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31.05.2006 General News

Minister Vetted Behind Closed Doors


The Appointments Committee of Parliament Tuesday held a public hearing on the first batch of Ministers-designate for various positions. They were, Joe Ghartey for the position of Attorney General & Minister for Justice, Alhaji Mustapha Ali Idris, for the Northern Region, Gloria Akuffo as the Minister for Aviation.

However, that of Francis Kwaku Poku, for the position of National Security, was in camera.

Ironically, NDC members of the vetting committee were later heard on air disclosing some of the details of the behind-closed door's vetting. For example, John Mahama's problem was that Mr Poku had said at the vetting that part of his task was to “demystify” the state security apparatus. This, the MP for Bole-Bamboi thought could have been further advanced if the vetting was also in public.

The Minority Leader also said on Citi FM in the evening that it was not usual for these hearings to be done behind closed doors.

In support of that, Condoleeza Rice's appointment as National Security Advisor in the United States was done openly.

However, the precedent set by Totobi Quakye in Ghana is for the Minister of National Security to be vetted in camera.

Besides, before his nomination as Minister, Mr Poku served as National Security Co-ordinator for five years and, according to our sources, a lot of the questions posed to him were about his role in the last five years, a role considered highly sensitive.

Moreover, The Statesman can confirm that on Tuesday May 23, the Select Committee on Intelligence of the United States Senate voted to recommend the nomination of Lt Gen Michael Hayden as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. This was a closed door session, too.

Sources say questions to Mr Poku went as far back as 1975 and his role as one of the interrogators of the eight suspects in the one-man-one-hatchet coup conspiracy led by Capt Kojo Tsikata. He showed records of that trial, which included a mini trial in June 1976, where it was held that the accused persons were not tortured, as maintained by Capt Tsikata, and that the confessions made by them were admissible.

The Judge Advocate was Justice Sarkodie, who was later abducted and murdered along with two other judges and a retired army officer in June 1982.

Mr Poku, one of the main men credited for the growing confidence in Ghana's democracy, peace and security, was also asked about the arms that were apparently imported by National Security and deposited temporarily at Australian House some three years ago. He is said to have told the committee that the National Security set up has a constitutional duty to uphold the security of the country and when arms are imported by it legitimately he cannot have any problem with that and neither should anyone else.

He was also asked about the tapping of telephones. To which our sources say he responded that his NDC predecessor had purchased some phone tapping equipment, which under the NPP, his outfit has not found the reason to put to use. He, however, added that even if they were to resort to phone-tapping they would do the right thing by applying for a court order.

When he was asked about his role as a Minister, he referred the committee to Act 562, the Security & Intelligence Agencies Act, which he said was what defined his role, and his duty was to act in its accordance.

Mr Poku was born in 1941, and is married with six children. He has a BA (Hons) degree in French from the University of Ghana At Tuesday's vetting, the hearing, which commenced at 11:30am, saw the Minority Leader, Alban Bagbin, asking nominees who are yet to appear before the committee, not to be part of the proceedings prior to their appearance.

However, the Minister for Water Resources, Works and Housing, Hackman Owusu Agyemang, intervened, by arguing it was a public hearing and nominees could have their loved ones come in to show them solidarity. Mr. Owusu-Agyemang therefore noted he did not see any benefit of that suggestion, more importantly because it was also being telecast live. He also said if there was any change of rule of procedures, it should have been discussed earlier.

Mr Ghartey, who was the first to appear before the committee, responded to a question on what he would do to ensure that the 'Cocoa Affairs' courts premises is ready to be used. He told the committee that when the mishap occurred he contacted the Chief Justice and both of them immediately identified some courts that could be used in the interim as justice delayed is generally seen as justice denied. He informed the Committee that plans were underway to build an edifice to make all Ghanaians proud.

On what he will do about rape and defilement cases when given the nod, he took the opportunity to tell the Committee that during the past few weeks he acted in the position, he was surprised to find that sixty to seventy percent of the cases brought before him were that of traffic accidents. Touching further on the question, he said the issue of handling rape cases has to do more with transforming the Prosecution Department of the Attorney General's Office to enable it face the challenges involved in the cases. By this, he meant the employment of efficient Lawyers who are well equipped with resources.

Answering questions on whether his relatively young years at the bar would pose a hindrance for him, Mr. Ghartey said that his eighteen years of experience at the bar was enough to help him excel. He also told the Committee that with his personality as somebody who gives people due respect, he could comfortably discharge his duties, saying, “if a child knows how to wash his hands he can conveniently dine with adults”.

He stated that there was the need to have a critical look at the country's sentencing policy, if there is going to be any progress in decongesting the country's prisons as it had come to his notice that some of the inmates live in very dehumanising conditions. “Some of the inmates live in conditions animals would not even live in”.

When quizzed on whether the death sentence should be maintained, he responded that it should be expunged.

Mr Ghartey, who is also MP for Essikado/Ketan, was born in 1961. He is married with five children and is a Christian. He also has a number of publications to his name, some of which are, The Right to Free Expression in Ghana and Doing Business and Investment in Ghana among others.

Alhaji Mustapha Idris, who was the second to appear before the Committee, stated that a lot has been put into the prevalent peace in the Northern Region and assured the Committee that he would not let the efforts go to waste. “Give me the North, and I will not fail you”, he pleaded.

Responding to a question on what strategies he was going to put in place to ensure effective utilisation of resources for the North, he explained that the size of the region has been an issue that has attracted a lot of misgivings with some people proposing that it should be split into two or three regions. He said much as he agrees with such suggestions, ethnic groupings must be considered as well.

Concerning the 'Kayayo' phenomena, Alhaji Idris noted he was very saddened by that and thought a lot more needed to be done to attract the 'Kayayei', particularly to agriculture. “We should device a quota system in the tractors that are coming and make sure they go to where they are needed most”, he explained. He also told the Committee that Government would soon come out with youth employment policies which if done well, can go to alleviate the problem. When questioned on whether the Millennium Challenge Account allocation to the North was enough, he said it was not and would want to appeal to the Committee in charge to consider doing something about it. “I intend to make strong proposals but would need facts and figures from the district assemblies to buttress what I would be saying”.

When asked what he would do to market the smocks of the Northern Region both locally and internationally, he responded that he would bring the weavers together in order to make them more effective.

Alhaji Mustapha Idris was born in 1955, is married and is a Moslem. He is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ghana Education Trust Fund. His hobbies are reading magazines and soccer.

The third to appear at the hearing was Gloria Akuffo. Asked as to what experiences she had acquired having served as a Deputy Attorney General, she answered that she believed she was better placed to deal with human beings. Gloria Akuffo is a single parent of two and was born in 1954. She is a Christian and has dancing, playing squash, watching boxing and football as her hobbies.

Wednesday, the next second batch of nominees to be vetted would be Emmanuel Asamoah Owusu-Ansah for the Ashanti Region, Kwadjo Adjei Darko for the Presidency, Nana Ato Arthur for the Central Region and Oboshie Sai-Cofie as the Minister designate for Information and National Orientation.