First Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Ebo Barton-Odro, has further thrown spanner in the efforts at retrieving the GH¢51.2 million paid to National Democratic Congress (NDC) financier, Afred Agbesi Woyome, insisting that the government does not have a good case against the embattled businessman.
Mr. Barton-Odro, who took part in the alleged fraudulent payment of the GH¢51.2 million which the State later said was a mistake, strenuously defended the payment to Mr. Woyome, attracting calls for his resignation.
Not even a Supreme Court ruling that Mr. Woyome should refund the entire amount would deter the First Deputy Speaker and a former Deputy Attorney General in his defence of the self-confessed NDC bankroller.
On the morning of July 29, 2014, before the Supreme Court delivered its verdict ordering Mr. Woyome to return the controversial GH¢51.2 million judgment debt which the State claims he ‘fraudulently’ fleeced from it around 2011, Mr. Barton-Odro was heard on a local radio station in Cape Coast repeating that the State had no case against Mr. Woyome.
This was at a time the State had even instituted a criminal case against Mr. Woyome for fraudulently receiving the money.
The Communications Team of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the Central Region and some other critics stated that Ebo Barton Odro’s insistent in shielding Mr. Woyome made him unfit to occupy the position of a Deputy Speaker of Parliament and therefore he must quit.
Ghana’s local chapter of anti-graft body, Transparency International (TI), also said Mr. Barton-Odro ‘must resign’.
Executive Director of the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), Vitus Azeem, said on Tuesday that the former Deputy Attorney General need not wait for a public debate over his comment before deciding to voluntarily resign, especially, when the Supreme Court had ruled that Mr Woyome did not deserve the GH¢51.2million.
Mr Azeem insisted Mr Barton-Odro could not continue to be in office when he still thinks the State had no case against Alfred Woyome who was illegally paid an amount of GH¢51million in judgment debt.
“It is a case of conflict of interest. He should resign,” Azeem told Joy Fm.
In the recorded radio interview, Mr. Barton-Odro stated, ‘I gave that opinion and I still stand by it. If you ask me a 100 times, I will say that as far as that particular case was concerned, government’s case was not good.’
He added, ‘You don’t need to be a lawyer to see that once there is an agreement [about the schedule of payment prescribed by the default judgment], you don’t have a good case going back to court to set aside that judgment. I don’t think you need any legal training to give that kind of opinion.’
Joe Osei-Owusu, Member of Parliament (MP) for Bekwai and a member of the Constitutional Legal Committee in Parliament described Barton-Odro’s position as ‘scandalous’.
Mr Osei-Owusu, a lawyer by profession, noted that the comments, coming at the time the case was still pending before the Lord Justices of the Supreme Court as well as the one at the High Court, were prejudicial.
Mr Barton-Odro was the Deputy Attorney General between 2009 and January 2013 when the judgment debt was alleged to have been engineered with the consent of the then Attorney General, Betty Mould-Iddrisu.
However, it was unclear if Mr. Odro still stands by his conviction particularly after the Supreme Court’s verdict on Mr. Woyome on July 29.
On Tuesday, the embattled Deputy Speaker virtually refused to answer calls from the media, prompting a text message from DAILY GUIDE which read: ‘…you have been quoted insisting the State had no case against Mr. Woyome. Do you still stand by this opinion after the July 29 Supreme Court verdict? Your quick response will be appreciated…’ As at press time, he had not responded.
Mr. Barton-Odro’s latest predicament was a resonance of similar agitations in 2012 for his resignation following his statements about his dogged views of Mr. Woyome being deserving of the whopping judgment debt that caused massive public uproar.
When the scandal broke in 2011 and the public called for the Attorney General (AG) to retrieve the GH¢51.2 million paid to Mr. Woyome under curious circumstances between 2010 and 2011, Mr Barton-Odro surprised everybody by stating that Ghana had a bad case against Mr Woyome.
Since then, several critics and civil society groups had called for him to be relieved of his position.
Civil society groups, like the Alliance for Accountable Governance (AFAG), recently called for the head of the embattled Deputy Attorney General because they were of the opinion that he used his position at the AG to work against the interest of the country.
During his stint as the Deputy Attorney General, Ebo Barton-Odro was perhaps the public officer whose loyalty to his office had been the most widely questioned.
By Raphael Ofori-Adeniran
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