The recent jail sentence handed former lawmaker for Chiana-Paga, Abuga Pele, for allegedly causing financial loss to the state has prompted “massive” street protests in the Upper East region with the General Secretary of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Johnson Asiedu Nketia, coming under intense fire.
A crowd of constituents, armed with pointed placards, spilled into a highway Sunday in the busy border town of Paga, chanting justice slogans as women wept openly and some angry-looking men could be heard saying the veteran politician had been unfairly reduced from a “statesman” to a “scapegoat”.
“A scapegoat because there are big personalities who squandered monies. We all know for a fact that Humado was indeed the one who signed [those contracts]. And why is Humado roaming? He’s free out there and Abuga Pele is languishing in prison. This is not justice. It is absolutely unacceptable,” ranted Maxwell Akanuwe, Assemblyman for the Longo Electoral Area, at the afternoon rally.
Asked by Starr News the reason she was in tears in the street, an inconsolable woman wearing an islamic veil, Bimata Nurudeen, replied as she held a placard above the milling crowd: “I’m not crying for myself. I’m not crying for Abuga Pele. I’m crying for the orphans in this constituency whose school fees, feeding and hospital bills Abuga Pele was taking care of before February 23, 2018.”
February 23, 2018, is the date an Accra High Court convicted Mr. Pele, who is a former National Coordinator of the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA) now renamed the Youth Employment Agency (YEA), together with Philip Assibit, an industrialist, of wilfully causing financial loss to the state. The two men were passed a combined jail term of 18 years — 6 years for the former legislator and 12 years for Mr. Assibit.
“We are so disappointed in the NDC”— Protesters snarl
Observers say Sunday’s public protests were registered by constituents from the various political shades in a constituency known to be a stronghold of the country’s biggest opposition party today, the NDC, who lost power just 16 months ago.
But the gathering clearly drew more notable faces from the NDC, the party to which Mr. Pele belongs. Those NDC supporters appeared to have been desperately searching for a fitting channel to pour out their venom on some big shots they believed scapegoated Mr. Pele from within the party.
A news conference that climaxed the street protests, held not too far from the road that links Ghana to Burkina Faso, finally gave them that golden chance. And the NDC’s General Secretary was dragged over a bed of burning coals in a coordinated verbal attack.
So much was the wrath that if there had been a statue of Johnson Asiedu Nketia in the constituency, a mob of protesters would have pulled it down in the manner Saddam Hussein’s effigy came down apart after the Battle of Baghdad in 2003.
“We are so disappointed in the NDC because this case started in the NDC regime. They didn’t take the matter serious. Apart from that, during the primaries, some strong people were against him— especially Asiedu Nketia. Those people were even praying that Abuga Pele should be sentenced. They envied him because of his popularity and plotted to bring him down,” fumed Sulemana B. Kukuje, an old member of the umbrella party.
In the words of Karim Kumoriwo, another elderly staunch NDC constituent, Mr. Pele’s problems began when he became “the right-hand man” of the late President John Evans Atta Mills. Abuga, he said, was being groomed as a presidential candidate by Mills until the Mahama Administration took over following Mills’s death in 2012.
“When Atta Mills was out, things started to change. The Mahama Administration sidelined Abuga Pele. That is where Abuga Pele’s problems started. If you had a bag and you didn’t like it and you dumped it in a dustbin and Zoomlion came and picked the bag and burnt it, would you blame Zoomlion? You wouldn’t blame Zoomlion. You should blame yourself because you put your bag in the dustbin.
“It was NDC who put Abuga Pele inside the dustbin. So, if NPP government came and burnt Abuga Pele, it’s not their fault. We are in a dilemma as to whether we should support the NDC again in this constituency,” explained Mr. Kumoriwo as an enraged woman shouted in the background, “No, it’s over for the NDC in Chiana-Paga!”
Why Protesters believe Abuga Pele is Innocent
The Sunday’s sun was so frying mobile phones were shutting down on their own at the rally ground. The red bands on the heads of the protesters dripped freely with warm sweat like heavy raindrops from eaves that are very steep.
If even old men and women were spotted in the gathering, carrying placards which some used to block the blazing sun from microwaving their already-wrinkled faces, the irrepressible zeal displayed for “justice” by the heartbroken youths as they paid no attention to the wrathful sun is, perhaps, needless to say.
The only moment they took shelter from the sun was when time was due for a 3-page press statement to be delivered at the news conference. The statement, read by Donald Tumyeridam, highlighted some reasons the protesters, who identified themselves as “The People of Chiana-Paga”, are of a strong conviction that Abuga Pele deserves an acquittal, not a verdict.
“The then sector minister, Clement Kofi Humado, gave a ceiling to Honourable Abuga Pele as to how much he could authorise for disbursement, not exceeding Gh¢20,000. What baffles us is how an amount of 4.1 million Ghana cedis could be released without recourse to the directives of the same minister and the procurement procedure as required by law.
“In his handover notes, Honourable Abuga Pele wrote that some of the contracts were not going to inure to the benefit of the nation and, so, such contracts should be cancelled. Abuga Pele’s resistance was to prevent the state from losing so much money. However, Clement Kofi Humado paid no heed and went ahead and signed the contracts. Rather interestingly today, the advocate of such an excellent idea is languishing in prison whilst the [wrongdoers are] walking freely,” the statement said.
Whilst making it known at the presser that Abuga Pele’s sympathisers would initiate a court appeal anytime soon against the verdict, the protesters also appealed to President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to “take a relook into the case to help settle the misdemeanour that has characterised this very case”.
“The judge made it clear that Honourable Abuga Pele never benefited from any of the payments, meaning he did not steal anything from the state, but was rather reckless in signing the document. We want to see the full contract document, those who were involved in the payment and signing, starting from the Finance Minister to the Auditor General, the sector minister and all those who played leading roles in the payment of the money to the Goodwill International Group (GIG).
“Until this is done, we will believe that in the court of the fowls, the cockroaches have no say. We the people of Chiana-Paga believe that the law should not be wielded as a big stick by powerful invisible hands to pummel the weak ones. The conviction of Honourable Abuga Pele, notwithstanding the compelling evidence exonerating him, clearly confirms the selective justice system in the country. We believe that selective justice is injustice. We must say that we believe in the fair-minded judges of our country and trust that the impartial panel that will sit on the appeal will, indeed, show that our justice system still carries a lot of credibility,” the disappointed constituents affirmed in that press statement.
Military deal: Bring the supposed agreement I signed to Parliament – Hanna Tetteh
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs in the erstwhile NDC administration has challenged the Minister of Defense, Dominic Nitiwul to also present to the august house of parliament the previous Ghana-US defence deal she is supposed to have signed for scrutiny as they have done with the new deal.
This she says will make it easier for the honourable members to do a comparison between the two agreements and also help the minister substantiate his point.
In an interview with Gold Power Drive host, Hanna Tetteh said, “I think that from the statements being made by officials of the NPP government, it is clear that this a new agreement. When you are signing a new agreement, it means that any provision you are unhappy with in the previous agreement you have the ability to renegotiate them. So this business of saying that whatever it is that they are bringing to parliament is as a result of things that were done by the previous government, it is just simply trying to pass the back and not taking responsibility for what they themselves have negotiated”.
“When I sign any agreement on behalf of another ministry and in this case the Ministry of Defense, it is not the case it is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that has negotiated the agreement. The implementing ministry will be the ministry that takes responsibility for negotiating the details and because it is a country to country agreement, it is the reason why it will be signed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs even if the implementing ministry is a different ministry. So this is not an agreement that was negotiated by me as minister of Foreign Affairs, it was signed by me on behalf of the Government Of Ghana and in this particular instance the Ministry of Defense” she explained.
She has also suggested that to make the matter clear and for the purposes of informing the Ghanaian public, the NPP government should make public the agreement that was signed by the previous NDC administration and also explain how that agreement commits the government to continue doing certain things today because she doesn’t believe that is the case.
“I read every agreement before I signed it and I don’t believe in my recollection that I signed any agreement committed Ghana to anything beyond the duration of that particular agreement. You sign an agreement and beyond a point it elapses and after that point, the obligations also elapse and you go ahead negotiate a new one and that is what they have done and this what they are now bringing to parliament for ratification. I haven’t seen that particular agreement that is been discussed because at the moment I was not in Ghana but I want to make it clear that there is nothing in the previous agreement that commits Ghana to the present agreement and if the minister wants to make that clear he should make available copies of that agreement” she pointed out.
20-year-old RTI Bill likely to be laid in Parliament today
The two decades old Right To Information (RTI) Bill is likely to be laid in Parliament today, Friday, March 23, 2018, following Cabinet consideration Thursday night.
The passage of the Bill will, however, have to wait until at least June this year.
Civil Society Groups including the RTI coalition stepped up pressure after President Akufo Addo’s independence day speech in which he committed to have the Bill presented to Parliament before it rises today, Friday.
It has been 22 years since the first Right to Information RTI Bill was drafted under the auspices of the Institute of Economic Affairs, IEA.
Also, it is 16 years since the Executive arm of government in 2002 drafted the first RTI Bill. The draft Executive Bill was subsequently reviewed in 2003, 2005 and 2007 but was never laid in Parliament until February 5, 2010.
Government is under massive pressure to get the bill laid before parliament rises on Friday, March 23 following fears that the government was deliberately delaying the process.
“The Majority Leader, Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu expects the Communications Committee of Parliament to study and consult widely on the Bill during Parliament’s recess to enable speedy work when the House reconvenes in May.
“This is not a Bill that can be considered under a certificate of urgency and be completed in one day. So the import of introducing it in Parliament will be for the Committee to be seized of it so that they can take it home during the recess and do the necessary consultation and report back to us mid-May. So that when we come back mid-May into when we shall adjourn again which will be July ending, we would have dealt with it.
” If the coast is clear sign is given, it will have to go to the Assembly press for gazetting, if it does go it can then come back to Parliament which is why I’m telling you it will come to Parliament in that state for it to be referred to the committee.”
Our sovereignty is not for sale – Ablakwa to US Ambassador
The United States Ambassador to Ghana, Robert P. Jackson should not be telling us [Ghana] that $20million in return for the Ghana-US military cooperation was a good return, the Member of Parliament for North Tongu and Minority Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa has said.
According to him, comments by Mr Jackson that Ghana should be grateful for the monetary offer was “very regrettable.”
Based on an earlier memoranda signed in February 1998 and April 2015, the US government has requested for a new defence cooperation with Ghana.
The previous agreements were not known to Ghanaians because they were not taken to Parliament for ratification, even though US military has been in the country under those agreements.
Some variations in the new agreement as compared to the old ones have generated a public debate after it leaked.
The government and the Minority in Parliament have continued to slug it out this week with government justifying the proposed agreement whilst the Minority has called for its immediate withdrawal from Parliament arguing that, it would denigrate the sovereignty and autonomy of the government and the people of Ghana, as well as the laws of the country.
However, in a radio interview on Thursday, the US Ambassador to Ghana suggested that an investment of $20million in the Ghana Armed Forces in one year as part of the Ghana-US defence cooperation was a ‘pretty significant return’ that Ghana ought to be grateful.
But responding, Mr Ablakwa said, “I was disappointed hearing the Ambassador say that. I am unhappy and really depressed hearing that…the Ambassador should not be telling us that $20million is a good return, no!”
“You see, our bilateral relations should go beyond monetary terms, and when the discussion is about sovereignty, it’s about our image, it’s about Ghana’s peace and security, we should not be talking monetary terms,” Mr Ablakwa said in a radio interview with Accra based Joy FM.
The MP questioned: “How much will any country in this world, any country that has patriotic citizens, where they value their nation and respect themselves, will be putting up sovereignty for sale. So it shouldn’t be reduced to a discussion on monetary value.”
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