The Joe Ghartey Committee that investigated allegations of bribery against members of Parliament’s Appointment Committee has launched a spirited defence of the outcome of its work following widespread criticism.
The committee is insisting it had the authority to find Bawku Central MP Mahama Ayariga guilty of contempt and that its decision not to disclose details of what it found after assessing some CCTV surveillance footage in parliament does not mean its findings are compromised.
Speaker of Parliament Prof. Mike Ocquaye set up the committee in January after Mr Ayariga alleged that then Energy Minister Designate Boakye Agyarko attempted to bribe Minority MPs on Parliament’s Appointment Committee with 3000 cedis each to facilitate his approval through the Chairman of the committee Joseph Osei-Owusu and Minority Chief Whip Muntaka Mubarak. The terms of reference of the committee were to:
(a) Establishing whether money was taken by First Deputy Speaker Joe Osei Owusu from Energy Minister Boakye Agyarko and given to Minority Chief Whip Mohammed Muntaka to be distributed to members of Appointment Committee.(b) Establish whether there were attempts to bribe members of Parliament's Appointments Committee and(c) Look into the remits and complaints and assertions made by the deputy Speaker Joe Osei Owusu on the matter.
Reading out findings of the committee’s work on Thursday night during a tensed parliamentary session, chairman of the five-member committee Joe Ghartey said: “Mr Ayariga failed to prove that indeed Hon Boakye Agyarko gave money to Hon Joseph Osei-Owusu to be distributed to members of the Appointment Committee with a view to bribe them.”
The committee also said: “it came to a firm conclusion that Mr Ayayriga is in contempt of parliament on the strength of Article 122 of the 1992 constitution, Section 32 of the Parliament Act, 1965 (Act 300) and Orders 28 and 30 (2) of the Standing Orders of Parliament.”
The committee, therefore, recommended that Mr Ayariga should be reprimanded by the speaker and that he offers an apology as well for the comment.
In response, NDC MP for North Tongu Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa told Joy news the committee overstepped its boundaries when it proceeded to slap sanctions and to recommend that Mr Ayariga be held in contempt of Parliament. Mr. Ayariga himself has also challenged the outcome of the committee’s work claiming it was a fact-finding committee and did not have the right to come up with sanctions.
But a member of the Joe Ghartey Committee and MP for Offinso South Ben Abdallah Bandah disagrees.
He told Joy news’ Joseph Opoku Gakpo in an interview their authority which allowed it to find Mr. Ayariga guilty of contempt stems from its third mandate as spelt out by the speaker.
“If you read the third term of reference, it says: ‘to look into the complaint made by the First Deputy Speaker.’ The complaint by Hon Osei Owusu was that his reputation had been damaged by the said bribery allegation. If you publish falsehood against an MP and at the end of the day an investigation establish that the allegation cannot be sustained in fact or in law, then you will be deemed to have committed contempt of parliament and that was the finding that we came up with. And so there was nothing that we did that was outside our scope,” he explained.
He added: “If you read the standing orders of Parliament, it says a committee could investigate other matters ancillary to the substantive matter… and we didn’t do anything that was outside the instructions given to the committee…. the bottom line here is that somebody’s reputation has been injured and the remedy is what we recommended.”
Mr. Abdallah Bandah who is also chairman of Parliament’s Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee additionally dismissed calls for some other independent state institution like the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) to investigate the matter.
“Parliament is an independent arm of government just as the Judiciary. When the Anas Aremeyaw Anas judiciary investigative issue came up, did we say that an independent body should investigate the matter,” he quizzed.
Mr. Ayariga on the floor of parliament also raised issues with why the committee used criminal standards to establish whether the bribe was taken but failed to give him the opportunity to cross-examine the witness as would pertain during normal criminal court proceedings.
But Mr. Abadallah says it was an available opportunity Mr. Ayariga failed to take up.
“He could have prayed the committee to cross-examine the witnesses. We could have given him the opportunity to do it. He had every right to have communicated his intentions to have Hon. Muntaka recalled for him to do cross examination but he didn’t avail himself of that opportunity. So who do you blame? You can’t blame us,” he said.
There has also been controversy over the committee’s decision not to make public what it found when it examined CCTV surveillance footage in parliament. MP for North Tongu Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa wrote to the committee asking it to examine the said footages and it will be clear some MPs went to the Minority Chief Whip’s office to deliver the money. The committee’s report said it had given transcripts on evidence on that to the speaker because putting it out will compromise the security of parliament.
Quizzed on what committee members found after examining the said footages, Mr. Abdallah said: “We didn’t see anything. He gave us a lead and when we followed the lead, we did not get the evidence that we wanted. So the lead did not help us.”
He added: “To the extent that the CCTV camera borders on the security of parliament, there are certain things I cannot reveal to the hearing of the public… There is nothing significant to be hidden but the bottom line is that when we went to watch the CCTV footage, we didn’t see anything; so it didn’t help us.”
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