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10.04.2006 General News

Chief of staff sparks crisis at GIA

By Chronicle
Chief of staff sparks crisis at GIA

Security scare as US -Ghana police take opposing positions 'What a joke, what a shame in this golden age of business' In what has been described as a “military-style take over”, Ghana International Airlines (GIA), which still has an unclear status of ownership, encountered a potentially fatal clash when the Chief of Staff, Mr. Kwadwo Mpiani, ordered the dismissal of the Chief Executive of the airlines, Mr. Brian Pensbury and his team.

He then proceeded to install a new administrative team of people with questionable background.

“This military-style take over of an airline is illegal and we would take legal action against those involved next week,” Mr. Sammy Crabbe, until Kojo Mpiani's fiat, the Vice President of GIA in charge of public affairs, told The Chronicle.

Sammy, as he is known to most media people because of his chummy personality, said lawyers are currently working on the case to be filed this week.

According to him, the takeover is a breach of the GIA contract and was surprised that in this era of rule of law and the 'golden age of business', someone can be dictatorial enough to take over an international company like that. “What a joke. What a shame!” he exclaimed.

Events begun on Friday evening following a slanging match between the CEO of the airlines, Brian Pensbury and Mr. Mpiani at the Castle, which triggered off agitated banging of tables by the Chief of Staff, who was quoted to have said that CEO Brian had disrespected him. Brian and his Ghanaian Vice President, who happens to be the greater Accra regional chairman of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), have tried to fob off government interference in the business of the airlines, which was the root cause of its collapse sometime ago.

Matters could not be settled amicably, so Mpiani, who has since avoided calls from the press, ordered the police to go and lock up the office of the CEO.

Brian Pensbury called the US embassy to inform them of his plight, following which US security detail were reportedly assigned to go and give him protection, while Sammy Crabbe called the NPP loyalists in Accra, who raced to the airport to protect their boss.

A large crowd besieged the Silver Star offices of the airlines until police personnel brought the situation under control, giving the airlines the worst possible nightmare publicity that can only lead to unmitigated disaster.

Dramatically, the President had just taken off barely two hours earlier and it is believed that the US Ambassador to Ghana, Ms. Pamela Bridgewater, would have scrambled a message through to the White House to brief President George Bush about this development, which could be an issue in meeting the Millenium Development Challenge Account expectations.

Clarifying the various reports, Mr. Crabbe, who had regained his composure, said a meeting between Directors of the Airlines and some government officials at the Castle on Friday, ended up abruptly when a heated argument ensued between the Minister for Presidential Affairs, Kwadwo Mpiani, who is also in charge of Aviation, and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Mr. Brian Pensbury, over the control of the airlines. This led to the announcement by Mr. Mpiani of the dismissal of the CEO. Mpiani, who used to work at the National Investment Bank and later tried to set up an airline, which collapsed with heavy debts (details later), maintained that he had assumed control.

Later on, some gentlemen said to be security operatives from the Castle, arrived at the offices of the airlines and attempted to lock out the CEO, Mr. Presbury and other management staff.

Crabbe confirmed that friends of his from the (NPP) arrived at the premises of the airlines, ostensibly to resist the attempted lock out of the CEO.

With the crowd at the forecourt of the premises of the airline thickening, police officers quickly arrived to maintain sanity.

Officials from the US consulate later arrived at the premises for a meeting with the Directors of the airlines, after which they drove off with Mr. Presbury and other officials of the Airlines.

Mr. Crabbe disclosed to the Chronicle that with events unfolding, the Greater Accra NPP constituency executives went to see the Vice President, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, to find a speedy solution to the impasse, since he was the acting president.

According to him, the Vice President assured them of getting the matter investigated for an amicable resolution. The Veep was said to have also promised to have the security personnel detailed at the GIA offices cleared.

Relying on the Vice-President's promise to remove security personnel from the offices of GIA, Mr. Presbury tried on Saturday morning to go to his office, but was turned away by armed policemen.

When Chronicle got to GIA office on Saturday afternoon, armed policemen were still guarding the premises.

Meanwhile, a memorandum (memo) circulated in the offices of GIA, has it that the old board of directors had been dissolved and replaced by an interim one, with Mr. Gustave Mate Azu (the former board chairman), Group Captain Frank Okine (a former board member) and Mr. Kojo Andah (also a former member) as members. The memo was however signed by Albert Vitale, the former Vice President in Charge of Operations, who was given a six-month notice of termination of his appointment, after some of his expatriate colleagues disclosed that they were not prepared to work with him.

This led to the CEO changing his position, which saw him earning lower remuneration than before.

The memo also said Sammy Crabbe, Sean Mendis and Mr. K K Appiah Adu, head of procurement have all been sacked.

Mr. Crabbe revealed that locks and lockets to the offices of GIA had been changed, cabinets drilled into and the Human Resource office broken into and ransacked.

Asked what the remote causes of this problem were, Mr. Crabbe said it is just a dislike for the CEO by the Minister for Presidential Affairs. He also revealed that some allegations of corruption have been leveled against the management of GIA and a forensic audit and investigations were on-going. “But the audit and investigations are yet to be completed. Why don't we wait for the final report to come out before doing anything,” Mr. Crabbe quizzed.

He noted that proper procedure for removing a CEO and directors should have been used and 'not a coup d' airline'.

He referred to Section 16 of the shareholders agreement between the government of Ghana and GIA-USA, LLC in November 2004 that states that 'the management team is hereby empowered to fully operate the business of the company, including without limitation, to employing personnel; entering into contract with such personnel with third party: Service of the management team will not be terminated by the board of directors without the unanimous vote of the shareholders'.

The action has been seen as inconsistent with the companies code's section 185 (1), which states, “A company may, by ordinary resolution at any general meeting, remove from office all or any of the directors, notwithstanding anything in its regulations or in any agreement with any director.”

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