INFORMATION reaching The Statesman indicates that one of two things should happen by the end of next week: the resignation or suspension of the National Chairman of the governing New Patriotic Party, Harona Esseku. The decision will be motivated by the alleged derogatory statements made against the seat of Government and the person of the President by Harona Esseku.
Party officials met on Wednesday to deliberate on the matter, and have tasked Interim General Secretary Eddie Annan to constitute a committee of enquiry to investigate the allegations and make appropriate recommendations to the party's National Executive Committee by the end of next week.
“What the Disciplinary Committee is investigating is not the newspaper allegations but allegations made by party activists about what the National Chairman is purported to have said against the Castle in his bid to defray charges against his own leadership of the Party,” a senior NPP source told The Statesman yesterday.
Insider information available to this paper suggests that in the interest of natural justice, the indicted Mr Esseku will be suspended today as National Chairman in order to allow for the conduct of proper investigations by the Party's Disciplinary Committee. The charge is for bringing the name of the NPP into disrepute. If found guilty, he could be expelled from the Party. He is said to be ready to resign but only after the so-called damning tape is played. He has, nevertheless, rendered some form of apology to the President. He is expected to announce soon his decision to pull out from his re-election contest, which takes place on December 17.
Mr Esseku's woes stem from a banner publication in an Accra bi-weekly, The Enquirer, of Monday 21- Wednesday 23 November 2005, which stated that Mr Esseku, “speaking to party gurus in a heavily guarded meeting,” had “revealed” that the seat of Government at the Osu Castle had been turned into a 'kickback reception centre,' with the President as the “budget officer.”
The paper further stated, “According to the Chairman, during the National Democratic Congress' era, they took 10 percent of all contracts as kickback to finance the party but the NPP has no fixed percentage set as kickback.”
The Editor-in-Chief of the paper, Raymond Archer, says he has two secretly taped recordings of the alleged kickbacks confession. The first, he told this paper's Editor-in-Chief, was when Mr Esseku met “his constituency delegates” on Thursday, November 10. On that same Thursday, late in the night, Mr Archer says he went with his colleague to the house of Mr Esseku to speak to him, which was also secretly captured on tape.
However, checks made by The Statesman suggest that Mr Archer may not have any recording of a secret meeting between the NPP chairman and his party members, after all. Mr Archer appears to have chanced upon the rumours that Mr Esseku, whilst on his national campaign tour, sometimes chose to counter criticisms against his leadership by pointing his accusers to the Castle, accusing the Presidency of weakening the Party structures by starving the Party of funds. Like a smart reporter, Mr Archer appears to have merely 'frightened' the Chairman into giving him the evidence to support the rumour.
At Wednesday's meeting at the NPP headquarters, Mr Esseku denied ever accusing the Presidency of being the cause of the Party's weakened structures and lack of funds. However, several witnesses, including delegates from the constituencies, stepped up to corroborate the allegation.
Mr Esseku, notably, got into trouble with the NPP Northern Regional Chairman when he started to repeat the mitigation against charges of his 'failed' national chairmanship, there. He is said to have given similar excuses in the other two upper regions, as well.
However, the Deputy Minister of Education & Sports, O B Amoah, has denied the allegation that the Castle is the receiving and disbursement centre for party funds. As Special Assistant to the Vice President, Mr Amoah says, “I was at the Castle for four years and worked closely with the President during all those years and nothing of that nature happened. Indeed, we had a system to dissuade those desiring to contribute to the Party from using the Castle and it worked perfectly well.”
Referring to the Enquirer story, Mr Amoah told The Statesman, “What is becoming very clear is that Raymond Archer and his paper are pursuing a purely political anti-Kufuor agenda. He is using the acceptable shield of investigative journalism as a front to push this unprofessional agenda. The evidence is in his publications. I've had that bitter experience of political mischief from that boy. Why else would he use the words 'the President and his men' when he was accusing others outside of the Castle and I over kickbacks in the stadia construction deal?”
The Enquirer subsequently rendered an unqualified apology for that publication on the stadia deal a week later (Monday, 29 August), but Mr Amoah insists, “In his haste to throw anything at President Kufuor, Raymond Archer is too eager to forego the ethics of journalism. This cannot be in the public interest.” When contacted, Mr Archer stated the obvious that he was not the one accusing the Castle of kickbacks. He also addressed the anti-Kufuor tag. “The Enquirer is all-out for public accountability. So if by holding them responsible it looks like an anti-Kufuor agenda then it means there are more accountability issues to address. Our primary responsibility as journalists is to hold the government accountable. I have no apology. I would rather be sad if I was accused of singing government praises.”
He couldn't tell when exactly he was going to release the tapes of Mr Esseku. Mr Esseku was preferred by the then newly-elected President Kufuor in 2001. However, he has since fallen out of favour with the Castle, with the favourite to succeed him, Stephen Ntim, being hailed as the new Castle choice. This, some party insiders believe, motivated Mr Esseku to divert criticism of his chairmanship to the Castle, besides launching an open attack against Mr Ntim, as well.
While not denying that he granted an interview to the authors of the story, Raymond Archer and David Tamakloe, Mr Esseku insisted earlier this week that what was eventually reported in the paper was “a distortion and is clearly calculated to damage the image of the President and the Party and to depict me as an enemy of the President. I totally reject this insinuation.”
Also on Tuesday, an official statement signed by Kwabena Agyepong, Press Secretary to the President said, “These allegations are baseless and preposterous. There is no iota of truth in the story and it must be placed on record that His Excellency the President does not award contracts, neither does he handle or disburse money – be it party or government funds.”
Reached for comment yesterday, Mr Esseku insisted he would not make any public pronouncements “until I am satisfied that Raymond [Archer] has finished playing his tape, allegedly recorded in such a high security area.”