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Opinions of Monday, 24 September 2018

Columnist: Stephen Odoi-Larbi

Why crucify Springfield Energy when there is no wrongdoing?

The past few days have been so interesting on our airwaves, print, television and new media regarding the payment of US$3million to Mr. Kevin Okyere’s Springfield Energy by the Bulk Oil Storage and Transport (BOST) Company Limited, a major state-owned player in the oil business.

I have keenly been monitoring the spirited fight mounted by the Member of Parliament (MP) for Bongo, Edward Bawa, with the perceived aim of protecting the purse while in the process, maligning and defaming some individuals who have spent so many years building their reputation and businesses that are employing hundreds of Ghanaians.

I get worried whenever I see an MP whose livelihood largely depends on the sweat of the tax payer's money go on that tangent knowing very well that the collapse of indigenous businesses in the country will impact negatively on his or her stay in the august House.

Ghanaian businesses are doing marvelously well.

It is in fact, the businesses in the private sector that have contributed in sustaining the economy in which we find ourselves.

Their role is undisputable. That is why successive governments have over the years spent millions of cedis to create an enabling environment for private businesses to operate in.

It is also based on the success stories of the private sector that successive governments diversified the operations of some state-owned companies and handed them over to private individuals to manage or entered into a Public-Private Partnership with private institutions that have the expertise to run such businesses.

Therefore, by virtue of the sensitive public position an MP occupies, his or her utterances could make or unmake a business which took so many years in building that brand.

I have taken this particular position because it is the private sector that puts food on my table.

Bread and butter issues have become a concern to many in this country looking at the numerous redeployment exercises being carried by some businesses in the private sector.

I have also taken this position because the increasing unemployment rate which has been exacerbated by the laying off of thousands of workers, all from the private sector, is a threat to national security.

If people don't have jobs, armed robbery and other social vices will become the order of the day.

To delve into the BOST-Springfield Energy issue, the attacks on the person of Kevin Okyere and his Springfield Energy by Edward Bawa are unwarranted.

Mr. Bawa’s desire to link some notable personalities to the BOST saga is also unwarranted. It creates the impression that all those people have conspired to rob the state of its resources.

Available records indicate that Springfield Energy imported some oil into the country as far back 2013 and were stored in the tanks of BOST. Springfield Energy was paying for the space provided by BOST.

Later, it was reported that the volumes of oil were nowhere to be found. To sum it up, the oil was missing from the tanks of BOST.

Nothing was done to recover the missing product. The missing oil, according to Bawa’s narration, happened when Mr. John Kojo Afful, now the Head of Finance, was the Acting Managing Director of BOST.

Springfield Energy typical of any business, then sued BOST on November 18, 2015 demanding the full recovery of the cost of the product as well as interest, all summing up to about US$20,226,717.75.

To break it down, the cost of the product itself was about US$11million and the compound interest US$9million. Springfield Energy also made a claim of loss of profit of $3,420,000.00.

A summary judgment was however, awarded to Springfield Energy by an Accra High Court.

Per Bawa’s narration, BOST was not happy with the ruling. Operating under a new manager in the person of Dr. Kwame Awuah Darko, BOST then filed a stay of execution at the court to enable them appeal against the judgment. He then sought the services of external lawyers to fight the case.

The High Court, according to Bawa, partially granted BOST its requet and ordered the payment of the cost of actual product lost as ascertained by the auditors and agreed by both parties. This was $11,104,143.29.

The remaining 19% interest rate of US$9million was still in contention.

According to Bawa, on December 20, 2016, BOST, under Awuah Darko, paid the said principal amount of $11,104,143.29 through a Five-Year Term loan from Fidelity Bank.

Spring Energy, I am told in September 2017, approached Mr. Alfred Obeng, who was then the MD of BOST to have the matter settle out of court.

Following negotiations on the settlement agreement on the US$9million, Mr. Alfred Obeng then ordered for the payment of US$4million without the consent of the external lawyers.

The settlement agreement was then forwarded to the external lawyers for their perusal. According to Bawa, the external lawyers clearly advised against further payment to Springfield because Springfield, in their opinion, was not entitled to an amount of $9 million as interest payment.

Here, the external lawyers failed to address or state in clear terms what in their view Springfield Energy is entitled to as interest on the principal amount.

Bawa in his write up on the subject matter created the impression that Springfield Energy has been engaging in dubious and fictitious deals by reechoing the words of the external lawyers in their response to BOST.

Where did Springfield Energy go wrong to deserve this unfair treatment from Bawa? In the minds of the public, the Bongo MP has created the impression that Springfield Energy has not been involved in genuine business.

On Wednesday, September 19, 2018, the immediate past MD of BOST, Mr. Alfred Obeng, in an interview with Accra-based Class FM stated that he directed the payment of US$4million out of the US$9million interest to Springfield Energy based on legal advice he received from the Head of Legal Affairs at BOST.

Again, where did Springfield Energy go wrong to deserve such an unfair comment from Bawa?

Has the Bongo MP sought clarification from the new MD of BOST, George Mensah Okley and John Kojo Ankoful why an additional US$3million was paid to Springfield Energy before going to public with his outburst?

As a Member of Parliament, there are so many ways he could have explored to demand answers from the management of BOST.

As a member of the Mines and Energy Committee, Bawa could have lobbied his Chairman to sermon officials of BOST to appear before the Committee to respond to the payments made to Springfield Energy against the advice of their external lawyers.

He could also file a question on the subject matter for sector Minister [in this case the Minister of Energy] to respond to the concerns raised.

To go public and try to create the impression that Springfield Energy is involved in dubious deals is unwarranted of an MP.

I will urge Springfield Energy to go for the audio recordings of all the interviews Bawa has granted to some radio and television stations on the matter, review his comments, and sue him if any act of defamation of character is detected.

Bawa should know that as an MP who lives on public funds, much as it requires of him to protect the public purse, he is also required to protect indigenous businesses that also contribute to his upkeep through the taxes they pay to the government.

What is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. It is my hope that Bawa and all who are criticizing Springfield Energy of wrongdoing will revise their notes and be advised accordingly.

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