So, Parliament itself approved judgement debt payments?

Friday, November 30, 2012

The public anger aroused by the Woyome judgement debt payment scandal hasn’t yet evaporated. It might not still be the dominant topical issue, but it has already been so heavily politicized against the NDC and its government as to suggest that the electorate will punish President Mahama for not retrieving the over 51 million Cedis paid to Woyome.

To many Ghanaians, no amount of official explanation or the ebb and flow of proceedings at the court trying Woyome will solve the problem. Even if the government succeeds in retrieving that money from Woyome, it appears the harm that has been done its reputation cannot be easily undone.

That is why little public interest has been aroused in the appointment of Justice Yaw Appau as the Sole Commissioner of Judgement Debts by President Mahama. He is tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding the payment of judgement debts and to submit a report to the government for action in a year’s time.

President Mahama may be attempting to assuage public fears, doubts, and suspicions; but his efforts in this case aren’t given much thought by the public. It seems the horses have already run out of the stable before the President’s attempt to close the stable doors.

So deeply has this Woyome scandal sunk into our national politics that public assessment of governance cannot be complete without any reference to it.

Some are already so heavily prejudiced against Woyome that they have no room in their minds for anything that might jolt them out of that state or to change their minds. They won’t easily be persuaded that the Woyome case is just one out of the numerous that have already eaten deep into our national coffers as a result of loopholes in the system.

But the real nub lies elsewhere. Should the NDC government be solely culpable for the judgement debt problem?

Here is a new twist to the matter that should excite public interest. Enoch Himas Cobbinah, the Chief Director of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MoFEP), has revealed that Ghana’s Parliament knows and approves the payment of judgement debts!

Testifying at a public hearing conducted by the Sole Commissioner on judgment debts in Accra on Wednesday, Cobbinah tendered documents relating to payments made between 1994 and 2008 and from 2009 to 2012 and explained that the MoFEP sanctions payments based on judgment debt estimates in the national budget approved by Parliament.

Asked whether payments were ever rendered without recourse to the ministry, he said that the ministry only effects payments sanctioned by Parliament.

This is the first time that I have heard the involvement of Parliament in this conundrum; and it raises many questions: Have the payments been sanctioned by Parliament itself? If so, how come that Kennedy Agyapong and all the NPP MPs who mounted roof-tops to blow the whistle shrill on the Woyome case didn’t know of their own involvement in the scandal?

Cobbinah’s claims have opened a can of worms. I am waiting impatiently for Parliament itself or an MP to step forward and debunk this claim by the Ministry official—to prove that Parliament is not complicit in the judgement debt problem. We need answers to unasked but obvious questions concerning the integrity of Parliament on this score.

We see an intricate procedure for the payment of judgement debts, beginning from the corridor of Parliament and meandering its way through the Accountant-General’s Department, the Auditor-Genera’s Department, the Solicitor-General at the Attorney General’s Department, and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning before ending in the lining of the pockets of beneficiaries.

It’s not just a matter of a simple collusion between one prospective beneficiary and an official or two. As Cobbinah explained, “Requests for the payment of debts as a result of court actions are often made to MoFEP from ministries, departments and agencies (MMDAs) and MoFEP only approves payments after an initial scrutiny of the sincerity of supporting documents” (Myjoyonline, November 29, 2012).

Even then, it is undeniable that there is too much dishonesty, filth, and evil-warranted intentions in the affairs of our public officials. For if, indeed, the judgement debts are being paid with the express knowledge, approval, and authority of Parliament, why should some Parliamentarians come out to divulge the payment of Woyome alone for it to be so deeply factored into the partisan politics that has been stretched to its seams so far?

Did the NPP’s Kennedy Agyapong not know that the payment made to Woyome was nothing out of the blues and that it had Parliamentary approval? Or that it was just one of the numerous payments that had been made since the institutionalization of judgement debts in 1992?

A larger question is: Why did the payment of judgement debts begin from 1992? What had been the situation until that time? Did the preceding governments pay any judgement debt at all? If they didn’t, why did Rawlings’ PNDC institutionalize it for it to be sustained by Kufuor and Mills?

And to top it all, we are being told that the outstanding judgment debts and compensation owed by the state to beneficiaries currently amount to GHc158.269, which will be paid as soon as the green is given by the authorities connected with this judgement debt payment scheme!

Given the alarming dimensions assumed by the judgement debt saga—especially against the background of the political spins put on it since it became clear that Woyome was a financier of the NDC—it can’t be ruled out that the judgement debt payment has become the goose laying the golden egg for some unscrupulous people with political connections.

That’s the conclusion many have drawn, using the breaking of this Woyome case as a justification. But can it be true that the judgement debts couldn’t have been paid had Parliament itself not authorized them? What is Parliament’s role in this serious matter?

We want to know now so we can take action to purge our country of the undesirables parading themselves in official circles as nation builders!

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