Odyssey of a corrupt society (Part One)
Ebo Quansah in Accra
They came shouting on the roof-top. They had arrived to build a better Ghana, as operatives of the National Democratic Congress shouted at every given opportunity when deceased President John Evans Atta Mills missed his lines at the swearing in ceremony at the Independence Square in Accra, on January 7, 2009.
Nearly four years into the administration of the deceased University don and his hand-picked deputy, the shouting match has intensified. But the construction site from where the ‘Better Ghana’ was to be built lay in total ruins.
The people whose life was meant to be improved under the so-called Better Ghana agenda are poorer than before. The economic circumstances of the ordinary people of Ghana have nose-dived under escalating cost of living and paralyzed state services.
The cedi, the local currency, which ought to reflect the improvement in living conditions, has been falling faster than ripe mangoes in the Harmattan wind.
Now, the talk is no more about how many people have been rescued from poverty. It is all about whether or not there is an agency of state that can investigate the President himself.
It started with the largest opposition party, the New Patriotic Party, alleging that a company belonging to a brother (Ibrahim Mahama) of President John Dramani Mahama had failed to service a $47 million loan contracted from the Merchant Bank, a wholly state-owned bank, that is being off-loaded to a South African company.
The NPP alleges that Ibrahim Mahama’s company, Engineers and Planners, had failed to service the loan throughout the three and a half years that the brother had been Vice-President and President of the Republic, and that this had happened probably because of the influence of the brother.
Engineers and Planners explained in a press statement that the company had a problem with the bank over the quantum of money they were required to pay per month to retire the loan.
Engineers and Planners say, initially, the company entered into an agreement with the bank to retire the loan over a five-year period, but without prompting, the bank reduced the retirement period to three years. In other words, the bank unilaterally increased the quantum of money to be paid by the company to retire the loan,
Trust any major issue to have a political connotation in Ghana. The opposition New Patriotic Party argued that Engineers and Planners could not have reneged on its contractual obligation for over three years, if Ibrahim, the owner of the company, had not been the brother of the then Vice-President, who was also the Head of the Economic Team of the Government of the Republic of Ghana.
The party in opposition accused President Mahama of using his position to get the loan absorbed by SSNIT, which is the pension manager of the average worker in Ghana.
In response, the President invited the NPP, or whoever has reason to believe, that he as Head of State has misused his power to acquire wealth, to take him to any of the state agencies set up to investigate graft among state officials, like the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice and the Economic and Organised Crime Office.
To demonstrate his commitment to eradicating corruption, the President inaugurated Mr. Justice Appau, an Appeal Court Judge to constitute himself into a one-man committee to investigate all aspects of the payments of Judgment Debts, which has become a contentious issue and which is one of the dominant themes leading to the 2012 elections.
This brought Mr. Martin Amidu, former Attorney-General, who was relieved of his post in the now infamous Alfred Agbesi Woyome GH¢51 million dole-out saga, to his feet.
The self-styled one-man citizen vigilante issued a press statement saying it would be fool-hardiness for any citizen of Ghana to summon the President before any investigative body, because the Head of State enjoyed immunity from prosecution as well as investigation.
“President Mahama should demonstrate to the electorate the seriousness of his challenge and adherence to his oath of office as President, by setting up a bi-partisan Committee of Parliament to investigate corruption under this administration”, Mr. Amidu stated in his latest epistle.
Mr. Amidu recalled the controversy surrounding the purchase by the administration of a number of aircraft, including Embraer 190 and a hanger which generated a lot of controversy.
The one-man citizen vigilante said, following the public outcry against these purchases, deceased President John Evans Atta-Mills even formed a committee to investigate the matter.
Members of the Committee, according to Mr. Amidu, were Mr. William Aboah, who is now Minister of the Interior, Mr. George Amoah and Brigadier-General Allotey (Rtd), former Judge Advocate-General of the Ghana Armed Forces.
According to Mr. Amidu, the only reason the investigation stalled was that pressure groups within Government and the NDC did not allow late Prof. Mills to go ahead with it.
“But the fact that Prof. Mills even contemplated this committee meant that he was uncomfortable with and suspicious of the alleged inflated prices of the aircraft.”
Mr. Amidu further alleged that without his knowledge as Attorney-General at the time, a memorandum was sent to late President Mills, creating the impression that he (Amidu) had agreed to the issuance of an Executive Consent to enable the Minister of Energy transfer the controversial EO shares of US$300 million, and “for me to issue the indemnity in favour of Tullow, stating among others that no prosecution was pending and none would be undertaken in future.”
The former Attorney-General asked President Mahama to realize that the Ghanaian Middle Class were educated enough to read through the lines and advised the President to stop playing the ostrich.
“Speaking for myself, I am a citizen who cherishes my right, and cannot allow this hollow challenge thrown by the transitional President to pass without exercising my birth right as a citizen, to tell him not to talk down on Ghanaians, as though we are all fools.”
With the political temperature at boiling point, expect more issues of corruption to come to the fore. The NPP, especially, have never relented in its attempt to tag this administration as corrupt, following similar allegations made by the NDC when the opposition party was in power.
The issue with Ibrahim’s Engineers and Planners’ loan saga, for instance, would continue to be flogged until the loan is retired.
Evidence available indicates that Engineers and Planners established in the middle 1990s acquired a loan facility for operations from the Merchant Bank, a state-sponsored institution in 2007.
At that time, the opposition NPP was in power. But that is not the bone of contention.
What is defying logic is that according to Bank sources, the company has failed to service the debt since 2009, when the NDC came to power. The contention is that somewhere along the line, the bank instructed the company to pay the loan, originally scheduled to be retired in five years time, within three years.
In circumstances that the bank has so far been unable to explain, Engineers and Planners stopped servicing the loan. We are told that since 2009, the company has failed to honour its contractual obligation towards the loan, citing difficulties occasioned by the bank’s instruction for the company to retire the loan within three years.
Whatever the company says in defence, it is now five years ago since the loan was contracted. If indeed the company was committed to retiring the loan, it should have been retired from the books by now.
What the ordinary man like me is seeking to know is that would Ibrahim and his Engineers and Planners have been allowed to owe that quantum of money without servicing the loan, if the brother of the company was not a top official of the state that owns the bank?
This is one issue the bank would have to explain. We are told that Ibrahim or his company now owns one or two aircraft. One of the issues that have not been successfully explained is the correlation between the time of acquiring those aircraft, if the allegation is true, and the acquisition of five aircraft for the Ghana Airforce, which deal was brokered by the former Vice-President and now Head of State of the Republic?
The acquisition of the five aircraft, including the controversial Ebraer, still remains a source of controversy, following allegations that the price might have been inflated.
We are told that the hanger for the Ebraer alone is US$17 million, a figure said by experts in the industry to be outrageous.
These are not the only reason why allegations of corruption and other under hand dealings in this administration, are threatening to dominate the agenda as the December vote draws nearer.
The sudden flamboyant life-style being exhibited by men and women under the shade of the umbrella, a number of who had previously not even paid taxes before, is fuelling the corruption debate. I shall return tomorrow.
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