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Opinions of Thursday, 1 December 2005

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

The Castle In Thunderstorm

The thunderstorm ? variously dubbed "Castle Hijacks Kickbacks? or ?Castle in Crisis over Kickback Scandal? ? that has been hanging over the Castle, the seat of Ghana?s government, since last week sparked by investigations by the fastly emerging leader in Ghana?s investigative journalism, the new Accra-based ?The Enquirer,? has finally busted. ?The Enquirer? explosive story alleges that the national chair of the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP), Harona Esseku, ?was complaining bitterly that the Castle has hijacked kick-backs from contractors meant for running the party.?

Now it is time for the damage assessment in the climate of denial and counter-denial by all the elements involved in the crisis, perhaps the most open alleged graft publication by a newspaper in Ghana against a ruling government. As events unfold, this is expected to throw more light on the dark corners of the Ghanaian democracy and public accountability, since corruption is seen as a development dilemma. As Ghanaians anxiously wait to embrace the outcome of the showdown between ?The Enquirer? and the ruling NPP, it is important to note that there is a thin line between what we know to be true and what we can show to be undeniable. Whether Harona Esseku confirmed The Enquirer?s investigations of the alleged kickbacks running up to the Kufour Castle, only with incontrovertible evidence, as ?The Enquirer? claim it has, will the assertion shift from a debating point to a reference point.

Raymond Archer, the Managing Editor of ?The Enquirer,? who led the investigations into the ?Castle Hijacks Kickback,? is no stranger to thunderstorms that comes after such explosive publications of national and international scale. In fact, considering the gravity of such an expose` (which can bring a government down as Canada?s Prime Minister Paul Martin and his ruling Liberal Party are experiencing following a whistleblower?s expose` of sponsorship corruption deals by the ruling Liberal Party) and Archer?s background as one of the best investigative journalists in the world (good things can come from Ghana and Africa too), I am not surprised that he is challenging Esseku and the NPP to go to court if they feel defamed by the graft allegations. A former acting editor and investigative journalist for the Accra-based ?The Ghanaian Chronicle,? the largest independent daily newspaper in Ghana, Archer is a graduate of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) and a fellow of the prestigious Marquette University/Les Aspin Centre for Government in Wisconsin, USA. In 2002, Archer won both the prestigious Global Medal and the African Prize of the 2002 Lorenzo Natali Prize for Excellence in Journalism sponsored by the European Union (EU) and the International Federation of Journalists. Archer, founder and executive director of the Accra-based Ghana Center for Public Integrity, an investigative journalism and public accountability outfit, is a board member of the West African Organization for Democracy and Governance.

Added to the above rich attributes, Archer?s investigative journalism credentials are further enriched by the fact that he was co-winner of the 2001 Best West African Journalism, an award sponsored by the West African Journalists Association and the International Federation of Journalists, and best Investigative Reporter, 2001, an award sponsored by ?The Ghanaian Chronicle.? Lately, Archer was decorated with the Best Investigative Journalists of the Year Award for 2001-2002 by the Ghana Journalist Association (GJA) and is measured as ?the youngest journalist to win such an award.?

In the build up to the "Castle Hijacks Kickbacks,? Archer and his team, who are helping open up the emerging Ghanaian democracy and the general development process, has some enviably excellent investigative journalism experiences to fall on. Among long lists of investigative reports that have brought the mighty down, Archer won the Gold Medal for three investigative articles he wrote: "Ex-Minister in deportation scam", "Tragedy of youth deported for cash" and "Swedish Minister Resigns over Amarki scam," all published in ?The Ghanaian Chronicle.? The "Ex-Minister in deportation scam" piece, which had international impact, rocked the government of Sweden. The Award cited Archer for "high-quality reports exposing a deportation syndicate" and said Archer "employed excellent journalistic skills."

In addition, the Award jury noted that "The way in which he [Archer] has investigated political corruption in Sweden and Ghana is a model to other journalists who would like to pursue a career in investigative journalism? and "contributed to the resignation of a Swedish minister and the loss of influence of several Ghanaian politicians. Moreover, uncovering the deportation scandal led to a policy review in Sweden and helped to publicize other cases of illegal deportation? and ?had an international impact and raised public awareness about this specific problem in his country." By this remarkable feats, Archer confirms the Washington, D.C-based the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)?s Stephen Handelman, of Canada?s ?The Toronto Star,? opinion that despite ?the arrival of cable news and dot-com glitz, investigative reporting didn?t fade away? and that ?in fact, in some places [such as Archer?s Ghana] it?s healthier than ever ? even though you may not have heard of it.?

For those who do not know Archer well, especially the chair of the ruling NPP, Harona Esseku, 76, who, because of the Ghanaian/African culture of gerontology, that?s rule by elders who normally under-rate and marginalize the youth in decision-making, may see Archer as a ?kid,? Archer is 29 years old and married with a child. Despite his youthful age, the man in hot waters, Esseku, who appears inexperienced in handling a journalist of Archer?s background, should have done his home work well before granting the interview to Archer and his colleague, David Tamakloe, about an explosive issue like kickbacks. What Esseku should have done was also tape the conversation with Archer and Tamakloe, as they did and are prepared to tender to prove the truth of their investigations, in order to prove, as he is saying now, that ?The publication which appeared in ?The Enquirer? newspaper purported to be a report of their conversation with me is a distortion and it?s clearly calculated to damage the image of the President Kufour and the party and to depict me as an enemy of the president. I totally reject this insinuation.?

Even if the Kufour Castle says ?'These allegations are baseless and preposterous? and that ?There is no iota of truth in the story and it must be placed on record that His Excellency the President does not award contracts neither does he handle or disburse money, be it party or government funds,'? the scandal will still be hard for the Kufour Castle to contain, with ?The Enquirer? dangling its purported tapes containing the kickback conversations with Esseku on the face of the NPP to dare it to go to law court. First, there is the cancerous effect on public image of a presidency whose first campaign pledge was ?zero tolerance? against corruption, serious problem in Ghana, and has not been seen by the public to be doing enough about it, creating a disturbing public perception that corruption is on the increase more than ever.

The Enquirer?s alleged "Castle Hijacks Kickbacks? is bound to be very distracting for the Kufour Castle as it struggles to get its agenda back on the roads. That work began this week with the resignation of the man at the epicenter of the thunderstorm, Harona Esseku, resigns to pave way for an in-house investigations by the ruling NPP for the alleged ?derogatory statements made against the seat of Government and the person of the President? in relation to the kickback allegations as contained in ?The Enquirer? story.



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