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Saturday, November 7, 2009

M&J SAGA: Why Mills Okayed Kamara

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We reproduce our stance on the Mabey & Johnson bribery saga first published last Friday in view of the President’s swearing-in of his top diplomat to Nigeria. We have had cause to criticise this administration and will continue to do so when the need arise. It has been our opinion, however, long before the President ever arrived at that conclusion, that some NDC members have no case to answer in the ongoing M&J scandal when the facts are carefully examined. This position can be seen in this commentary, which we have reasons to believe are similar to the reasons why the President, after receiving his brief on the M&J scandal from his Attorney General, arrived at the decision he has taken. Let those who disagree do so. It is their right to.

We, however, think President Mill’s decision is the best and certainly the wisest in this case and are not afraid to say so.

PRESIDENT JOHN EVANS Atta Mills recently did the most sensible thing in the face of the unpleasant news that two of his top ministers; some leading lights in his party and some former ministers of state have been caught in an international bribery scandal in a court ruling in London.

The ruling by the British court was the result of investigations by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) of the UK, which got an easier case to prosecute after a plea-bargain deal led to confessions by the London-based Mabey and Johnson bridge building company. As part of its confession, M&J admitted and revealed details of systemic bribes it said it paid to a number of public officials in Ghana, Jamaica and a host of countries to procure public contracts.

The initial reactions of NDC/government activists were to pour scorn on the allegations and to question the integrity of the British justice system, as if our judicial system was any better. When that didn’t work, some cried racism. Then the cover-up tune was changed to an attempt by the British government to arm-twist the Ghana government from finishing its probe into the acquisition of GT by Vodafone. What those who argued this way forgot to remember was that the British had long started probing M&J, Bi-water and other companies which had worked in Ghana and elsewhere long before their mobile telephony flagship chose to partner our flagging Ghana Telecom.

Reality soon hit home. Ghanaians quickly saw through the various cheap attempts and attacks aimed at confusing and begging the issues.

The verdict was indeed damning. Though our ministers had not been tried and found guilty of any crime in court, the evidence which emerged out of the proceedings of Judge Rivlin’s Southwark Crown Court based on admissions by M&J and on a number of persons were troubling.

Details in the prosecution’s case on Health Minister Dr George Sipa-Yankey, Minister of State Amadu Seidu, former Water, Works and Housing Minister Boniface Abubakar Saddique, former Roads Minister Ato Quarshie and Mr Edward Lord-Attivor, former Chairman of the Board of Inter-City Transport Corporation were so damaging that no serious government anywhere, especially one that rode on the power of waging a better war against corruption, can ignore them. President Mills had to do something. The pressure was on.

And yes, Mills did something. He chose to redeem his image and retain the trust of Ghanaians in his administration. He asked the most indicted officials to do what they should have done the moment the scandal broke. Leave the administration and clear their individual names and not stay around to smear the government, party and Ghanaians with their individual dirt.

It may have been difficult for the President, because one of the men affected –Sipa Yankey- happens to be a personal buddy and one of the most efficient ministers in the topsy-turvy administration.

But it was the wisest thing to do. Truth be told, the two resigned ministers should have left the administration the moment they became aware of the scandal. They were individually indicted and therefore individually culpable for whatever wrongs alleged against them. If they believe those allegations were false, they had personal duties to take decisions which would safeguard their individual reputations; not wait for evidence to be stacked against them and hope to hide behind the collective group (party). Staying in government and hoping to battle their cases will hurt them individually, hurt the administration and of course, worsen the perception that the NDC itself may have had a hand in the scandal. No doubt, some began to raise questions as to whether President Mills himself was not a beneficiary of the alleged bribe, despite the fact that the offence had not been contested and proven against the two ministerial suspects, and despite the fact that even if the allegations had been proven, there was absolutely no basis linking Mills to what would have been individual crimes.

This is why we are excited that the two officials have resigned – albeit they were pushed to. Our excitement comes from the fact that the decision to push them out retains the good governance practice that Ghana as a nation should stick to in its evolution of a good democratic culture. Besides, it gives the very-challenged administration time and space to concentrate on the survival issues most Ghanaians worry about.

The President’s decision to seek the AG’s advise as well as his directive that the case be handed to the Justice Emile Short-led Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) are in our in our view spot-on.

We are of the opinion that contrary to claims that the President was wrong in sending Mrs. Betty Mould-Iddrrisu, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, to the UK to scout for more info on the scandal, it was the right thing to do. The A-G certainly needed to be fully briefed of the facts in this case to properly advise Mills. Going to London to get the facts definitely availed her of the full facts and would have allowed her to give the NDC “old man” sound legal advice.

Her travel to the UK is best understood when viewed against the background that the preamble to the prosecution’s opening statement in the case “Regina versus Mabey and Johnson” states:

“Note: This statement is provided for the assistance of the Court and the parties. While it substantially sets out the Crown’s case, it is not, nor does it purport to be, a full and exhaustive pleading of that case.”

Thus if the full pleadings were not in court papers, how else can the AG then remain informed of the non-pleaded aspects of the case outlined in court if she were to remain in Accra and communicate with her colleagues in the UK?

For those whose argument against the trip is based on cost, we’d ask them to come again. Within a week the AG did whatever she needed to do and returned. How sure can we be that e-mail exchanges or other forms of communication with the British SFO would have been equally effective if the AG had remained in Accra?

Besides, who says personal contacts and in-depth background info on how the UK officials went about their evidence gathering process did not lead to her arriving at a better judgement of the issue in her advice to the President?

If the argument against her going to the UK is because of the cost involved as some have suggested, isn’t it baffling that those who make this argument also insist at the same time that she should have gone with officials of CHRAJ. Would the presence of CHRAJ officials also not have added to the cost then?

This is why we disagree with some of these criticisms against Mills’ decision. Our only point of disagreement with the President is his earlier request that the AG should investigate the case. We knew beforehand that this was a no-go area. After all the A-G had herself told Ghanaians weeks earlier in a rejoinder to a Chronicle story which labelled her “Betty Plunker” that she does not investigate cases but advise on them when dockets are brought before her office.

We were therefore not surprised when the President woke up to this reality and directed that the docket be handed over to CHRAJ for proper investigation. We can only hope the President helps CHRAJ to arrive at the truth, nothing but the truth.

Some have, however, asked what the presidency would do about Kwame Peprah and Mr Baba Kamara?

Our simple response: What do those people expect Mills to do? And why don’t those who ask these questions add Mrs Rawlings to the equation since she was also mentioned in the same scheme of things Messrs Peprah and Kamara were cited.

The truth is that there is nothing the President can do about these three because the SFO report did not indict them as much as it did the allegedly bribed officials.

Indeed in the case of Mr Kamara, the SFO itself admitted that its inferences from an ‘internal memo’ by a Director of M&J that he may have been poached to be an agent because of his political clout and alleged ability to attract business corruptly were issues that M&J contested.

In other words, M&J did not confess to these as in the case of the other bribed Ghanaian officials. On the contrary, M&J, the prosecutors themselves said, insisted that the SFO was wrong in its inferences.

Better still for Kamara, no evidence was led by the SFO in its case against him, Peprah and Mrs. Rawlings to back their inferences, thus leaving those allegations with nothing to back them up unlike in the case against the two ministers and former officials where account transfer details, etc., were provided.

Since President Mills cannot be reasonably expected to manufacture the evidence even the SFO could not get to nail Kamara, it is reasonable that he should be allowed to take up his job as a diplomat, unless he himself does not want to.

Same goes for former Finance Minister Mr. Kwame Peprah and former First Lady Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings, who were described as Chairman and members respectively of the “powerful NDC Finance Committee”. Besides the factual inaccuracies of their membership of the Finance Committee – Peprah was never the Chairman and Mrs. Rawlings never a member of the official NDC Finance Committee – the duo would not have committed a crime even if they were members. Unless the SFO makes available incriminating evidence against these personalities, we can chose to suspect them all we want but we cannot have any serious, legitimate basis to ask them to step out. The foundation for such a request is seriously weak.

As the Akans say, “nipa ye adie osa ayeyie”. For now we’ve got to admit the President has played the right game and behaved in the right way on this issue. We can only say ayekoo to him and hope that he stays the path and does nothing to undermine the CHRAJ probe behind the scenes. After all, his former ministers would have the right to defend themselves in the public space before CHRAJ. And if push comes to shove and they are found guilty, the fact of their indictment can only be used in questioning the President judgment in the selection of these men and not to personally indict him. His defence however lies in the fact that as a human society there will always be alleged cases of corruption among us. The trick is therefore not the fact that it may come up; the question is how we deal with it as a society determines whether we are serious about addressing it.

On this score, the President has passed the test, even if he mishandled the case of his former Youth and Sports Minister, Alhaji Mohammed Mubarak Muntaka. That, however, is another case for another day.


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