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27.05.2003 Feature Article

Obotan Garden And Eden Affair - Who's credibility is on the line?

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Obotan Garden And Eden Affair - Who's credibility is on the line?
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Ghanaian Chronicle

After being tightlipped about media reports on what has become known as the 'Obotan Garden of Eden affair', the directors and management of Databank Financial Services Limited have at long last come out in reaction to allegations against the company and its senior executives.

In a statement issued on these allegations and published in the May 16, 2003 edition of the Daily Graphic, the directors of Databank stated that the company and its professionals have consistently adhered to, and will continue to promote the highest ethical and professional standards in their transactions.

The statement further said neither Databank, Ken Ofori-Atta nor Keli Gadzepko have engaged in any illegal acts or deals in respect of the Obotan project or any other project for that matter. Fine words. However the question on the minds of most people is "is there a smoking gun?"

It is quite disingenuous for the management of Databank to come out now accusing people of what they term scurrilous, malicious and unkind remarks about Databank and its directors when it is exactly their silence in the teeth of such serious and damaging accusations that have fueled and given impetus to these stories, whether they were maliciously intended or otherwise.

When you have been accused of a wrong doing and your credibility is at stake but you keep mute over the accusations, then your silence will be interpreted as giving credence to the saying "silence means consent".

These media stories are not just inventions of peoples' fertile imaginations; they are in reaction to a forensic audit and a Serious Fraud Office investigation on the Obotan project, a fact Databank referred to in their statement. I think we will all agree that when the Serious Fraud Office (SF0) comes sniffing at your door, then it means something smells fishy.

The Obotan affair has taken on new meaning and urgency ever since the New Patriotic Party came to power promising zero tolerance for corruption, carrying out high profile trials of former government officials on charges of causing financial loss to the state and in the process, jailing some of them.

These trials have provoked angry reactions from the government's political opponents who have described them as politically-motivated witch hunts. So far, all those who have been tried or are on trial for some charge relating to financial malfeasance are from the National Democratic Congress (NDC) with the exception of Mallam Issa.

For zero tolerance to gain any semblance of credibility, not only must it be applied consistently and impartially, it must be seen to be such, irrespective of one's political, tribal or family connection.

If you are to believe the media reports and comments about the findings of the SF0 investigation into the Obatan affair, then you are left with the impression that Databank and its directors took money belonging to Ghanaian workers through a dubious scheme, not so skillfully packaged as a property investment project.

For how else does one describe a scheme, where a property (Massila House), acquired for ¢300 million by Enterprise Insurance Company in 1998 is quickly sold/transferred to Obotan at ¢8.568 billion (28 times the original price) in the same year without any enhancement in the value of the said property, and with all the money coming from the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), while the brains behind this scheme didn't contribute a penny of their own money.

The conclusion one draws from these revelations is that the Obotan project was just a scheme to siphon off money belonging to the poor workers of this country into private pockets. If this is how brainy Ghanaians contribute to the nation's development, then I must say it is most shameful indeed.

If it is established that the intent behind the Obotan project was criminal, then the question on the lips of most Ghanaians is, what is the Kufuor government going to do about it, considering that one of the principal architects behind this questionable scheme, Ken Ofori-Atta, happens to be a cousin to Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the minister of Foreign Affairs, and is also the son of Mr. Ofori Atta, a former Economics minister in the second Republic and a staunch NPP member. It is in this sense that the Obotan affair takes on added importance.

It is going to be seen as a litmus test of President Kufuor's commitment to the fight against corruption. Put simply, the Obotan affair may put the credibility of the NPP government on trial. At the risk of sounding presumptuous I will add that, more than testing mere political slogans, the Obotan affair may also demonstrate whether one can get away with wrong doing in this country, simply on the basis of family connection, status in society, political association or tribal affiliation.

As a contributor to the SSNIT scheme, I have an interest in this Obotan affair, and I believe most people who have made comments in the media since the story broke, have done so from the point of view of their interest as contributors to the scheme, rather than from the motivation in making scurrilous or malicious comments intended to damage someone's hard won reputation.

Having said that, I believe Databank and its directors owe SSNIT contributors some explanations, and they owe it fast. Just coming out with a statement assuring the public that firm, decisive and ordered steps are being taken to address the wrong and negative perceptions created about the project isn't exactly what people were expecting.

Furthermore, the statement by Databank that "we shall, with a spirit of power and undeterred determination, vigorously protect our right" leaves one with a feeling that something is obviously lost on the directors of Databank.

Those who are making comments on the Obotan affair also have a right - the right to be concerned in the face of certain revelations, that our contributions to the SSNIT Fund is reasonably safe and protected against bad investment decisions or people with questionable intentions, while being managed prudently and for our benefit. It is for the protection of this right that people will, with undeterred determination, vigorously seek the truth.

What the contributors to the SSNIT Fund will want to hear from Databank and its directors is the whereabouts of the workers' US$2.2miliion taken in 1998 and what efforts are being made to refund it to the rightful owners with interest, calculated at Bank of Ghana Treasury Bill rate from the time the money was taken, to the day it will be returned.

If some people are pulling strings to hush up this matter, then it must not be at the expense of the sweat and toil of the contributors to the SSNIT Fund. It must also not be at the expense of zero tolerance for corruption. In line with the motto of our nation, justice must be seen to prevail in this Obotan affair.

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