it is quite certain that it will provoke tension within the PAC itself and stall its work, at least, until something sensible emerges. If Woyome rescinds his decision not to appear before the PAC, he will be opening himself up to many possibilities. First, he may choose not to cooperate with the PAC, which will have its own dire implications for the inquiry. After all, he has every right not to say anything to implicate himself in a case that is already being tried in court.
Second, he may simply show up only to tell the PAC that because the case is already being tried elsewhere, he won’t answer questions. What will the PAC do at this point?
For the records, many people invited by the PAC for questioning obliged. Woyome doesn’t want to. It is clear that he is before court in connection with the issues being inquired into by the PAC. All the others are not. That makes his case peculiar.
While condemning the circumstances under which hundreds of millions of money have been doled out as judgement debt payment to all those suing the government for compensation—either as a result of genuine transactions being abrogated to their disadvantage or for acts of impropriety against them by the institutions of state—we must insist that this judgement debt issue be tactfully handled.
It seems to be a new avenue for all manner of manipulations. Those in charge of affairs must be circumspect in their handling of contracts, especially. As is evident from the circumstances surrounding this Woyome case and that involving the Construction Pioneers, the unilateral action by the authorities to either abrogate contracts or do anything to the disadvantage of the other party will lead to legal action of the sort that necessitates the payment of judgement debts.
We expect civility and decency in business transactions to save the country all this loss. Then again, those whose actions (and I have in mind members of the security services) violate the human rights of the citizens should be held personally liable for anything of the sort.
Instead of putting the burden on the state to pay compensation to victims of such brutalities, the perpetrators should be made to pay from their own coffers. If such a measure is implemented, it will go a long way to forestall the rampant animalism that characterizes the conduct of security personnel.
In the long run, it is incumbent on the institutions of state to place the national interest above all others so as to eliminate the wanton abuse of office for personal gains. While the fracas between Woyome and the PAC unfolds, we will keep monitoring the situation to see its outcome. We may have a rude awakening!
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