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31.05.2004 General News

Playing Possum With A $300m Sham

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The scandal over the $300 million loan approved by the 200-seater Parliament of the Republic of Ghana looks set to be with us awhile, with each passing day unravelling different sides of this whole sham of a contract.

Last Saturday,- May 29, 2004 - it was the turn of the President of CNTCI, Reinze Edwards, to deepen the controversy and further provide ammunition to indict Finance Minister Yaw Osafo-Maafo on the issue, in what can best be described as a public relations disaster on JOY FM “News file” programme.

In one of the worst attempts at explaining the CNTCI loan sham, Edwards eventually let the cat out of the bag by confirming what some observers have said all this while. That the so-called $300 million loan is no loan at all, because the self-professed $30 billion-plus company ain't got no dough to lend.

What's more, he also indirectly indicted Finance Minister Osafo Maafo, Minister for Trade, Industry and President's Special Initiatives (PSI) Alan Kyeremanten, Minister for Ports, Harbours and Railways Prof. Ameyaw Ekumfi, and Minister for Roads and Transport Dr Richard Anane by revealing that these men had committed what amounted to perjury or a deliberate attempt to mislead Job 600.

In simple language, they took to Parliament, sought and had approval for a “US$300 million loan facility” when they knew that what they had taken to their colleagues in the Legislature “was not a loan”, to quote the Sri-Lankan-born British citizen Reinze Edwards. It's “a Supplier's Credit facility” was the way he put it.

Speaking on Joy FM via phone, Edwards said emphatically that the whole deal was not really a loan but a Supplier's Credit arrangement. CNTCI do not have the money to lend because what they wanted to do was to look for jobs/contracts for Chinese companies to pre-finance and execute after which they would be paid. And he made it clear that the $300 million loan agreement that was taken to Parliament was supposed to be a general agreement after which CNTCI and members of the Ghanaian government were to work out the details of the final agreement. So why then did the Government of Ghana send a loan agreement to Parliament?

Clearly, CNTCI appears to be a group whose words at this moment cannot be totally relied on.

First they gave an address that led to a hairdressing salon – forget about the argument that the post code leads to the right address in Lartymer Court. How they got the address wrong could have been explained as a mistake but further wrong information on this same group either deliberately provided by them or people within the Finance Ministry raise eyebrows and leads you to ask: How did they get their own address wrong since nobody wrote the address for them?

It becomes bizarre when it emerges on the documentation that they themselves provided, that even the rent agreement of the so-called correct address at Lartymer Court is in the name of a man described by Edwards Saturday as an employee in a place he referred to as a“low income area” in London. It gets even more bizarre when you realised again that the rent at Lartymer Court expires this month, May 2004, and that the man who rented the place in question is none other than Song Fuzai, a supposed 47 per cent shareholder of CNTCI .

Again, among the information that raise eyebrows is the fact that even the address they used on their registration form at Companies' House in the UK –Room 2A 2nd Floor, China Supermarket, 32-34 Tudor Street, River Side Cardiff CF11 6A- which JOY FM's Stan Dogbe confronted him with - happens to be different from both the wrong 150 Hammersmith Road salon address and other addresses presented to Parliament. Again, their registration address at Companies' House in Cardiff, UK, also turned out to be false. It is equally different from the corrected Lartymer Court address they themselves provided

Then comes what they also falsely claimed was the address they registered with at the Companies' House – Suite 3/A 24 Marlow House, London, England.

Only last Saturday, it again emerged that the claim was false and when the CNTCI President was confronted with documentation from Companies' House dated last week May 25, 2004 that proves the falsity of their claims, his explanation was that the self-professed $30 billion company contracted an agent to do the registration and that he would get back to Ghanaians on the issue tomorrow, Tuesday, because today, Monday, is a holiday in the UK.

Gye Nyame Concord hope he does, at least for the integrity of CNTCI.

It just doesn't make sense that even the Hong Kong address of CNT Group (Holdings) Limited (Room 210, KCRC Hung Hom building, 8 Cheong Wan Road, Hun Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong), weirdly described as a subsidiary of the yet-a-year-old CNTCI is used in parts of documentation on the loan agreement. For example, in a strange MOU between CNT and Government of Ghana.

As if that is not bad enough, the loan agreement passed by Parliament itself does not separate the two independent corporate entities, but merges them in a maelstrom.

So that in one sense (under Article 1 of the Loan Agreement approved by Parliament), the $300 million loan contract is between Ghana and the Hong Kong registered company known as CNT Group (Holdings) Ltd. Then under the same Agreement (Article 2.1.6.), the same loan contract is with the U.K. registered CNTCI Ltd.

So, which of the two companies are we dealing with? The Hong Kong CNT Group Holdings, which is described as a subsidiary of CNTCI with its own shareholders? Or the U.K. CNTCI, described as the parent company?

Then again comes the fact that an Engineer presumably working with the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) and who by what he says seems knowledgeable of the issues involved and was part of the Chinese delegation to Ghana has distanced CRCC from the CNTCI.

As far he was concerned, CRCC only cooperates with CNTCI, finito. He also said they were in Ghana with CNTCI because they had been promised a contract with the Ghana government and not because they have any money to give to Ghana. He also claimed documents in Ghana showing shareholdings of CRCC in CNTCI were forgeries.

The explanation we heard Saturday from Edwards on “Newsfile” was that they had checked and could not find the said Chief Engineer Zheng at CRCC. Reminded that the said Zheng was called at the same number that he provided as CRCC's, his defence was that the said Zheng's statement was false.

Great! Truth however is that he cannot in fairness be trusted on this issue since his promise through the Ghanaian media to get CRCC to deny Zheng's denial of them, has yielded no fruit days after the said Chief Engineer at CRCC made the statement. In any case, how many chief engineers at CRCC speak English? According to Zheng, they are few Chinese folks who speak English at CRCC.

It certainly makes sense that until an official denial of Mr Zheng's statement comes from CRCC and not CNTCI, it would be foolhardiness to trust in the words of a CNTCI President who cannot get a company they claim to hold “about 40% to 50%” in, to quote him, to react to an alleged false allegation from a so called “ghost”.

But that is not all, though we do not intend to go into all the un-ending and confusing labyrinth of contrasting and confusing information available in dossiers on this whole loan/supplier's credit saga.

But the Gye Nyame Concord finds it interesting that the man who is supposed to bring us the loan also says that they have no money to lend. He said clearly, without using the same words we are using, that our Parliament had been had by Osafo Maafo and his colleagues, because the deal was really not a loan arrangement.

Simply put, Parliament was misled by Osafo Maafo and co., into approving a loan agreement when Government knew that what they wanted approved, was not a loan. Nevertheless, they wanted a loan agreement to cover the deal so that they can then go and work out the details, the CNTCI boss suggested.

That is our worry. Why does this government enjoy putting itself in watertight positions? Why does it seem that they enjoy self-inflicted scandals that can easily be avoided?

If this whole deal, to quote Statesman Editor Gabby Otchere-Darko on Saturday, “is a simple supplier's credit arrangement, why did the Chinese government have to go through CNTCI.” Did we even need all these “documentation failures” as Kweku Baako puts it, over a simple supplier's credit. Or was there another motive? Is it per chance about the management fee?

Indeed why would anybody go to this extent to create credibility problems that people in government, including all these numerous spokespersons, would run away from? Why would anybody create and deal with all these unending companies upon companies in one single deal?

After all, we have a $150 million supplier's credit arrangement with Alcatel Shanghai arranged very easily for Ghana Telecom by President Kufuor. And if we've done this before, why did we mess this one up?

The issue, so far as we are concerned is not about whether a $300 million loan will come - the truth simply is that there is no “loan” coming as pointed out by Edwards. What simply is to be is that CNTCI is expected to get CRCC to do jobs for us after which we pay them over a 30-year period. How this ended up being sent to Job 600 as a loan is something Osafo Maafo would have to explain now that he's been back in the country (since Thursday) and might have heard Edwards on the issue.

So why then did he decide to hide this simple issue from Parliament and instead presented a loan agreement to the House? What was it for? What was the essence, the motive and the agendum?

For a government that seems to enjoy such reasonable level of goodwill even when it bungles up, it is sickening that it continues to self-destruct. In that light, we have come from IFC to CNTCI. What next?

This whole approval of a loan agreement that has now been confirmed as a supplier's credit is sickening and should send the message to our parliamentarians that they cannot continue to trust documents and statement brought to them in the name of Ghanaians by Government without probing deep into them. That is what we give them the $20,000 cars and other benefits higher than that of Ghanaian workers for.

As for the Government, the deafening silence over this whole issue shows how they have rendered themselves ineffective in explaining the issues away. What a scandal!