Friday, February 24, 2012

Ghana's "Woyome-gate" scandal

Trying to keep up with the Woyome scandal that has been front-page news in Accra since the beginning of December is not easy; almost every day new personalities enter the fray of this corruption saga, with little clarity of detail and tremendous amounts of political spin, but well, what does one expect? The legitimacy of President Atta-Mill’s administration has been undermined, and with elections set for the end of this year he is hastily trying to contain what on the face of it appears like a disastrous lack of leadership.

Let us start at the beginning; what exactly is the Woyome saga? In 2009 a businessman and prominent backer of the governing NDC party- Alfred Agbesi Woyome- claimed a ‘judgment debt’ on the government for the illegal cancellation of contracts to build three football stadia. So far so good, as a recent (gated) article in the Africa Confidential reports, judgment debts are somewhat normal practice in Ghana, having cost the government 640 million cedi ($380 mn. USD) over the last three years (I assume this figure does not include Woyome’s case). However, Woyome’s claim and treatment was abnormal on two counts, firstly, his claim was in the region of 51mn cedis ($30 mn.), secondly, the state did not put up a defense for his allegations of illegality, but instead the former Attorney General requested the Finance Minister to release the funds to Woyome. So far little justification has been offered on why the state did not defend the case and the former Attorney General- Betty Mould-Iddrisu- handed in her resignation on 23rd January.

President Atta-Mills’ initial reaction to the scandal was denial of any knowledge that monies had been released. Subsequently, Atta-Mills retracted this and claimed to have tried to stop the transfer to Woyome. Either way (whether oblivious or impotent), things are not looking good for the president who otherwise has sustained a good reputation for curbing corruption and whose government has received much praise for overseeing the adoption of seemingly robust financial management legislation to manage Ghana’s newly incoming oil revenues.

Following this apparent confused state the President has taken more decisive action to get to the bottom of what is now in Ghana popularly called ‘Woyome-gate’ and mandated the Economic and Organised Crime Office to investigate. The EOCO arrested Woyome at the start of February. The saga was a white elephant in the President’s State of the Nation Address to the parliament address early this month, although he claimed to remain “undaunted by attempts to thwart the fight against corruption by legal and technical means.” So far numerous personalities from both the governing NDC and opposition NPP have been ‘exposed’. For more details and to watch the Woyome saga unfold interested readers can refer to the page of and alike, here we seek briefly to understand what the Woyoma saga tell us about institutions in Ghana.

Although corruption is not a word typically associated with Ghanaian politics, relative perhaps to countries such as Kenya and Nigeria, allegations of corruption have locally held much sway in determining electoral outcomes. Many observers cite corruption allegations as a prominent reason why the NPP lost power to the NDC in the 2008 election. The Woyome scandal gives us reason to think that institutions in Ghana are getting stronger. For example, it was the scrutiny by the parliamentary Public Accounts committee of the Auditor General’s report that led to the airing of the whole affair. That the government have been exposed in this way will provide a strong incentive for the future line-by-line scrutinising by the opposition (whether NDC or NPP) of the Auditor’s General report, and will sustain pressure for timely presentation of these reports, which is the past were running roughly five years behind. Overall, Ghana’s Woyome-gate is evidence of increased horizontal accountability in Ghana’s democracy.

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