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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kufuor To testify -Ghana@50

It is true. The GTV coverage of the Ghana@50 probe is one of the least watched programmes on Ghana's television networks and The Mail has uncovered information from Ghana's premier television station, GTV, that if the executives had their way, they would drop the live telecasting of the Ghana@50 probe. Reason: No audience.

It is not only in Accra but all over the country. For some reason, television viewers don't find it worth their time.

Due to the poor patronage, there was an attempt, an executive told The Mail, to record it and play it later, instead of the live coverage it's been enjoying, but “orders from above” said NO WAY, even as it is clearly hemorrhaging money from the already financially distressed network!

The executive said they are wringing their fingers in exasperation as some programme sponsors are threatening to cancel their sponsorships! The executive said the public had lost interest and that's that. But as a public service on accountability, he said, the cost, perhaps, should not matter…

The Mail decided to take up this rather curious development to find out more. Random questioning with a cross section of people in Accra revealed that people did not regard it as a priority in their lives.

The economy and how to make ends meet was top on their survival priorities and not what some of them described as “fault-finding activities.” A retired University of Ghana don told The Mail that “the whole thing has misfired.”

Explaining, he said, “if they thought (the government) it would generate a groundswell of resentment against the former government, it has not worked, it has backfired.”

Others also told The Mail that they had more important things to do than sit and watch a probe whose conclusions are already pre-determined. Instead of a Commission, said a businessman, “they should have just handed their suspicions over to the CHRAJ or SFO” to investigate.

He explained that after the Commission has finished its probe, it would hand over a report to the government, which would in turn issue a White Paper, which would determine whether there should be prosecutions or not, after which the A-G's Department would take over, then to a Fast Track High Court, a process, he said, that could outlast the government's 4-year mandate.

A number of media people who spoke to The Mail said the whole exercise is boring and even though as professionals they are supposed to be dispassionate and regard the happenings at the Commission as news devoid of sentiment, they simply found it “un-newsworthy” and uninteresting.

However, some said interest would pick up when the “big fish” start testifying. Question: Would that go as far as ex-President Kufuor?

Things are pointing that way as this week in a GNA report, Mr. Joshua Magnus Nicol, Administrator of the Common Fund told the probe that the “huge deductions” that District Assemblies claimed were deducted from their Common Fund allocations was on the instructions of the Office of the President.

Mr. Nicol said: “My Lord, I was only acting upon instructions from the Minister of Local Government, who received a letter from the Office of the President stating that the cost of the Ghana@50 plastic cups supplied to the Assemblies should be deducted from their Common Fund allocations”.

When The Mail took this up with some savants, they were quite unanimous: The immediate past President would have to brace up for questioning from the probe. In deference to his former office, his testimony may be taken in camera.

As the Commission progresses with its mandate, it would also have to keep in mind its own major handicap: The perception of a witch hunt. This kept coming up over and over when The Mail asked for people's opinions.

However, other opinions differed from this trend and insisted it was a worthwhile national exercise and though they had no time to watch the live coverage on television, the probe must go on.

The Presidential Commission probing the Ghana@50 celebrations which took place two years ago was one of President Mills' major executive actions after he had been sworn in as president nine months ago. It was a campaign promise made good and forms part of his general crusade on accountability and good governance.

Like his immediate predecessor, John Agyekum Kufuor, who promised a “Zero Tolerance for Corruption” when he was sworn in as president in 2001, President Mills has also made accountability one of the cornerstones of his administration.

By the time President Kufuor left office early this year, his government had prosecuted and jailed a number of former cabinet ministers and other officials.

Either by design or by accident, the prosecutions involved only officials of the NDC government he had taken over from, like Mr. Kwame Peprah (Minister of Finance), Mr. Adam Ibrahim (Minister of Agric), Mr. Dan Abodakpi (Minister of Trade), the late Selormy (Deputy Minister of Finance) and one Ralph Casely-Hayford a close friend of NDC founder Jerry Rawlings,.

The NDC founder's wife, Nana Konadu, and one of her closest cronies, Sherry Ayittey, were also dragged to court to answer charges of causing financial loss to the state.

In the closing months of the Kufuor Administration, Mr. Tsatsu Tsikata, former boss of the Ghana National Petroleum Company (GNPC), also a close crony of the NDC founder was handed down a stiff sentence after a protracted trial on causing financial loss to the state, which more or less run along with the full tenure of the NPP Administration.

From the above prosecutions, in some people's eyes, grounds for settlement of scores had clearly been created and the chickens are now coming home to roost!

And so when President Mills said his accountability broom would sweep former and serving public officials, many people saw it as giving notice to former officials of the erstwhile NPP Administration to get ready for their bunk beds or student mattresses to take residence in Ghana's jails!

The NDC founder has issued that particular threat ad nauseam. Could the Ghana@50 probe therefore be the flagship of that agenda? Many people think so…And there are many other probes ahead.

The new NHIS boss has threatened a probe; the Minister of Transport is probing the Metro Mass Transit buses; GIA would most certainly be probed, the new boss at TOR misses no opportunity in exposing the “mismanagement” at the place: The list goes on and on!

But the Ghana@50 Presidential Commission's lasting legacy may however not be the number of former NPP officials its recommendations send to jail, but the reforms in local governance and the well defined relationship between political leaders and civil servants that would come out of its findings.

Already it has exposed the gulf that exists between DCEs, for example, and their Coordinating Directors, leading to massive inefficiencies in the local government system. It is also exposing the sloppiness in record keeping and poor correspondence between the MDAs and local government units.

Last week, during one of the Commission's sittings, Mr. Yakubu Alhassan Abukari, Municipal Coordinating Director of the Bawku Municipal Assembly called on the government to curtail the powers of political leadership in the local governance system to enable civil servants perform better.

He suggested, as matter of urgency, the review of the Local Government Act, (Act 463) that invested “too much power” in political authorities in the metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies, to the detriment of technocrats.

“My Lord, civil servants are suffering too much at the hands of chief executives at the district level…Something should be done to dilute their powers”, he said.

He said the chief executives rendered the work of civil servants very tedious and counterproductive because “they think they have all the power and sometimes fail to consult us in decision-making in spite of our vast experience in the local governance setup”.

Another civil servant appearing before the probe Massemba Akurugu, Kassena-Nankana East Municipal Coordinating Director, was equally blunt when asked by the Commission to suggest ways of improving local governance.

He said: “My Lord, Civil Servants are facing bullets from DCE's…In short, my Lord, Civil Servants are cowards…My Lord, the way they instruct us around like we have no aim is serious…It is not good the way we are always saying 'Yes Sir Master' to everything they say whether good or bad”.

Massemba Akurugu also suggested a critical review of the local government law which ascribed “too much power” to the chief executives, saying “DCE's should make us free; we should cooperate for the good of the constituents in the district.”

If the Ghana@50 probe can somehow divest itself of the perception of a witch-hunt, it just may end up as the unlikely reformer of the local government system.

And so, what's the current disposition of the probe? The Mail put the following questions to the Commission; they are some of the often asked questions about the Commission itself:

1. What is the total budget of the probe?
2. How is it being funded: Consolidated Fund, etc?

3. How much has been expended so far?
4. Who is paying the bills for all the Coordinating Directors and other civil servants outside Accra appearing before the probe and how much have they spent so far?

5. What is the impact of the GTV telecasts and how much is it costing the country?

6. Ghana's independence is celebrated each year but the two that stand out are the 40th and 50th anniversaries. Will this probe make any reference to the 40th?

Mr. J. Ato Kobie, of the Public Affairs Department of the Commission sent the following response:

“I refer to your questionnaire under the caption: Ghana@50 story, and respond as follows:

1. To questions '1' and '3': The Commission of Inquiry (Ghana@50), makes requests as and when it deems necessary and therefore as of now it has nothing like a total budget. The total cost of our operations could only be established at the closure of the Commission's work.

2. To your question '2': Please refer to Clause 12 (1) & (2) of C.I. 61 that established this Commission (copy attached). I think from that you will know where to turn to, if you still need further answers to your question.

3. To question 4, I again refer you to Clause 12(1) of C.I. 61 except to add that so far, the Commission has not paid any amount to any witness.

4. As far as your question '5' is concerned, I believe that in order to assess the impact of the TV coverage, one may need to carry out a survey, something we have not done and are not going to do, as it is not within our terms of reference. As far as the cost of GTV's coverage of the hearings is concerned I believe GBC is best placed to give an answer.

However, as a matter of interest, I would be surprised if the motivation for GTV telecasting live the public hearings of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, Meet-the-Press etc, would be different from what makes them cover the public hearings of the Commission.

In any case, as a matter of interest, in the course of the Commission's proceedings, days that there had been the Meet-the-Press event, that had held sway over the Commission's hearings. Similarly, the recent public hearings of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament were telecast live, whilst the Commission's hearing was still in session.

We are appreciative of the coverage by GTV, as our primary objective has been to bring the hearings to the attention of Ghanaians, since it is a 'public hearing.'

5. Clause 5 of C.I. 61, spells out the terms of reference of the Commission. I am not aware that Ghana's 40th Independence anniversary celebration compared in any way with that of the Golden Jubilee anniversary.

What I do know however, is that currently, as a result of activities related to the Ghana@50 celebrations, many creditors are knocking on the doors of the state, demanding the payment of billions of cedis owed them for various contracts they executed, services rendered or goods supplied during the celebrations.”

President Mills' 4-year mandate is gradually coming to the end of its first year. Unless he shifts gears and moves the country into a mindset of creativity and productivity, the four years may run out without much being added to the little that he came to meet but a lot added into the country's loss of self-mage. A lot of dirt would have been uncovered, but of what use would that be…?

By Alhaji Abdul-Rahman Harruna Attah - accra-mail.com

Source: accra-mail.com | News source

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