Ayawaso Commission: EC Boss Denies There Were Masked Men At Polling Stations
The Chairperson of the Electoral Commission (EC), Mrs Jean Mensa, took her turn yesterday at the Justice Emile Short Commission of Enquiry probing the Ayawaso West Wuogon by-election shooting incident.
She denied flatly that there were masked men at the polling stations where people cast their ballots. She also denied that there were 15 heavily armed policemen or national security personnel at each of the 137 polling stations during the election.
She said she personally visited some of the polling stations and there were “maximum four to five police officers and personnel of the Ghana Immigration Service at post”, stating emphatically that “I still stand by the reports that we received that there were no masked men at the polling stations.”
The EC Chairman came under baptism of fire as the three-member commission threw several questions at her during yesterday's hearings at the Osu Castle in Accra.
She, however, appeared calm and on top of affairs as she responded to the questions, especially the difficult ones from a member of the commission, Prof. Henrietta Mensah Bonsu.
She maintained the EC's earlier position on the shooting incident which allegedly occurred at the residence of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) parliamentary candidate for the race, Delali Kwasi Brempong, and the atmosphere at the various polling stations on January 31, 2019.
The chairman insisted that voting at the polling stations was largely peaceful except for a 'little panic' caused at the La-Bawaleshie School Polling Station where she said voting was disrupted for about 45 minutes due to the shooting incident.
The EC boss admitted that voting at La-Bawaleshie polling station was disturbed temporarily because the presiding officer and EC officials there had to rush to protect EC's equipment out of fear caused after hearing of the gunshots.
According to her, the gun shooting incident took place 140 metres away from the La-Bawaleshie polling station.
She said fear-stricken residents around the vicinity also rushed to the polling station for cover and all of that played a role in disrupting the voting process in that area for that period.
No Masked Men
That notwithstanding, the EC boss argued that voting in the rest of the 136 stations was highly peaceful and voters were never terrorized by any masked men as has also been reported.
Mrs. Mensa, former Executive Director of policy analysis think-tank – Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) – contested allegations contained in the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) report that suggested a linkage between the violence that erupted in the constituency and the entire election process, saying the EC had done a thorough investigation.
She insisted that contrary to a CODEO report that a police officer was beaten at the Prisons Polling Station, there was only a disagreement between the officer and a national security staff.
She said the police officer was never assaulted physically as alleged and that the disagreement was over a seating position and there were never physical attacks.
Even though the chairperson denied the allegations, the commission observed a security gap between the EC and the agencies that provide security for the elections, especially in terms of operational planning.
That made Prof. Mensah Bonsu ask the EC boss the kind of advice she would offer if she was told national security was going to undertake an operation in a residence close to a polling station on an election day.
Mrs. Mensah said the police were capable of handling election related issues and should be made to take control of affairs.
When the Director General of Operations, Deputy Commissioner Of Police (DCOP), George Alexander Mensah, took his turn, he said the operational order from the Greater Accra Regional Command did not include the list of the various agencies that would be deployed during the by-election
“They don't control those operational agencies. It is only the composite operational order from the national headquarters that can involve the various agencies”.
On the contrary, he told the commission that his operational order was meant for the Ghana Police Service which outlined that the police would be working with other security agencies where the other agencies will come under the control of the police since they are assisting with police duties.
“The election taskforce is always headed by a police commander, we have the directors of BNI, we have the military component, the Immigration, National Fire Service, CEPs and all the Security Agencies and the Intelligence Agencies also as part of the taskforce,” he explained.
He also said that he was oblivious of the operations of the national security taskforce on the day of the by-election and also denied that vehicles occupied by the NS operatives belonged to the police.
“The national operation department has never used that kind of vehicle before. Ever since I took over, I had never seen that vehicle at the department.”
He also revealed to the commission that the police did not at any point in time call on the SWAT to assist in main policing.
He disclosed that he heard of the shootout incident after it had happened and could not investigate because the Inspector General of Police (IGP) had set up a committee to investigate that which would normally had been under the purview of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to investigate.
“To the best of my knowledge, the committee the IGP had set up was to investigate all those matters including the assault on the Member of Parliament,” he added.
DCOP Mensah also disclosed to the commission that he had not prepared an 'after action' report after the shooting incident because such a report was to be prepared by the Regional Command and then submitted to the IGP.
“The operation was under direct supervision of the region and they would have to submit the report to that effect and not my department” he said.
He also alluded to the fact that he had not received any official report concerning happenings at the by-election.
He, however, agreed to the fact that NS operatives could consist of police officers who are attached to the agency as there are about 36 officers attached to the National Security in the country.
“Once these people are sent to this unit, we expect the unit commanders to do what is right. And if they are not doing things right, we expect them to write back to the police for appropriate action to be taken.”
Appearing before the commission, the East Legon District Police Commander, DSP George Asare, stated that the firing of gunshots on that fateful day were reportedly by the Security Taskforce.
He said about four to five gunshots were fired in front of the house of the NDC parliamentary candidate and said there were about 20 empty gun shells at the scene per what he saw.
According to him, the whole incident started after the security personnel engaged some persons in front of the NDC candidate's residence and asked them their reason for standing there.
In the course of the interrogation, he claimed that the security personnel attempted to take one of the motorbikes there but the people resisted the attempt.
He told the commission about how out of the seven suspects taken to the East Legon Police Station, two sustained minor injuries.
According to him, the suspects were picked up at the La-Bawaleshie School polling station by the National Security Patrol Team.
He said the suspects were arrested after they were told to leave the polling station but refused and in the process “attacked” the patrol team.
Sitting resumes at 10am on Monday, February 18, 2019.