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General News of Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Source: Daily Guide

Daily Guide: Kufuor Shames NDC

President John Agyekum Kufuor, on Monday, did what very few of his contemporaries would have the patience to do. Less than 48 hours after he was viciously accused of spending State funds to renovate his private residence, the President opened up almost every corner of his residence to journalists, both print and electronic, to ascertain the truth for themselves. This was after Kobby Acheampong, a systems analyst and communications consultant as well as a member of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), had alleged that the State paid $4million for the refurbishment of the residence and challenged the President to open it up to be scrutinized.

Kobby, a key a member of the NDC propaganda team in charge of coaching the party’s serial callers, was given the radio platform to run wild allegations, with nobody calling him to order.But contrary to allegations, an excursion at the edifice had shown that the house does not have the facilities purported to have been installed there at the expense of the State. A team of journalists, led by the Information and National Orientation Minister, Mrs. Oboshie Sai Cofie, was made to visit not only the sitting and bed rooms of the first family, but also their bathrooms and toilets. None of the items named in the allegation was found by the team.

Kobby Acheampong, last Saturday on Joy FM's current affairs programme, News File, read a document he claimed was obtained from the Architectural Engineering Services Limited (AESL), contending that the house had a swimming pool, 4 Jacuzzis, 12 imported wild dogs from Sweden, sliding doors imported from Italy and Britain among other things. According to him, an amount of $3,985,678.75 being State funds had so far been spent since 2001 on the President's private residence, adding that his refusal to stay at the Castle clearly showed that he (President) had a long term agenda, and that he was in for what he called ‘real business’.

Kobby, who specializes in propaganda, virtually indicted the President, claiming that the agenda of the No.1 citizen was to raise his private residence to the status of a ‘mini presidential palace’ at the expense of the State. He alleged that the President's house had a new swimming pool whose fittings were imported from Italy, plus tiles from Britain, and further listed a new club house, recreational centre, a gym, a bar, video room, separate tennis and snooker room, all well-furnished and fitted with necessary presidential security gadgets, as some of the State-funded refurbishing there. "Works so far carried out include the replacement of fence wall, replacement of polished plywood ceiling with P.O.P and ceiling sound checkers, replacement of existing NACO louvre frames, blades, and all one-side Odum panel door with glazed Italian aluminum sliding door fitted with security gadgets to match," he contended.

According to him, extensive work was done on the fence of the house which was fitted with high intensity lights at 2.5 metre intervals all round with 12 security tower lights. “I have a source that gave those items to me, ….if he thinks it is otherwise let newsmen to go there, the building is still standing, the facilities are still there… let people go into the house,” Mr. Acheampong demanded during the programme. Although he could not back his claims with any authentic document, he argued vehemently that the President's house had been refurbished to the level of a semi-presidential palace. He categorically stated that all enamel washing basins (WC) and baths in the house had been replaced with Jacuzzis imported from Italy.

After the media tour, which exposed Acheampong, Mrs. Sai Coffie appealed to the National Media Commission (NMC) to call to order people with the penchant to use the airwaves to propagate falsehood. The Commission had been recently widely hailed for lambasting DAILY GUIDE for publishing a story on the controversial health issue of NDC flagbearer Prof Atta Mills. Allegations about renovation in the President’s house had been made by key NDC members at the slightest opportunity, even though none had been proven, and observers see the latest development as one of the opposition party’s desperate attempts at resurrecting falsehood to give it a new lease of life.

Even though some work was done at the President’s house in 2001 to enhance the security of the First Family, observers think the NDC had sought to politicize it by twisting the facts on the ground. For instance, Dr. Tony Aidoo, former NDC Director of Research had consistently alleged that President Kufuor stole 1.5 billion old Ghana cedis of State funds to renovate his private house, but had failed to go beyond the allegations on radio. Before then, Hon. Alban Sumani Bagbin, NDC MP for Nadowli West and Minority Leader in Parliament, had raised the same issue and filed a petition to the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ). Interestingly, the Minority Leader, who is also a lawyer, beat a retreat when the burden of proof was thrown at him by the commission, leading to the dismissal of the petition.

Daily Guide has gathered that as communication consultant, Kobby Acheampong’s main job is the training of NDC serial callers on how to churn out unsubstantiated allegations. As a member of the party’s propaganda team, he is said to be the brain behind the pasting of disparaging articles against the Kufuor administration on Ghanaweb, using his background as a system analyst. It is recalled that in the heat of the allegations, the Audit Service, as part of its obligation, intervened to conduct investigations and ascertain the veracity or otherwise of the claims.

An Auditor-General's report, dated October 14, 2003 on the matter, following an 11-day investigation (16th to 26th September, 2003) into the jobs undertaken by the Public Works Department (PWD) Prestige at the President’s private residence between February and May 2001 did not unearth any theft or extravagance.

According to the report, the jobs discharged by PWD Prestige were identified as follows: "Installation of 10 discharge security lamps; fixing of 8-way and 4-way distribution boards and the execution of some minor electrical works; provision of fibre netting with designed battens at the end sides and rear of the ground floor of the main building and part of the out-house; and construction of the foundation of the observation post and erection of concrete columns (pillars) of approximately 20 feet high with concrete floor slate at the middle level". Even though the exact amount paid for the work could not be readily ascertained, it is on record that PWD Prestige, on January 26, 2001, presented an estimate of ¢41,147,979.00 (less than US$5,000) for it.

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