Thu, 05 Jan 2006 Feature Article

Amanfuo – Who investigates the investigator?

Amanfuo – Who investigates the investigator?

The last time I wrote on the People's Representation Bill, I received a huge amount of mail, nearly all of it in total support of my comments, except for a few unsupportive ones. That's fine. I do not have problems with matured, honest and thoughtful brains disagreeing with things I write. One interesting commentator labelled the article a typical Ashanti piece, even though he had no idea of the ethnic components that I am made off.

Folks, there are certain expressions that are widely used throughout the land and which I will gladly adopt. We have been so brain-boxed into writing the western way that one gets criticized as soon as you break away from the “norm”. It seems we are not allowed in our academic institutions to quote any indigenous persons in our essays or research work. Our professors and others like references like Smith K. (2000), Johnson & Martha (30000). Try quoting Nii Amontu Awonaa (2005), or Sumanguru Kante (19002) or Yaa Asantewaa or Alhaji Sumaru (20000) said A, B, C and D and see the reaction one will get. It seems we do not have local heroes to quote or linguistic skills and forms that can be conveniently employed in our writings without one of our own raising a finger of criticism.

I have been prompted to write again by certain political events that took place in the latter part of 2005. The most important issue for me was who was responsible for the monitoring or investigating incidents of political and economic malfeasance and crucially whether our investigative journalists were performing their democratic roles as they should.

Many important figures the world over have had their public and private lives investigated and reported in the media, and sometimes rightly so. However, I have always wondered who investigates the investigating journalist who spends time and money reporting on others since they have private and public lives too that are not 100% ………

We also have to consider whether these stories are from genuine and trusted sources and in whose in interest they seek to serve. Do some of these stories achieve anything at all? Well Watergate did.

I cannot tell you how many journalists have been beaten, detained, tortured, and murdered in our part of the world since we gained independence. It has been the case from the CPP, NLC, PP, SMC 1& 11, PNDC and NDC years. The situation has now improved with the guaranteeing of the freedom of speech.

Let us look at some of the hot stories that came to light as a result of investigative journalism. First there was the hotel saga where an old man apparently tried to share his financial skills with his children. Except that his son did not behave like the proverbial prodigal child, but acting on the old man's advice went and borrowed big money from the susu collectors and bought a big hotel near Nimacity. This became an investigative issue as people questioned whether the seller, who is also a matured and independently minded old man, actually sold the property or gave it away as a gift. In the end both investigator and investigatee agreed that the issue had been thoroughly investigated and that we the public were happy with the outcome or were we?

Then there was another one, the Gizelle palaver where a certain woman acting on behalf of herself and others claimed to relate to everyone in Ghana and her country. A case of non-Ghanaian causing political waves for ordinary folks. That too was apparently investigated and ended just as it started. Honestly, at the start I thought that it was going to be the mother of all smoking guns. Just turned out to be another bit of entertainment.

The latest was the alleged speech gaffe by the former chairman of the NPP, Mr. Haruna Esseku and this one will be the focus of my article. Amanfuo, I will be working from the premise that old men do not lie. That when you con someone into telling you what you want to hear, that can be termed as “dishonestly misleading”. I must also say that there is something about voice recorders used for interviews– they are not always 100% accurate. For instance you could be recording an interview in a quite but potentially noisy place. A change of wind direction could transmit someone's voice onto the recorder so what you end up with is a gabbled message which may end up being different from what was actually said or heard. It is also possible that during an interview, one uses a term which is unfamiliar to the ordinary ear or the interviewer. Remember, interviews they say are never free from bias. I have heard phrases like “I want to pass water”, “wee-wee”, “my water works”, “doodoo”, “I want to spend a penny” etc which all means - I want to urinate.

During the Archer interview the old man might have excused himself to use the loo and in the process used the word “kickback” which Mr. Archer may have unwittingly interpreted as “give me something”. Or he may have gone off tangent, and instead talking about talking about political funds switched the conversation the Ghana Black stars defensive strategy in the forthcoming world cup, in particular our centre-backs, forward backs and their kickbacks, something Mr Archer failed to notice. We may never know the true transaction that took place.

On the other hand the old man's reaction to the story gave it more credence. The NPP needs the oxygen of publicity but not this kind. Instead of Esseku adopting the time-honoured approach of astute politicians – resolutely denying all knowledge and scattering for cover, he chose to stand his ground, initially daring the editor to play the so-called “palaver-soup” tape and then later pointing his fingers at his presumed enemies within. This miscalculated approach further soiled his reputation and threw more mud at the party. The Archer side did not help matters either. They appeared to recycle the same revelations several times, somewhat casting doubt on the authenticity and genuineness of the piece. Esseku then said to Archer “give me the tape” to which Archer replied “I want to add some lyrics and highlife beat to it, play it everyday until it becomes the Christmas number one, then you can have the case old man”. Esseku then concluded that he does not believe he willingly said what he is alleged to have said as he thinks his drink was spiked with something that caused him to talk “jaja”.

The other bit which bothers me in all this is the revelation that NPP ministers deliberately gave contracts to NDC contractors instead of their own, because of the government's zero tolerance for corruption, which stipulated that taking “kickbacks” from everyone else was okay but punishable if taken from your own. Why on earth will the NPP adopt measures that will put more money in the pockets of their opponents? The NDC contractors will then go to Jerry the founder and say “look father, we got a $5m contract to build an umbrella factory near Dodowa. We gave just $300 as “lalasulala” to your arch rival Mr Kuffour to shop for some clothes in Mauritius”. The founder will then say to his troops, “Eureka we have won we have won, we have the smoking pipe at last. The next time give something to his wife, children, grandchildren and oh Mr Esseku so that we can widen the web of accusations. Also make sure you have it all on tape like my friend Mr Archer did”. Amanfuo, the after effects of such an act if it happened can only be imagined. But this has not happened yet.

I also think people have taken this ZT policy too far. Mathematically, there are numbers possible after zero, so a zero policy does not mean there is no room for tolerance. Perhaps with hindsight the framers of that policy should have opted for a more practicable, expansive and flexible anti-corruption slogan. The NPP administration in order to beat the PNDC “probity and accountability” mantra opted for something more radical. Because in the end no one was ever probed or held accountable. Now the NDC is talking revenge and asking for more prisons to be built for when the NPP ministers leave office. The NPP on the other hand has been treating some of the past recalcitrant and corrupt NDC officials including some of their very own too with kids gloves in the hope the favour will be returned one day. The ones losing out in all this are we – the non-politicians.

Also folks, the history of “kickbacks” are not a Ghanaian or African phenomena. They come in many forms – gifts, travel sponsorships, payment of children school fees abroad especially when the parents cannot afford it. There has been cases where something as little as sex and cheap mobile phones have been used in the act. Some years ago a friend of mine had VIP treatment and police motorcade escort when he went on holidays because he had this nokia mobile phone as gift for someone in high place.

“Kickbacks” were there at independence, from Nkrumah to Rawlings and now Kuffor. This canker will never be totally eradicated unless there is a collective will on the part of everyone. Then it is also very difficult to prove, as the accomplices are knowledge deep in the act and cooperate extensively to ensure its success. That is not to say that I support such illegal acts. Never. What the western world has done is to re-brand it as “political donations” or “campaign funds” which are legal. What the NPP should do is to put a big bowl at the castle marked “political donations” and a recording book that will be there for the public to see. This will cut out the inquisitive eyes of journalists like Mr Archer, as it will be a faultless, transparent and legal activity.

This then brings me to the issue of where political funds must be kept. Esseku and the NPP leadership are like Siamese twins. Each has its own mouth and all the parts. What Esseku does not realise, (if he actually complained about money not coming his way) is that they all end up in the same belly. No one has the right to tell a party where to keep its money. These days of increased armed robbery, you cannot take chances keeping money at home. Ask the past NDC chairman what happened the last time he tried to keep party money under his mattress. The banks cannot be trusted either as many are staffed by opposition people, who would everything to break the banking code on customer confidentiality. We should be happy that the castle is allegedly being used as a mini-bank. It used to be a torture ground, so thank God for its new found use.

I have something for the investigative journalist, Mr Archer, but later for the NPP too. Just read what Suma Varughese wrote “Investigative journalists are the heroes of the trade. As they stride into town, smoking gun in hand, all the others - business, politics, feature writers, sub-editors - stand back to let them pass”. Investigative journalists are seen in some places as crusaders, morally upright people who can be cast in the mould of genuine priests. They are living proofs that the pen is indeed mightier than the AK 47 riffle. That is how powerful these guys have become. Mr. Archer as I understand it is doing some marvellous job on the journalistic front which is excellent. Not investigating and reporting, especially in the absence of a clever, viable and strong political opposition and other democratic institutions fuels the rumour mill, creates resentment and threatens the peace. Our total failing as a nation to square up to the issue of bad behaviour and corruption has allowed for individual initiative in this area of journalism.

The NPP political organisation had a nervous attack in the week following the revelation and one could feel that a heightened sense of vulnerability had engulfed the party. Their PR machine failed terribly, which begs the questions – “where were all the big professors?”

The problem that I have with investigative journalism, a practice which dates back to the 1902's, is that practiced badly it can result in severe damages to reputations, personal feelings etc and may even disintegrate whole families.

In May 2003 a BBC investigative reporter Andrew Gilligan caused to be broadcast on the Today's programme that he had been told by a senior intelligence official during an secret interview that the government knew it's “Saddam can shoot the UK within 45 minutes” claim - one of the reasons for going to war - was not true yet told the British public just that. Within days many heads at the BBC had rolled, a scientist was dead and the ramifications continued. Later Mr Gilligan admitted he made errors. He may have used “not so perfect” words, thus reporting entirely inaccurately what was said. Mayes (2004) quoting Lord Hutton said “'the right to communicate such information is subject to the qualification (which itself exists for the benefit of a democratic society) that false accusations of fact impugning the integrity of others, including politicians, should not be made by the media.'

Investigative reporting relies on a legacy of truth telling and credibility. It means not turning a blind eye to the obvious or cosmetically highlighting the symptoms of the disease. It also involves offering solutions.

They keep the politicians and business people on their toes and would normally break news the establishment does not want. All over the world, doing the right thing has never been the preserve of many business and political establishments”.

In the pre-christian, pre-colonial era, what we now know as investigative journalism was conducted differently and probably efficiently too. Communities were smaller - everyone knew everyone and by implication everyone knew what the other person was up to. Truth telling was inculcated in you from birth and the consequences of lying were tied in religious and cultural sanctions. When caught or heard in the wrong, the elders called you in to explain, refute or accept guilt plus the attendant punishment.

These days there is generally total disrespect for authority. There is also big business, big government and big connections. Many young men and women do not like getting their hands dirty. This development has heightened the level of deceit, arrogance and its twin relative “kickbacks”.

Another worrying development is the intrusion of politics into all spheres of Ghanaian life, in particular, the decision as to who sits on what company or corporation board, who runs what church etc. The politically well connected and political patronage seems to over ride any quality or qualification considerations, hence the field day being enjoyed by our hardworking investigative journalists.

Whilst congratulating the work of our Ghanaian investigative journalist, let us not lose sight of the fact that there have been a number of successful libel cases against some journalists in recent times which is an indictment of the investigative process.

In the rush to gather and publish often mouth watering stories to boost newspaper circulation and the public standing of news reporters, many of our folks act in ways which smacks of failure, arrogance and lack of crisp professionalism. Many tend to appeal to sentiments of suspicion and distrust or peoples raging discontent. As to whether this is a wind of change in our political process or just another puff is hard to tell.

Amanfuo, there are many issues in the nation's history that needs investigating. The many human rights abuses, the outright and cheap sale and purchase of government assets, economic robberies and the like for which no one individual or political party can claim the moral high ground.

Sadly an old politician has become a casualty of loose talk or some will say confidential meetings. That may not be the last, but a government which acts like the honest company boss who has no effective communication / PR or competitive strategy will end up dancing to the unrelenting tunes of our investigative journalists. By the way who watches the backs of these journalists?

God bless Ghana, the most peaceful place on earth.