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Opinions of Sunday, 1 August 2010

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

The NPP, the Koreans and coops for the cops

By George Sydney Abugri

I have this total fascination and unrelenting obsession with words, old chap. I like to make them jump and skip and do triple jumps and somersaults and fly in peoples minds, tickling, exciting, inciting and sometimes annoying for positive gain, if you see what I mean.

I have been exploiting and playing games with words long enough to affirm how well they match visual images in their impact on the mind. Is that not why television, radio and print journalism complement each other so perfectly in the dissemination of information.

The power of every word coming from the media is never lost on errant public office holders and those in society who have something to hide. This puts journalists at considerable risk and places the need to protect them high up on the public agenda

Unfortunately, a general observation is that when it comes to protecting journalists in Ghana from the many booby traps and land mines along the treacherous path of duty, partisan politics always shows up wearing a human rights mask.

Some say it is all because nearly every single independent media house in the country today is owned by people with very strong if also very discreet partisan political affiliations and ambitions.

There was for example the very recent case of a journalist who reported that unnamed members of the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association which opposed some aspects of a controversial agreement the Mills administration entered into with a Korean estate development company, had been threatened with death by unidentified persons who by inference, were associated with the government.

The police invited the journalist for investigations and demanded that he disclose the sources but he insisted on protecting his sources. Then the usual fun and games started:

The National Media Commission, the Ghana Journalists Association and several human rights groups condemned the action of the police and accused the government of using the police to intimidate journalists and discourage freedom of speech and expression.

Thereupon, some pro-government activists compiled and read on some radio stations, a long list of politicians, political activists and journalists sympathetic to the NDC, who had been prosecuted in court, mercilessly beaten up by alleged pro-NPP activists or interrogated by the security agents during the previous political administration for expressing their views on national issues.

They then proceeded to ask why the human rights groups and advocates of freedom of expression did not go to the defence of politicians, political activists and journalists who suffered violence and persecution during the Kufuor administration.

Their conclusion was that the nation’s media and human rights groups were all pro-NPP, that there appeared to be one set of human rights and freedoms for journalists sympathetic to the course of the NPP another set of rights for journalists perceived to be sympathetic to the NDC.

Whenever there is a change in political administration and the shoe gets on the other foot in the course of journalists’ performance of their duties, the scenarios gets reversed when it comes to protecting journalists under persecution. Some say it has been so in all civilian administration since independence

Anyhow, I was commenting on the power of words, wasn’t I? I neglected to add that they can be used to veil lies, threats and blackmail:

Consider the slogan “No Nana, no vote” which surreptitiously crept into the campaign for the presidential candidature of the NPP recently. This is plain old blackmail, because it is threatening dire consequences if delegates vote for Nana’s closest rival, Alan “Cash” Kyeremanten.

The NPP leadership appears to be influencing the campaign by very remote control: There are five contenders in the race for the party presidential candidature but is an open secret that the party leadership has without saying a single word, shortlisted the number to two-Nana Akuffo-Addo and Alan “Cash” Kyeremanten.

Party big guns rarely make references to the other candidates when it comes to discussion of the threat of the acrimonious campaign to party cohesion.

How could there ever be democratic governance in nations where political parties have no use for internal party democracy? That is why it is dead wrong for any political party to declare that its internal affairs are none of our darned business.

Since the political parties nurse those we must entrust our ultimate destiny to as a people, we all have a stake in the NPP’s congress and a right to demand a flat terrain for the candidates to do electoral battle on.

Hold on tight buddy, we are still on the subject of words: President Mills’s government is under siege by sections of the media and the political opposition on account of the word ‘lender’ and a few other words and phrases besides, in a US$10 billion loan agreement the government has entered into with a Korean construction company called STX Engineering, to build 200, 000 houses across the country over the next five years.

There was uproar all over the place this week when Mills tried to convince parliament to approve the loan agreement for the construction of the first 30,000 housing units for personnel of the various security agencies at cost of US$1.5 billion.

Here is the story: Large armies of people in our capital and other cities live, work, eat, mate and procreate in the streets. Serving and retired public sector workers are constantly in fierce competition with street tramps for residential accommodation.

From the stuffy, match-box sized cubicles at the Central Police Station barracks built by the British colonial administration at Adabraka in Accra more than 90 years ago, to the unsightly hen coops and goat pens across the country which go by the name of police barracks, personnel of Ghana’s police service live in such unbelievably appalling conditions.

President Mills’s wants some votes the next election around or rather the president loves and cares for the people, so he enters into this major housing project agreement with the Koreans.

Why is the opposition opposed to such a project? Well, for one thing STX Engineering is not a financial institution and should therefore not be described as a “lender.” Is that the opposition’s beef? There is some mutton was well:

The agreement grants the chaps from Korea various guarantees, waivers and other provisions the opposition says will lead to Ghanaian taxpayers getting short-changed in the short run.

It appears that for whatever reason, the loan agreement was so hastily crafted that the opposition in Parliament was able to stick question marks all over the document

That President Mills withdrew the loan agreement recently for a review supports this view. That there is still opposition to the document leaves everyone wondering what is going to happen next.

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