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Opinions of Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Columnist: Nicholas Issaka Gbana

Mahama Ayariga should give up the Media Dev’t Fund

In 2005, I had a conversation with then Minister of Education, Yaw Osafo-Maafo, on why he pushed for the implementation of the Computerized School Selection and Placement System (CSSPS) by the Ghana Education Service (GES) that year.

His response was: ‘I needed my peace of mind’.

The GES decided in 2003 to implement CSSPS to replace the manual system of placing qualified BECE candidates into second cycle schools. Like most public sector projects implementation had delayed until Osafo Maafo’s arrival at the Ministry of Education in early 2005.

According to Osafo Maafo, as a Member of Parliament, and Minister of State during President Kufuor’s first term, chiefs, constituency executives, party foot soldiers, family and friends all sought his assistance to gain admission for their wards into a particular school.

The pressure on the Ministers of Education preceding him was more intense. He knew he will face similar demands and wanted a way out. When he assumed office and discovered that there was a project underway to make the computer, instead of human beings, carry out the task of placing BECE students he went all out for it.

If you asked him to help with admissions to any second cycle institution his response was that he had no control over the process. The computer decides.

The lesson here is that politicians, whilst in power, complicate their lives by wanting to control everything. They refuse to let go certain matters that are better managed by others.

THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE MEDIA DEVELOPMENT FUND (MDF)

The Media Development Fund (the Fund) was first announced by then Vice President John Mahama on September 9, 2011 at the 16th Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) awards ceremony.

On November 16, 2011, then Minister of Finance, Kwabena Duffuor, announced in his budget presentation to parliament that an amount of GH¢1 million had been allocated to the Fund.

In March 2012, then Deputy Minister of Information, Okudzeto Ablakwa, announced that the Fund will be operational in the second quarter of 2012.

On February 21, 2013, President Mahama in his State of the Nation Address said the Fund will be operational in 2013.

On October 24, 2013 the Media Foundation for West Africa issued a media release raising questions about the whereabouts of the Gh¢1 million Fund.

On November 25, 2013 the media reported that key stakeholders including the National Media Commission (NMC), Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) and Private Newspaper Publishers Association of Ghana (PRINPAG) had denied knowledge of how the GH¢1 million was disbursed.

A week later it emerged that the GJA and PRINPRAG had received some laptops from the Ministry of Information. However, they claim they did not know it was purchased with the Fund. GIBA claims it was offered laptops by the Ministry but rejected it.

On December 12, 2013, Minister of Information, Mahama Ayariga told parliament the leadership of media associations had recommended the purchase of laptops from the Fund for individual journalists to facilitate their work.

In reaction, GIBA boss, Gerald Ankrah, said the Minister had lied to parliament. GIBA was not party to any decision to purchase and distribute laptops with the Fund.

On December 13, 2013 we learn from radio interviews given by Deputy Minister of Information Murtala Mohammed and GJA President Affail Monney that 952 or so laptops were purchased with the Fund.

The GJA received 100 or so of the laptops. Some were given to PRINPAG.

However a big chunk of the 952 or so laptops were distributed to staff of the Information Services Department (ISD) and the Ghana News Agency (GNA). Both organizations are state institutions that ordinarily should be resourced by the Ministry of Information from its budget.

Murtala Mohammed in his radio interview also indicated that the NMC had refused to participate in stakeholder meetings with the “flimsy excuse” that government's representatives at the meeting would manipulate the decision of the stakeholders.

In response to the Deputy Minister’s claim, NMC Executive Secretary, George Sarpong, says the Commission felt somebody had arrogated to himself the power to disburse the Fund in a manner that lacked transparency and constitutionality.

On Sunday December 15, 2013 Sulemana Braimah, Deputy Executive Director of MFWA, released Part I of an article on the “the deception & inconsistencies by Ayariga and his Deputies” over the utilization of the Fund.

And the circus goes on and on.

MAHAMA AYARIGA, LET GO OF THE MEDIA DEVELOPMENT FUND

The core issue is that government through the Minister of Information wants to control the Fund. Hence the accompanying brouhaha Mahama Ayariga and his Deputies are confronting now including questions bordering on lack of transparency and absence of good judgement in the utilization of the Fund is self inflicted and completely avoidable.

The National Media Commission (NMC) is the best institution to manage the Media Development Fund for four reasons.

First, the management of the Fund falls within the NMC’s legal mandate. Per its establishment law, Act 449, 1993 the Commission is “to take all appropriate measures to ensure the establishment and maintenance of the highest journalistic standards in the mass media…”.

Second, the NMC has all media stakeholders including journalism training providers and the general public present in its membership. The stakeholder group the Ministry of Information has engaged so far has been limited to journalists and media owners only. Yet improvement in journalism practice is everybody’s business. After all, the media is the watchdog for society.

Third, the NMC will be strengthened as an institution if it receives additional resources to improve journalism practice.

Fourth, the Ministry of Information’s logic that ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’ does not hold water. The cash for the Fund is taxpayer’s money. It does not belong to any politician. Government gives comparatively huge sums of money to the Electoral Commission for voter registration and elections and does not dictate to the EC how the Funds should be utilized.

The Fund is not big money when compared to the Ministry of Information’s overall budget which was GH¢42 million in 2013 and GH¢100 million in 2014. Why does the Minister and his Deputies want to split hairs over this ‘small cash’?

Mahama Ayariga should surrender the Media Development Fund to the National Media Commission and enjoy his peace of mind.

The Commission, in consultation with all stakeholders, should establish and implement a framework for the management of the Fund. It should account for disbursements from the Fund like all other public funds are accounted for.

By the way, the 2014 Budget Statement (Page 78) indicates that the Ministry of Information intends to train 300 private media personnel in 2014 to build their capacity and improve upon media reportage. I hope this is not an activity the Ministry intends to carry out itself with the Fund.

Nicholas Issaka Gbana nissakagbana@gmail.com http://www.facebook.com/n.issaka.gbana

The writer is a Management Consultant and Member of the National Democratic Congress (NDC)


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