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General News of Thursday, 18 January 2018


Frightened expatriates run from ‘cash-for-seat’ probe

The committee set up to probe the case The committee set up to probe the case

The five-member Parliamentary Committee, tasked to investigate the alleged extortion of monies from expatriates in the country during the 2017 Ghana Expatriates Business Awards, have had to suspend sitting yesterday, because none of the expatriates invited to testify before the committee, showed up.

The expatriates appear frightened that, there could be reprisal attacks on their businesses should they step forward to reveal details of the arrangement that got them dolling out a whopping GH¢2,667 million into the coffers of the organizers, including the government of Ghana represented by the Trade Ministry.

It is not clear, if they had been threatened after the dodgy performance of the President of Millennium Excellence Foundation, Ashim Morton, who ended up painting a shady picture of himself during his appearance.

But the five-member Parliamentary Committee, has the power to subpoena them to appear and testify, however, it is not clear, if the committee will do this to give a true meaning to the fight against corruption.

The Chairman of the Committee, Kwasi Ameyaw Cheremeh, explained that although they had written official letters to the expatriates to appear before them yesterday, “none have shown up so we are unable to continue with the work of the committee for the day.”

“…So we adjourn and probably contact them again to appear before us at a later date to be determined by the Committee. We will give them that opportunity to appear before us,” he told the media who were present to cover the sitting.

The Committee, which has been sitting since last Thursday, is supposed to present its report to Parliament on January 24, 2018.

So far, the Minority Chief Whip, Mohammed Mubarak-Muntaka, North Tongu Member of Parliament (MP), Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, Minister of Trade and Industry, Alan Kyeremateng, as well as officials from the Millennium Excellence Foundation, organizers of the Ghana Expatriates Business Awards, have all appeared before the committee.

Media reports suggest that, prior to yesterday’s hearing, there were indications that even the Committee Chairman, did not know how many of the expatriates who made financial commitments at the event, were to appear before them.

There are suggestions the expatriate business executives, may not show up due to the political nature of the matter, and the effect it could have on their businesses going forward.

The Ministry of Trade, supporters of the Awards, was alleged to have charged between $25,000 and $100,000, to enable expatriates to sit close to President Akufo-Add at the awards ceremony, which was organised by the Millennium Excellence Foundation.

The allegation was first made by the Minority Chief Whip, Muntaka Mubarak, in Parliament in December 2017.

Mr. Mubarak, said the fees charged at the Ghana Expatriate Business Awards, were not approved by Parliament, adding that the monies were also not accounted for in the Internally Generated Funds [IGF] of the Ministry’s accounts.

The issue was further reinforced by Mr. Ablakwa, who suffered verbal assaults from Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Carlos Ahenkorah, over the matter.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry, initially dissociated itself from these allegations.

The Trade Ministry, in a statement, said it played no role in determining prices for seats at the event and clarified that it only facilitated the implementation of a new initiative by the Millennium Excellence Foundation.

But the Ministry after an order from the President to probe the matter, clarified that an amount of GH¢2,667,215, was realized from the event.

The organizers of the Awards had also explained that no one paid to sit close to the President and that the amount was raised from sponsorship through a fundraising at the event.

Parliament subsequently formed a five member bi-partisan committee to investigate the matter.

Mr. Mubarak said the fees charged at the Ghana Expatriate Business Awards (GEBA) were not approved by Parliament, adding that the monies were also not accounted for in the Internally Generated Funds [IGF] of the Ministry’s accounts.

The issue was further reinforced by Mr. Ablakwa, who suffered verbal assaults from Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Carlos Ahenkorah over the matter.

But the President of the Millennium Excellence Foundation (MEF), organisers of the 2017 Ghana Expatriates Business Awards, Ashim Morton has indicated that not all companies which sat near the presidential seat ‘gold table’ paid monies for the event.

He said there were complimentary seats near the presidential seat which didn’t pay a dime due to their long time relationship with MEF.

Appearing before the committee, the MEF boss denied allegations that the expatriate business magnates paid $100.000.00 to sit close to President Nana Akufo-Addo.

‘No company paid a $100.000.00 before the event. If a $100.000.00 was paid towards this event [2017 Ghana Expatriates Business Awards] it didn’t happen before December 4, 2017. Rather, two companies paid an ex-gratia towards the hosting of this programme to support us. It is false that all companies paid monies to seat close to the Presidential seat. Not all companies paid monies to sit close to the President,’ he explained.

He revealed that the Ministry of Trade received 10% whiles MEF had 90% of the revenue accrued from the event.

The Minority MPs hold that the sale of the seats was extortion and whittled the dignity of the Presidency.

Appearing before the Committee on Monday, January 15, 2018, President of the awards organising agency, Ashim Morton, said a document purported to be the sponsorship package sent out to expatriate businesses is forged.

“I am deeply disturbed by what I am looking at. I am very deeply disturbed on the thinking of the personality who will fabricate…and change our sponsorship package…

“This document is foreign to the Foundation. I have never seen this document before. As I mentioned early on, all our sponsorship packages were in colour and if you look at the font [of the document tendered in as evidence], the font has changed,” he said.

It is not clear if the document Mr. Morton refers to was among those presented by the Minority as evidence of wrongdoing in the ongoing probe, however, the Minority is known to have presented some documents to the Committee to firm up their case that huge sums of money were paid into the Trades Ministry accounts by expatriate business owners.

Ashim Morton painted a shady picture of himself

However, Ashim Morton, painted a shady picture of himself when he appeared before the committee on Monday. For instance, his response to “Ambassador” was discovered that he has no diplomatic status, but only had titled conferred on him by charity organizations; Red Cross and a youth organization.

It came out that, the Millennium Excellence Foundation, is a profit-making business limited by guarantee that conceives ideas for awarding prominent individuals, but uses credible institutions to give it a cloak of believability, thus forcing awardees to dish money to give these awards for the publicity stunt they bring them.

So in name, it suggests it is an NGO, but in reality it is a private business, he runs with his wife to make money.

Ashim Morton’s lawyer, Charles Zwennes, appeared not involved in negotiations, indeed he appeared hurriedly hired purposely fro representing him at the Parliamentary inquiry, as he had to issue a disclaimer to a Memorandum of Understanding the company signed with the Ministry of Trade.

Lawyer Zwennes, said the document which had to do with the sharing arrangement of the proceeds from the event, did not emanate from his law firm and that he was seeing it for them first time.

Interestingly, parts of the MOU, were signed by his wife as a witness to the financial arrangements between the MEF and the Trade Ministry.

He had also failed to submit some documents to the Committee ahead of his appearance as demanded. This led to a member of the committee, Lawyer Dominic Ayine, suggesting he might have tempted with the documents since those he brought were different from those submitted to the committee by the Minority Chief Whip, Muntaka Mubarak and Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa.

Parts of the MOU and a diagram showing the sitting arrangement at the event were different from what Mr. Ashim Morton submitted to the committee. He rather suggested the two documents had been forged insisting his documents were rather original.

The Herald is informed that there are currently many dissimilar documents before the committee to peruse. Most of the different documents came from the MEF and with the expatriates refusing to show up, it is difficult to established forgery and perjury between MEF and the Trade Ministry, since the comparison and confirmation is lacking.

On the sitting arrangement and dinner with the President, Mr. Ashim Morton, shockingly said he was the President in question, that the expatriates were to sit on the same table with during the award event, and later have separate dinners with on different dates, adding the President, captured in various document is not President Akufo-Addo, who was at the event.

Interestingly, in some of the documents, he described himself as president, while other times, he identifies himself as chairman and founder of MEF, although former Foreign Minister, James Victor Gbeho, also had some of these titles as working for MEF.

The money gotten from the expatriates have been described by Mr. Ashim Morton as sponsorship packages, ex-gracia among others, but he refused to give the names of the companies, saying the confidential issues involve. This thus creates uncertainties as to how many money the MEF, got from the expatriates.

He also refused to give his bank statement to the committee to confirm the actual amount realized from the event on which he spent GH¢40,000, but ploughed back GH¢2,667,215.

More to come!

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