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Ghana's Bellyful Of Scandal...Elizabeth Ohene Writes
 
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29-Feb-2012  
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Elizabeth Ohene
 
 
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In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Elizabeth Ohene - who was a minister in Ghana's former NPP government - looks at a financial controversy that has left many Ghanaians agog.

Usually in Ghana when there is an Africa Cup of Nations football competition going on, everybody concentrates their attention on the national team, the Black Stars.

This time around you would not have thought there were things going on in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon that required our concerted attention. We drifted in and out - and hoped the Black Stars would win their matches.

In truth, we have been preoccupied, even consumed by a very Ghanaian scandal.

It is a financial controversy that has already led to the sacking of an attorney general; the resignation of a former attorney general; the arrest and appearance before court of two top civil servants and a businessman.

The latter is known as a financier of the ruling National Democratic Congress.

And it looks like even bigger names could be swept up in the scandal by the time it has run its course. When the story first broke it sounded too bizarre to be credible - to borrow the words of the president of the republic.
Certain symmetry

To understand exactly what has gone on, you need to have the skills of a lawyer, an accountant, a forensic auditor, a music composer and a very big heart.

The story has certain symmetry.
It all started when Ghana won the rights to host the Africa Cup of Nations in 2008 - and it all began unravelling during the just finished tournament.

And at the centre of the scandalous story are the splendid stadia that were built around the country for the football tournament.

In 2009, the aforementioned businessman managed to convince the then attorney general that the government of Ghana owed him money.

According to him, a contract he had to build the football grounds was cancelled illegally by the previous government of then-President John Kufuor.

The businessman's claims were not scrutinised or challenged.

Why? The reasons are not quite clear. But I suspect it is because the new government of President John Atta Mills appears to be predisposed to see evil and corruption in everything the previous government has done.

So, the businessman went to court to seek compensation - by which time the sum of money he was claiming had undergone many inexplicable upward changes.

The attorney general decided not to contest the claims, and the businessman emerged from court a much richer man, having been granted what is called a judgement debt of 58m cedis (£22m; $34m) or any figure up to 103m cedis - depending on which Ghanaian newspaper you read.
Stink bomb

It is worth pointing out that usually it is agonisingly slow trying to get anything through the courts in Ghana.

But somehow our businessman/party financier got his matters through the courts in record time.

The Ghana government is even more notorious when it comes to paying its debts - but again this time around our businessman/party financier was paid very quickly.

We in Ghana are easily impressed and overawed by the kind of money being talked about. And people want to know why the nation's top lawyers had opted not to go to court and defend our interests and allowed the businessman to walk away with the type of money that could have provided safe water to many villages, built many schools and fixed many roads.

The concept of financial engineering - which was what the man claimed to have done to justify him being paid such monies - is too obtuse for many to understand.

In the midst of it all, the attorney general detonated a stink bomb.

He claimed, among other things, that a government minister was trying to frustrate his attempts to prosecute a ruling party member who had perpetrated "gargantuan crimes" against the people of Ghana.

People might not understand financial engineering, but they certainly like the sound of "gargantuan crimes" and, coupled with the name of the businessman, Alfred Woyome, Ghanaians are having a lot of fun.

As we watch the president try to extricate himself from the questions that must be asked: What did the president know, when did he know and what did he do about it?

For one brief moment on 8 February, footballer Asamoah Gyan tried to replace Mr Woyome as public enemy number one when he did what he has become famous for and missed a critical penalty in the semi-final against Zambia, now Africa's new footballing champions.

But it did not work. Right now nothing is taking Mr Woyome and "gargantuan crimes" off the headlines - not even the Black Stars who broke our hearts.
 
 
 
Source: BBC
 
 

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