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Opinions of Sunday, 18 May 2008

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Revisiting the Cement Scandal in Ghana: The issue must not die!!

The Situation:

NDC and NPP corruption:

Last year, we saw in stark terms, the ossification of corruption among the elite in Ghana. And though some may want to tamp down the rot, it is biting now, more than ever. The commodity involved, Cement, has telling implications for the development of Ghana. As the scandal unfurled, it became quite apparent that the two leading parties, NPP and NDC, were in bed with Ghacem, a subsidiary of Scancem, now owned by the Heidelberg, a questionable, German firm. Traces of unease became manifest when president Kufour, like a schoolyard bully, started threatening to unravel Ghancem’s monopoly if they did not arrest the upward spiral of cement prices. All of a sudden, the president did not believe in free markets! Well Ghacem did not reduce prices and nothing changed. That ought to tell you who runs the show! Not to be undone, the then minister of trade, now famously dubbed Alan resign-today and come-back-tomorrow- Cash, issued his own beeline of threats, price controls intended, meant to intimidate bold and clever Ghacem into reducing prices. Of course Ghacem advanced its own sets of reasons for the price increases and refused to bulge an inch on Cement price. Ghacem’s bravado does not only stem from its monopoly status in Ghana and along the west coast of Africa, but also, its knowledge of the compromised situation it has pegged key and influential officials of both leading parties in Ghana. And this fact was not missed on Kwesi Pratt, a controversial pundit, when he reiterated in a news item published on the 3rd of August, 2007 by Ghanaweb that, all parties benefited from the largesse of Ghacem. Kwesi Pratt called the bluff of the NPP and as sure as day turns to night, the spineless folks took to the silent hills. Come out and play NPP!

As the scandal began to gain hurricane strength, very prominent names were disgorged by certain unsavory characters involved in the scandal. Among such names on the Ghanaian side were ex-dictator and holy worrier Rawlings, Nana Konadu (wife of Rawlings), P. V. Obeng, advisor to Rawlings and Kufour, Austin Gamey, a deputy minister in the NDC government and several others. Mr. Gamey for example, was reported to have collected 116,000 pounds sterling meant for the NDC political campaign. P. V. Obeng is alleged to have shared 4 million dollars with Rawlings and his wife. Various bank accounts were alleged to have been opened to facilitate this in your face Norwegian inspired and Ghanaian elite agreed to, corruption. The NPP, it is alleged, also received money from the Norwegians. Who picked up their stash and when, we are yet to read. Even more disturbing in this scandal is the fact that a 17 million dollar check, described as payment for the sale of Ghana’s shares in Ghacem, cannot be traced to this day. Rumors has it that the check was delivered to the wife of a very high ranking NDC panjandrum. So far, there’s been nothing but stone cold denial about whether the check was issued and delivered. How the above facts has not led to serious investigations and arrests under Kufour’s watch is mind boggling. Are we still talking “zelo tolelance” for corruption and golden age of business? Were the latter mere fads authored to bamboozle innocent Ghanaians? Eiieee wofa Per diem!!

Where We are Now:

In the midst of the confusion and jarring denials of complicity by the characters identified, the NPP government made us believe that some form of state investigation into this critical matter was on the way. After all, cement is a critical ingredient in our development effort and it availability and affordability must not be left to the whims and caprices of the corrupt Ghanaian political elite and their criminally addled Norwegian friends. Some of us did not gasp for air because we’ve seen such canards from the NPP government and others in the past. In a huff to deal with a steamy problem, a committee is potted to throw ice cold water on a veritable scandal. Once the slumber is induced on the people, nothing ever happens to the alleged and key culprits. Only the small flies get jail time. Did we not see such with the cocaine scandal handled by the Woods committee? Gleefully and in tow, the press also gave us the false hope that they will get to the bottom of this blight. Indeed, Kwaku Baako and Gabby Otchere, went to Norway to follow the spectacle. After that, their trail has gone cold. Now if the trail of our journalist go cold, what are we left with? What do we see from the failing press of Ghana? Again, they’ve dropped this issue like a bad habit and no news is tricking from whatever dog and pony show we have going on around the muzzled investigation. I can bet you my bottom dollar that the commission members investigating this issue are drawing their fat allowances and raking in all kinds of decadent bells and whistles that come with such gravy train assignments. Who says Ghana is not candy sweet?

All the characters involved in this scandal are walking free and have actually moved on to bigger and better things. Indeed they are walking with their chest out and smile brighter than ever. How can the poor people of Ghana be so underserved by the people who promised us utopia and accountability? They begged for an opportunity to serve and now they treat the business of the people with scorn and a sneer of disdain. But watch this same gaggle ask again to be given the chance to rule because they are the best game in town and we owe them a living. If this is not condescension and arrogance, what else is? The least this government can do is to tell us that we heard wrong. Other than that, we need action now. Notice that this is not the only critical issue that has been left unattended while they efficiently and effectively order jet planes and engage in other profligate nonsense. Will Ghanaians be savvy enough to demand answers when they are asked to vote for the same people again? How can we move our people from mud and thatch houses to brick and mortar once if the price of a bag of cement hovers around $9? This insensitive government is giving a family of four 8 Cedis a month (LEAP PROGRAM) to help them escape poverty in Ghana and a bag of inanimate cement is $9? This must be the cruelest joke perpetrated on the good people of Ghana yet.

What Must Happen:

It might interest you to know that when companies like Hiedleburg commit acts of price fixing and other corporate crimes, they are dealt with ruthlessly in Europe. Hiedelburg, the mother company of Scancem was quite recently fined 252 million Euro for price fixing. Among a group of corrupt companies, Heidelburg earned the highest fine. In places like the US, price fixing, bribery and other corporate crimes are investigated and dealt with swiftly. So why can’t we investigate if it was legal for Ghacem to give 116,000 pounds to the NDC? Why can’t we find out how P. V. Obeng earned his consultancy with these Norwegians? What about investigating if there is any conflict of interest with P.V.’s consultancy gig? What about the 17 million dollar check? Where is the money? Why the hell did we divest from an entity that has and continues to be profitable from day one? What really is the reason Mr Rawlings? Who is going to the firing squad for the 17 million dollar check? Were people not shot for far less an amount under the reckless and vindictive callousness that Rawlings visited on Ghanaians? Is our system of controls in Ghana that lose? Any way you slice and dice it, this scandal smells of grave wrong doing that must not go unattended. A non-partisan inclusive group involving people outside the NDC and NPP must investigate this scandal and let us in on the facts. Actually, my preference would have been an open hearing by parliament on the issue. But will Kufour’s parliamentary majority dare to do the people’s business for a change? I am not only interested in possible prosecutions but also what lessons can be learnt to avoid allowing a few individuals on our payroll to take us for such a monumental ride.

I have said this before and will say it again! The monopoly status of Ghacem must be immediately and publicly revoked. The policy on cement import and manufacture must be revised to reflect the economic development interest of Ghana. As we recalibrate to make cement affordable, we must deliberately help Ghanaian start ups in the cement business. Indeed, the area of cement manufacture and import must be treated as a special case. This could be a wonderful public/private partnership that works in the interest of the people. This NPP government talks a good game but delivers baloney most of the time. If the government is serious about its property owning rhetoric or mantra, why not make the price of cement affordable by introducing competition through private/public collaboration that employs Ghanaians? Why give away the store to these Norwegians whose only intent is to subdue, milk and humiliate us? Must we suffer colonialism twice even as we dabble in gassy political talk about how the Ghanaian should believe in himself and his culture? How can I believe in myself and culture if our leaders always defer to colonialists and foreigners? Why do we always have to employ everyone else but our own? And this is at a time when unemployment and crime are both very high in Ghana? Well, if we can’t put our youth to work, why are we surprised that armed robbery is heading for the sky?

A Call for Action:

Now let me talk to my fellow Ghanaians resident in the motherland. We find ourselves as slaves in our own country. Our leaders take us for granted and expect us to tow the line even as they either rob us blind or prefer inaction when there seem to be gleaming evidence that we are being donkey ridden by unscrupulous foreign business men. These people are doing things that they cannot do in Europe or the US. So why must we tolerate such nonsense from them? But who keeps them in place against our interest? More importantly, why must we tolerate this crap from our leaders? The last time I checked, we pay Kufour and his henchmen. So, if they refuse to act on our behalf, what can or must we do?

My recommendation will include bombarding our representative with calls about our concerns on this august issue. Of course marching and sit in strikes were tools employed by Martin Luther King’s in his non-violent effort to unseat slavery. We can also organize in all regions, a temporary boycott of cement till the current price is deflated of any monopolistic mark-ups. Of course, we know that the president is very powerful and can do anything he wants with his parliamentary majority. Now, if the president can reappoint Anane, a political liability with such ample ease, guess what he can do if he really wants to clean up this cement mess. I know he will not be drooling over this one because it will short circuit the gravy train that the NPP is relying on to run this election. Trust me, the Norwegians are doing their home work as we speak. They will bribe both parties again to make sure that they are in the good books of whichever party win the election. The bottom line is that so long as our people remain apathetic, not much will change in Ghana. I am convinced now, more than ever, that, the only way to change Ghana will have to be marches and occasional shut down of government. If Ghanaians don’t learn to stand up for what matters, they will always be taken for granted. Any action is better than no action!! Will actions like the civil rights freedom marches and rides help?

I guess my question is this, who has enough credibility to lead this movement? Who has enough clout to galvanize the burning issues and rally our folks around the red, gold and green? The NDC opposition has failed miserably to champion the causes of our people and they come across as if raw power for their own sake is their goal. We need action and we need it fast to stop the mess in Ghana. For once the interest of the people is the same as that of the nation but the elite are in bed with the oppressors! This must change now!

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman ( Da Double Edge Sword)

“I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it is hell.” Harry Truman


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.