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Opinions of Sunday, 26 September 2010

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Ghana: J.J and the high speed circus

By George Sydney Abugri

Verily trust me on this score, Jomo: The average bloke is no better or worse than the average bloke if you see what I mean. Put another way, we are all good and bad in varying degrees. The consolation is that there is always ample room for the exercise of personal integrity, isn’t there?

Yet if you wrote the political history of our republic forward and backwards through time and space a thousand times over, you would find the very same tales of intrigue, dishonesty, and multiple standards thrown up again and again in this unrelenting war between the good guys and the bad guys of our republic.

Who are the good guys and the bad guys? Hey, I just told you who they are, old chap! They have got us well and truly trapped in their war to establish their true identities and rendered us involuntary participants in a very bizarre, high speed circus:

For example, a ruling government assures us that its predecessors had kept a list of collaborators in the media on an illegal payroll to conceal the truth about its actions and inactions, while working mainly through media-facilitated propaganda to entrench itself in power.

A new government comes along and the old government now in opposition, which had itself been accused of paying bribes to a select group of powerful journalists, now, turns the guns of accusation on the new government and says the new government is paying hefty bribes to journalists.

J.J {the very same, who else?} went up to Ouagadougou last week to address a meeting of the International Catholic Union of the Press. He gave the journalists a short lecture on the sacredness of journalism as a guard dog of Truth and how corruption among journalists in turn corrupts the truth.

Then J.J pulled a fat cat out of nowhere: In his own country Ghana he told them, a corrupt administration had paid an unnamed journalist a regular stipend of US$ 10,000 to defend the administration’s misdeeds.

One view was that J.J Rawlings is given to making undomesticated allegations he often fails to substantiate and this was clearly one of them. A converse one was that having been head of state for two decades, the man has had connections with and access to information the rest of us may not have access to, and that in this case, he very well might know what he is talking about.

Something not too far dissimilar to the Jesus-Judas episode at the Last Supper played out: Hey, who is he referring to? Is it me? Is it him? No, it must be him! From nowhere again appeared a whispered list of “suspects.” A whispered list? Then there must be more than one beneficiary of the green bucks largesse after all? That was what someone then asked.

Then some media picked up J.J's theme and added a supplementary note to the effect that the National Security establishment had during its headship by former security Chief Francis Poku, kept some unnamed journalists on a monthly take.

You probably recall how soon after the Mills administration took office, allegations were made about the use of revenues from a petroleum tax to pay bribes to journalists through the Ministry of Information during the Kufuor administration.

The circus is still on, Jomo: There were allegations in the media last week about the alleged use of public money amounting to GHc 169, 000 by an official at the Ministry of information to buy hampers for journalists and motivate media houses to educate the public on the last national budget statement by President Mills’s Minister of Finance.

The allegations of corruption in the media or rather of government corruption of sections of the media have refused to go away in spite of the lack of concrete evidence. A highly placed individual who normally is a man of very few words, did remark to me a few years ago, that “some of your colleagues are making good money.” I doubt if he was referring to journalists’ wages.

National security Chief Colonel Gbevlo- Lartey says he intends to discontinue the practice of paying bribes to journalists. Ah, that should make shady politicians prance about in ecstatic joy, yah?:

With the kind of intelligence information on its files and with journalists on its payroll, the national security establishment could easily wreak havoc on the public image and political careers of political foes of every government.

Journalists who apply for international journalism fellowships are usually required to write several essays for critical reviews by a selection panel.

The portfolio of essays will usually include one in which the applicant is asked to explain what personal values have shaped his/her career as a journalist. I reckon the panels always look out for applicants who omit or appear to place very little value on professional honesty, fairness, objectivity, truth and a commitment to the public good

Now look here buddy, I by no means calling for angels and saints or other higher beings in the media who do no wrong. I am referring to journalists who in spite of their imperfections as fallible beings, will at least make a very conscious effort to stick to fairness and balance and hey, I am not referring to the hypocritical cut-and-paste version of media balance!

By the way, I gather that there has been a redefinition of the concept of national security and that Colonel Lartey’s priority is not to send public purse sponsored spooks chasing enemies of the political establishment everywhere they go, and making them keep glancing anxiously over the shoulders all the time.

One of the critical concerns of the national security establishment I gather, is now to take proactive steps to limit the possibility of communities getting restless as a result of social deprivation.

So if the information coming from the security establishment is indeed true, a rather unlikely responsibility of the national security establishment is to ensure for example, that people in deprived communities have access to clean drinking water!

There is apparently much more to the redefinition of national security than that: The national security establishment is going after land thieves to make them hand back stolen state lands and land cheats who have appropriated public land at the prices of grade three groundnuts, to pay every pesewa in the true value of such lands.

Thousands of people have been killed in recent years during communal clashes over disputed lands. Hundreds of land guards have been killed or have killed many over land. The average plot of land on offer for sale in Ghana today has most probably already been sold to ten previous buyers. When buyers go to take possession of purchased land, a bloody war invariably starts.

Land title records at land registries appear to be all mixed up and irretrievably so. Sometimes land administrators take whole newspaper pages from cover to cover, to publish land title records but a fat lot of good all that is doing to rationalize land administration.

Now colonel Lartey has compiled a list of former political leaders, ministers of state and political appointees and their cronies, who have allegedly appropriated state lands and landed properties under questionable circumstances . Some will be made to hand back lands and others to pay their real value.

You can only hope the colonel has an eye on the other aspect of national security as well: You wake up every morning and there is always news of people who have been attacked, robbed, raped and murdered by the marauding army of terrorists and killers who have taken the nation hostage. For some strange reason people keep calling them armed robbers.

My philosophy of human existence tends to be radical and my views on the matter might understandably scandalize the nation’s clergy and human rights activists:

It is time to take the expression “taking the war to the enemy”, beyond hackneyed rhetoric: Marshal all forces for an all-out war: Call out the regular army, air force, navy, police, National Security, BNI, Metropolitan and District Assembly anti-crime volunteers and clean out the bandits from coast to Savanna, in one unprecedented, searing swoop.

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