In the past, some people appeared at the Vetting Committee of parliament and they were asked to recite the national anthem and national pledge. The questions were deemed legitimate and relevant. We praised the persons who asked the questions and described them as geniuses.
In August 2012, when Vice-President of the Republic of Ghana, Mr. Kwesi Bekoe Amissah Arthur, appeared before the Vetting Committee of parliament, the Member of Parliament for Bekwai, Joe Osei-Owusu, relying on media reports that the man was gay confronted him with the question. He was not condemned, despite the fact that the Vice President was married and lived with his wife, and the media reports did not have any evidence. Joe Osei-Wusu knew all of these but he went ahead to ask the question.
Fast forward to 2016, and Joe Osei-Wusu is the chairman of the vetting committee of parliament.
The MP for Tamale North, Alhassan Suhuyini, wants to know why he should not be worried that the Minister for Finance-designate, Ken Ofori-Atta, has interests in an offshore company. Offshore companies and dealings are not criminal or illegal according to our laws. But they are avenues for the perpetuation of financial crimes such as money laundering or tax avoidance among others.
In 2016, when the Panama Papers scandal rocked the world, it was all about the revelation of people with offshore interests. Elsewhere, it led to serious issues and the United Kingdom, in particular, took steps to ensure transparency in the business interests of their citizens.
In Iceland, the Prime Minister was forced to resign. So why would anybody have issues with Alhassan Suhuyini asking this question? But the Chairman of the Committee disallowed the question, and the deputy majority leader, Adjoa Safo, screamed at Suhuyini like her house help.
When Suhuyini asked a question the following, which the majority leader, Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu, thought was problematic, he said among other things that “You are a new member…” What does being a new member got to do with his right to ask questions? Was he not elected by his constituents like any other parliamentatian?
The bullying of Suhuyini reached its climax when the Minister Designate for Energy, Boakye Agyarko, appeared before the vetting committee.
Boakye Agyarko, had prior to joining the Nana Akufo-Addo campaign in 2007 worked as a Senior official in the Bank of New York. Alhassan Suhuyini gave a background of the fraudulent case involving the Bank and demanded from the nominee to assure the house that he was not at all involved in the criminal activity.
He also asked the nominee to furnish the committee with information about how he got the job, what he did at the bank, when he left the bank and why he left the bank.
The Chairman overruled the question but the nominee said he would answer. He confirmed that the criminal activity happened and officials of the bank were prosecuted. He added that the criminal activity never happened in the Bank of New York branch where he was Vice President but rather in another branch of the bank outside the jurisdiction of New York. He said at no point did his name come up for investigation in the said criminal matter.
After that response, the Chairman of the Committee pointed out to Suhuyini to stop questions of that nature. Mr. Suhuyini did not take kindly to that and said he felt he was not being treated fairly at the committee. He was denied the opportunity to ask two other questions because of his intervention. He has been widely criticised by many, including the leadership of his side in parliament.
I find the attacks unwarranted and hypocritical. When the majority leader, Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu, was asked on Joy FM why similar or worse questions were allowed in the past without any fuss, he said it was due to the discretion of the chairman at the time. Interestingly, the person who asked the married Vice President about allegations of homosexuality against him was the same person who ruled out Suhuyini’s question about the Finiance Minister’s offshore business interests.
And Osei Kyie Mensah-Bonsu, who in the past told the Chairman of the Committee of being “whimsical and capricious” in the manner in which he exercised discretion, is today defending the current chairman against Suhuyini. “If two courts rule differently on the same matter, do you call that inconsistency?” he asked Kojo Yankson on the Super Morning Show.
Alhassan Suhuyini may not have framed his question to Boakye Agyarko well, but it was a legitimate question. If I ever find myself on a vetting committee and someone appears with GYEEDA on their CV, I will ask them the role they played in the GYEEDA scandal. It will be their responsibility to say whether or not they were involved, or that in the region they operated from, the GYEEDA scandal did not happen there. End of matter.
Mr. Suhuyini’s question is not as bad as it is made to be. It would have been a different matter if Mr. Agyarko was not there to give his side of the story. After answering the question, there was no doubt on the minds of the audience that he was not involved. So what’s the reason for the continuous crucification of Mr. Suhuyini.
More of Suhuyini’s condemnation, in my view, stems from the dislike for the messenger, and not the message. It may also be for the fact that Suhuyini is young MP who is in parliament for the first time. Last week, when the Senior Minister Designate, Yaw Osafo Maafo, was asked a question about a scandal in a ministry he had headed, his first sentence in response to Samuel Okudjeto Ablakwa was, “Maybe you were too young to know what happened…”
Surprisingly, the committee burst into laughter before the chairman asked him to apologise. A number of young people took to social media to commend Yaw Osafo Maafo for “putting Mr. Ablakwa in his rightful place.” How sad!
Youthfulness is not a crime. Nobody decides when they are born. And the fact that someone enters parliament young or at a later period than others does not diminish their importance or contribution. Nobody is doing the young MPs any favour. They are there on merit. They are not there to serve those who have been there longer than them. If they are wrong, let us tell them why and how they are wrong without making their experience or youthfulness the subject matter.
The size of an animal, our elders say, does not matter. What matters is the taste in its soup. Mark Zuckerberg or Mike Nyinaku of Beige Capital may not be old enough to remember when Osafo Maafo started his exploits. But they are certainly worth enough to change their worlds.
If Haruna Iddrisu, Alban Bagbin, Osei Kyei Mensah-Bonsu or any of the old MPs had asked all of Suhuyini’s questions the same way he framed them, we would not be condemning them like we are doing to him. The older MPs on the vetting committee have the luxury of even making silly comments and jokes and their colleagues laugh over them. So why the highhandedness on the likes of Suhuyini? Unfortunately, it appears the leadership of the Minority, which should be defending the new entrants against bullying, has taken sides with the bullies against their own.
But they should not give up. They should learn their lessons and polish their acts. They should not conform to the culture of our republic, which teaches us that the older person is always right and you don’t challenge an elderly person. Being assertive and standing for their right is not arrogance. It is not disrespect.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni is a Broadcast Journalist with Joy 99.7 FM. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org