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05.06.2003 Sports News

The conundrum of chairs and over bloated expenditure

By Ebo Quansah
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In the not too distant past, affairs of state were conducted on the doctrine of the three wise monkeys - see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. Those of us who saw, heard and spoke against the naked abuse of office and the clever tricks played with the task payer's money and other resources were cast aside and disparaged.

As they say, truth is like a cork. It never gets submerged under water. The truth about the stadium chairs imported at a cost of over $750,000 in 1999 as part of the renovation of the Accra and Kumasi Sports Stadia in preparation for the hosting of the African Youth soccer tournament, is gradually sinking in.

Last Wednesday, on the 24th anniversary of the other ranks coup that hoisted Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings as Head of State of this republic and sent truth on permanent holiday, Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, Minister of Youth, Education and Sports (YES) assembled the media at the Accra Sports Stadium to talk about the home-coming of the rest of the chairs that had been lying in a ware-house at the Tema Harbour for the past four years.

The demurrage, in other words, the rent accrued by the chairs lying idle at Tema amounted to c1,284, 937,500. Clearing and other handling cost was about c27 million with an additional cost of c422 million owed as custom duties.

In attendance, at the press conference included Rasheed Bawa, Minister of State, Joe Aggrey and Joe Donkor, Deputy Ministers at the YES ministry and Duah Agyeman, the Auditor-General who originally issued an ultimatum to the ministry to clear the goods before last May 31 or risk being surcharged for the cost of keeping the goods at Tema for that long.

Baah-Wiredu hoped when the chairs were fully assembled at the Accra and Kumasi Sports Stadia and all seats are numbered, it would be possible to tell the capacity at the nation's arenas for sporting prowess. He hoped assessment of the quality and durability by experts would help to establish whether or not the amount quoted, and for which the state has paid, is commensurate with what has been brought in.

The Auditor-General told the media that on their normal round of duty, officials of the service found out that the chairs imported into the country in 1999, were lying idle and causing financial loss to the state and therefore invited the sports ministry to stop the reckless hemorrhaging of resources.

After a few interruptions from the media, the entire entourage visited the temporary warehouse erected for the chairs under the May 9 Stand at the Accra Sports Stadium.

Incidentally, the low quality of the chairs was one of the reasons identified by the Okudzeto Commission as one of the reasons that triggered off the unfortunate incident that led to the loss of 127 Ghanaian soccer fans on May 9, 2001.

The inferior quality of chairs was what made it possible for rioting soccer fans to easily tear and throw parts of the chairs on to the main bowl of the Accra Sports Stadium and invited the police to throw the tear-gas and led to stampeding which unfortunately caused the loss of so many lives.

The Acting Chief Executive of the National Sports Council Dr Emmanuel Owusu-Ansah told the Minister and his entourage that the chairs cost $16 each on its own. When it had a supporting stand made of aluminum, the same chair cost the taxpayer $37. I am not an expert at making estimates. I have no knowledge in manufacturing either. But from my layman's point of view, one of the chairs could not have cost the state ¢20,000 to manufacture them locally. In effect, it would have cost this nation less than $3 to manufacture them here in Ghana.

There is everything wrong with the way and manner the order was placed in the first place. I have it on authority that a British firm put in a bid for more durable and quality product at $15 per chair. I have always believed that a lot is wrong with the way and manner the orders were made.

The chairs were imported from the Czech Republic when my good friend Vallis Akyianu was Ghana's Ambassador. Three people need to help provide answers to the riddle of the chairs pronounced poor by the Okudzeto Commission and a Special Tax Force appointed by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in those days to examine the chairs.

In those days, Enoch Teye Mensah, in his capacity as Minister of sports, was the beginning and end of Ghana sports promotion. The former minister, Ade Coker, whose Rekoc company actually did the importation as well as Nana Sam Brew-Burtler, co-Chairman of the Local Organising Committee of CAN 2000 have quite a lot to fill the whole nation in on the importation.

Juju has no role in modern football

During his address to the media as part of the saga of the return of the chairs to the Accra Sports Stadium, Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, Minister of Youth, Education and Sports touched on a topic that is very dear to my heart.

He asked the Ghana Football Association to ensure that football clubs, particularly, Premier division clubs filed in their annual accounts on regular basis. I wish this is made compulsory and becomes one of the main criteria for playing in the premier division. Accounts of football clubs in Ghana are haphazardly kept. I can bet my bottom pesewa that officials contrived to keep the accounts in such a manner as to make it almost impossible for accounts to be rendered.

I am still unable to fathom any reason why Accra Hearts of Oak, for instance, are financially challenged. It is a fact of life that the gates give our clubs no joy, in the sense that expenses are unable to match proceeds at the gates. But I find it incredible to conjecture why after all their windfall following the club's success in the Champion League, super champions and $500,000 compensation for the failure of the Federation of International Football Associations to organize the Second World Club championship in 2001, Accra Hearts of Oak should be broke.

When I read in the newspapers that the Champion Club of Ghana was borrowing from friends to undertake the unsuccessful trip to Angola, I asked myself what happened to all the revenue from 2000?

Part of the answer was provided at the Accra Sports Stadium, when Hearts played A.S. Aviacao of Angola. Everybody appreciated the enormity of the task ahead following the 0-3 drubbing at the hands of Aviacao in the first leg. But nobody can convince me that a shadowy character that was chanting in the name of voodoo in the inner arena could provide the answer to the task.

At half-time, the man was remonstrating with players of Aviacao who were physically trying to prevent him from performing some rituals at the end Accra Hearts of Oak were to defend in the second half.

A friend commented that the man was 'locking up' the goal and thus prevents Hearts from conceding goals in the half. But what Hearts needed was not a locker to their goal; they needed goals to rain in the opposite net. There could only be one reason to the appearance of the man at the stadium, to cast a spell over Aviacao through some super natural powers known in local parlance as juju.

The decision to call this behaviour to question is informed by an earlier experience with Accra Hearts of Oak in 1977, when a juju-man allegedly convinced Hearts to lose their first leg final of final clash in the same championship at home. Needless to state that the prediction by the shadowy character that Hearts would win the second leg match by a two-goal margin did not materialize.

These things do not come cheap. Stories are doing the rounds about clubs losing substantial amount of their revenue to such characters. That is why I am happy to hear Baah-Wiredu charge our clubs to file in their annual financial returns. I assure the clubs that some of us would continue to harp on the need to avoid wasteful ventures like the hiring of jujumen. In the modern game, there is no role for juju.

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