The Woyome Scandal: what it says about governance under Mills

Sun, 12 Feb 2012 Source: Ohemeng, Yaw

The Woyome scandal that has gripped Ghana since December last year and the EOCO interim report into it have raised a number of questions that ought to be answered if we are to put this behind us as a nation. Some of the immediate questions that come to mind include: how the claim arose; where the claim was initially sent; who was the first to address it and who else was subsequently informed about it. Further questions to ask concern: the efforts made to ascertain the validity of the claim; when and how the settlement was negotiated; how much President Mills knew and when he was informed. To find out the role Dr Duffuor played, Ghanaians also ought to be told how the payment was effected: who approved it and who signed the cheque?

These questions among others have not been adequately addressed by the EOCO interim report. Incidentally, as others have already pointed, EOCO is subservient to the political offices implicated in this scandal and does not therefore have the requisite independence to deal impartially with these questions. In this regard, the Opposition is right in demanding a full public inquiry. I hope that concerned Ghanaians do not relent in their demand for a public inquiry. Beyond these immediate questions, though, the scandal has exposed a number of fault lines in governance under President Mills that does not augur well for Ghana.

The first observation is how quickly the politicians implicated in this scandal, from President Mills to his ministers, rushed to cover themselves. It is noted in the EOCO interim report that not a single politician appeared before it, even those on the government’s side. As at now no politician has been interrogated in connection with the ongoing investigation. More disturbing even is the fact that no politician has accepted responsibility. From the account attributed to Dr. Duffuor and the statement released on behalf of Mrs. Mould-Iddrisu, everything that happened was the fault of rogue and unscrupulous civil servants who either acted on their own volition or offered flawed advice. God help Mother Ghana if the foregoing is to be believed. Then it means that at best, political oversight of our institutions is weak and this brings into play the issue of competence. President Mills has packed his administration with inexperienced individuals and the effect of this on the nation has been evident in the three years or so that he has been in charge (or is it not in charge?). At worst there is no political oversight. The question to ask then is: why are we paying these politicians to busily enjoy the perks of their offices without the attendant responsibility?

There is no doubt that what is currently taking place with the arrest and charging of Woyome and the civil servants amount to nothing but naked abuse of the power of the state vested in the President. There are civil proceedings ongoing where the state is seeking to set aside the judgement debt. Part of the state’s argument is that Woyome’s claim was founded in fraud. Due process would have required the state to wait for the case of fraud to be held in the civil matter before bringing any prosecutions. At present the coercive power of the state is being used to severely handicap Woyome in the civil matter. If the state does not handle this properly Woyome might walk away free from the criminal charges.

Another way the President has abused the powers vested in him is how he got the EOCO to try to exonerate him that he twice intervened but that his directives were ignored. But of course he never thought hard enough about the damage this would cause to his credibility. The EOCO exoneration has now exposed the President as having potentially lied on three occasions when he professed to know nothing about the payments. Even if this view is not held, the flip side does not do him any favours either. It shows him as a weak leader whose appointees can disobey him and still remain in office. The only appointee he has sacked is his Attorney-General who was on the side of Ghanaians. Either way, he is tainted. It would have been better for the EOCO not to have tried to exonerate him. This makes a public inquiry all the more needed.

Another ugly side of governance under President Mills exposed by this saga is that there is no questioning attitude among politicians and civil servants placed in charge of affairs of our nation. What we know so far shows that no one cared much about the nation losing this large amount of money. According to President Mills, once parliament has approved the budget, in which a large amount (with no breakdown) is allocated for payment of judgement debts, he has no business interfering with payments. This approach is utterly wrong. Parliament may have approved amounts in the budget alright but everyone charged with management of state affairs owe it as his or her responsibility to Ghana to ensure that the amounts are judiciously spent. Budgetary amounts are just estimates and the state can still be saved money if spending is monitored. This laissez faire attitude will not serve us well as a nation.

The Woyome saga has also shown how several appointees paid from state coffers are prepared to serve the interest of party rather than the interest of their employer –Ghana Plc. We have seen the unhealthy situation where Mr. Ebo Barton-Oduro, the Deputy Attorney-General was defending the payments at the same time that the Attorney-General (his boss) was in court trying to overturn the order. He was not the only one. Alex Segbefia, the deputy chief of staff at the Presidency, was also on Newsfile defending the payment and maintaining that the claim arose from an illegal abrogation of a contract even when Woyome himself confessed that he had no contract with the state. Another actor from the Presidency was Akyena-Brentuo who was proud to be labelled the media spokesperson for Woyome and even had the courage to petition the EOCO to investigate Mr Yaw Osafo Marfo and others for potentially causing financial loss to the state. One would have thought that these individuals would earn their keep by defending the interest of Ghana rather than party. They had the option to keep their counsel by remaining silent but they chose not to do so. Their major preoccupation was to defend the NDC as a party than think about the greater good of Ghana.

The EOCO interim report stated that Woyome rode on the back of negligence and/or complicity of public officials to succeed in his claim. To these should be added the irrational partisanship that has characterised our nation’s politics. This was in no way less significant; in fact it was the main reason why the claim succeeded and the main reason why it took such a long time for the President to order any investigations, however inadequate.

We are told in the EOCO interim report that the then A-G wrote to the then Youth and Sports Minister for what he/she knew about this claim. That sports Minister (whose name was not mentioned) was lazy and negligent in his/her response that he/she was not at post at the time. If it were not due to extreme partisanship he/she could have consulted officials of the previous government to find out what actually transpired in 2005/2006. This same partisanship was responsible for the short shrift given to the complaints by the Opposition that something was amiss in the judgement debt paid to Woyome. As pointed out above, appointees of government were prepared to accept the validity of the claim; they defended it and even sought to make political capital out of it. It was only the relentless call by the NPP Opposition and some sections of the media (especially Kweku Baako’s New Crusading Guide) that finally caused President Mills to buckle.

Whilst the saga rages, one arm of government that has not been heard (apart from the Opposition at press conferences) is Parliament. Samia Nkrumah’s CPP and the PNC are also conspicuous by their silence. Parliament, as an arm of government, can set up its own investigative body even if the President is reluctant to set up a public inquiry. Here too the existence of political partisanship is preventing such a move. The majority is rather thinking of the political repercussions and the effect such a move would have on the fortunes of the NDC in the December polls. Hence, it is not likely that anything is going to happen on this front at all.

Another institution that has not come out with flying colours in this whole saga is the media. They have shown themselves as being ill-trained in covering issues of this nature. The headlines that greeted the EOCO interim report were sensationalist especially where they claimed that officials of both the former and current administrations have been indicted. The mention of Mr. Osafo Marfo in the report was not an indictment of his conduct. It was rather a lamentation that he failed to appear to explain why he wrote a letter to abrogate a tender process which he had earlier warned against. In any event the report observed that Woyome was not part of the bidding process; hence Mr Osafo Marfo could not be held liable for the ensued losses. Had the media people taken a little bit more time to think things through, they would have arrived at the obvious conclusion that to sustain the charge of fraud against Woyome, Mr. Osafo Marfo can only be called as a witness for the state.

Another score on which the media’s efforts have been found wanting is their inability to educate the public about contract law and in particular the Public Procurement Act. Every contractor knows that when you enter a tendering process, you are not guaranteed to win the contract. Thus any resource committed to the bid is considered an investment, which, like all investments, could potentially be lost. The procurement authority enjoys broad discretion to terminate a tender process without awarding a contract, either to start a fresh tender process or to pursue an alternative solution. The procurement authority can also reject all tenders received without incurring any liability and it does not have to justify this action. This is affirmed in Article 29 of the Public Procurement Act. All these events happened in 2005/2006 and none of these entities sued the state to recover losses. What is it about this particular government that claims, some dating back to the first republic, are springing up everywhere during its time?

Another myth out there is that somehow contracts are sacrosanct and cannot be abrogated. This is untrue. Every contract contains termination clauses to protect the interest of the parties. If a party is not delivering in accordance with the terms of the contract, it is quite in order for the other parties to seek to terminate. The previous government, given the prestige of the African Cup of Nations, and its implication for the reputation of Ghana, could not have sat on its hands if it was becoming clear to it that the process initially adopted was going to risk the timely provision of facilities for the games. In this case though there was not even a contract as evidenced by one of Woyome’s own letters, in which he referred to an illegal termination of the tender process. It is disappointing, to say the least, that his claim was not contested by people elected and appointed to act on behalf of Ghana.

When all is said and done this Woyome scandal reflects poorly on the competence of the President and his administration. Even if one accepts the explanations and exoneration given to the President by the EOCO interim report, it is clear that governance under President Mills is dysfunctional. It is frightening to think that decisions affecting Ghana are being taken by unelected civil servants with no political oversight. When Ghanaians voted for President Mills and his NDC government, they believed sincerely that they were electing a President who would be in charge and would accept responsibility for any shortcomings. No one voted for Dr Duffuor as Finance Minister; no one voted for Mrs. Mould-Iddrisu as Attorney-General. They were all appointed by President Mills and Ghanaians have a right to expect President Mills to make good Judgement by these appointments. It is not enough for the President to wash his hands off this matter. He is ultimately responsible. If letters copied to his chief of staff for his attention did not reach him; if his Finance Minister and Attorney-General ignored his directive and went on to pay this big claim, and they are still at post, what does it say about the leadership of the President?

Ghanaians should not let their attention waver and should follow keenly how this matter unfolds. If resolution remains as half-baked as we are witnessing currently, they should let their disapproval manifest itself in how they vote in December. If President Mills had appreciated the enormity of the responsibility placed on his shoulders, this gargantuan crime would not have occurred, and until he accepts the responsibility, he does not certainly deserve a second term!

Dr Yaw Ohemeng

Manchester, UK

Columnist: Ohemeng, Yaw