THE FATE of about 400 workers of Western Veneer and Lumber Company (WVLC), a timber firm in Takoradi, hangs in the balance as doubts are being raised about the genuineness of one Nana Yaw Amparbeng who claims President John Agyekum Kufuor has directed that the company be divested to him.
The normal procedure of divesting companies seemed to have been eroded in this particular case in that there had not been consultations with the Ministry of Lands, Forestry and Mines, the labour union and management of WVLC.
Consultations to put in place transitional arrangements which will include labour audit, audit of assets, financial audit and payment of workers' financial entitlements had not been done.
Though it is only when all the above requirements have been met that an investor can be granted vacant possession of a company, in the case of WVLC, Mr. Amparbeng says he takes his authority from the
President, stressing he had therefore taken over WVLC, damn the consequences.
Even though the Timber and Woodworkers Union (TWU) of TUC had appealed to a court to restrain Amparbeng from taking over until the company's workers' entitlements had been paid, Amparbeng disrespected the court process and used macho men to drive out management and workers, and had put a notice, “Property of ASD Lumber. Keep off”, at the two gates of WVLC.
According to DAILY GUIDE's independent and authoritative investigation, on 20th December, 2007, Amparbeng descended on the company with a truckload of macho men believed to have been imported from Accra and a large number of dismissed workers of WVLC.
They barged into offices and threateningly and forcefully drove out officers from their desks; the macho men also seized keys to offices and stores and subsequently changed the locks.
In the process, all officers were subjected to humiliating searches. The General Manager of WVLC in particular had his car tyres deflated and he was later escorted home without his car.
Amparbeng then instructed the macho men and some of the dismissed workers of WVLC to go round and collect keys to vehicles belonging to WVLC, sending also for the key to the General Manager's car. Macho men and one dismissed driver, John Mensah, were also sent to collect the key to the Forest Operations Manager's car.
Even more pathetic was how senior managers of WVLC, housed in the company's flats on the factory premises, were ejected. The macho men went to their homes, threatened them, pasted notices of eviction on their doors and gave them hours to pack out or face the consequences.
The intervention by the Western Regional Minister, Hon. Anthony Evans Amoah, was rebuffed, with Amparbeng asserting that the ejection was a private matter.
In the event, three senior managers had been thrown out of their flats. They are the Chief Production Manager, Mr. Francis Mozu; the Senior Caterpillar Engineer, Mr. Emmanuel Yaw Afrifa; and the Saw Doctor, Mr. Anthony Osman Bugri.
The trauma that wives, children, other relations and these managers went through during the Christmas festivities was beyond description, as children and women cried for having nowhere to lay their heads.
It was gathered that Amparbeng had milled all logs at WVLC into plywood, which he sold on 24th December 2007 with a retail value of GH¢30,000.
Factory workers who spoke to DAILY GUIDE on condition of anonymity contended that they were shocked to receive GH¢10 each as their Christmas pay, while senior officers received GH¢15 each from Amparbeng. To gain the support of the workers, Amparbeng had earlier promised the workers that on taking over, he would pay them two months salary in lieu of notice.
But on resumption of work after the Christmas break, the workers were disappointed as Amparbeng had not lived up to his words, giving them cause to believe that he had lied to them so as to gain their support.
When some members of the management of WVLC were interviewed, they welcomed the divesture of the company, but stressed that the proper procedure should have been followed.
They expressed displeasure about the 'rotten' manner Amparbeng and Asakkua Agambila, solicitor for DI were handling the divesture of WVLC.
They felt that it was a blot on the reputation of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government, which espouses good governance and rule of law.
“If Amparbeng's assertion that his wife is President Kufuor's niece is true, then Ghanaians should hang their heads in shame,” the management of WVLC noted in unison. Although management of WVLC does not dispute the fact that Ampabeng's wife could be the President's niece, they believe that he is only using the President's name to satisfy his selfish interest. When Mr. Amparbeng was contacted by DAILY GUIDE, he denied ever allowing macho men at the factory to forcibly take over from the management of WVLC, though some of workers had admitted that this was done.
Asked whether he followed the proper handing over procedure regarding the divesting of the company, Mr. Amparbeng shouted: “I have bought the place and government has brought people to do the necessary auditing. That's all.”
When pressed further to name some management personnel of WVLC that he took over from, he only mentioned some junior staff who were formerly with WVLC such as Mr. Kumordzi, Assistant Accountant; Mr. Kobina Quaye, Stores Manager; and Mr. Yalley who was an Assistant Auditor. When this paper contacted the former Managing Director of WVLC, Mr. Kweku Ghartey, he said management of WVLC had not officially handed over to Mr. Amparbeng.
He pointed out that he was not around when the incident took place, contending that he went for a meeting in Accra on 20th December, 2007 and returned only to hear that top management personnel including the General Manager, Chief Forest Operations Manager, Chief Accountant, Senior Accountant, Chief Production Manager, Operations Manager, Administration Manager, Personnel Manager, Chief and Senior Caterpillar Engineers and Chief Production Manager had been thrown out of their offices by macho men. Other top management personnel confirmed the story and showed DAILY GUIDE copies of reports they had submitted to the Managing Director of WVLC about the sadistic manner Mr.
Amparbeng was alleged to have instructed macho men to drive them out of their offices and subject them to searching and humiliation at the premises of WVLC on 20th December 2007.From Sam Mark Essien, Takoradi