Opinions Mon, 20 Jun 2016

Mr. President, have you been offered a bribe before?

“Any human being in the world would have encountered corruption one way or the other, either being offered a bribe or a bribe being demanded from you. What you need to do is to put yourself in a position to (resist it)."

This was President Mahama's response when BBC Focus on Africa host Peter Okwoche asked him if he had "been offered a bribe before". The President was in the United Kingdom to participate in an anticorruption summit on the invitation of the British Government.

The President's delayed (or do I say calculated?) response to this seemingly innocuous and simple question sent tongues wagging. Many were those, including his aficionados, who interpreted that to mean the President was complicit in the act. In fact, some went as far as suggesting that the President delayed in responding to the question in order to lie through his teeth.

Well, the President answered and tacitly admitted having been tempted before but resisted it. What a relief!

But then, not many people believed that the President was incorruptible and clean of bribery and corruption; not many believed him when he said he had never accepted a bribe before, either as a human being or as a president.

Without apology, I am one of those who believed that the President was not entirely honest with us, considering the dire ramifications of admitting taking bribe.

President Mahama's administration has been rocked by many scandals ranging from the award of contracts to perceived cronies at ridiculously exorbitant costs to questionable procurement procedures. One that opposition members never cease mentioning is the acquisition of aircraft for the Armed Forces negotiated by him, then Vice President.

In that deal, according to the opposition and "Citizen Vigilante" Martin Amidu, the then Vice President inflated the cost of the aircraft, leading to the setting up of a Committee of Enquiry by President Mills to investigate the deal. The report of the said committee never saw the light of day because the current President allegedly dissolved the committee and gave the chairman a juicy position in government as a reward.

Another scandal that had the President's name associated with it is the atrocious GHS 3.6 million Smartty's MMT bus branding deal. It has been alleged, particularly by opposition members, that Smartty's was sole sourced with that dubious deal because the owner of the company was a bosom friend of the President. The Amajaro cocoa contract is just another one. Some US$10 million was alleged to have exchanged hands there.

The foregoing are just a few of the scandals under this government to which the President's name has unfortunately been linked.

With this background, it didn't come as a shock when I first heard the exposé on the gifting of a US$100,000 Ford Expedition SUV (2010 Edition) to the President by a Burkinabe contractor, Mr. Djibril Kanazoe. My immediate feeling was to treat it with contempt, believing it to be another opposition propaganda.

However, by the time the full details of the deal was laid bare, I was convinced that it could be that sought-after smoking gun to derail the president's second-term Presidential bid.

Then comes a press release by the Minister of Communications, Dr. Edward Omane Boamah. As expected, he denied the suggestion of bribery and corruption against the President. Among other things, the Minister stated that the acceptance of the gift was done with paper trails, and therefore the President could not fairly be accused of accepting a bribe from Mr. Djibril Kanazoe.

The press statement also claims the gift has been part of the official Presidential fleet since it was received, as convention demands. Therefore, it was not a hidden personal gift to the President but to his office.

These explanations do not hold water as far as I go. And these are my reasons:

1. The general public would not have been aware of this deal had it not been unraveled by Mr. Manasseh Azure Awuni.

2. The paper trails that were left as a result of the movement and registration of the vehicle were necessary evils that had to be encountered in the course of making the vehicle useful. Thus, the trails were not consciously and wilfully left on the altar of transparency.

3. Bribes do not come in name. Every giver of a bribe comes in the name of gift. Therefore, only events preceding and following that gift can define them as bribes.

4. Question marks about the contracts won by Mr. Djibril Kanazoe's company after the presentation of that gift have not been sufficiently and convincingly addressed. Questions regarding sole sourcing, contract costs and quality of execution need to be addressed with documentary proofs to lay to rest the doubts.

5. Not all bribes are given in closets. Some are given openly in order to throw dust into observers' eyes. That's what confidence tricksters do.

6. The President cannot operate below his own measuring rod. He cannot warn his Ministers and other political appointees not to accept gifts beyond GHS 200 or US$50 while doing the stark opposite in a grand style.

In my considered opinion, therefore, Mr. Djibril Kanazoe did not mean well when he gifted President Mahama the Ford Expedition. He certainly had something up his sleeves then. As to whether the President was able to read the same hidden motive of his so-called friend, and as to whether he received it knowing it was a bribe meant to influence him to influence the award of juicy contracts to Mr. Djibril Kanazoe at the expense of local Ghanaian contractors, I leave it to the judgment of the general public.

I say and believe so because it beggars belief that Mr. Djibril Kanazoe went past 18 million Burkinabes and 25 million Ghanaians to give a gift worth $100,000 to President Mahama, who, apart from not paying tax, has everything he needs at his disposal.

In ending this piece, I do not think that the President did discharge himself well in view of the position of the Constitution. He will agree with me if he reads Article 284 (24) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, Section 21 (b) of the Conduct of Public Officers Bill, 2013, Code of Ethics for ministers and political appointees on gifts and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice's (CHRAJ) Guidelines on Conflict of Interest.

I therefore urge President Mahama to submit himself to any anticorruption investigative authority to be investigated and cleared if found clean. The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) and the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) are the institutions that readily come to mind.

Needless to add that those institutions should initiate the process of investigations and not wait for petitions from private citizens as is often the practice. The President and his government will be the biggest gainers if this is done.

In conclusion, I want to ask Mr. President the same question asked by Mr. Peter Okwoche of the BBC: Mr. President, have you been offered a bribe before?
Columnist: Agbai, Stephen