If you have not read the Joe Ghartey committee report, please find time and read it. The findings of the committee clearly show that at some point in time money indeed changed hands. What was however missing in the report was the committee’s inability to reveal the source of the money.
The committee failed to do this because of the way the terms of reference was framed. Like someone said, the committee deliberately insulated parliament to avoid credibility crisis. But any discerning Ghanaian who reads the report would come to conclusion that the entire investigation was not just a charade but an inquisitorial system put together to achieve a premeditated goal.
In short, the committee was only interested in establishing whether Mr Agyarko gave money to Hon Osei Owusu to be shared to minority MPs on the Appointments Committee using Hon Muntaka Mubarak. And this was easily done by casually asking the witnesses whether they have any evidence to suggest that Mr Agyarko gave money to Hon Osei Owusu to be shared to the minority MPs.
The committee relied heavily on corroborative evidence instead of material evidence to arrive at its conclusion. Hon Mahama Ayariga maintained from the inception of this allegation that he never dealt with Hon Osei Owusu. He was consistent with his account that the money was shared by Hon Muntaka who later confessed that the money came from Mr Agyarko.
So to ask Hon Ayariga to prove that Mr Agyarko gave money to Joe Osei Owusu in order to establish a case of bribery is like asking Satan to confirm if indeed the Holy Ghost impregnated Mary. It is practically impossible to ask Hon Ayariga prove that Mr Agyarko gave money to Hon Osei Owusu when the man had told you that he never dealt with Hon Osei Owusu.
The committee’s conclusion that Mr Agyarko did not give money to Hon Osei Owusu to be shared to the MPs was based on the fact that Mr Agyarko, Hon Muntaka and Hon Osei Owusu all denied the allegation. In the wisdom of the committee, a mere denial is enough to extricate an accused person from any wrongdoing. I have comb all the legal principles on evidence, but I am yet to come across a principle which provides that accused persons maybe acquitted and/or discharged, in this case exonerated, on the basis of mere denial. If that was the case, then the many criminals who have been convicted over the years would have been acquitted because only a few of them “plead guilty” after swearing with the Bible, Quran or the cross.
But some of these points are just peripherals. The account of Mr Agyarko itself was enough evidence to prove that money indeed played a role in his approval. According to the report, Mr Agyarko was at the Flag Staff House waiting to be sworn in when the Speaker of Parliament called him to a meeting (conclave) to settle the differences the minority had with him.
This meeting was attended by the leadership of the majority and minority together with minority MPs on the Appointments Committee. At this meeting, the minority agreed to recommend Mr Agyarko for approval by consensus. It was after this meeting that the plenary approved Mr Agyarko, and in the evening of his approval, he was sworn in by the President.
What is intriguing about this narrative by Mr Boakye Agyarko is the fact that, at a time he was not even recommended for approval, he was patiently waiting at the Flag Staff House to be sworn in. Note that before the conclave, Hon Ayariga had already confirmed media reports that there was attempt to bribe them.
Before the conclave, Mr Agyarko had met Hon Osei Owusu in his office earlier in the day on the orders of the Speaker of Parliament who, according to the report, tasked both leadership of the majority and minority, to ensure there was consensus on Mr Agyarko’s approval.
Why would Mr Agyarko be waiting to be sworn in as Minister if he had not been assured that he would be recommended for approval the same day? Before a Minister designate is sworn in, the decision of Parliament of his approval would have been committed to the President who will in turn inform the nominee of his swearing in. But as at the time Mr Agyarko was waiting at the Flag Staff House to be sworn in, Parliament had not communicated their approval of him to the presidency. So who in Parliament assured him that he would be approved at all cost and that he should dress in his usual three-piece suit and bowtie to the Flag Staff House to be sworn in?
Mr Agyarko and indeed, the committee, have put out forceful arguments that Mr Agyarko could not have bribed the minority MPs because he could have been approved without them. The committee also made the argument that reports of committees of parliament are not binding on the plenary so even if the committee had decided not to recommend Mr Agyarko, the plenary could have taken contrary decision.
On the strength of this, Hon Joe Ghartey and his colleagues concluded that it would be senseless for Mr Agyarko to bribe the minority MPs in order to be recommended for approval. But the account of Hon Joe Osei Owusu, which is captured in the report, defeats this argument.
According to the report, when the minority kicked against Mr Agyarko’s approval, the Speaker of Parliament asked the leadership of the House to meet and deal with the issue to ensure there was consensus. The report added that leadership met several times on the matter until a consensus was reached at a meeting that led to Mr Agyarko’s recommendation by consensus.
The report also quoted Mr Agyarko to have said that it was the Speaker who called to inform him (Agyarko) that the minority had kicked against his recommendation and that he should meet Hon Osei Owusu in his office on the matter.
Why would the Speaker of Parliament be directly involved in this? The Speaker is the leader of the House, but he is not a secretary to the Appointments Committee to be conveying decisions of the committee to nominees who appear before it. Why didn’t Joe Osei Owusu or clerk to the committee inform Mr Agyarko about this development but the Speaker? Why did the Speaker of Parliament task leadership to ensure there was consensus on Mr Agyarko’s approval since NPP MPs on the committee could have recommended Mr Agyarko’s approval without the support of the minority? The decision to get the minority MPs on the committee to agree on Mr Agyarko’s recommendation for approval by plenary was what could have led to the bribery as was alleged.
Because there was no sense in forcing a group of people who have kicked against the recommendation of a nominee to rescind their decision on the same nominee they had kicked against his recommendation. In the past, several nominees have been recommended for approval by majority decision so why was the Speaker of Parliament keen on ensuring Mr Agyarko was recommended by consensus?
The committee, for strange reasons, believed the accounts of Mr Agyarko and Hons Muntaka and Joe Osei Owusu, but doubted the accounts of Hons Ayariga and Okudzeto. In any trial or public inquiry, the credibility of a witness is crucial. A witness who gives conflicting or contradictory account of the same event cannot be trusted as an honest witness.
The committee’s report quoted Hons Osei Owusu and Muntaka to have given different accounts of the same event. Hon Osei Owusu told the committee that at the conclave, Hon Ablakwa said the bribery allegation was to equalize corruption allegation made against President Mahama. But a publication on myjoyonline tendered in evidence quoted the same Hon Joe Osei Owusu to have said it was Hon Ayariga who made the “equalization” claim. In fact, the committee itself stated that Hon Joe Osei Owusu lied when he alleged that Hon Ablakwa said the allegation was to equalize corruption claims against President Mahama.
Before the same committee, Hon Muntaka gave different accounts on how he reacted to the bribery allegation. He stated in his memoranda that Joy Fm called him to respond to the allegation on their newsfile program and he obliged. But in his oral submission before the committee, Hon Muntaka said he called into the newsfile program to debunk the allegation. Note that Hon Muntaka stated in his memoranda that he declined several media interviews on the matter when it first broke but spoke on newsfile which was hosted by a man who later represented him at the Joe Ghartey committee hearing as his lawyer.
Clearly, Hons Muntaka and Osei Owusu cannot be considered as credible witnesses whose accounts on the bribery allegation must be swallowed as incontrovertible facts as against the accounts of Hons Ayariga and Ablakwa. Witnesses who can say different things of the same event have the penchant of spinning anything. They cannot be trusted to give factual account of events. But they were those the Joe Ghartey committee said spoke the truth.
Let’s turn to another interesting portion of the committee’s work. The committee stated that they received memoranda from Hon Ablakwa in which he stated, inter alia, that two MPs confronted Hon Muntaka when the allegation stated making waves and he confirmed that the money came from Mr Agyarko.
The committee rubbished this account on the basis that Hon Ablakwa failed to name the two MPs. The committee described the two MPs as “mystery MPs”. Meanwhile, Hon Ablakwa stated in his memoranda that he could provide the names of the two MPs if the committee needed it. But the committee was not interested in knowing their identity and what they have to say so it described them as “mystery MPs”.
Wouldn’t it have been helpful if a committee constituted to find facts to be interested in hearing from the two MPs even if it has to subpoena them? The committee said Hon Ablakwa did not provide the identity of the two MPs so that stopped them from inviting them.
But read at what a committee that was interested in knowing the identity of witnesses before it invites them said when Hon Ablakwa recommended that Hon Nii Lante be invited to corroborate his account that he returned his money to Hon Muntaka in his office. According to the committee it issued a notice inviting members of the Appointments Committee with information on the allegation to submit memoranda to the committee and since Nii Lante did not exercise that right, the committee presumed that he had nothing useful to say.
So what would the committee have done differently if Hon Ablakwa had named the two MPs in his memoranda? The committee’s preoccupation was to hurriedly finish it work instead of “spending time” to call all witnesses; even it had to subpoena them, to establish the fact of the case as it was tasked to do. Reading the report, it is also undisputed that the committee was only interested in hearing from the “main witnesses” who either denied the allegation or confirmed it.
No committee interested in establishing fact will issue a lame fatwa that if you have information about an issue under investigating, the only way your version of the case would be considered is by memoranda. So at the end of the day, if nobody submitted memoranda to the committee, all that it would rely on are the same allegations and denials of the main witnesses to arrive at its conclusion.
Hon Ablakwa also referred the committee to a CCTV footage which he said, would show him and others returning the said bribe money to Hon Muntaka in his office. This alone should have formed the basis of establishing whether money changed hands or not. But again, the Joe Ghartey Committee was interested in corroborative evidence other than material evidence contained on CCTV footage.
Strangely, the committee did not say anything about what they saw after watching the CCTV footage, except to say that they interviewed three persons in order to be abreast with the workings of the CCTV. According to the committee, the evidence of those in charge of the CCTV did not change their conclusion that the bribery allegation was false.
Note that Hon Ablakwa in his memoranda did not ask the committee to interview those in charge of the CCTV. He was very specific. He told the committee to get the footage of a specific date and time. But the committee after watching the footage decided to interview people. Whatever the committee was seeking to achieve by interviewing the people, only Hon Joe Ghartey and his committee members can tell.
The committee has concluded that the CCTV footage would not be shown to the public because it will compromise the security of parliament. This explanation is not so convincing. No right thinking person will buy into this puny explanation. Anybody who knows the workings of CCTV knows that showing that footage will not in anywhere comprise the security of parliament.
Ghanaians would have taken the Joe Ghartey committee’s explanation on the CCTV footage serious if the committee had said it would expose MPs who took the money quietly but later queued embarrassingly to return it after the “alarm blow” courtesy Hon Ayariga and his colleagues.
Another fascinating thing about the report is the committee’s findings based on which a contempt charge was slapped on Hon Ayariga. According to the report, Hon Ayariga was not the originator of the bribery allegation; rather he only confirmed what Radio Gold had earlier reported. Meanwhile, the same report quoted Hon Ayariga to have repeated the allegation on other radio stations and even before the committee.
Interestingly, the committee was not interested in knowing where Radio Gold heard what it called rumor before Hon Ayariga supposedly corroborated it. The committee was also not interested in hearing from Sammy Ablordepey who reported the news on Radio Gold, except to accept Hon Osei Owusu’s account that the reporter was not a member of the Parliamentary Press Corp. Do you have to be a member of the Parliamentary Press Corp to report on happenings in parliament?
If the committee claims Hon Ayariga was the person who corroborated the supposed rumor, what about Hon Okudzeto Ablakwa and Alhassan Suhuyini who also joined Hon Ayariga to say that, indeed money was given and the said money allegedly originated from Mr Agyarko? If Hon Ayariga would be punished for confirming a rumor, what about the originator of the rumor? Why didn’t the committee put the originator to strict proof? The remaining issues will be treated in the PART TWO of this piece!
By Amos Blessing Amorse