By Emmanuel Akli
It has never been my style to respond to rejoinders, but the one sent to us by Samuel Okudzeto, a Deputy Minister for Information, cannot go without comment. The Deputy Minister is accusing me of fabricating a story, and attributing it to him.
Obviously, Okudzeto, who thinks he can manage government information in an aggressive manner like student politics, has gone public with a statement that he had not been authorised to speak on, and he thinks he can use me as a scapegoat.
I will not accept the diatribe coming from this young man, who has the jaundiced idea that managing information means hopping from one radio station to other just to impress the appointing authorities.
To me, if this is a man hoping to become a substantive Minister in future, then President Mills will obviously have problems with the media.
Now the substantive issue;
A friend informed me on Saturday that the government had revoked as many as 375 diplomatic passports due to the Wikileaks report. The friend could not give the detailed account of the report he was given, so after our conversation, I decided to browse the various websites to see if any information of the sort had been published.
It was in the course of doing this that I came across the story on Citifmonline.com. I then discovered that the statement was actually made by Okudzeto Ablakwa, so I decided to call him for his side of the story. During our conversation, the Deputy Minister admitted he had made a statement to the effect that 375 diplomatic passports had been revoked as part of efforts by the Atta Mills administration to fight the drug war.
He went on to tell me that though the decision about the revocation of the 375 passports was taken in 2009, it had not been put in the public domain, but he had decided to do so now, due to the way opponents of the government were commenting on the alleged statement made by President Mills in the Wikileaks report.
It was based on this, that I filed the report the following day. As has always been the policy of the paper, I was objective in my report, by stating what the cables said about both the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC) governments.
On Monday, December 20, around 7:30 a.m., I had a call from the Deputy Minister, who claimed he had been lambasted by the Foreign Minister about the story, since no decision had been taken to revoke the 375 diplomatic passports.
He went on to complain that I had linked the revocation of the passports to the Wikkileaks report. I then impressed upon him to read the story first, but he would not listen, and angrily dropped the line.
Before dropping the line, the Deputy Minister, who is far my junior, cautioned me not to call him again, because he was now a big man in government. (sic)
It is important to note that though Okudzeto admitted to me on phone that he put the information in the public domain because of comments about the Wikileaks reports, nowhere did I make a direct quotation from him that the revocation of the passport was based on the Wikileaks report. I rather wrote a summary lead, and followed it up on the fourth paragraph, with the reaction of the Minister. This is how the report was captured:
Barely a week after the Wikileaks website exposed both the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and its predecessor, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) governments on the way they handled the fight against narcotic drugs in the country, information filtering in indicates that the Atta Mills government has revoked as many as 375 diplomatic passports.
Among those who have been affected are pastors, imams, businessmen and chiefs, who by virtue of the diplomatic passports use the Very Very Important People (VVIP) Lounge at the Kotoka International Airport anytime they travel outside the country.
So far, there has not been any official comment as to whether these passports were revoked because their holders were suspected to be dealing in drugs.
But, a Deputy Minister of information, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, told The Chronicle in a telephone interview at the weekend, that the revocation had nothing to do with the Wikileaks report, and that the decision was taken in 2009, as part of efforts by the Atta Mills government to fight against the drug menace in the country.
In the rejoinder, the Deputy Minister did not find it necessary to quote the above paragraph, but still found it necessary to state that I had attributed words he had not uttered to him.
I do not know whether the Deputy Minister was confusing himself with the English language, because there was nothing wrong with the kicker to the story, which stated that in the midst of the Wikileaks… because the latter is now a topical issue being discussed in the country.
I think Okudzeto needs to tell the whole world why he decided to put the 375 passports issue in the public domain in the first place.
Was it not based on the way people were commenting on the Wikileaks report, as he himself told me on phone, but has now turned round to deny it?
It is unfortunate that I have had to divulge all these information, but I have no option, because the inexperienced Minister has pushed me to the wall.
Regarding his threat to me that I should never call him, I do not think I am bothered about that. It is his duty to defend his government, and if he thinks he can do that by antagonising journalists, that is his own problem.