Constitutional lawyer, Prof Kofi Quashigah, has noted that the decision of Parliament to take another look at the case involving the acquisition of tractors by the outgoing Presidential Spokesperson, Mr Mahama Ayariga, does not offend the Constitution but it can affect public confidence in the work of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).
The case has already been dealt with by CHRAJ, which cleared Mr Ayariga, as well as the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Kwesi Ahwoi, of the charge of abuse of office. But while vetting Mr Ayariga for appointment as Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, Parliament indicated that it would revisit the matter.
Responding to the legal issues this raises, Prof Quashigah, who is the Dean of the Faculty of Law of the University of Ghana, Legon, pointed out that the Constitution gave Parliament oversight functions over CHRAJ, for which reason an investigation into an area that had already been dealt with by CHRAJ was not wrong in principle.
His concern, however, was that Parliament needed to endeavour to build public trust in fragile constitutional bodies such as CHRAJ and thereby deepen our democratic culture.
He said Parliament's investigation could result in new evidence or none at all, either way, it could make the public have little confidence in the work of CHRAJ or even end up in the public perceiving Parliament as not being non-partisan on national issues.
He said although provisions in Article 103 (3) of the Constitution mandated committees of Parliament to undertake their own investigations of activities, that had to be done while ensuring the building of public trust in constitutional bodies such as CHRAJ, particularly when it had already concluded similar investigations.
The Progressive Nationalists Forum, a non-profit advocacy group, petitioned CHRAJ on September 25,2009, alleging acts of abuse of office and conflict of interest against the two government officials on the sale of some tractors which they claimed were for use by underprivileged farmers in the country.
They asked for a full enquiry into the sale and allocation of the tractors to Mr Ayariga and other reliefs.
In arriving at its decision, CHRAJ summarised the basic facts of the case and issues to be determined.
These were that Mr Ayariga, in May 2009, acquired five new tractors from the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) with the approval of the Minister, Mr Ahwoi.
The issues for determination were whether the five tractors and their accessories acquired by the second respondent were meant to be sold at wholly subsidized prices to underprivileged farmers, whether Mr Ayariga purchased the five tractors, whether he satisfied the conditions of the purchase and whether Mr Ahwoi acted in a proper and lawful manner in approving the acquisition.
In reaching a decision, CHRAJ evaluated the responses of the respondents to the allegations, subpoenaed for all documentation on the Japanese Grant Assistance for Underprivileged Farmers Project and Agricultural Mechanisation Centre Schemes (AMSEC), the two projects governing the concession, and interviewed parties for clarification of issues.
It ruled that overwhelming evidence from documentation examined showed that MOFA allocated the tractors to a host of individuals, including a significant number of politicians across the political divide.
It pointed out that the ability to pay for the cost of the tractors, which, though subsidised, was beyond the means of underprivileged farmers, and the ability of those who acquired them to extend the services to underprivileged farmers were key considerations in the allocation.
Evidence also attested to the fact that Mr Ayariga purchased the tractors and appropriately satisfied the conditions of purchase, while all conditions of AMSEC were duly complied with.
In its recommendations, CHRAJ tasked MOFA to give optimum priority to the monitoring of all its mechanisation centres established under AMSEC, asked Mr Ayariga to complete the processes for Yapalsi Farms Limited, the incorporated entity to take over the management of the Bawku Tractor Service Initiative, the mechanization centre.
Source: Daily Graphic /Ghana
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