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Opinions of Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Columnist: Afful, Malcolm

Is government committed to Proliferation of the media?

As an investigative journalist, I have always wondered if governments are really committed to supporting private businesses and especially those initiated by Ghanaian business men. From when I began observing and participating in the democratic debate, governments have rather pursued and served as a blockade to our locally thriving entrepreneurs who are endeavoring to complement government effort at reducing unemployment and the provision of essential services in other areas that help shape our nurturing democracy.
Cognizant of this, I have been following a story of a Ghanaian company AEWAHA which has been trying to operate a radio station in Ghana since August 2001 but has still not succeeded because of a blockade by governments. AEWAHA was granted final authorization to operate a radio station in Accra by the national communications authority NCA on 5th Feb. 2002. The authority later seized its telecommunications equipment and withdrew its license and permission to operate a radio broadcasting station by letter dated 6th Jan. 2004.
From Oct. 2006, AEWAHA has made all efforts through its solicitors to have the NCA return its communications equipment and restore its radio license which had even allocated a frequency of 93.5 MHZ. This is a company that satisfied the requirements set out in the NCA act 524 and obtained a license to operate a radio station in Accra, only for its equipment-which were approved for importing by the NCA-to be seized and It’s license revoked. What are our governments doing to our local business people? Are governments encouraging and creating the enabling environment or sabotaging their efforts at contributing to the democratic process? How about the freedom of expression that we talk about? Is it a sham or it is real? Then how can a Ghanaian company AEWAHA for close to ten years, just struggling to operate, and have had no success because of the governments and its national communications authority?
A document that I stumbled upon during my investigation, and which I’m publishing with this article for the public to make their own judgment, show clearly, that the government of Ghana under President J.A. Kuffour , against the advice of their own solicitors, refused to settle out of court and pay compensation, return to AEWAHA its radio equipment as well as restore It’s radio broadcast license. Solicitors for NCA in a letter dated 25th October 2006, GAISIE ZWENNES HUGHES & CO. said in their ‘considered opinion’, the final authorization granted to AEWAHA gave the company a vested legal right as a license- holder, and this legal right is afforded protection under section 21 of ACT 524 which regulates the NCA’s exercise of revocation and cancellation of license. None of these statutory provisions have been adhered to by the NCA. The seizure of the company’s broadcasting equipment since January 2004 is not also supported by any statutory authority or power. The solicitors for the NCA also advised that a claim instituted by AEWAHA for these complaints would be formidable, and would stand, in their view, a more-than-likely chance of success. They added that some of the reliefs that could be claimed by AEWAHA would include general damages for losses suffered as a result of the matters complained of. And that by their careful study of the business plan of AEWAHA, the NCA or government solicitors concluded that these claims by AEWAHA would be quiet substantial if they were not to settle it out of court.
Four years down the line, the NCA has still not taken the advice of its solicitors even though substantial legal fees were expended on that exercise. Four years down the line, AEWAHA, a Ghanaian company is still fighting to get its license restored and its equipment returned. The new government under President Mills has been here close to two years and the situation has not changed. Indeed, the new NCA bosses have hired lawyers formerly representing AEWAHA to represent it in court. This further brings to the fore questions of whether the NDC government also has a vested interest in this case. In my books, this attitude of government will only end up costing the tax payer more money. And besides, we’re discouraging the mass media proliferation in Ghana if we’re going to be seizing radio broadcast equipments without regard to the statute guiding the National communications authority.

Government must show its commitment to the private sector development and promotion of indigenous businesses by restoring AEWAHA broadcast license and returning its broadcast equipment. It must also save the Ghanaian tax payer money by taking the advice of GAISIE ZWENNES HUGHES & CO. solicitors for NCA and pursue an out of court settlement with AEWAHA as soon as possible.

Author: Malcolm Afful is a freelance investigative journalist working in Ghana.