A Presidential Blunder Beyond
This is what I wanted to say this week, and Manasseh Azure said it all for me. With his permission, please read on. If you disagree with him/me on any point, please refer to me. I agree entirely with the sentiments he has expressed.
Dear President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo,
On Saturday November 11, 2017, I was stunned by a news item on Joy 99.7FM when I heard your voice in the story. As part of your three-day tour of the Greater Accra Region, you visited some facilities owned by Mr. Joseph Siaw Agyepong, a man whose businesses have come up in major corruption scandals in Ghana since 2013.
After the news item, a few people called to ask me, “Did you hear what the president said about Jospong?” The callers expressed their shock and disappointment at your action. As if each of them had consulted the same oracle for words before calling me, they ended on the same note, “All politicians are the same! There's no hope for Ghana.”
On Facebook and Twitter, a good number of people tagged me in the online edition of the widely reported story of your visit to Jospong. On WhatsApp platforms, the sentiments were the same.
After I heard the news item and your voice, two words rang in my head – dishonesty and ignorance. I have convinced myself to discard the first one because I still have some modicum of trust and respect for your words and the conviction with which you speak them. I convinced myself that the Nana Akufo-Addo I had heard so much about from both politicians and astute lawyers he trained had principles. I convinced myself that he stood for something. To keep hopes alive, I continue to tell myself that THE Nana Akufo-Addo, who spent nearly seven and a half decades of his life building a solid legacy as a purveyor of justice and a champion of the rule of law, would not sink low and undo everything he stood for. For these reasons, I convinced myself that your utterance was, perhaps, as a result of ignorance about the Jospong story.
And, please, Mr. President, don't be upset with me for saying you may be ignorant about something you ought to know. I agree with Chinua Achebe when he said that many presidents of the poor world have no clue how the nations they govern really look like. Achebe, in his critical essay, The Trouble with Nigeria writes:
“Many Presidents, especially Third World Presidents, do not live in their country. One of the penalties of exalted power is loneliness. Harnessed to the trappings of protocol and blockaded by a buffer of grinning courtiers and sycophants, even a good and intelligent leader will begin to forget what the real world looks like.”
Mr. President, I will pardon you if you did not, and still do not know how Jospong's facilities were selected by your handlers as part of the places you visited in Accra. Flesh and blood cannot reveal this to you. For now, let's just assume it's purely coincidental that Jospong is one business entity that past presidents, from Kufuor to Atta-Mills to Mahama and to your good self did not fail to visit and endorse with your kind words.
I know you don't have too much time to solve clueless puzzles so let me settle on exactly what you said that got people talking and disappointed.
You're quoted, and I heard you say to the Chairman of the Jospong Group of Companies, Joseph Siaw Agyepong: “More grease to your elbow. The contribution you are making to our social life is inestimable. We have to encourage you.”
“When you are at the forefront of doing things, like you are, you will be the subject of controversy. It goes with the territory. I know you a little bit, and I know you are capable of handling it. Stay focused.”
My President, if I am able to forgive your unpardonable indiscretion of selecting Jospong as one of the places to visit in your tour of Accra, then I see nothing wrong with the first part of your comment. We can assume you were just encouraging a Ghanaian “entrepreneur”. What I may just add, however, is that there's nothing spectacular about Jospong's achievement. It does not take a genius to get there. Any novice who benefits from dubious government contracts and enjoys the patronizing publicity of praise-singing media, like Jospong has, can achieve this feat and, perhaps, greater.
I can, however, not forgive you for the second quote above until you are able to convince me that those disturbing words escaped your mouth because you had a slip of tongue or a slip of mind. My reason for this, and the reasons I consider your visit to Jospong as an unpardonable indiscretion on your part are pretty simple.
Joseph Siaw Agyepong and his Jospong Group of Companies are not subjects of controversy because he is at the forefront of doing great or exceptional things. There are many businesses doing great things in Ghana, employing thousands and paying hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes without being in the news for the same reason as Jospong.
Mr. President, the man who misses no opportunity to remind his critics that he is “a respected Elder of the Church of Pentecost” is not a subject of controversy. He is a subject of allegations of corruption. Corruption and controversy are not synonymous, and our elders have taught us that when two proverbs are not the same, one is not used to explain the other. Maybe you went a bit too far in trying to be diplomatic, but the line between an overly diplomatic person and a liar is thinner than the edge of a circumcision blade.
As an opposition leader, you and your New Patriotic Party (NPP) campaigned against corruption and cited some of those involving Jospong as grand corruption schemes meant to steal money from the state. Just last week, your Vice-President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, mentioned GYEEDA and Subah as some of the corrupt acts by your predecessor, President John Dramani Mahama. For you to meet the man at the centre of these scandals and describe them as controversies that come with being at the forefront of doing things is very unfortunate. When you needed our votes, they were grand acts of corruption. Now that you have the power to deal with them, they are controversies that come with the terrain. There cannot be a clearer definition of double standards, Sir!
Jospong is currently a subject of corruption investigations by the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) of the Republic of Ghana. The Jospong Group is currently a subject of corruption investigation by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Ghana Police Service of the Republic of Ghana. The Jospong Group (Zoomlion) is currently a subject of another corruption investigation by the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).
The Youth Employment Agency (YEA) has had the cause to doubt the number of workers presented by Zoomlion for payment and has announced it will embark on a headcount.
Mr. President, take any of the Auditor-General's Reports on District Assemblies in this country and you will notice how companies of the Jospong Group come up repeatedly for receiving payment but not doing the work.
In 2013, the World Bank banned Zoomlion (the leading brand of the Jospong Group) from bidding for contracts financed by the Bank for two years. The announcement of the ban, which is still on the website of the World Bank, says the ban was imposed on Zoomlion “following the company's acknowledgment of misconduct impacting the World Bank-financed Emergency Monrovia Urban Sanitation Project in Liberia. The company paid bribes to facilitate contract execution and processing of invoices.”
Zoomlion and some of the Jospong companies were named for their roles in the GYEEDA scandal. You may also have heard about the Subah scandal, which also involved a Jospong company.
Recently, your government was compelled to cancel the questionable 20-year road-towing contract awarded to a subsidiary of the Jospong Group, Road Safety Management Service Limited.
Five companies of the Jospong Group were last year, single sourced to supply waste bins and bin-liners at outrageous prices. For instance, while a piece of bin-liner from the Jospong Group costs less than one cedi, the company was charging the state 67 cedis to supply. The ministry that awarded this contract did not need the bins in the first place.
Mr. President, if you speak to your metropolitan, municipal and district chief executives, they will tell you that the fumigation exercise for which a chunk of their Common Fund is deducted at source to pay, should be scrapped because the work is poorly executed while some say it is not carried out at all. But while the deductions were being made, Zoomlion got another fumigation contract with the ministry of health, which was targeted at mosquitoes. The assemblies I contacted as part of my investigations said knew of only one spraying exercise and could not differentiate between the MMDAs spraying contract and that of the Ministry of Health.
But that was not all. In 2015, ELEVEN companies were handpicked and awarded a third contract to spray public toilets, markets, refuse sites and other public places in some selected assemblies, which were already being taken care of by the assemblies fumigation contract with Zoomlion. The companies were paid over 98 million cedis and they were to do this work for a period of 20 days. Yes, 20 days! The surprising thing is that all the 11 companies belong to the Jospong Group owned by the respected Church of Pentecost Elder, Elder Joseph Siaw Agyepong, the man you told to stay focused.
Do you want him to stay focused on these questionable contracts or he should stay focused on receiving 500 cedis per head from the state in respect of the sanitation workers and pay each one 100 cedis and pocket 400 as “management fees” for each of the 45,000 workers he claims to have? Are you saying he should stay focused and not mind your appointees who are pursuing him?
Mr. President, your ministers, security and anti-corruption agencies as well as your appointees inherited contracts and cases of alleged acts of corruption involving the Jospong Group. As to whether they will be able to put their feet on the ground and deal decisively with these issues depends on your body language towards the “powerful man” at the centre of these allegations.
You must send the right signals, especially when many people voted for you because they wanted to see meaningful actions against corruption. Your signal over the weekend, with all due respect, is a bad one. Your endorsement of the man who is currently being probed by EOCO, CHRAJ, the CID and some of your ministries, departments and agencies for alleged acts of corruption and your avowed stance against corruption smacks of double standards.
If you call for an agbadza rhythm and go ahead to dance adowa, you confuse the drummers. If the traffic indicator of your moral vehicle signals right and you turn left, you confuse the other road users and can cause fatal accidents.
You told Elder Agyepong, “I know you a little bit, and I know you are capable of handling it.”
Jospong may be able to handle it. But you may not be able to handle the shame and disgrace that will follow you to your grave, should you of all people fail this nation. Remember we will hold you to higher standards and stiffer judgment because you came to the presidency riding on the back of a saintly high horse of incorruptibility.
If you fail us like your forebears, we will not put the blame on the crooks who see their association with your presidency as a golden opportunity to insure their third and fourth generations against poverty. We will not pardon you on account of ignorance because some of us have vowed to risk our personal comfort and safety to point out to you the true state of affairs of our sordid republic.
I am citizen, not a spectator!
So I quote for emphasis: “More grease to your elbow. The contribution you are making to our social life is inestimable. We have to encourage you.”
And JOSPONG will continue to contribute significantly to the process of, and the level of corruption in this country. If this is what we are going to applaud in Ghana, then I am off to the Mole Game Park.
Ghana. Aha a yƐ dƐ papa. Alius valde week advenio. Another great week to come.
By Anamoa Casely-Hayford, [email protected]
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