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13.07.2005 General News

Hotel Kufuor: Minority Statement

Minority Secretariat

PRESS STATEMENT BY MINORITY CALLING FOR A PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE PURCHASE OF A HOTEL BUILDING NEAR THE PRESIDENT'S RESIDENCE TUESDAY, 12 JULY, 2005

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, About three weeks ago on June 17th, the Minority in Parliament approached the Speaker for permission to make a parliamentary statement on what has now become known as the 'Hotel Kufuor' or 'Hotel Waa Waa saga'. As you all are surely aware this is an issue that has been in the public domain over the last two months or so and has riveted the public attention on trying to unravel the truth behind the transaction.

We took this course of action in absolute good faith hoping to use the platform of Parliament to call for action in a matter in, which the Executive appears paralyzed to act because of the alleged involvement of the President in the whole transaction. We are firm in our belief that Parliament as representatives of the people must initiate appropriate action in line with its independence and mandate as voice of the people.

Only last week the Speaker informed our leadership of his reluctance to grant leave for our statement to be read on the floor of the house. The reason given by the speaker for this decision is that he believes the statement will inflame passions.

In the circumstances, we find ourselves with no other option than to hold this press conference to put our views across to the larger Ghanaian public.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,

As you are all aware, over the past several weeks the media has been awash with stories about a hotel project in Accra in which the son of President John Agyekum Kufuor is involved. Ordinarily, this matter should not have attracted so much public attention. After all, the son of the President has a right to eke out a living just like any other citizen.

But all over the world, children and immediate relations and spouses of Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings and Queens easily attract public attention and scrutiny by virtue of the position held by these officials. It is also common knowledge that these public officials at times use their spouses and children as fronts for the acquisition of property. The public scrutinizes the actions and conduct of these relations of the Heads of State as a means of testing principles and policies of good governance, zero-tolerance for corruption, public accountability and transparency. After all, charity begins at home. It is therefore not surprising that the Hotel Kufuor saga has captured the headlines

At this stage we are not accusing the President himself or any member of his family of any wrong doing in the acquisition of the hotel building. However, considering the pervasive nature of allegations made by some major players in the transaction which seem to point in the direction of President Kufuor, we are convinced his interest and that of his government and the country as a whole will be best served if we offer an opportunity to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the transaction. Ghanaians are after the truth.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,

On 12th May 2005, in reaction to media allegations about the ownership of the hotel situated close to the President's private residence, the eldest son of our President by name Mr. John Addo Kufuor issued a statement denying any involvement of his father in the said project. He sought to explain that he was a shareholder in the hotel project and that he was the one who put together a consortium of banks to purchase the building, which we have learnt, originally belonged to a businessman by name Anthony Saoud. The matter may have been laid to rest but for subsequent disturbing developments. First, the effort to distance the President from the transaction suffered a severe setback when the public relations consultant to the President's son by name Charles Sam, made a startling revelation in public implicating President Kufuor in the acquisition of the hotel. The revelation by the Public Relations Consultant that it was President Kufuor who advised his son to purchase the building not only stunned the nation, it aroused the curiosity of Ghanaians who are justifiably anxious to have the fullest account of the transaction in so far as our President is alleged to be involved.

Second, one Ms. Giselle Yazji who was Economic Adviser to President Kufuor has made startling revelations of her involvement in the transaction. She has stated categorically that President Kufuor owns the hotel and that his son was only used as a front man. She has gone further to state that the President has also bought the property situated between his private house and the hotel. Her public disclosures, if they are to be believed, have raised several questions, which seriously dent the image and credibility of the Presidency.

According to Madam Yazji, President Kufuor's Economic Adviser – she has in her possession documents and voice recordings of her conversation with our President relating to the hotel project and other matters. She has even stated that she intends turning over the documents to Transparency International to prove her case that our President has been involved in some underhand dealings.

The son-in-law of the original owner, who is a Member of Parliament, has corroborated Ms. Yajzi's assertions that she was indeed involved in negotiations for the purchase of the hotel, even though he claims she was negotiating for herself on behalf of a Spanish NGO. The question on the lips of many Ghanaians is how did the President's Economic Adviser become involved in what we are told is a private business venture?

Lately, we have heard from Mr. Anthony Saoud, the original owner of the hotel building. He has confirmed that Ms. Yajzi was a key figure in negotiations for the purchase of the property. He has sought to deny that he was forced to sell the property to the Kufuor family. Does it mean that Mr. Charles Sam, the public relations adviser to Mr. Kufuor jnr spoke untruths when he told Ghanaians that the siting of the property was considered a security risk hence the decision by the President to ask his son to acquire it? Whatever it is, Mr. Saoud has left a trail of clues, which will be extremely helpful to the investigative body we are proposing. Indeed Mr. Saoud has made it clear that he could not hold brief for President Kufuor and his son. And indeed no one, no section of the press can hold brief for our President. There are serious questions, which he and only him can answer to an investigative body legally constituted by Parliament.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,

The response of the Government to these startling disclosures and serious allegations has been three-fold.

First, the President through his Spokespersons has sought to deny his alleged involvement in the transaction and we are being forced to accept this as final. We are told that once our President has issued a denial the matter should end there. This attitude flies in the face of demands for public accountability and transparency. Why should Ghanaians believe a denial from the Presidency but not believe what Mr. Charles Sam or Ms Giselle Yajzi has said? We would go by Shakespeare's admonition that there is no art to find the mind's construction in the face. It is only by probing deeper that the truth and nothing but the truth can be known.

Second, snippets of information on the transaction have found their way into sections of the media. The piecemeal release of information on the transaction and its availability only to privileged media practitioners has raised eyebrows. The information released so far has only fuelled public thirst for full disclosure on the entire transaction so far as President Kufuor is concerned.

Third, official and unofficial Spokespersons of the government have been quick to blame so-called political detractors for engineering the controversy.

Surely, the Public Relations Consultant to the President's son was not employed by the so-called political detractors. Ms Giselle Yazji did not become President Kufuor's Economic Adviser on the promptings of the so-called political detractors. This strategy of blaming the controversy on vile propaganda by the opposition is most disingenuous.

We wish to state unequivocally that the fault lines are with the government and its team of Public Relations specialists and consultants. Every attempt to explain the matter, every attempt to dismiss the serious allegations as the handiwork of “evil forces” – to borrow President Kufuor's expression - every attempt to dent the credibility of Ms Yazji has ended up deepening the controversy.

This is one issue that simply won't go away because the government wishes it so. The contradictions by leading personalities claiming to speak for the President or his family are quite astounding. In the public view they are being economical with the truth. Of course, some of them may have a genuine difficulty in that they are ignorant of the real facts surrounding the transaction.

Our advice to the President would be that he should join calls on Parliament in its efforts to set up a multi-partisan team to investigate the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the hotel and his role, if any, in the transaction. The gravity of the situation should not be lost on the President or on Parliament. Unfortunately, the public perception is that institutions such as the SFO and CHRAJ have compromised their independence and cannot be relied upon to be impartial in the matter. Indeed, we have already pointed out the constitutional impropriety of the CHRAJ, as presently constituted, taking up this investigation.

As for the SFO, right from the beginning when the allegations broke, an official of that office announced that the SFO had no interest in investigating the matter.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,

In a separate document which we are making available to you and which we will make available to our colleagues in parliament, we have provided a summary of the various statements made by the key persons and also pointed out the critical contradictions in those statements.

We are aware that majority of Ghanaians including NPP supporters feel very concerned about the impact of the on-going controversy on the Presidency. We are happy to note that several of our friends in the majority have already indicated their preparedness to support a multi-partisan enquiry. We all share one primary concern, to redeem the image of the Presidency. Of course the usual group of NPP propagandists think otherwise. They choose to applaud the president's new clothes when they see he is conspicuously naked. Their usual spin doctoring in the matter of the hotel saga would make an interesting script for the Aki and Popo show.

The public deserves to know how much the President knows about the transaction. What was the role of Ms. Yazji? Indeed what processes led to her official appointment as Economic Adviser to the President? What are the full facts of the involvement of prudential bank as the so-called lead bank in the consortium? Was the board of Prudential Bank properly advised and consulted on the approval of this transaction? What are the facts surrounding the involvement of National Investment Bank (NIB), - a wholly owned state Bank – in the whole transaction? How much was the cost of the building? How much has the NIB contributed to the purchase? And to what extent if any has there been a cover-up? These are some of the questions agitating the minds of the people of Ghana. All those who have spoken, those whose names have come up and others yet to be mentioned must be questioned under oath.

The people of Ghana only wish to know the truth and they wish to know it now. Somewhere out there, in the midst of the claims and counter-claims we can discover the truth hidden in a corner somewhere. Parliament must perform its responsibility of leading the search for that truth which will redeem the Presidency, restore its credibility and regain the trust and confidence of Ghanaians.

We in the minority have no desire to embarrass the President or anyone. Our interest is to bring an end to this long-running tale of a hotel. As Ghanaians, we are unhappy about salacious stories surrounding the transaction. We are certain the conclusions of a multi-partisan enquiry will inure to our benefit as a nation since we would learn important lessons in the way our government is organized.

Finally, we wish to reiterate an earlier point we made that each of the persons we have heard speaking on the matter of the hotel transaction claims to be speaking the truth, but the claims and counter-claims, the contradictory statements etc. cannot all be true. Even if President Kufuor were to speak on the matter directly, he would not be believed. It would amount to being a judge in his own court. Besides, there is strong public perception that the government is engaged in a massive cover-up. To cut matters short therefore, we must agree on an independent enquiry. Following this press conference, the minority group in parliament intends moving a motion for the setting up of a multi-partisan commission of enquiry: that will be our next line of action. We hope in the ensuing debate honourable members would put aside the cloak of partisanship and reason together in the higher national interest.

Alban S.K. Bagbin MINORITY LEADER 12TH JULY 2005

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