IT STARTED a couple of weeks ago. Rumours of alleged derogatory remarks about the President made by the National Chairman of the New Patriotic Party started making the rounds.
Then The Enquirer, an Accra bi-weekly which is gradually carving a niche for itself as a most convenient, beautifully packaged blunderbuss for those desirous of firing at government and the party that brought it to power, blew the 'story': the presidency had been turned into a den of corruption for the 'looting brigades'!
The kind of story “which can ignite a big FBI probe, if we were in America,” the paper said. Fantasies of ace investigative journalist Woodward and the Watergate scandal which brought down US President Richard Nixon?
In a series of appetite-whetting publications, carefully timed and to have the most devastating effect, the paper reported carefully selected, interpreted and edited portions of the tapes, obtained through “enterprise reporting.”
Yet, apparently uncomfortable for the Investigative Journalist of a year gone by, there were gaping disparities between what he was willing to feed the public with and what was really on the tapes.
“Speaking to party gurus in a heavily guarded secret meeting but which was captured by The Enquirer through enterprise reporting, the party Chairman, said the kickbacks which is meant for the administration of the party has been hijacked by the Castle,” read a part of the report carried in the Tuesday November 22, 2005 edition.” Did you ever wonder why Raymond Archer was resisting earlier calls to 'play the tape'? The answer may be found here: “I called one of the Ministers and asked him, why have you not been paying the money and he said oh! So you don't know about this? We have been shown where to send the money,' Party Chair said,” the first two reports gave the above quote, ad verbatim. Now, read the transcript of the recording as The Enquirer was compelled by leaks to publish yesterday: “Haruna: I asked a Minister, a Minister, that was an emergency he said, I have already given… immediately I got to my office, there was lumps of money 10 billion.
Again, this was how The Enquirer 'quoted' the captured words in part 2 and 3 of the 'Enquirer Secret Tape Series': “From the beginning I realized that there is some fear we had put in the Ministers. The first thing the President said was Zero Tolerance for Corruption. They believed that it was going to be enforced. So the Ministers felt that if they worked with party people they could not take bribes from them because as a party man he would expose the Minister. “So they all resorted to using NDC contractors and there was nobody to correct them at that time. After the first nine months, they had sold their rights to the NDC people so now even if you were told to take NPP man give him a job, they only gave them jobs worth 50 million. They maximum they would give an NPP contractor is 200-300 million.”
When a reporter puts a statement in quotation marks, it is taken for granted that those are the very words uttered by the person attributed. Otherwise, it is paraphrased.
Forced to come out with the full text this week, this is what The Enquirer reported as the transcript:
“Enquirer: Did you give any reason why the money is being kept at the Castle? “Haruna: Pardon?
[Enquirer repeats question]
“Haruna: The money, the more is being kept there? NO REASON, just that the nine months that the party [inaudible]… because of the zero tolerance for corruption… inaudible [NB: He said something to effect [sic] that because of the zero tolerance for corruption the Castle did not partake in the collection of the kickbacks.”
Well, this comes across as more of The Enquirer back-kicking away from its earlier 'quotation' of Harona Esseku.
The paper alluded to the existence of a “kickbacks fund” at the Castle, managed by the President's men. Harona Esseku said repeatedly he never used the word kickback. His issue was that the Castle had hijacked party funds. Despite Mr Esseku's denial, the crusaders for “Truth, Integrity and Freedom” were adamant that the septuagenarian Chairman referred to the illegal act, and said much more on the tape, which had in the mean time been circulated to 'friendly' media houses and played back for selected individuals who were trusted to perhaps interprete it in a particular way.
Some of them, including Daniel Batidam of the Ghana Integrity Initiative, local representatives of world corruption watch dog Transparency International, were emphatic: the President was guilty.
The general public was thrashing about in the dark.
On Monday of this week, portions of the tapes' extracts were finally played on air. But unknown to the gatekeepers of the 'secretly guarded' tapes, some of the leading 'unfriendly' papers had the full transcripts and were in no mood to release them in dribs and drabs. These well-grounded newspapers have obtained and published copies of the interview – The Statesman, the Daily Dispatch, the Daily Guide and the Crusading Guide. The full text of the second interview is published in this newspaper today.
“As for the Office, because that's where I go and see the President, money that I've collected from the Castle,” was Esseku's ad verbatim recorded response.
At another point, Mr Esseku said: “…Money goes to the office of President … and this was mentioned several times. Anyway, I … That I will … Because all I know is that I'm going for my … will not go …”
Yet the discontinuity and vagueness of these “revelations” is perhaps only scanty evidence of the 'scandal' which The Enquirer hoped might rock the government; and as the rest of the transcript reveals, this vagueness and continuity is typical of the interview.
For the mismatch between the recorded, proven conversations which are known to have taken place and which have been reproduced by various media houses who want to end Archer's upper hand of secrecy are too blatant for that. Instead, there are several interesting possibilities as to The Enquirer's recent run. Perhaps Archer and co were operating to deliberately keep people in the dark, relishing in the ruckus they had caused and cherishing the secrecy which surrounded the recordings and fed into the idea of a deep-rooted and underground corruption.
Perhaps they wanted to skew the revelations by dispatching them piecemeal; certainly controlling the release of this (mis)information, and leading readers to draw the conclusions the paper had already drawn for them
KWAKU BAAKO JNR
Speaking to The Statesman yesterday, Kwaku Baako Jnr, Editor-in-Chief of the Crusading Guide, emphasised that the publication of the whole transcript of the conversation was vital for the holding of well-informed discussions that would lead to the proper conclusions.
“Before the publication of the transcripts, various commentators who claimed to have listened to the tape gave very alarmist views of the content, maintaining that the playing of the tape would cause an 'explosion' and even call into question the legitimacy of President Kufuor's victory in the 2004. There were claims that the playing of the tape would fan ethnic sentiments to greater heights. Lo and behold, when we published the transcript, none of these things were on them. I think the publication of the transcript has gone a long way in helping the ordinary Ghanaian to discern what was on the tape and what we were told was on the tape and draw the appropriate conclusions.” With the final publishing of the too-long-discussed interview, the public are now able to judge for themselves based on the full facts.
Ben Ephson, Managing Editor of the Daily Dispatch added, “There are many good facts and stories on the tape showing how for example the NPP has internal problems; showing how the NPP was being suffocated by lack of funds. This should be a lesson for all the parties.”
The Managing Editor of the Daily Guide was less charitable. “I admire that boy's enthusiasm but he must take his time. Good journalism is not defined by creating scandals and plastering government with it. He still could have made a good story from what he actually had without all the fuss and frills. Now, he stands exposed and embarrassed. Well, let's see if he hands it in for the Best Journalist of the Year. Knowing him as an attention and recognition seeker, he would,” quipped Gina Blay.