African News

Ghana: The Castle in a Thunderstorm

2 December 2005 at 11:14 | 674 views

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong.

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 engulfed the country.

“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
Journalist 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 intended resignation of
the man at the epicenter of the thunderstorm, Harona Esseku, 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.

Photo: Raymond Archer, Ghana’s young journalism wizard.