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18.10.2008 Social News

When Siezed Assets Are Returned

By Ebo Quansah - newtimesonline.com

It has taken nearly three decades of struggle to right some of the wrongs of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council. But the announcement yesterday, that assets of General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong and other victims of the three month oligarchy would be returned to them before Christmas must cheer the hearts of all those who cherish the idea of  fair-play and magnanimity underpinning state policy.

It is not as if the return of the assets will make up for all the suffering that victims of the ARFC atrocities and their relatives had to endure all this while. Most of the owners of the properties to be returned had long died out of the pain in their hearts.

It is the symbolic gesture and the message it sends out that never again should a group of people seize the state machinery and use it for themselves, that should endure forever.

Kutu Acheampong was not the most popular person to occupy the Castle.

He ran down the economy, made a laughing stock of Ghanaians in the comity of nations and succeeded in driving away most Ghanaian professionals.

The brain drain that afflicted this nation was such that the only professionals left in the system were those who aided the regime to misdirect the fortunes of this nation, or a few patriotic citizens who had virtually no equipment to work with.

All the same, the treatment meted out to the ex-head of state and his aides was nothing short of barbarism on wheels. The execution of eight top military officers for allegedly using their offices to enrich themselves and the idea of throwing hundreds of their supporters and many successful Ghanaians in jail, was a crime against humanity.

The people's court that was set up to try some of these top ranking officers of state at the time, did not adhere to any standard practice of dispensing justice. Most of the verdicts they passed on to their victims were sentimental at best.

The seizure of assets is not a new phenomenon in national politics. I am aware of assets  of mainly Convention People's Party activists frozen when the Nkrumah regime was overthrown on February 24, 1966.

I do not believe it was the best of political policies on the part of those who succeeded the CPP regime to perpetually keep the property of their opponents under tap.

Thank God, most of those assets have long been returned to the genuine owners. There are a few thorny issues still to be ironed out though..

But that pales into insignificance against the backdrop of mass asset seizures and imprisonment of their owners for very long sentences that greeted the rich of society and leading members of the Supreme Military Councils 1and 2.

Apart from the soldier-politicians many of whom were sentenced to ridiculously long terms in jail, a number of business tycoons were deprived of their assets. In nine out of ten cases, activists of the military regime benefited from the largesse which passed on to the state.

I have always held J.K. Siaw as an example of how the AFRC succeeded in undermining hard work and entrepreneurship.

The Tata Brewery Siaw established was the biggest such enterprise in the 16-na+tion Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS).

It was not as if he had stolen money from the state. It was alleged that the company was outstanding in tax obligations to the state.

Siaw himself was put on the wanted list because the brewery was said to have hoarded sugar, which after all was needed in quantities to facilitate the brewing process.

Tata Brewery was converted to Achimota Brewery Company and later sold to Kumasi Brewery Limited (KBL) to become Ghana Breweries Limited. The new company has itself been merged with Guinness Ghana Limited to become Guinness Ghana Breweries.

Meanwhile, Siaw died in exile in punery.

Now, it is very difficult to return such an asset to the estates of the late J.K. Siaw. One would like to believe that the state would have to find a package to compensate for the loss of this huge asset.

There is B.A. Mensah, one of the nation's most outstanding businessmen. He established the International Tobacco Company producing cigarettes and rivaling the Pioneer Tobacco Company that was producing 555 and other local brands from its factory in Takoradi.  

B.A. Mensah was arrested by the AFRC and his company seized. Reports said he was in arrears of Social Security and National Insurance Trust contributions. The cigarette company, then employing hundreds of Ghanaians, was sold to SSNIT which found other uses for the premises than the manufacture of cigarettes.

I do not know whether or not Kofi Owusu, alias KOWUS is still alive. He owned KOWUS Motors, formerly R.T. Briscoe. It was an assembly plant for German cars – BMW and VW. The plant was seized and turned into the African Automobile Ltd. Needless to state the venture collapsed in no time.  

All manner of reasons were assigned for the seizure. But Ghanaians believe Kofi Owusu's link with Gen Acheampong might have been the main reason why he suffered that fate.

The list is endless. Remember Pambros Salt and its owner Appenteng? Appenteng also owned an intravenous factory at Koforidua.

What the bout of company seizures did to the body politic is that it discouraged Ghanaian businessmen from investing in the country and partially explains why this nation has been stifled of indigenous entrepreneurship.

Yesterday, I took a glass of water in celebration of the return of assets to people who have suffered in silence all this while. Before gulping the content, I raised the glass sky high in praise of the unseen hand that has aided the deal.

It is not as if I could not have had a much stronger stuff. I have flu and hope that I respond to treatment early enough to toast properly to the good news that the estates of J.K. Siaw especially, would have his property back. It means that the business atmosphere has opened up to more Ghanaian entrepreneurs to aid the forward march of the economy. We shall overcome!

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