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Opinions of Thursday, 16 June 2011

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

The Hare, Hyena and GFA’s Privacy

By Manasseh Azure Awuni

Not many Ghanaians are familiar with the name Mallam Nuhu Ribadu though he contested Nigeria’s recent presidential election. He is Nigeria’s version of Ghana’s apostle of integrity, Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan, though in a different capacity.

Mallam Nuhu Ribadu was the founding chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crime Commission. The Economic and Financial Commission under his leadership retrieved of millions of dollars stolen by politicians and public office holders in Nigeria. He is said to be the only person Nigerian politicians ever feared, hence the popular saying that “the fear of Ribadu is the beginning of wisdom.” Those who followed the effectiveness of the Nigerian anti-corruption body therefore welcomed the transformation of the erstwhile docile Serious Fraud Office (SFO) into a much active Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO). But it looks like the EOCO must brace itself for tough legal challenges on its mandate. The debate as to whether SFO had the mandate to investigate the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) was still raging between some media experts and the state institution before it was changed to EOCO. But what actually put the EOCO in the international spotlight was its raid on the Ghana Football Association (GFA) late last year.

After the unwillingness of the GFA subject itself to financial scrutiny, EOCO obtained a court order and seized documents and computers belonging to the GFA. That act sparked a heated debate on whether or not it was within EOCO’s mandate to investigate the GFA. The Ghana League Club Association (GHALCA) suspended the 2010/2011 Glo Premier League in solidarity with the GFA, citing governmental interference.

The incident also created another opportunity for opposition elements and malicious critics of government to spin weird tales of governmental interference in the affairs of the GFA. The world football governing body, FIFA, also gave Ghana an ultimatum to put its house in order or face FIFA’s wrath, perhaps a ban. Consequently the GFA took the matter to court and recently, an equally controversial judgement was passed in favour of the GFA. The Accra Human Rights Court slapped EOCO with a fine of GH?50,000 after ruling that GFA is a private entity upon which EOCO has no mandate to investigate. While the GFA has expressed satisfaction in the ruling, many people have questioned it. Notable among them is a former Chairman of the GFA, Mr. Ade Coker, who said the ruling is likely to worsen corruption in football administration in the country.

“The government is virtually spending money on the national teams,” he said on Joy FM’s Sports Link programme. “The teams belong to all of us, and if the president of the country, our investigative institutions or the government cannot probe institutions because they are perceived to be autonomous, then there will be no governance in the country. Then they will be chaos all over.” Law may be different from common sense but on the issue of the GFA being a private entity and cannot be investigated by the state, one does not need to be a legal expert to challenge it. After all, law is an embodiment of common sense in the words of Lord Denning, the man often considered as world’s judge of the century.

Unlike some countries where football associations raise their own funds to carry out their activities, the Ghana Football Association depends heavily on state funding. The state is said to have spent $22 million on the 2010 World Cup alone. Besides, it is important to state that the corporate organizations which sponsor the Black Stars and other national teams do so in support of the state, and not any private individual. The teams are national teams and they belong to the state. The teams are state entities and anybody elected to man them does so on behalf of the state.

Whether the money which goes to the GFA is from the state or from corporate organisation’s it is important that they account to the good people of Ghana. The Black Stars, Black Queens or Black Satellites belong to all Ghanaians. Ghanaians therefore deserve the right to know how those monies are spent. The GFA cannot be said to be autonomous when it is funded with tax payers’ money. In as much as we love football, there are other priorities that are often sacrificed in order to fund our national teams.

The $22 million spent on the 2010 World Cup could have been used to sink hundreds of boreholes for communities where potable drinking water still remains a luxury. That amount could have upgraded of tens of senior high schools into models schools and given shelter to thousands of students who still study under trees.

If the GFA wants to remain autonomous as it claims to be, it will only be acceptable on condition that the state stops funding it. EOCO did not investigate Accra Hearts of Oak, Kumasi Asante Kotoko or Wa All Stars because the state does not fund such clubs.

Indeed, there are good reasons to support FIFA’s laws against undue interference of the state in the running of the football. Knowing our matchless skill in politicizing everything, it would not be a surprise to have players and officials selected based on their party cards and not on their skills. This would not only mar the potency of the national teams but it could as well spell the doom of the game.

The attempt by the Ministry of Youth and Sports to replace Mr. Kwesi Nyantakyi with Abedi Pele as Ghana’s candidate for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) executive position was one of such unnecessary meddling of the state in the GFA. The incident received vehement condemnation because it was neither necessary nor justifiable.

Such unfortunate interference should not be confused with financial matters and alleged corruption within the GFA. Apart from the joy and unity it brings to the nation, football is now serious business and any nation which hosts a tournament rakes millions and sometimes billions of dollars. How many Ghanaians know how much Ghana made when we hosted the 2008 Africa Nations Cup after sinking a millions of the tax payer’s money into it? What did we gain after we sacrificed hospitals, schools and other essential social amenities to build stadiums?

FIFA is the worst culprit in recent corruption allegations and its major sponsors, including Coca Cola and Adidas, have expressed serious concerns and have called for measures to hold FIFA in check. This shows that football administrators are not angels and the GFA must not escape scrutiny. Whether real or perceived, the alleged corruption at GFA must never go unchecked. We constantly hear about the Mafia in the GFA and it is about time Ghanaians got to know who these Mafias are.

The hyena once asked his next door neighbour, the rabbit, why she had never paid him a visit. “It is true I have never visited you, but it is for a good reason,” the rabbit replied. “I have seen many people enter your room, but I have never seen any of them ever returning home.”

Indeed, the rabbit had a very good reason not to visit her neighbour. Trust is indispensable in every relationship. Individuals, groups and organizations cannot work together without trust. The issue of trust is taken to another level when it has to do with money. It is for this reason that even churches and religious groups conduct investigations into the handling of their finances. Like the rabbit and the hyena, Ghanaians have seen too much money going into the coffers of the GFA without proper accounting. We are all witnesses to huge sponsorships the FA received during the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. We are also witnesses to the huge sums of money bagged at the stadia in 2008. In addition to the 22 million US dollars the government is said to have spent on the Black Stars in last year’s World Cup, we all saw how major companies in the country eagerly and generously sponsored the Black Stars.

The GFA, like any other body working on behalf of the state, should open up for scrutiny. After all, if there is nothing to hide then there is nothing to fear.

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni/www.maxighana.com, Email: azureachebe2@yahoo.com The writer is a freelance journalist based in Accra. To read more of his writings, visit www.maxighana.com