By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
In our kind of political climate, weird things continue to happen every passing day. Nana Ato Dadzie, the former Chief of Staff under the Rawlings regime, is reported to have made utterances that should annoy every Ghanaian interested in upholding high moral standards. His ego trip won’t serve Ghana’s needs.
He has said that it is “fundamentally wrong” and “ridiculous” for anyone to condemn President Mills for appointing PARDONED former public officials to head key positions in his government. He went further to argue that once these former public officials were pardoned by ex-President Kufuor, they didn’t merit being labelled as “ex-convicts.”
These former public officials are George Sipa Yankey (CEO of Ghana Gas Company), Ibrahim Adams (Board Chairman of the Agricultural Development Bank), Daniel Abodakpi (Ghana’s Envoy to Malaysia), and Kwame Peprah (Board Chairman of the Trust Bank).
Nana Ato Dadzie’s utterances came in the wake of last Tuesday’s condemnatory remarks against President Mills by the Forum for Public Accountability (FPA), a pressure group, for appointing those “ex-convicts” to serve in very sensitive and big budget state institutions and offices in his administration.
Among others, here is what Nana Ato Dadzie is reported as saying: “To say that the President had appointed ex-convicts is actually to indicate that the concept of pardon is not recognised by anybody.” He told Joy FM on Tuesday that “I don’t understand. It was the former President who exercised the power of pardon in respect of these gentlemen. So once the pardon goes out the people become free, they are no longer convicts. ”
This is the most egregious statement that I have heard in many years. Coming from someone who is expected to know better, it is demoralizing. I disagree with Nana Ato Dadzie and condemn him for his wanton mischief. No amount of sophistry will solve the public image problem that those ex-convicts created for themselves. They are all ex-convicts and will forever respond to that tag!!
Nana Ato Dadzie is a lawyer by profession and was part of those hauled before court as part of the Kufuor government’s swift action to punish those in the Rawlings administration that it had perceived as being corrupt or indulging in malfeasance. Fortunately for him he was dropped from the list of those to be tried and he has since then been functioning as a “clean” person, practising his trade and enjoying its benefits. He should be thanking his star that he didn’t end up where Abodakpi and his fellow ex-convicts landed.
His legal background serves him well in interpreting issues bordering on (il)legality. I am not a lawyer, but I can also read deeper meanings into issues of (il)legal import. On this score, I wade into the matter he has raised to debunk his argument that those former government officials can’t be referred to as “ex-convicts.” I insist that they are ex-convicts and will remain so for the rest of their lives in this troubled, sickened world. Even at their death, posterity will remember them as ex-convicts because that’s what they are.
We don’t need any legal argument about the concepts of “convict” or “ex-convict.” Simply put, a “convict” is someone who has been tried by a court of competent jurisdiction and found guilty of the charge(s) brought against him/her in accordance with the legal code of the community to which that person belongs. Once found guilty, that accused person is at the mercy of the law and as soon as judgement is pronounced and sentence (custodial or otherwise) imposed by the adjudicator of the case, that person bears the tag of a convict. It is a process—beginning with the subject being framed as a suspect before the completion of investigations, then, becoming an accused when investigations establish a case for him/her to answer in court; turning into a convict if proved guilty of the offence; and ending up as an ex-convict (a former convict) if no more serving the sentence imposed on him/her.
If it’s a custodial sentence—as it was in the case of these ex-government officials—the convicted person has to serve the term. Anything else is contingent on that conviction. By some quirks of circumstance, the convicted person may be released from prison before serving the full term. Such quirks of circumstances may have to do with the convict’s extremely poor health or a re-trial that overturns the original verdict warranting the prison term. Others may be a remission of the term of imprisonment or the exercise of a Presidential Pardon (as Kufuor did). Whatever the case may be, such a respite only frees the convicted person from serving the prison term or fulfilling any other obligation arising from the conviction by the court or tribunal that tried him/her. It doesn’t wash away the element of conviction at all. Such a person remains convicted, whether there is a positive change in his/her attitude as a result of correctional efforts by the prison authorities or not.
I want to say here that any such person released from prison (whether after having his/her term cut gratuitously short by the President or not) is an “ex-convict.” Are Abodakpi and the others not former prisoners? We should make the distinction clear that the stigma on such a person can’t be washed away and he/she will continue to bear the tag of an “ex-convict” just as a former ruler is an ex-President whether he completed his tenure or was kicked out of office. For as long as the prison term served by Abodakpi and the others remains a blot on their reputation, they are ex-convicts (people once convicted for falling foul of the laws of the land and judged to be criminals).
Their being pardoned by Kufuor was a mere political exercise, which didn’t (and won’t) wash away the criminal aspects of their trial and conviction. It doesn’t exonerate them from blame as people who committed crimes (a punishable behaviour); and Nana Ato Dadzie argument is hollow at this point.
Nana Ato Dadzie must not confuse matters. Being granted pardon by Kufuor doesn’t mean that these people didn’t at one time or the other flout the criminal and legal codes of Ghana for which they were convicted and sent to prison. The difference is clear and no one must try to throw dust into our eyes. After being released from the jaws of imprisonment, these ex-government officials weren’t in any way absolved of their crime or purified. The prison terms that they served might amount to a contemplative experience for them but it doesn’t clean them of the offences for which they were duly tried and convicted. If they have been re-appointed to positions of trust, it might be because of mere politics, not because anybody is proud of their past records.
I insist that in appointing these ex-convicts, President Mills erred. He has set a very bad example and shouldn’t be whitewashed by any public relations gimmick of the kind that Nana Ato Dadzie has launched.