Ghana: Freedom for radio panellists, electoral reforms played up in Ghana

Accra, Ghana (PANA) – The controversial remission of the sentences of a radio talk show host and two panellists, and electoral reforms announced by the Electoral Commission (EC) to make elections in Ghana credible were some of the stories played up this week in the media.

Known as the “Montie Trio” or "Montie 3" after the radio station, Montie FM, the three men were granted remission of their sentences by President John Dramani Mahama on compassionate grounds following a petition submitted to him by the contemnors appealing to him to exercise his prerogative of mercy, even as they continued to express deep remorse and regret for the unacceptable statements they made against the judiciary.

President Mahama took the decision in consultation with the Council of State and in exercise of his constitutional powers. But this has angered the opposition which has been claiming the president’s action is arbitrary and undermines the judiciary.

The state-owned Ghanaian Times under the headline, “President grants pardon to ‘Montie 3′” reported that President Mahama on Monday granted remission of sentences to the "Montie trio" who were fined and sentenced on 27 July to four months imprisonment each by the Supreme Court for scandalising the court.

Salifu Maase (alias Mugabe), Alistair Nelson and Ako Gunn, were sentenced to four months imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 Ghana cedis (US$1=3.94 Ghana cedia) each for contempt of court.  

The trio, together with the directors of Network Broadcasting Company Limited (NBCL), operators of Montie FM, and ZeZe Media, owners of the frequency, were convicted for contempt of the apex court.

A statement signed by the Minister of Communications, Dr. Edward Omane Boamah, said the remission took effect from Friday, 26 August.

President Mahama, according to the statement reminded all Ghanaians of the need to respect the institutions of state and exercise freedom of speech responsibly mindful of the need to preserve peace and national unity.

“The President reminds all concerned especially persons working in the media or appearing on its platforms to be circumspect and guard against the use of intemperate language which has the potential of causing unnecessary tension especially in this election year.”

The state-owned Graphic newspaper reporting the story under the headline, “Prez grants remission to Montie trio” said President Mahama was hopeful that all would draw lessons from the events leading to the conviction of the three persons and bear in mind the consequences of injudicious utterances.

In a politically charged atmosphere, especially as the contemnors are known activists of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), the reaction has been mixed.

“Mixed reactions greet Montie trio pardon,” the Graphic reported, saying Ghanaians have expressed varied reactions to the decision by President Mahama to grant remission to the Montie trio.

It said these reactions had come from legal practitioners, political parties and civil society groups, with some of them welcoming the decision, while others described it as a slap in the face of the judiciary.

It said Nana Adjei Ampofo, one of the lawyers of the Montie Trio, mounted a strong defence of the President’s action saying he acted within the ambit of the law.

“The President has done well; we are grateful to him,” Nana Ampofo said.

He disagreed with arguments that the President’s action undermined the authority and independence of the judiciary, stating that it was not the first time that a President had exercised the prerogative of mercy.

Some individuals and organisations said the remission was in bad taste, although it was legal.

The Head of Research/Programmes and Deputy Director of CDD-Ghana, Dr Franklin Oduro, sharing his thoughts on the release, reiterated the fact that the remission granted the three was a “dangerous precedent”.

The General Secretary of the NDC, Mr Johnson Asiedu Nketia, said there was nothing wrong with the decision to free the three, since the Constitution had given the President authority to exercise his prerogative of mercy.

“The President has acted within the remit of his powers. That is all. I don’t think it deserves the level of debate that is going on at all,” he said.

Asiedu Nketiah has said the main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) could score a political advantage over the President’s decision and therefore advised them to take advantage of it and put an end to the “needless” arguments.

He explained that the remission “doesn’t mean that the beneficiaries are not guilty of anything. In fact, if they are not guilty then they don’t need mercy. Mercy is granted to somebody who is guilty”.

The main opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) expressed disappointment in President Mahama’s decision to grant remission to the Montie trio, saying the act was an “endorsement of behaviours unacceptable in our society”.

“These are individuals who were jailed legally by the courts to deal with recalcitrant behaviours and a creeping social canker that would devour this nation if not checked,” NPP's Director of Communications Nana Akomea said in a statement.

The three men were freed on Friday with the Graphic reporting the story under the headline, "We've learnt our lessons, Montie trio say at welcome party" while the Ghanaian Times had the headline "Montie 3 released; Render unqualified apology to Chief  Justice, Judiciary."

The Graphic, reporting on the electoral reforms under the headline, “Electoral Commission to engage knowledgeable collation officers” said the Electoral Commission during the week announced 27 key electoral reforms as part of preparations towards delivering free and fair elections.

The electoral reforms, dubbed: “Towards delivering first-class elections”, said the EC, in consultation with the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC), had closed down the “strong room” and replaced it with an open and transparent National Results Collation Centre.

Electoral officers and party agents will now take oaths before a magistrate or judicial officer, instead of an officer of the EC, to make them take their work seriously.

In the same vein a new law had made provisions for election officials to be punished and sanctioned for any breach of the electoral law, Mrs Charlotte Osei, the Chairperson of  the EC, said at a forum organised by the Commission in Accra.

She said the EC would engage knowledgeable officers, including lawyers and accountants.
-0- PANA MA 27Aug2016

27 august 2016 07:42:57

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