The revelation that President John Mahama received a Ford Expedition vehicle estimated to cost $60,000 from a Burkinabe contractor, Djibril Kanazoe, has provoked a firestorm of controversy and outrage in a section of the public.
Opposition political parties have been very emphatic that the gift amounts to a bribe, with some of them threatening to impose legal costs on the president.
The most vocal of the parties, the Progressive People’s Party (PPP), has already called on the president to submit to a probe which it says would allow for a full public disclosure on the circumstances that led to the award of two contracts to the Burkina Faso contractor.
The party, which is led by Dr papa Kwesi Nduom, had earlier called on the president to offer an apology to the people of Ghana for, according to it, bringing shame and embarrassment to the country.
The PPP has also announced that it would petition the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) over President Mahama’s conduct.
This, the party says, is because the president’s receipt of the car contravenes portions of the 1992 Constitution which calls on public officials to desist from taking gifts which could influence their decisions.
The New Patriotic Party (NPP) Member of Parliament for Manhyia South, Dr Mathew Opoku-Prempeh, also accused President Mahama of bringing his office into disrepute.
He said the gift was a bribe which succeeded in compromising the president to facilitate the award of two contracts to Mr Kanazoe.
“If it walks like a duck, it barks like a duck and talks like a duck, then it is a duck”, Dr Opoku-Prempeh said, adding: “If within a matter of a year after the relationship blossoms and he has since received two contracts then it amounts to a conflict of interest.”
One of the fiercest criticisms of the president has come from Mr Cameron Duodu, a veteran journalist, who stated in a strongly-worded opinion piece that President Mahama already knew that the the gift was a bribe.
“There is a well-known regulation that governs the receipt, by officials, of gifts given to them by individuals and companies. The regulation limits the value of gifts that can be legitimately received. That limit is way-way below the value of the car which President Mahama received from the Burkina Faso businessman,” he stated.
On social media, criticism of the president is continuing, with the hashtag #FordMahama trending.
Despite the widespread condemnation of the president, a section of the public is also of the view that the gift was not a bribe.
The editor-in-chief of the New Crusading Guide, Mr Abdul Malik Kweku Baako, said on Accra-based Joy FM that the it could not have been a bribe.
He said if the contractor had intended to bribe the President, he would not have used official channels to make the transfer.
Mr Baako said there would also not have been documentation covering the transfer of the vehicle and detailing who the sender and receiver were.
He stressed that no rational being would document an act of bribery.
Mr Baako might have been referencing a letter dated October 29, 2012 and signed by the head of chancery at the Ghana Embassy in Burkina Faso, Maxwell Nyarko-Lartey, for the Head of Mission, which asked border authorities at Paga to ensure that the vehicle transits the border smoothly.
“I have been directed to inform you that the Ghana Mission in Ouagadougou is assisting with the Transportation of a gift donated to His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, President of the Republic of Ghana by Mr. Djibril Kanazoe, a renowned Contractor in Burkina Faso. The said gift is a Ford Expedition with engine No. E173A1905101 and Chassis No. 1FMJUIJ58AEB748.
I am to request the competent Ghanaian Boarder Authorities at the Paga Border to kindly assist with the passage of the said vehicle and those transporting it without any let or hindrance. I wish to take this opportunity on behalf of his Excellency the Ambassador to express the Mission’s appreciation in anticipation of your kind cooperation,” excerpts of the letter read.
He added that the vehicle in question was not being used for the president's personal comfort and that it had been added to the pool of vehicles at the Flagstaff House.
For his part, the managing editor of the Insight newspaper, Kwesi Pratt Jnr, dismissed assertions that President Mahama compromised his integrity by accepting the car.
“I find it very surprising when I hear people talking about bribe as in the case of the president. In fact, I see nothing wrong with the gift to the president because he is entitled and allowed to accept gifts or whatsoever. Why is it possible that anybody at all can receive gifts and not the president”, he said.
The National Democratic Congress (NDC) Member of Parliament (MP) for the South Tongu Constituency, Kobla Mensah Woyome, also rejected claims of bribery.
“Don’t be surprised tomorrow you will hear all kinds of things been thrown out at our president just like what they started by saying a gift has turned into a bribe. You can only talk about bribe when the person who is giving out the thing knows that that thing is going to influence the person’s decision in getting something in return. The President was not in any position to give out anything,” he said.
The Minister of Communications, Edward Omane-Boamah, has also moved to deny claims that President Mahama facilitated the award of two contracts to the Burkinabe contractor.
He said on Accra-based Joy FM over the weekend that the president was vice-president when the first $650,000 contract was awarded and that he did not influence the process in any way.
Dr Boamah said the second 25 million euros contract was subject to an international competitive bidding that the president could not have influenced.
“My president, your president, our presidential is incorruptible,” he stressed.