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Opinions of Friday, 6 June 2014

Columnist: Ata, Kofi

What?, Kwesi Botchwey on Corruption?

By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK

In a lecture delivered as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series at the Central University College in Accra on Tuesday, the former and longest serving Finance Minister, Prof Kwesi Botchwey said he did not plan to dispute the claims made by Dr. Bawumia in a similar speech earlier this year. "I offer no rebuttals, I do agree with much of what he said". According to him, Ghana’s economic situation this year could become worse because, whilst the country has projected revenue in the region of 24 billion cedis, statutory spending and other expenditures will account for 102% of total revenue; leaving a negative of 200 million cedis for expenditure on infrastructure. “I’ll like to repeat without exaggeration that the Ghanaian economy is in a crisis", pointing to high inflation, double-digit budget deficit, depreciation of the cedi and the general lack of growth in the economy. GDP growth, according to him, had declined from 9.4% in 2011 to just 3.4% 2013.

Prof Botchwey also tasked government to deal with corruption swiftly if it wants to shed off the tag of being corrupt. "High-profile cases of corruption must be dealt with swiftly openly rather than let them drag on". He added that the consequence of inaction creates "a feeling that everybody in public office is engaged in corruption and money grabbing". “The surest way to relieve the perception of corruption is quick action. He wondered if the problem with the fight against corruption is down to lack of adequate laws or an inability to implement these laws. Finally, Prof Botchwey diagnosed the mood of the nation as "I see a nation reeling with widespread disaffection, despair, a popular mood marked by frustration, arising cynicism about any explanation, assurances by government and technocrats" (see “Kill corruption perception with quick action” and Economic Crisis: 2014 could become worse” Ghanaweb, June 4 2014).

I want to discuss the above statements by Prof Kwesi Boctwey and pose some questions on what has he been doing about his suggestions as a leading member of the ruling National Democratic Party and Chairman of Board Directors of the Ghana National Gas Company?

First, I must confess that I was impressed with Kwesi Botchwey’s (sorry, no disrespect but this is what I am used to calling him from my PNDC days) candid opinion on the economy and corruption. It almost sounded like music in my years because for years his colleagues, NDC propagandists led by hyper optimist, President Maham have deluded themselves that the government, the economy or Ghana is experiencing some “challenges”. It appeared this government has banished the words ‘difficulties’ and ‘problems’ from their lexicon, when in fact, the government, economy and Ghana is serious crisis. Now they can no longer hide behind ‘challenges’ because the reality for many Ghanaians is what Kwesi Bocthwey accurately captured as “a nation reeling with widespread disaffection, despair, a popular mood marked by frustration, arising cynicism about any explanation, assurances by government and technocrats".

That is exactly what I see when I watche GTv and Joy news, when I read the Ghanaian internet media and what I hear from the radio news and discussion programmes. If they (Mahama and his cohorts) think they can deceive all the people all the time, then they should think again.

Despite his honesty, I still have a problem with Kwesi Boctwey and his role as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Ghana National Gas Company. Why has the company he chairs not been that honest with Ghanaians on when the gas infrastructure development project would be completed and when Ghanaians will begin to receive gas from the Jubilee Oil Field? How many times has his company given unfulfilled completion dates? Is he not directly contributing to Ghana reeling with widespread disaffection, despair, a popular mood marked by frustration, arising cynicism about any explanation, assurances by government and technocrats"?

Again, Kwesi Botchwey, as the former and longest serving Finance Minister, I expected that he knew how critical the gas infrastructure development was to Ghana’s economy, especially with regards to the energy crisis and lack of electricity to power Ghana’s industrial engine. How come, it took Ghana or your company over two years after NDC assumed office in 2009 to even select the preferred provider from between China, India and Trinidad and Tobago? My understanding was that there were factions each doing the bidding for the three countries in anticipation of the bidder who would offer the best and juicy payback (bribe). If my understanding is accurate was that not part of the corruption and if so, what did you do? Has such infantile and parochial interests not contributed to the current economic crisis because it caused the delay in the project implementation and delivery? The delay in the delivery of the project has caused Ghana over billion dollars.

Kwesi Boctwey, I am with you on both corruption and the economic crisis but you should also show leadership on both in your own backyard. As the saying goes “Charity begins at home. Expedite action on the completion of the gas infrastructure development programme to supply gas to Ghana and it would go a long way in improving the energy crisis in Ghana and that would contribute to improved production, increased exports and reduction in imports, which would ultimately contribute to improving the economy.

On corruption, I wish you had been bolder to mention how the Woyome and SADA, GYEEDA and Subah Infosolutions have been handled by the government. In fact, even without mentioning names most Ghanaians, if not all, are witnesses to kid gloves handling of these cases and knew these were what you were referring to in your speech. Sometimes my stomach churns when I read about the constant adjournment of the Woyome and other corruption trials. Coupled with the Attorney General Department’s failure to call witnesses that were involved in such matters and the poor performance, the only conclusion any rational being could draw is that, these are deliberate ploy to let these crimes against the state go unpunished and for the accused to go and enjoy their gargantuan booty.

My next beef with you is, as one of the P/NDC grandees and the fact that you chair a very important strategic body, you must have the ears of the president at ease and do occasionally whisper into his ears on these matters. For example, I assume that as an appointee of the President you report directly to him or indirectly through the Minister for Energy. Let’s assume the latter is the case but if even that is the case, there must be rare occasions that you meet with presidential staff such as the Chief of Staff, his Deputy, the President’s Executive Secretary or the three Senior Presidential Advisers, including the late PV Obeng. What have you been telling them in private over how corruption is being dealt with and how it should be? Is your public utterance a sign of not being listened to? That could be so because you were recently reported to have suggested that the finance ministry team needed beefing up as the minister, his deputy and Director of Budget were all Accountants but what was lacking were Economists to analyse fiscal and monetary policies. Within days, the President responded directly to your suggestion by announcing changes to the ministerial team at the finance ministry. Should we expect change of heart from the President on the fight against corruption? You posed the question as to whether the failure to fight corruption “is down to lack of adequate laws or an inability to implement these laws”. Kwesi Botchwey, the answer is simple. It’s down to indiscipline and near lawlessness in Ghana and that has resulted in the inability and the unwillingness of the authorities to enforce the laws, rules and regulations of the state as well as the inability and the unwillingness of the citizenry to comply with the same laws, rules and regulations. This is made worse by the weak democracy in Ghana (that is, democracy that lacks good governance).

In conclusion, Kwesi, I am sure you touched raw nerves within your government and party by speaking frankly on the two important issues and not play the usual party partisan politics by following the NDC propagandists’ lies and sugar coated words or the proverbial ostrich.

That is what some of us have expected from some of you for a very long time. Your cry may be too late to save Mahama from defeat in 2016, unless the miracle happens. For example, as far back as November 2013, the Daily Graphic reported that there were over one thousand ghost workers at Korle-Bu (see, “Ghosts’ haunt Korle-Bu: 1,052 on hospital’s payroll”, Daily Graphic, November 15, 2013). Since then nothing was done until yesterday when it was reported that BNI and the police are investigating the allegations (see “BNI, police called to Korle-Bu ghost names”, Ghanaweb June 5, 2014). Yet, President Mahama has been complaining about reducing the huge public sector wage bill since his State of the Nation Address on February 21, 2014. The BNI and police investigation only came about because the Korle-Bu Senior Staff Association made serious allegations of corruption against the Chief Executive and the Board. So this is a kind of “I will show you where power lies mentality” and nothing will come out of it. It’s another cover up of the create, loot and share.

Kwesi Boctwey, you guys and your government and party have led Ghana astray and failed miserably. You should have spoken out earlier before Ghana descended into a nation of people reeling with widespread disaffection, despair, a popular mood marked by frustration, arising cynicism about any explanation, assurances by government and technocrats". I remind of you of a Martin Luther King quotation that, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” and to President Mahama and his NDC sycophant propagandists, a second King’s quote for them. “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity”.

Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK