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General News of Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Source: VOA

VOA: Kufuor Draws Fire

Ghana's President John Kufuor is coming under intense criticism after allegedly giving the nation's highest awards to himself and his close allies. Critics of President Kufuor's administration wondered why the government would spend more than 65-thousand dollars on a medal with which he was decorated at a national awards ceremony. Some Ghanaians reportedly expressed outrage after the independent Insight daily newspaper disclosed an amount of more than one-point-five million dollars was spent on the awards handed out.

They condemned the Kufuor administration's action as a demonstration of its continuing profligacy and insensitivity to the plight of the ordinary people. But the government denied the accusation, saying the purpose of the awards is to reconcile and unite the country. Raymond Archer is the publisher and editor in chief of the Insight newspaper. From the capital Accra, he tells reporter Peter Clottey that the government has shown a warped sense of priority in reassigning the awards after being turned down by a former president and a current presidential candidate.

"Basically, the controversy is how a sitting president can create the highest award in the country and award it to himself? He says that the Star of the Eagle of Ghana is the highest award of the land, but that it was supposed to go to a Ghanaian president who has successfully ended his term of office. But as we know, the president has not concluded his term of office. The other controversy obviously is the fact that he nominated ex-President Rawlings, and he turned it down. And eventually, he nominated Professor (John Atta) Mills for a lower category, and he also turned it down," Archer pointed out.

After trying to honor Atta Mills, the presidential candidate of Ghana's main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) party, President Kufuor came under heavy criticism from his own ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP). Archer points out the embarrassment of placing a political opponent in a higher category than the presidential candidate of Kufuor's own ruling party.

"His political party was very vehement because at the time Professor Mills (NDC) was nominated, Nana Akufu Addo (NPP) was nominated for a lower category than former Vice President Mills, and his party went berserk. And the party used some very harsh language against the president for nominating Professor Mills, who is the NDC presidential candidate for a national award, and giving him an award, which is higher than his own party's presidential candidate," Archer noted.

Archer said although the government might have a good intention of instituting the national award, it came out as having been significantly tilted towards the president and his closest associates.

"Probably, he meant well. But there are some genuine concerns from opposition members, which suggests that the president's conduct within the past two terms hasn't been conciliatory enough, and they don't think that a mere award is what reconciles the nation, but the gestures," he said.

He said his newspaper uncovered some of the details of the monies spent and how the contract was awarded to a foreign company.

"In fact, the story was broken by us. We found out that the president spent a whopping one-point-four million dollars just on the medals for the awards, and that he selected the highest and the most expensive medal, which costs 33-thousand pounds sterling (about 65-thousand dollars) and insisted that it must come in the format of yellow and white gold for himself. And that in his category, even though we all know that it was only the president that received the award, we also found out that he bought five of those medals, which comes to about 165-thousand pounds sterling (about 130-thousand dollars), which is about three billion cedis. We did also find out that this jewelry had to be shipped and airlifted under an express shipping agreement, which cost the nation another 22-thousand pounds sterling," he said.

Archer said the government-flouted Ghana's procurement law, which calls for such contracts to be put on public tender.

"I for example found out that the contract to award this amount to produce the medal was not put on public tender. We have a procurement law, but the president in particular has been very notorious in bypassing the procurement law when it suits him," Archer pointed out.