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The Woyome affair, a teaching moment

E. Ablorh-Odjidja

 

Faced with a massive fraud case such as Woyome-gate, it is now up to us to come up with strategies to fight off future corruption attempts. This is no time to find means for eventual jailbreak for presumed culprits.

The recent report on Woyome-gate, from the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO), should not be an excuse for watering down the seriousness of this crime against Ghana. But, already, one could sense a trend toward this direction with the various interpretations given to the report by some writers.

For doubters and enablers of Woyome, there must be one question to ask now before anything else: Did Woyome have or not have a contract with the state?

The former NPP government, in this particular case, said Woyome had no contract with the state. Rather, it was Waterville, a foreign company, that was bidding for the contract.

 

The implication for defense for Woyome, the purported Ghanaian businessman, could be that he was the agent for Waterville. Even so, he would still not have a claim against the state of Ghana since his claim should be directed against Waterville.

To Woyome’s credit he did not argue publicly that he personally had a contract with the state, under the administration of the previous NPP government, the EOCO report said.

Yet, curiously, he had in a law suit claimed a default judgment against the state on the same case and for the courts to order the huge payment (GHC 51 million) to him under the very nose of the NDC administration of which he was supposed to have been a financial supporter!

The perplexing point is no official, prior to the payment of this default judgment, sensed a fraudulent mission on the part of Woyome. We cannot describe this official neglect as the work of legal dunces. Dunces they were not. This must lead us to suspect that the fraud that resulted in the payment was hatched or was a conspiracy.

The then Attorney General, Mrs. Betty Mould-Iddrisu, was described in the EOCO report to have undertaken “all the negotiations….. (and) also the person who, as the Attorney General, should have made sure that the suit in court was defended.”

As it turned out, Mrs. Mould-Iddrisu did not defend the state because the AG Department claimed the government had no case and therefore did not have a defense!

The EOCO report further stated that “there were however enough grounds to defend the action but this was not done.” This conclusion was arrived at because the EOCO found enough evidence in the Attorney General case files that pointed to the fact that Woyome, himself, could not defend his claim as was presented to the AG department!

With regard to Woyome, the EOCO report stated that “he put in a claim which by his own documentary submissions he was not entitled to. He manipulated documents and information and riding on the negligence (and/or complicity) of public officials, managed to receive money which he was clearly not entitled to.

“As said above, it has been detected from his bank statement that he made a payment of an amount of GHC 400,000.00 to Mrs. Gifty Nerquaye-Tetteh” (wife of Mr. Samuel Nerquaye Tetteh, the Chief State Prosecutor from the AG’s office) on June 16, 2011.

The lesson so far is the nature of the process by which an individual, perhaps in collusion with powerful agents of government, hijacked critical institutions of state, the Courts and the Bank of Ghana, to commit fraud on the state itself.

So far, we know the total amount involved in the fraudulent act and the loss to the state. But the cost should not be limited only to the amount paid to Woyome and his cronies.

We should also expect another huge loss from another direction: The cost to come in the form of diminished trust in our central bank, The Ghana Bank, by foreign entities for gross failure in its fiduciary responsibility to the state.

This case is the worse in our history. By its very nature, if allowed to continue, it could be a very dangerous drive towards the destruction of our sovereignty. Rapid escalation in its corruptive audacity could end in the sale of the entire real estate of Ghana.

 

If at this point we are still not aware of the culprits or the entire gang involved in this gargantuan fraud, we should at least be conscious that something of this nature could happen again, and therefore, move to find means to prevent or limit its occurrence.


This danger, therefore, begs for a constitutional amendment to check its growth. The amendment should allow the following proposals:

a) That the president should be limited to one, six-year term, in office.
b) That any party in government adjudged corrupt on a grand scale (e.g., Woyome-gate) should be banned from participating in public elections for the next ten years and its officers barred from holding public offices for the same reason and length of time.

This is not to be seen as a drive against one political party. It must affect all parties that seek the political power to govern.

Part A limits the president’s appetite for political power beyond the one six-year term allowed. Since the president has only one term he will have no obligation for excessive cultivation and corruption of the partisan base to remain in power. He will have nothing to lose. In the event of such massive corruption within his party, he can go against his own base and expose the crime, especially if such crime threatens his legacy. Should he fail to do so, he would have by that act of omission handed his successor a political bonanza and the power to go after him and his party.

Part B describes the consequence for a political party in power that attempts to game the system for benefit. Officials and members of the party in government will not stand by idle to see a president or some ministers in their midst wreck their party’s future chances for power by indulging in rampant corruption in the present. A ten year threat of suspension from power will be enough to make members sober and vigilant about corruption within their ranks.

Many attempts have been made in the past to arrest corruption – coups, mass executions, elections – only to arrive at Woyome-gate. We must learn our lessons and move for an amendment of the constitution to curtail corruption.

Apart from Woyome-gate being highly appalling, it carries an elevated risk for the future because of the manner the default judgment was granted.

The process was easy: An Attorney General who claimed non-defense by the state, a judge who overlooked the serious lack of merit in the plaintiff's case, and a Finance Minister and state bank officials that refused to fight for the fiduciary interest of the state.

Despite its obvious ease and invitation for copy cats, the good part is this type of fraud requires collusion of a massive scale. This alone should make it possible for a willing public to detect. The bad part is the Ghanaian public has always had an adoring mind for the criminal. They tend to see them as Robin Hoods.

Should the public be able to overcome this hero worship for criminals, it could in such cases become the whistleblower on crimes such as Woyome-gate and call for prompt investigations.

Parliament and not the government in power should then appoint the commissioners to investigate the purported crime. This commission, like our elections, should be open to outside independent observers.

 

E. Ablorh-Odjidja,Publsiher www.ghanadot.com, Washington, DC, February 15, 2012


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