Ayariga Goes Gaga With Coughs & Jokes

The flagbearer of the People’s National Convention (PNC), Hassan Ayariga, made a mess of himself at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) presidential debate as he was struck with uncontrollable bouts of coughs, which analysts believe were not genuine. Mr. Ayariga’s coughs during the second edition of the IEA debate held for the four presidential candidates with representation in Parliament yesterday evening at the Banquet Hall, State House were mostly disruptive and distracted the flow of proceedings during the debate. Curiously, Mr. Ayariga’s explosive coughs only got the better of him when the presidential candidate of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, took his turn to respond to questions from the moderators of the debate, raising questions about the genuineness of his alleged sickness. This sent wild speculations about the curious coincidence of Mr. Ayariga’s malaise, particularly when it became apparent that whenever he had the chance, he took on the NPP flagbearer. Instead of talking about what he would do when elected as president, Mr. Ayariga continuously sang the tune of the ruling National Democratic Congress as if the PNC did not have any policy to pursue. The PNC candidate took issues with the NPP’s free SHS policy and had protested earlier that he was not going to participate in the debate because he was sick. Eventually, the debate was rescheduled, after which Mr. Ayariga agreed to rescind his decision to boycott the debate. Woyome Pops Up Despite the intermittent disruptions, the IEA debate took an interesting turn when the question of corruption was tabled. The four debaters agreed that institutional strengthening would be needed in solving the corruption menace. The NPP’s Nana Akufo-Addo cited the infamous Alfred Agbesi Woyome’s GH¢52million judgment debt scandal as a classic example of officially sanctioned corruption. President John Dramani Mahama of the NDC was not amused by this reference, stating that anybody alleging corruption should be prepared to prove it. “We must not just rumour corruption,” he charged. He said the issue was about who cancelled the contract leading to the debt and not who had made payment but Nana Akufo-Addo rebutted and said that Ghanaians should be interested in what he called “frivolous payments.” This stance however contradicts what his party promised in 2008. His predecessor, the late John Evans Atta Mills, told the electorate that if the NDC was voted into power that year, a mere allegation of corruption would be immediately investigated. John Mills was reacting to the NPP’s stance that allegation of corruption should be properly proved before it was investigated as popularly stated by the then President John Agyekum Kufuor. The first point of the usual face-off between the NPP and NDC was realized when this topic was being discussed; President Mahama would rather have the issue of the Woyome scandal tackled from the point when the contract was purportedly cancelled by the NPP government. “What causes judgment debt is what we should be tackling.” According to Kofi Bentil, an Executive Director of popular think-tank IMANI Ghana, “The Woyome case is not about judgment debt, it is about proper fraud.” Indeed, Mr. Woyome himself has admitted that he did not have a valid contract with the government, hence raising questions about the basis of referring to the Woyome saga as a judgment debt. Nana Akufo Addo completely disagreed with President Mahama’s stance that allegation of corruption of the Woyome scandal should be proved beyond all reasonable doubt. He described the Woyome judgment debt as “dubious.” Ghana has dragged Mr. Woyome to court on charges that he fraudulently fleeced the government of the whopping judgment debt. “We have had a series of events that have alarmed our nation, most of course are these very famous dubious judgment debts that have been paid out in the last few years. Large sums of money, payment of which are very questionable and whose basis many people in Ghana question as an example of high level corruption,” stated Akufo-Addo. According to the PNC candidate, tackling such dubious payment would require measures that would discourage public officials from taking advantage of the judgment debt incidence. The Organisation This is the third time the IEA has organised the presidential debates for contestants in the December elections-two for presidential candidates and one for their running mates. The format was basically the same. There were little changes though in the last round where the contestants were made to sit down instead of standing for the four-hour duration of the programme. The event was characterised by the usual long preludes to the actual debates. The organisers delivered long speeches which usually turned out to be repetitive. The Composure The composure of the presidential candidates was almost the same as the first time they appeared on the IEA platform. They exhibited a mix of emotions including composures betraying anxiety and a sense of heightened anticipation. This was expressed in several ways: President Mahama, Dr Abu Sakara of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and Nana Akufo-Addo were generally calm. However, Hassan Ayariga appeared uneasy as he kept fidgeting and moving uneasily in his seat. Mr. Ayariga’s responses drew occasional murmurs and uncontrollable laughter from the guests. When the questions started flying, it became apparent that the candidates of the two major parties-NDC and NPP became the main focus; occasionally, Dr. Sakara’s insightful responses saw a silent approval from the audience.