General News of Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Source: The Enquirer

Plot against FDB Boss Exposed



*By The Enquirer*

The Enquirer’s investigation into reports that a group calling itself the Progressive Nationalist Forum has dragged the Food and Drugs Board (FDB) boss to the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), for abuse of public office and financial malfeasance, has revealed that CHRAJ would be going on a wild goose chase, as there is no iota of truth in the group’s claim against Dr. Stephen Opuni.

It is widely believed that it is a high ranking member of the recently interdicted FDB officials, who is behind the action of the group and subsequent publication of their action in the “The New Crusading Guide” newspaper, to settle personal scores with Dr. Opuni, who, he believes, caused his interdiction, following a damning audit report which cited him as a beneficiary of missing ¢22 billion FDB cash.

The ‘New Crusading Guide’ newspaper, in its Friday January 15 edition, carried a report, which was based on the petition signed by a certain Richard Kwasi Nyamah, and filed at CHRAJ, that the group has accurate and detailed information to demonstrate a possible case of corruption against Dr. Opuni.

The group mentioned the purchase of a Toyota Land Cruiser, the renting of an office and residential apartments at various prices by FDB as suggestive of corruption because they claimed the transactions took place without the authorization of the Governing Board of FDB.

But *The Enquirer*’s probe, backed by interviews, has unearthed documentary evidence, showing the claims to be false.

The acting Registrar at CHRAJ, Mr. Daniel Afetsi, *yesterday* confirmed receipt of the petition from the group to *The Enquirer*, and revealed that it has been placed before the Anti-corruption Department of the Commission for action. Mr. Afetsi was, however, unable to give any detail as to when the department would commence work on the case.

“I have done nothing untoward, so I have nothing to hide. I am ready for any probe,” was Dr. Opuni’s short response when *The Enquirer* reached him on phone last Thursday.

The paper reported that sometime between July and September 2009, the current CEO rented a residential accommodation at Kanda, a suburb of Accra, at a cost of US$3,500 per month, adding that the CEO pressurized the FDB management to pay a two-year advance rent of US$84,000 to enable him occupy the said apartment.**

The report stated that ‘the group said it believes that the CEO might have a hand in the increase of the rent charges for the office space of FDB from US$7,000 per month to US$12,000 a month. Its reason was that the transaction was done without the authorization of the Governing Board of the FDB, suggesting a possible corruption.’

PNF, the ‘New Crusading Guide’ reported, further claimed that since Dr. Opuni assumed office as CEO of the FDB, transactions and activities of the institution had been done without recourse to the Governing Board, raising serious queries about their appropriateness and hinting at serious irregularities.

“Included in this is the closure of shops, banning of products and the procurement of a Land Cruiser for the use of the CEO”, the PNF stated, asking CHRAJ to launch a full-scale probe or enquiry into these allegations.

Although the group, according to the paper, claimed to have accurate and detailed information that showed a possible corruption in the offices of the Food and Drugs Board, evidence available to this paper exposes the falsity of the allegations.

Documents in the possession of *The Enquirer,* reveal that FDB did not procure any Toyota Land Cruiser and that the payments made for both the office apartment and the four-bedroom property were done with the *tacit *approval of the Ministry of Health, and that the CEO had no hand in any of the transactions.

The Toyota Land Cruiser in question belongs to the Ministry of Health, which allocated it to the FDB, one of the several organizations under it, by a letter dated January 4, 2010 and signed by Dr. Sylvester Anemana, Acting Chief Director of that ministry.

The letter, addressed to the FDB boss, said, “The Ministry of Health has allocated a Toyota Landcruiser Station Wagon with Registration No. GN 3519 – 09, with Chassis No. JTMHVO9J-104041536, to the Food and Drugs Board for long distance travels,” and it added that “you are reminded to manage and operate the vehicle in accordance with the Ministry’s Transport Policy.”

This paper is also in possession of correspondences between the Ministry of Health and the FDB on the rented office and residential properties. The documents again render as false the claims of the Progressive Nationalist Forum, as published in the ‘New Crusading Guide’ newspaper.

Both documents reveal that the FDB wrote to the Ministry of Health on the two properties and got approval to pay for them from its internally generated funds. Moreover, only a year’s rent was paid on the properties and not two years, as claimed by the Forum and reported by the paper.

Indeed, the negotiations for the office space rent renewal were carried out on behalf of FDB by the two acting deputy CEOs, Mr. John Odame-Darkwa and Rev. Jonathan Martey, the Head of Administration, Mr. Jones Forsu and the head of Finance, Mr. Akwesi Agyei, but not Dr. Opuni, as claimed by the group.

This paper’s probe, however, reveal that the wanton sale of government bungalows to cronies and party hangers-on during ex-President John Agyekum Kufuor’s rule, has started having a toll on both civil and public servants, as the current government is coughing up huge sums of money to rent apartments for its appointees, including the new FDB boss. The last FDB boss lived in his own residence.

After Dr. Opuni had spent five months putting up in a hotel in Accra, spending the weekends with his family in Kumasi on weekends, the Ministry of Health had to dole out a whopping US$39,000, as a year’s rent for a four-bedroom house, situated at North Ridge in Accra, to accommodate him, since the ministry had no bungalow to allocate to him.


What is more shocking is that a three-bedroom guest house at the Sakumono Estates, near Tema, belonging to FDB, which could have housed Dr. Opuni and some money saved, was sold to the interdicted deputy chief executive in-charge of drugs, Mr. Ben Botwe, by Mr. Emmanuel K. Agyarko, the immediate past FDB boss, at a very ridiculous price of ¢50 million around 2002.

It was also revealed that the management tasked the Head of Administration and some officers to secure and negotiate for a residential apartment for the CEO. This was after the Ministry of Health had made it clear that it could not provide the FDB boss with a state bungalow as there was none available, and therefore the FBD should look for a private property to rent.

Upon identifying the house, the FDB wrote to the ministry informing it of the rent, and approval was given to rent the apartment, but instead of the two-year period that the owner of the property wanted, FDB paid US$39,120 as rent for a 12- month period.

The head of Export and Import of FDB, Mr. Emmanuel Yaw Kwarteng, and nephew of the 80-year-old owner of the office apartment building, in an interview with *The Enquirer* said that his uncle is enraged over the insinuation being cast on him that he is part of a plot to dupe the state.

According to Mr. Kwarteng, although he works at FDB, he was mandated by the old man to negotiate the rent, on his behalf, and Dr. Opuni was never part of the discussion, saying “the only role he played was to authorize payment of the one-year rent after the Ministry of Health’s approval.”

He mentioned the heads of Account, Administration and the two Deputy CEO’s as those who took part in the negotiations on the side of the FDB, adding, “the discussion started long before Chief (reference to Dr. Opuni) was appointed to head FDB.”

He described the media reports as “nonsense” and disclosed that his uncle, Mr. Justin Oppon Peprah, is contemplating taking legal action against the media houses seeking to drag his integrity in the mud.

Also in an interview with *The Enquirer*, the Head of Public Relations at the FDB, Mr. James Lartey, said Dr. Opuni was not part of any of the transactions regarding the office apartment and the residential accommodation, hence he could not have benefitted in anyway, as claimed by the Progressive Nationalist Forum.

The PRO revealed that discussion pertaining to the renewal of a tenancy agreement for the office premises was ongoing, long before Dr. Opuni became CEO of the FDB, and that the only input he made was to pay for a year’s rent, instead of the two years’ demand by the owner of the property, Mr. Justin Oppon Peprah, who wanted US$14,000 per month, but was given US$12,000.

He had rented the place to FDB in 2007 at a cost of US$7,000 but doubled it upon the expiration of the tenancy agreement, as the new entrants to the telecommunication industry, Global Telecom, was said to have shown interest in the property.

Mr. Lartey told the paper that Dr. Opuni, in both instances, insisted on just a year’s agreement, as he was hopeful that the FDB could, with the approval of the Ministry of Health, mobilize funds to complete its permanent office at Okponglo, near Legon in Accra, and has also started discussions with the Lands Commission for a parcel of land to put up a residential apartment for all future FDB CEOs.

He further confirmed the Toyota Land Cruiser Station Wagon as coming from the Ministry of Health, and said there are documents to prove that his boss has no hand in any of the transactions, and, therefore, could not have benefited in anyway. He also confirmed the sale of the FDB guest house at Sakumono to the interdicted Deputy Chief Executive, Mr. Ben Botwe.