Mills & The Woyome Opportunity!

The gargantuan amounts involved in judgment debts aside, the sustained newsworthiness of the Woyome affair through acts of omission and commission by various stakeholders of diverse motivations, ostensibly lends credence to how generally scandal-starved the Mills administration appears to have been over three years.

Pending a final determination by the Courts of its fraudulent nature or otherwise, I’d rather refer to the matter of the payment of GH₵M 51 to Mr Alfred Agbesi Woyome under interesting circumstances as the Woyome affair.

Looked at within the context of the power relations and future power aspirations of the various political players – especially with an impending presidential and parliamentary election in 2012, the management of the Woyome affair from the outset has clear political and legal dimensions. This after all is payment sanctioned by a court of competent jurisdiction with troubling red flags along the way.

Clearly, the NDC party —government position is split on this matter. Should Woyome be protected as a so called party financier? Or should we follow the President’s lead in letting the law take its course? While at it, others have freely flown the tribal card – unwisely portraying this as a betrayal of one tribe by the other and a jostle for internal party control.

Fundamentally however, is Woyome NDC or NPP and should it matter what he is? The former question of course is predicated on his apparent generosity to both sides of the political divide. Even while describing him as NDC; have we not heard him in the same breath described as a big NPP party financier in the Volta region in the days of yore? To my mind therefore, Woyome is perhaps only an astute Ghanaian businessman (or financial engineer if you will!) cast in the ilk of the man on the street whose rush for all party-branded T shirts is no indication of his voting preferences.

It is just another T—shirt! It is just another contract!

The latter question is much more easily answered; corruption should not be tolerated, whatever its political or tribal colors are. That is the way forward for the government and for the country.

Secondly, that there would be test cases of corruption in any government is hardly novel. What would be more striking to observers would be how this President, any President, would handle this and other such matters so as to leave no doubt as to his commitment to operate a true zero-tolerance for corruption. To this extent, I keenly watch to see if President Mills uses this Woyome affair to distinguish himself or whether he will end up like some of his predecessors with a halo of complicity in corruption-tolerance around his neck with dire political repercussions.

So far, the President has in my view shown absolutely no indication of a disposition to cover up. Rather, he appears to have reinforced his reputation as a calm and deliberate operator who is grinding on using due processes. The question however as to how Mills can manage this matter so as to leave his reputation and administration intact remains and in my opinion, he ought to be ruthless in dealing with the complicit officials and as a desired outcome, in using legal processes to recover the money.

Similarly, dealing with corruption should not be time bound. If there remain elements of the Woyome affair grounded in the pre Mills era, by all means, let us dig into it and not allow the obvious discomfort of people who conveniently talk about post 2008 payments but operate a see no evil pre 2009 Woyometrics to blind us.

I also take the view that what has happened is a reflection of a political, legal and social system that we have in place and till we take the path that enables us to robustly tackle that system, Woyome will come and go as will the NDC government but unfortunately, the system that made the Woyome affair possible would remain intact. To this extent, it would be my recommendation that the circumstances surrounding all judgment debts paid since 1992 ought to be investigated. It is indeed entirely possible that on our blind side, this has become the legitimized means of milking the state with the stamp of the Court. I am seriously tempted to believe that some have strategically studied and exploited the processes leading to judgment debts as the new legal corruption conveniently prosecuted through an unsuspecting court. I am also tempted to believe that every case of judgment debt has a long list of beneficiaries in the public service as facilitators. If effective 2009 alone, over 600 billion Ghana cedis could have been paid in such judgment debts, then one can imagine what must have gone on in the past.

According to Mr. Pratt, this particular Woyome case was a random picking by the Auditor General. If that is so, then it is even more imperative that we do a thorough job answering questions about how previous debts have been occasioned and honored.

The complexity of the affair is further heightened by its legal dimensions and my own ignorance. Did Woyome walk to the Castle with a sizable “Ghana Must Go” bag and a short gun to claim his money from protesting officials? Whether rightly or wrongly, did he not use the very law courts to secure the judgment debt? So today when the state accuses him of fraud, how does the state intend to prosecute him on this charge without first setting aside the original remedies granted him by the Courts?

Secondly, the ability of the Mills government to lose cases in court has over three years assumed legendary proportions. A former foreign affairs minister accused of complicity in some rice importation affair, financial engineering in the Ghana @ 50 celebrations resulting in the construction of invisible toilets on the highways, the alleged murderers of the Ya Na have all walked free in court. These have happened under circumstances that are either traceable to incompetence, sabotage, true absence of a strong prosecutor’s case or cleverer defense attorneys more adept at utilizing legal technicalities to untangle their clients.

I wonder; if the outcomes we see are a product of the interplay of factors and existing processes and not necessarily the commitment or otherwise of the President to fight corruption ruthlessly, what is the guarantee that in the prosecution of the Woyome case, the handling and outcome would be any different and especially if an already effective well lubricated judgment debt cartel exists? What prevents Woyome’s lawyers from deploying the same legal remedies that freed others accused of corruption and even murder from freeing his own good self? And when that happens, will it be a reflection of government’s commitment or otherwise or a reflection of an unaccountable system that allows a man claiming money from government to give a generous gift to the wife of the prosecutor who then decides that government has no case leading to a hefty default judgment debt?!

What is unmistakable is that beyond the legal shenanigans, Mills’s opponents have and will continue to find this a very welcome scandal in an election year. But the President has an opportunity to use this as a good scandal to demonstrate resoluteness in the anticorruption fight and by so doing further enhance his own reputation and secure the national cause.

Woyome is either a scandal or an opportunity. It really is up to President Mills to make of it what he wills.

Sodzi Sodzi-Tettey
www.sodzisodzi.com