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Ghana's president and the $100,000 Burkinabe car gift controversy

Ghana's president and the $100,000 Burkinabe car gift controversy

Ghana

The thin line between a gift and a bribe: that is the situation Ghana’s president finds himself after receiving a ‘gift’ of a Ford Expedition from a Burkinabe contractor but for the main opposition NPP, the president has proven he is corrupt. This piece looks at the issue, what Ghana’s laws says, vis-a-vis the upcoming elections.

With barely five and half months to crucial general elections, the president of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama is entangled in a scandal dating back to 2012 where he is reported to have received a gift of a vehicle valued at $100,000 from a Burkinabe contractor.

A government statement issued by the Communications Minister, Edward Omane Boamah, did not deny the president received the gift but said the gift was put into a pool of vehicles at the presidency.

Any human being would have encountered corruption in one way or the other. What you need to do is to put yourself in a position to (resist it).

Adding that the said gift in no way influenced the decision taken by government to award subsequent contracts to the contractor in question.

The contractor, Mr. Djibril Kanazoe according to local media reports has won three contracts awarded by the Ghana government, one of the contracts being the $650,000 wall around the Ghana embassy in Burkina Faso. He also worked on European Union funded road project that cost some £25 million, a project the president opened few months back.

A journalist with local news network, Joy FM, travelled to Burkina to investigate the case. After initial denials that he (Kanazoe) had given the president the said gift, he beat a retreat when confronted with an appreciation letter written by the Ghana Embassy to Kanazoe acknowledging receipt of the car. The contractor further confirmed to the journalist that the president had called him to thank him.

Renowned lawyer says ‘president breached the law’

Speaking on the issue, a renowned lawyer and criminologist, Prof Ken Attafuah said the president could not be extricated from a scandal averring that his (the president’s) action was a “palpable violation” of the code of conduct governing public officers.

He said while the story in and of itself cannot be the basis of a corrupt tag on the president, it is incontrovertible that the president breached the law and code of conduct in accepting the vehicle.

Article 284 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana states, “A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts or is likely to conflict with the performance of the functions of his office.”

So what does Ghana’s Constitution says?

Why President Mahama may have erred in allegedly accepting gift Article 284 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana states that, “A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts or is likely to conflict with the performance of the functions of his office.”

This constitutional provision informed a new bill, Conduct of Public Officers Bill, 2013, presented by cabinet to Parliament.

According to Section 21 (b) a public officer may not “ accept a gift, favour or an advantage that has the potential to influence the proper discharge of the public officer’s functions or judgment, from a person with whom the public officer comes into contact in relation to the public officer’s functions.”

Minority mull impeachment

Despite the Government having rejected rejected allegations of any wrongdoing by President Mahama, the Minority in Parliament has hinted of an impeachment process against the President for wrongful conduct.

According to the Minority Spokesperson on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Joe Osei-Owusu, the gift was everything but a bribe to influence the President to give out juicy deals to the said contractor, citing a conflict of interest.

Some legal luminaries have averred to the fact that the action of the president could be enough grounds for impeachment processes to be instituted against Mahama.

Upcoming elections and corruption

The country known for its stable democratic credentials head to the polls in November and the current president and the ruling party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) would be facing the main opposition New Patriotic Party, in a keen contest.

Among the key issues that are being debated strongly are the power crisis in the country which is adversely affecting households and businesses, issue of corruption and also youth employment.

The last elections in 2012 ended up in the country’s Supreme Court after the opposition alleged malpractices, the court’s panel ruled that the president was validly elected but requested the Electoral Commission to undertake massive reforms to make its processes more transparent and credible.

In an interview with the BBC on the sidelines of the recently held anti-corruption summit in London, President Mahama said, “Any human being would have encountered corruption in one way or the other. What you need to do is to put yourself in a position to (resist it).”

On the specific question of whether he had ever taken a bribe before, the President answered in the negative, “I haven’t taken a bribe.”