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Opinions of Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Columnist: Sarpong, Nana Yaw

Ghana’s “gargantuan” games and a govt’s corrupt hypocrisy

As Ghana got knocked out of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) in Equatorial Guinea, ending a soccer-mad nation’s dreams, an even bigger football drama has been playing out in Accra, the Ghanaian capital. It involves the CAN 2008 tournament, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), government-appointed public servants, a top NDC financier, deals cut in dark rooms and rampant abuse of state funds by those who are supposed to be governing the country.

In a shocking case of negligence, waste and apparent fraud at the highest levels of state, the government of Ghana hastily paid a sum total of GH¢58 million (US$35m) to a single individual called Alfred Agbesi Woyome (pronounced WO-YO-MER), who just happens to be a financier and regional executive of the ruling NDC. The payment was to settle a court-ordered judgment over a highly questionable writ connected to the last football tournament.

In 2006, the then government terminated an unsuccessful arrangement for stadium refurbishment in the run-up to CAN 2008. Individuals have used this action, part of the normal workings of an ordered government, to make claims on state coffers.

In July 2004, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government of John Agyekum Kufuor was awarded the right to host the CAN 2008 football tournament. In line with the expectations of the Confederation of African Football, the government began to get the infrastructure in shape. The plan was to use five locations. Ghana would take advantage of existing facilities in its two largest cities. Two stadiums in Accra and a third in Kumasi would be refurbished and two new stadiums built – one in Sekondi-Takoradi to the west and the other in Tamale in the north. Advertisements inviting construction and service firms to tender for the preparatory work duly went out.
Ghana had been obliged to declare itself a Heavily Indebted Poor Country in 2001 following the NPP’s 2000 election victory over the NDC, and so one area where the country faced great difficulty was in raising finance on the open market to cover the cost of hosting the games. As such, the government invited expressions of interest from project investors and financiers in Ghana and abroad, in addition to construction companies. Over the course of 2005 and 2006, with the assistance of a tender evaluation committee and the Central Tender Review Board, Kufuor’s government, together with a team led by Yaw Osafo-Maafo, then Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, and the CAN 2008 Local Organising Committee, fielded the list of bids.
A joint venture involving M-Powapak Gmb and Vamed Engineering GmbH & Co was among the bidders that expressed an interest in the CAN project. Vamed was an Austrian firm with a track record of health-sector public construction contracts in Ghana. Mysteriously, M-Powapak is listed in business directories as specialising in food manufacture, processing and wholesale. In the Vamed team was Alfred Agbesi Woyome. Woyome, a Ghanaian, was deputy consul of the Austrian Embassy in Ghana.
Among terms in the memorandum of understanding between the Ghanaian government and the Vamed consortium, it was stipulated that if the firm was to be awarded a contract, it would raise funds on the open market to carry out the necessary work. Vamed in turn demanded that the parties set up a special-purpose company and obtain approval of credit terms from the International Monetary Fund. The Ghanaian government included disclaimers of liability in the MoU, which also stated explicitly that the government had no contractual relationship with Vamed.

In July 2005, Vamed assigned its rights and responsibilities under its tender bid to Waterville Holdings Ltd, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands. In August, the then Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports informed Vamed/Waterville that it was discontinuing with the tendering process due to time constraints and the high financial commitments for Ghana implied in the bids that the company had submitted. With the games fast approaching and deadlines already having been breached, a decision was made to award the refurbishment contracts for the Accra and Kumasi stadiums to Micheletti and Consar Ltd, and the Sekondi and Tamale building contracts to the Shanghai Construction Group.
Letters from the then Attorney General, Joe Ghartey, in August 2006 and from the Office of the President in October 2008 confirm that the government of Ghana had no claims to settle with any other party after Micheletti and Consar had agreed to pay any amounts outstanding to Waterville Holdings as a subcontractor. The rebuilding and refurbishment work was duly done and CAN took place between 20 January and 10 February 2008. Egypt beat Côte d’Ivoire 1-0 in the final; the host country, Ghana, was third.
In December 2008, a general election took place and after a hard fight the NPP lost by 40,000 votes. Power passed to the NDC the following month.
In August 2009, following the NDC’s return to power under President John Evans Atta Mills, Woyome wrote to the Minister of Youth and Sports alleging that continuing claims for settlement of a sum of €21.6 million (US$29 million) by Waterville Holdings, which had played a role in refurbishing the Accra and Kumasi stadiums, were “grossly exaggerated” and that it was he who had played the prime financial role in steering CAN 2008 to success.
An interim investigation ordered by President Mills has since found that in February 2010 Woyome presented a lengthy petition for ‘settlement’ in which he described his involvement in the CAN 2008 project as dating back to 2001, ending in the government’s abrogation of their MoU in 2006. He filed a writ at the High Court claiming 2% of the €1.1 billion (US$1.5 billion) he said had been made available to the government of Ghana by Bank of Austria through the consortium that he ‘had led’. Yet Woyome, in his personal capacity, had neither put in a bid nor entered into any contract with the government of Ghana to construct or refurbish any stadium in Ghana between 2001 and 2006. And the purported €1.1 billion had been intended to cover the cost not of rehabilitating three stadiums, but of building five new stadiums for CAN 2008 and rehabilitating three stadiums, as well as building six new hospitals and two industrial plants. The Minister of Youth and Sports referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Department. In her capacity as Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Betty Mould-Iddrisu referred the petition to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. The Minister of Finance, Kwabena Duffour, referred Mould-Iddrisu’s request to his ministerial director of legal affairs, Paul Asimenu. Duffour and Asimenu now disagree about whether the Minister authorised Asimenu to prepare and sign advice on the claim to the Attorney General on Duffour’s behalf.
Asimenu duly advised that, “given the complexity of the work involved in securing the financing in question . . . the claim of 2% is deemed legitimate”. The Attorney General duly went into discussions with Woyome and it was agreed that he be paid the cedi equivalent of €22 million to settle his claim. Mould-Iddrisu then advised Duffour to pay the agreed sum.
In early April 2010, the Minister of Finance wrote back to the Attorney General asking for clarification of the petitioner’s right of claim to payment. Towards the end of the month, Mould-Iddrisu wrote back assuring Duffour that the claim was supported by documentation and advising him to pay Woyome. Duffour then authorised the payment through the Bank of Ghana. The presidential investigation claims that before payment could be effected, however, President Mills himself intervened on two separate occasions and ordered the Minister of Finance not to settle the claim.
In response to the first failure to settle his claim, Woyome changed his lawyers and filed an amendment to his writ at the High Court in Accra on 4 May. He now demanded €44 million (US$58 million) from the government of Ghana, representing a 4% ‘financial engineering’ fee on the €1.1 billion that he claimed had been made available to CAN 208 through his efforts, plus interest of €11.6 million (US$15 million). Inexplicably, Betty Mould-Iddrisu, acting in her capacity as Attorney General on behalf of the Republic of Ghana, decided in consultation with Ebo Barton Oduro, Deputy Attorney General, and Samuel Nerquaye-Tetteh, the Chief State Attorney in charge of the case, not to file a legal defence on behalf of the state to this glaringly dubious claim, made in Woyome’s personal capacity.
In May 2010, Woyome obtained a High Court judgment agreeing his claim against the state of €44 million plus interest of €11.6 million (US$14 million) and awarding him costs of GH¢25,000. The total came to GH¢105.5 million (US$63 million). This was said to be based on the terms of settlement brokered by Mould-Iddrisu with Woyome. On the Attorney General’s instructions – issued four days later – that the government pay a final negotiated settlement of GH¢51.3 million, the Ministry of Finance made a prompt payment of GH¢17 million and agreed to settle the remainder in three instalments between January and September 2011. The Attorney General’s instructions were copied to the Chief of Staff, and so the President would have been aware of them.
In a cabinet reshuffle of January 2011, Betty Mould-Iddrisu moved from the Attorney General’s Department to the Ministry for Education. Her immediate successor was Martin Amidu, running mate to President Mills in the 2000 election. Kwabena Duffour remained Minister of Finance.

The Auditor General’s report on government expenditure for 2010-2011 presented to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament has since shown that the government of Ghana in fact paid Alfred Agbesi Woyome GH¢92 million in total. Under palpable pressure from the government of Ghana, the Auditor General has since retracted his own figures and claimed an error in reporting; he now says the state paid Woyome GH¢58 million. The government disputes both sets of figures but confirms that GH¢51 million was paid.
It is worth noting that the sum of GH¢58 million (US$35 million) is more than a quarter of the total budget of the Ministry of Agriculture (GH¢221.5 million). Historically, Ghana’s largest source of foreign exchange earnings was the agricultural sector; it is still the second largest source of foreign exchange. Not sports. Or financial engineering.
The opposition NPP cried foul in December 2011 on scrutinising the Auditor General’s report and uncovering details of the payments to one individual – Woyome. The government’s initial reaction was silence. In the face of mounting public outrage, President Mills on 21 December 2011 launched an investigation into the matter by the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO), the Ghanaian equivalent of the Serious Fraud Office. EOCO is a sub-division of the Attorney General’s department. When the NPP pointed out that asking the sub-division to investigate claims of malfeasance committed by the past head of the parent department signalled that the investigation was not credible in intent, the President’s response was to declare that the purpose of the investigation was to discover who was responsible for awarding the contract in the first instance – in other words, he pointed the finger at the previous administration even before the investigation began. He also said on two separate occasions, in public, that he had never known of any such payments being made. However, as already noted, the presidential investigation states that President Mills intervened twice to stop payment being made through the Bank of Ghana to Woyome.
In early January, public agitation over the affair grew and the NPP stepped up its calls for the state to reclaim the money paid to Woyome and for a public inquiry under the auspices of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament. In response, the NDC party faithful began to clamour for the arrest of NPP government officials involved in the organisation of CAN 2008. Forced to take action, the President asked the successor Attorney General, Martin Amidu, to investigate the Woyome case.
Subsequent news reports indicate that high-ranking public legal servants appeared to be frustrating Amidu’s investigation.
On 11 January 2012, Amidu issued an unprecedented, sharply worded, personal press statement. He condemned attempts to impugn his professionalism, alleged threats to his life by “a colleague Minister of State”, fulminated about “hardcore criminals in our society today [who] have made it a habit to hold paid membership cards of major political parties in the republic as an unconstitutional insurance against crime and criminal prosecutions”, excoriated attempts at “concealment of gargantuan crimes against the people of Ghana” and vowed to defend the NDC’s revolutionary values. The clear implication was that Amidu was probing the actions of Woyome and Mould-Iddrisu and that they were working to frustrate his efforts.
Woyome embarked on a high-profile public relations campaign in the Ghanaian press. His chief argument was that, as the payment had been made on the orders of the civil courts, it could only be overridden by a judgment of a superior court. He also insinuated in very unsubtle terms that all key players in the NDC – the party’s founder Jerry John Rawlings, who leads a ‘revolutionary’ faction of the party to the likes of Woyome are opposed – had benefited from the booty.
On 19 January, President Mills called a meeting at his office with Amidu and other members of cabinet, including Mould-Iddrisu. Insider reports say that a screaming match ensued. Amidu was sacked immediately for “misconducting himself before the President during a meeting at the Castle”. On 23 January, Betty Mould-Iddrisu resigned from the Cabinet, saying she was standing aside in order to clear her name.
The special investigation by EOCO delivered its interim report on 1 February 2012. In keeping with President Mills’s instructions, it outlines the chronology of events, and leans heavily in the direction of:
a) Implying illegal conduct by Yaw Osafo-Maafo “and other Members of Cabinet” in the NPP administration of 2005-2006 for having engaged Woyome to assist with CAN 2008 but then, after giving him the go-ahead (for demolition work on one of the Accra sites, rather than any ‘financial engineering’), supposedly breaching the terms of an agreement between them and contravening the Public Procurement Act.
b) Damning key figures involved in the negotiation and settlement of the claim: Alfred Agbesi Woyome, Betty Mould-Iddrisu, Paul Asimenu, Samuel Nerquaye-Tetteh.
c) Absolving President Mills and, indeed, portraying him as having made personal interventions to prevent the settlement being made.
The investigation further found that a sum of GH¢400,000 (US$240,000) was paid from Woyome’s account to Gifty Nerquaye-Tetteh, wife of the Chief State Attorney responsible for overseeing Woyome’s claim when it was with the Attorney General’s Department. The report makes no note that Woyome’s account was with uniBank, a Ghanaian operation in which Kwabena Duffour, the Minister of Finance, owns a majority share. Duffour was also chairman of the board of the uniBank until his appointment as Finance Minister.
As criticism of the Mills administration reached a crescendo, Woyome was arrested and charged with conspiracy, defrauding by false pretences and corrupting a public officer on 3 February. Paul Asimenu, Samuel Nerquaye-Tetteh and Gifty Nerquaye-Tetteh were detained on 4 February. Asimenu and Mrs Nerquaye-Tetteh were charged with abetment of crime. Samuel Nerquaye-Tetteh was charged on counts of conspiracy and corruption of a public officer. The three men were remanded in custody on 6 February; Mrs Nerquaye-Tetteh was released on bail of GH¢500,000.
The persistent response of NDC spokesmen and party faithful has been to call for the arrest of Osafo-Maafo and his former deputy at Education, Youth and Sports, Osei Bonsu Amoah.

The Woyome saga shows that President John Evans Atta Mills is not in charge of his own government. Worst still, it leaves his government open to charges of creating chaos in the affairs of state. At least that is the kindest interpretation one can put on it. At worst, members of the NDC government at all levels appear to have conspired to defraud the Republic of Ghana of taxpayers’ money, using the machinery of state, bribing public officials to conspire in the fraud and consciously turning a blind eye to the looting of state coffers.
The initial report by EOCO is an attempt at a whitewash that fails miserably. Even as it attempts to absolve the President of wrongdoing, it implies that he had inside knowledge of his ministers’ misconduct on which he failed to act. Furthermore, it appears the sole member of his Cabinet who has been sacrificed for the whole saga is one of the very few who bore marks of professionalism and integrity in his conduct as a public servant. Another member of cabinet has been allowed to “resign” and attempt to save face. The Minister of Finance and the Deputy Attorney General, both deeply implicated, are still in office.
Spokespeople for the NDC and the President are now making loud noises about how an unrelated drugs case will implicate the NPP governments of 2000 to 2008. It appears the government’s only response to the corruption and utter confusion in its own ranks is to try to intimidate the Opposition into silence by implying in public and through press statements that members of the NPP are directly responsible for the loss to the state, or are somehow implicated in defrauding the state. This tactic will not work. Ghanaians will not stand for it.
The whole sorry mess points to the chaos at the heart of the Mills-led NDC government. If we believe that President Mills twice gave orders that twice were deliberately ignored by his Ministers of State, then he is not in charge of his own government. If we believe that he knew nothing of the matter before the NPP raised objections, he is still not in charge of his own government. And if one chooses to believe the very worst, he has colluded in the corruption of the public officials who are supposed to answer to him.
The leadership of the New Patriotic Party has pointed out that such events would not have happened on its watch because during the Kufuor administrations all major expenditures had to be presented and agreed by Cabinet before being authorised by the President. The NPP maintains its demand for an public inquiry into the Alfred Agbesi Woyome affair under the supervision of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament. Furthermore, it demands that such an investigation by the Public Accounts Committee be heard in public. The people of Ghana need to hold their government to account.

For more information please contact Nana Yaw Sarpong on 07983 302 369