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Feature Article of Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Stop the Greed and Abuse from the President's Office!

Segbefia Dodges Court : Stop the Greed and Abuse from the President's Office!

On Thursday, December 13th, Ghana web carried a news item titled "Segbefia Dodges Court". Reading this article made me very hot under the collar. By the end of the article, my blood was curdling. To recap, the news item tells a tilling and nauseating story of yet another Ghanaian Diasporan (Ghanaian living overseas) robbed of his vehicle import into Ghana. All this is made possible because of greed and abuse of power at the president's office. These cheats inhabit the Castle (office of the president). They continue to deprive Diasporans of their hard earned property through clever schemes backed by greed and raw power of the presidency. What inspires me to write about this dirty deed is that it continues to feed the troubling Ghanaian psyche that one can always get something for nothing. This something for nothing delusion is what depresses productivity and enables corruption. It is time we start chipping away at a disabling mindset that continue to retard our progress as the same time as it wrecks families and friend.

In bed and lording over Customs and Excise, these cheats at the Castle are able to seize imports and sell them to their relatives and cronies at rock bottom prices. In the end, the government loses out on much needed revenue and earns a bad name. In addition, innocent Ghanaians are cheated out of their hard earn properties. No one gains from this act but the power drunk cheats who troll the Castle and can't wait to take advantage of their fellow citizens. This blatant use of power and glaring robbery must be stopped in its tracks. The president ought to shut down this activity right now. Anyone who singlehandedly sells a vehicle from the Castle must be fired! No one in the Castle must be empowered to sell cars. None!

First and foremost, where does the castle draw its mandate (authority and audacity) to seize vehicle imports from Ghanaians, regardless of their circumstance? Is this one of many irresponsible practices leftover from previous military juntas? Are these seizures individual criminal acts or government sponsored greed? Who is responsible and accountable for this car seizure program? Isn't the seizure of imports and exclusive sale to a small cabal of party hacks and tribesmen a conflict of interest? I cannot fathom, how, the president's office, powerful as it is, and to the chagrin of Diasporans, has arrogated to itself, the ability to go out and confiscate personal property and then, more often than not, sell it to party apparatchik or cronies. Customs and Excise should not be mandated to handover seized cars to the Castle. At best, it is intimidating and abusive. At worst, it is cruel, illegal and fraught with arrant corruption. Shouldn't the presidency be made of sterner stuff?

Lets look closely at some of the tenets of Mr. Sam's case. He imported into Ghana, a Mercedes Benz 711D bus worth 42,318 Euros. Yet Mr. Segbefia and his cronies sold it to one of their own for 3,940 new Ghana Cedis? How is this possible? Who is supervising these crooks? Even if we cautiously assume that Mr. Sam is in default, why should his personal situation benefit a party hack instead of the government? Who served up this canard that seized imported cars must be sold for a penny on the dollar? Why do we have a system in place that makes it possible for party hacks to rob innocent Ghanaians and the government? If there is any profit or gain to be made on such car or property sales, it must surely benefit the government not individuals on government payroll. These cars are and should not be free!

Folk, wouldn't it be wise to determine the sale price of a seized item through transparent public bidding/auction system? The Segbefia sale price of 3,940 new Cedis for a Mercedes Benz bus, as reported by the article, does not even cover custom fees to get that bus out of the harbor. So how did it end up being the sale price? These cruel seizures by the president's office, has become another clever way for stay at home Ghanaians to evade the draconian custom charges imposed on the much abused Diasporan. Keep in mind that these unsuspecting high handed charges are the key reasons why most Diasporans fall into default. Never mind that it is often very difficult to ascertain how much it will cost to clear such imports. How was this bus sold for such a low discounted price if it had a legitimate owner willing to clear it? On what basis did Sagbefia & co. determine the price of the car? How did Segbefia & co determine who gets to buy the Benz bus at such rock bottom price? Isn't it time to shut this canard down for good?

My friends, here we are paying the salaries of Mr. Segbefia and friends. Yet, their activities works directly against the interest Ghanaians. They apparently acted irresponsibly in the name of the government by illegally seizing the hard earned property of their fellow Ghanaian. In addition, they low balled the sale price for one of their own. Ghanaians must never nurse a government that employs citizens at the taxpayer's expense, only to have them turn around and terrorize their fellow citizens. A government that can seize, willy-nilly, its citizen's property, is a government that has no respect for the rule of law and tilts toward dictatorship. Are we still under military dictatorship? This practice of import seizures must be discontinue immediately. This is yet another example of the Diasporan being abused by the stay at home Ghanaian. The government, especially the president's office, should not be in the business of coveting the property of Ghanaian citizens.

I will like to spout off a bit about the much vilified and abused Diasporan. Most Ghanaians, when they see their fellow Ghanaian return home, assume that he or she is rich and ripe for plunder. While very few Ghanaians overseas are relatively rich, most Ghanaians overseas are not rich and work very strenuously for what they have. Most Ghanaians work 9am-5pm and suffer to make ends meet. Therefore, it is absolutely wrong to find clever ways to exploit the Diasporan. It is unfortunate that most Diasporans do not tell the stay at home Ghanaian the gospel truth about the hassle overseas. Please and for heaven's sake, stop robbing your sisters and brothers who toil overseas to better their lives and that of their families. Stop envying the little that they bring home. Certainly cancel all plans to cleverly steal from them. This idea of robbing Peter to pay Paul must stop. Go earn your own and stop waiting for the least opportunity to rob, steal, cheat and deprive the Diasporan of his keeps.

This write up will not be complete without recommendations on how to solve this problem. The first step to solving this problem is to stop the president's office from being involved with car seizures at the harbor. Stop it! Indeed it is demeaning of the presidency to be involved in such low down dirty acts. The responsibility to confiscate and sell property for defaulting importers should stay with Customs. Secondly, the process of seizure to sale must be transparent. Public officials in this process must be made accountable for their actions. Every act in the process must be published. All seized properties must be sold off in a transparent public auction. Outline and update government policy on this issue. Lastly, Ghanaians in distress must be given ample opportunity and support to clear their goods instead of the shark-like approach aimed at frustrating and eventually robbing them.

I hope President Mahama will add this issue to his to-do list. This is one more issue that if addressed effectively, will go a long way to put a dent in the corruption that bedevil our government. The office of the presidency ought to set a better example. Stop stealing from your brothers and sisters.

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman ( Affectionately dubbed the Double Edge Sword)

I don't give them hell, I just the truth and they think it is hell---- Harry Truman

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