Friday, 13 January 2012
Thursday, 24 November 2011
By Lord Aikins Adusei
On June 21st 2010 Ms. Christine Lagarde, former French Finance Minister and current IMF Chief and Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, World Bank Group's Managing Director and former Finance Minister of Nigeria wrote an article which was posted on Project Syndicate website captioned 'No Safe Havens for Dirty Money'. In their article they argued that tax havens, looted funds, bribery, and corruption hurt poor countries more and that the global financial crisis has served to show that there is little tolerance for people who cheat. To them both high income and particularly low income countries will benefit if everyone plays by the rules adding that 'Corruption – under any form or circumstance – is a cancer that cripples developed and developing economies alike. It undermines economic growth. It is a crime that produces particularly damaging consequences in the developing world'. “Everyone must play by the rules” in order to save the world from the current difficult economic and financial situation.
The people in low income countries, according to Lagarde and Okonjo-Iweala, want to see an end to the corrupt financial havens that allow corrupt officials to steal public money and stash it abroad. They submitted that the impunity for this type of global crime can no longer be tolerated: 'Abuse of public authority for private gain is not acceptable'. They added that there is the urgent need to foster openness and transparency in financial transactions and to ensure accountability at the global level.
In March 2010 Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a Washington based anti corruption group published a report titled “Illicit Financial Flows from Africa: Hidden Resource for Development”. The report estimated that between 1970 and 2008 Africa lost about $854 billion through trade mispricing. The GFI report added that the figure of the illicit financial outflows could have gone as high as 1.8 trillion dollars if components such as mispricing of services and smuggling had been included.
Global Financial Integrity has argued that a large portion of this massive illicit money leaving Africa finds its way into Europe and North America through a network of opaque global financial system comprising tax havens, secrecy jurisdictions, disguised corporations, anonymous trust accounts, fake foundations, trade mispricing, and money laundering techniques. A key component of this huge illegal money transfers is the stealing of public money by corrupt officials. These public monies, usually proceeds from sale of natural resources, loans contracted from World Bank, IMF and grants are meant to help the poor countries fight and end human suffering, end poverty; put children in school; end energy poverty; build hospitals; provide potable water; promote food security and provide badly needed retroviral drugs to people living with HIV and AIDS.
The stolen monies are welcomed by the banks in Europe notably those in France, Switzerland, Britain,and Luxemburg. In most cases little or no due diligence is followed and most of the banks appear to advise and encourage their so called clients on how to invest their monies in order to avoid being detected. The Levin Report of 2010 prepared by a committe of the the US Senate revealed that Britain, Switzerland, United States and France are known to be major recipients of these stolen public monies from Africa. These rich countries have been seriously involved in shady deals with Africa's political elite who are amassing wealth at the expense of the welfare of their populations. The conditions of secrecy created in countries such as France, Switzerland, Britain and Luxemburg enable African leaders to steal with impunity and deposit their ill-gotten wealth in these jurisdictions. Thus when corrupt African dictators, public officials and top civil servants dishonestly empty the treasuries of their poor countries they find western allies who are willing and cooperative to hide the looted funds. The case of Alpine nation of Switzerland as a safe haven for Africa's looted funds is known worldwide. Switzerland has been described as a parasite feeding on poor African and Third World countries because for more than half a century it has 'built a reputation as the world's centre for tax evasion, fraud accounting, money laundering, racketeering and a staunch ally of corrupt third world leaders and a great beneficiary of third world corruption'. Over the last six decades or more various categories of persons including presidents, popes, prime ministers, corrupt dictators, wealthy business men, and drug dealers have all used and benefited from the banking secrecy laws of Switzerland'.
However, when it comes to France very little is known about how it has successfully milked African countries and created massive poverty in its former colonies. Very little is known because of the eagerness of the French media and the judiciary to protect illegal financial operations of French politicians and members of the business fraternity. The French media, the French prosecution office and the judiciary have all turned a blind eye to the adulterous relationship between French politicians and French business leaders on one hand and the political entities in Africa on the other. Since the 1960s France has connived, aided and abetted African leaders to plunder the treasuries of their countries for safe keeping in France and to buy luxurious properties in French cities.
This corrupt behaviour of the French establishment is what makes the article by Lagarde and Okonjo-Iweala on 'No Safe Havens for Dirty Money' is interesting. It is interesting in sense that while the content of the article and its conclusion are in the right direction it is also laden with hypocrisy, double standards and pretence on the part of the authors and the entities they represent. For example in their article Lagarde and Okonjo-Iweala praised France and the United States for pushing G-20 countries to adopt tougher financial regulation, and for promoting governance, and accountability aim at safeguarding the world's economy. However, while praising France Lagarde and Okonjo-Iweala failed to tell the world about how France has encouraged corruption and mismanegement in Africa and continues to do so despite the fact that such corrupt activities are hurting the poor in Africa.
Christine Lagarde for instance was the Minister of Finance in France and a key cabinet member in the President Nicolas Sarkozy's government. As a Finance Minister she was in a powerful position to fight corruption and bribery and end the practice where her country has become a safe haven for Africa's looted assets, but she and her government did nothing to stop France from becoming the deposit box of Africa's dirty money. French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised in 2006 to change the adulterous relationship between France and her former colonies in Africa so as to bring an end to the massive corruption and dictatorship sometimes engineered and supported by the French state, but almost four years after taking office he has done little if not nothing to follow through his campaign promise.
France continues to serve as a haven for looted African resources with the encouragement of French politicians, businessmen and banking officials. They continue to encourage corrupt African leaders to steal from their poor countries and hide their loot in French Banks. France continues to serve as a paradise for corrupt African leaders where they enjoy their loot after leaving office and the French authorities are quick and too willing to entertain them despite the growing call for France to take action against them.
France and the Bongos of Gabon
The most important discussion on how France has served as Africa's angel of death devouring African economies and turning rich resource countries into pariah states could be seen from Gabon. The late Omar Bongo of Gabon who ruled his country for 41 years was considered one of the corrupt African leaders and was known worldwide to have used his country's oil wealth to buy mansions and other properties in France and to buy political influence and favour from the French ruling class. In 2009 French police investigation uncovered a huge number of properties that were bought by Bongo and his family. In all 33 mansions and other luxurious properties were uncovered. One of the mansions a 21,528 sq ft is located at Rue de la Baume near to the Elysee Palace the home of the French presidency. According to the Sunday Times in UK, the investigation also uncovered nine other properties in Paris, four of which are on the exclusive Avenue Foch near the Arc de Triomphe. Bongo was also reported to have a further seven properties in Nice, including four villas, one of which has a swimming pool. The late Edith and wife of Omar Bongo, until her death still had two flats near the Eiffel Tower and another property in Nice.
Omar Bongo together with his family had 70 bank accounts in France from which several properties worth millions of dollars were bought from. Omar Bongo and his relatives also bought a fleet of limousines, including a £308,823 Maybach for Edith. Payment of some of the cars was directly taken from the treasury of Gabon. The Sunday Times in UK reported that until her death Edith had over 75 million dollars stashed in banks in French Monaco. The same Edith used a cheque drawn on an account owned by Gabon treasury to buy the £308,823 Maybach in February 2004. “Bongo's daughter Pascaline, 52, used a cheque from the same account for a part-payment of £29,497 towards a £60,000 Mercedes two years later. Bongo bought himself a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti F1 in October 2004 for £153,000, while his son Ali Bongo (now Gabon president) acquired a Ferrari 456 M GT in June 2001 for £156,000”. French police investigations indicate that this lifestyle of profligacy was supported by leading French banks.
The current President of Gabon Ali Bongo, son of Omar Bongo has continued the corrupt empire his father created with French politicians and the business elite. Canard Enchainé, a French satiric newspaper reported on the eve of the 2010 France-Afrique conference in Paris that Ali Bongo had purchased a hundred million euro property in Paris. The property located on the University street has been described as "one of the most beautiful" in the heart of Paris. Canard Enchainé noted that the building covers a space of 4,500 square metres with the garden covering 3,700 square metres. "The 100 million euros does not include other expenditure to be made for the renovation and maintenance work which could take a third of Gabon's GDP".
The sad thing is that major investigations uncovering huge financial irregularities in France on the part of the Bongos have been shelved. The investigations have been shelved because French authorities believe that if they move against the Bongos they (the Bongos) may retaliate by punishing French businesses in Gabon and deny them access to the lucrative oil deals. Till today not a penny of the millions of dollars of Gabonese money believed to have been stolen by Bongo and hiding in French banks has been returned. This is what brings the hypocrisy of French politicians like Lagarde out clearly. While shouting 'No safe havens for dirty money' at the same time they are keeping billions of such monies in their banks with no indication that they are ever going to return them.
One of the most notable quotes of Omar Bongo was: “Gabon without France is like a car with no driver. France without Gabon is like a car with no fuel”. That is how Bongo saw the corrupt relationship that existed between him and his international friends in France.
Apart from directly stealing money meant for the development of Gabon and stashing it in French banks with full knowledge and support of French elites, the Bongos also showered French business elites with business contracts in Gabon, and as if that was not enough Omar Bongo also showered French politicians with financial gifts that only came to light after his death. Bongo is believed to have used proceeds from his country's oil to finance the election campaign of a number of French politicians and then used those politicians to help him secure his dictatorship in Gabon and also to protect his stolen assets in France. According to Henry Samuel of the Telegraph newspaper in the UK, former French Presidents Jacque Chirac and François Mitterrand are among a host of French politicians who are alleged to have received illegal payments from Bongo. According to former French president Valerie Giscard d'Estaing, the late Omar Bongo spent years building up a very questionable financial network with politicians in France. This financial network deprived the people of Gabon access to the basic necessities of life including food, water, housing, electricity, health and education.
In 2001 Pierre Mario, former head of French intelligence acknowledged that Bongo used money stolen from his poverty stricken country to pay subsidies to French political parties and politicians. He noted that "the subsidies of Bongo serve everyone at the time of French elections and create a sort of backward colonialism". The irony of the situation is that while Omar Bongo saw nothing wrong with how he mismanaged Gabon oil revenue to enrich himself and his cronies, France also saw nothing wrong on how a president of its former colony squandered money on properties and on politicians in France.
To achieve their so called foreign policy objectives French politicians and business elite encouraged Bongo to amass wealth meant for the development of his country. France also used the entire arsenal available to her (including military and intelligence) to make sure her so called national interest was not threatened. France offered military, political and other support to Omar Bongo which effectively enabled him to remain a dominant figure for 42 years in Gabon. The French military base in Gabon for instance was not used only to protect the Bongos but was also used to gather intelligence which France used to effect regime change in her former colonies.
Thus despite his reputation as a corrupt dictator, French politicians routinely entertained and openly showered praises on Bongo for his enthusiastic support for French dubious policies towards Africa most importantly the encouragement of African tyrants to loot and deposit their dirty money in French banks.
Mike Jocktane former aide to Omar Bongo will on Thursday 24th November 2011 publish a book titled "The Scandal of the Ill-gotten Gains". The yet to be published book contains details of how Omar Bongo sent briefcases full of money to Nicolas Sarkozy to help his presidential bid in 2007. According to Mike Jocktane "Omar Bongo helped finance Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign” and provided him money after the 2007 elections. The financing of Nicolas Sarkozy's presidential campaign by Bongo underscores why Nicolas Sarkozy, current French President, made Gabon his first point of call in Africa apparently to thank Omar Bongo for his financial support. Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy described Bongo as a 'great and loyal friend of France' but he (Bongo) has been denounced for working for, himself, his family, France and local elites and not for Gabon and its poor people. Eva Joly, European Union Member of Parliament and a former French investigating magistrate who investigated the Elf corruption scandal has argued that Omar Bongo represented only himself and the interest of his associates in France and not the people of Gabon. “He (Bongo) was a president who didn't care about his citizens. He served France's interests and French politicians well. The oil boom did not benefit the Gabonese. It benefited us (French citizens). France has a great debt toward Gabon for having kept Bongo in power all these years”. According to Eva Joly despite an oil-led GDP per capita which was equivalent to that of Portugal's GDP, Gabon built only 5 km of freeway a year and still had one of the world's highest infant mortality rates by the time of his death in 2009.
France and other African dictators
However, it is not only the Bongos in Gabon who have used France as a safe haven for their ill gotten wealth and who are being protected by the French state. Paul Biya of Cameroon, Dos Santos of Angola, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo Republic, Blaise Campore of Burkina Faso and Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea have made headlines in recent years for using France as a fortress for their corrupt dealings. For example Denis Sassou Nguesso, according to French police investigation has 24 properties, one hundred and twelve (112) bank accounts and fleet of cars in France. It is believed that these numerous bank accounts contain hundreds of millions of dollars of money siphoned from the coffers of his resource rich but economically impoverished country.
In 2011 French police seized 11 luxurious cars worth $5 million from the home of spoil-child Obiang Mangue son of Equatorial Guinea's dictator Obiang Nguema. The point is that there are so many stolen African assets hidden in France if when returned to the countries of origin could make some of them the richest countries on the planet.
Like Switzerland, France has carved a name for herself as a protector and supporter of corrupt African dictators and a beneficiary of their illicit activities. However, unlike Switzerland which has embarked on a journey of image rehabilitation by repatriating some of the money deposited in her crook banks, France has shown no interest in doing such a thing. The military support France usually provide her client dictators in Africa has not only promoted dictatorships, human rights abuse, conflicts and corruption but has also undermined democracy, good governance, rule of law, economic development, food security and poverty reduction. Thus France's obscure and deadly African policies have produced a situation where the people of Africa have been deprived of resources that could have enabled the citizens to enjoy good standard of living.
Through the actions of its military, the courts, politicians and business leaders, France indirectly and directly has encouraged dictators in Africa to loot the coffers of their poor countries and deposit the loot in French banks. French cities are washed with properties bought by corrupt African leaders using monies they have stolen from their impoverished countries. French political and business leaders consider these African leaders as friends and allies. The corrupt French political and business establishment annually throw lavish parties at the French presidency for their African friends while the corrupt African leaders reciprocate with banquets during which African resources are auctioned to French corporations without a price. France has been a willing accomplice to the day light robbery taking place in Gabon, Cameroon, Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, Mali, Guinea, Chad, and many parts of French-speaking Africa and has become a deposit box for dirty money and assets stolen from the African people.
Therefore the chorus 'No Safe Havens for Dirty Money' being sung by Christine Lagarde of the IMF and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala must be played to French politicians, business elites, the banks, the property sector and the corporations, for charity they say begins at home.
By Lord Aikins Adusei
The author is a political activist and anti corruption campaigner
Sunday, 6 November 2011
Sunday, 3 April 2011
*By Lord Aikins Adusei
Many Ghanaians are dismayed and horror-struck at the kind of journalism being practiced in today's Ghana. There is no doubt the NDC and NPP are the two leading political parties in Ghana and to replace them with a third party is unthinkable for now. But for journalists to defend their lies, their corrupt cocaine ridden behaviours, their ill-conceived economic policies, and their mismanagement of state resources, is something that the people of Ghana cannot understand. Almost all the journalists in Ghana appear to be either speaking for the NPP or the NDC. There is nothing to show that the journalists in Ghana write and talk as journalists. Ghanaians are looking for independent and neutral mind, but they cannot find any. There is no independent or middle voice. There is no voice speaking for mother Ghana and her children. There is no voice speaking for Ghana and the millions of Ghanaians who are languishing in poverty, without jobs, without electricity, whose houses have no water and who lack basic sanitation, not to talk about good roads, better housing and hospital facilities.
The old colonial and tribal mentality that has characterised Ghana's politics has been transferred to the field of journalism. This has resulted in three sets of journalists and three groups of media outlets in Ghana. One of them belongs to the NDC including The Ghana Palaver, The Ghanaian Lens, The Daily Democrat, The True Democrat, The Crystal Clear Lens, The Weekly Standard, The Informer and The Ghanaian. Another group belongs to the NPP including, Daily Searchlight, The New Punch, The Mail (Formerly Accra Daily Mail), and Daily Guide. The third one is owned and controlled by the NPP or the NDC depending on who is in charge of government. I am referring to the so called state media (GBC and its cohort). Each of these media houses spews nothing but propaganda messages devoid of truth and matters that are at the heart of the people. When I was growing up as teenager I used to respect The Ghanaian Chronicle a lot. There was another paper called The Free Press. I would not rest if I did not read these two papers. That was in the 1980s and 1990s. These papers were committed to informing Ghanaians about the state of our nation: the poverty in the rural areas, the corruption that was so rampant in the country, the human rights abuses and the military brutalities that defined the politics at the time. Today that is all gone with Anas Aremeyaw Anas being the only journalist who appears to care about the well-being of Ghana.
When NPP tells lies and NDC does the same the only body that can rightly inform the people is the media. But what happens when the journalist is in bed with the very politician telling the lies? Thanks to the media everything in the country has been reduced to NDC and NPP, nothing more nothing less. The poor nature of our roads is not discussed with the same intensity in which the media houses defend their clients (NDC and NPP). The corruption at the Accountant General's Department and in the ministries of education, finance, health, roads is not exposed because the journalists are busy defending the lies of NDC and NPP. The poverty in the rural areas is ignored completely in our discussions because the journalists are interested in writing lies. We hear the names NPP and NDC more than we do about unemployment. We do not hear about poverty in the rural areas unless they are talking about NDC. Where is their sense of patriotism? Where is our love for mother Ghana? Do we have to blindly follow NDC and NPP and speak for them? Do we have to defend their politics of insults, their politics of lies and their corrupt cocaine lifestyle?
In the 1980s and 1990s The Daily Graphic, Times and the GBC were singing praises to government officials and ignoring the poverty that was swallowing the masses because the journalists and editors there were interested in nothing but their stomach. Has anything changed since then? No. Today because of the competition from the private media the practise of singing praises to officials in order to secure their jobs has become even more intense. The Graphic and Times are always full of images showing Ministers commissioning toilets. I mean toilets. Editors in both media outlets see toilets as so important that they have to devote pages to report them and even have images spread inside their papers. I wish the editors there will have the opportunity to read the New York Times, the Guardian in UK and the Washington or Jerusalem Post to check what they usually report.
Publishing toilets is nothing but propaganda designed to deceive the people that something substantial is being done to help them while the issues so close to their heart are completely ignored. But that propaganda has brought us nothing but misery, poverty, and hardship. People have to sell on pavements and in the streets of Accra, Kumasi in order to make a living. Children are dropping out of school in the northern part of Ghana in order to become kayayos and street vendors in Accra and in Kumasi and all journalists are quiet. Who should write to defend the homeless and the voiceless when the journalist trained to do so is busy telling and defending lies spewed by corrupt and cocaine mafias masquerading as politicians?
There is no doubt that every human has his or her own biases but when the biases are taken too extreme it produces effects that cripple progress and development and that is exactly what is happening in the field of journalism in Ghana today. The biases of the journalists and the media houses in the country have been carried too extreme to the point that they are not able to speak or write the truth anymore. Take for example the damning cocaine revelation captured in the US Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks. Anyone who critically read the cables can tell for sure that the operatives of the NDC and the NPP have been deeply involved in the cocaine trade. The inglorious revelations show that both the NDC and NPP politicians have succeeded in making Ghana a hot bed for and epicentre of cocaine smuggling in West Africa. When the revelations were made public instead of journalists asking questions like why has Ghana become the epicentre; who is involve; what method do the perpetrators use; and what can be done to eliminate the cocaine threat, the discussion and the analyses that followed were quickly reduced to the usual NDC and NPP politics by journalists who should have asked critical questions and put those failing to protect Ghana from the menace of the drug trade on their toes. The media spent a lot of time apportioning blames to NDC and NPP without any serious analysis as to what can be done. As I write the damage of the cocaine revelation is being felt by law-abiding Ghanaians travelling abroad as they have become target and suspect of drug and law enforcement agencies in Europe. The nation's reputation and its image internationally have been severely battered thanks to NDC and NPP politicians and their uncritical media friends. I have been forced to ask where the Kofi Coomsons and the Haruna Attas have all gone.
We are slowly moving towards a situation where Ghanaians get to know the truth about what is happening in their own country not through local journalists/media but through revelation by foreign media. We have come to this situation because the biases of the local journalists have blinded them from practicing any serious journalism. If journalists want to be politicians they should leave the field and go into politics. It is unacceptable that they claim to be journalists while in fact they are bidding for NDC and NPP politicians, the same people who have made Ghanaians slaves of poverty. I have a serious problem when journalists write and speak like politicians; I also have a problem when they defend political corruption and when they ignore the plight of the poor.
What kind of journalism is being practiced by the Ghanaian Democrat and Palava that sees everything in the NDC as good and everything in the NPP as bad? What kind of journalism is practiced by the Daily Guide when everything is black for NDC and white for NPP? If you want to hear favourable messages about the NDC listen to Radio Gold. If you want to hear anything negative about NPP listen to Radio Gold. Is that how we want to develop Ghana? Is that how we want to build fast railways networks, build high quality houses, provide affordable healthcare and jobs for our people?
Over the last couple of months I have been listening to Asempa FM. There is a programme hosted by one Nana Kwabena Bobie Ansah. I do not know if the programme is a comedy show or not. I cannot take the programme and its host any serious because there is nothing about Ghana's current economic quagmire that is discussed. His programme is more about personalities, whipping tribal and ethnic sentiments and making disparaging remarks about women than about Ghana's total development. Nothing close to the heart of Ghanaians is discussed except politicians making hate and tribally charged statements and spewing their usual lies and the journalists who blindly support them. There is no civility and decorum on Mr. Bobie Ansah's programme. The panellists engage in verbal insults with each other when that is not enough for them they proceed to exchange blows as happened on Wednesday 9 February 2011. They frequently interrupt one another and shout on top of their voice as if they are talking to people standing thousands of miles away. The worse thing is that the analyses are often shallow, uncritical, not-balanced and most of the issues discussed are without substance. At the same time the language used on the programme is raw and undiplomatic. I ask myself whose interest is Mr. Bobie Mensah serving, is it that of Ghanaians? Does he and his cohorts watch or listen to Dateline London on BBC; Fareed Zakaria's GPS on CNN or Fault Lines, Empire and Inside Story on Aljazeera and can he contrast the atmosphere on these programmes with his usually confused and ill-moderated programme?
But Nana Kwabena Bobie Ansah is not the only one whose work in my opinion is out of touch with ordinary Ghanaians. In January 2011, after Mills government increased fuel prices, Mr. Kwesi Pratt is reported to have said that the current hardship in the country is too much and it is like the NDC government stopped thinking a long time ago. Well the truth is that Mr. Pratt also stopped thinking so many years ago. What does he expect when he focuses all his effort defending the government and not the plight of Ghana and Ghanaians? I see Mr. Ametor Kwame, Mr. Kwesi Pratt, Mr. Kwaku Baako and their colleagues in journalism as part of the machinery that is producing the sickening poverty situation and deprivation in Ghana. I say so because their pronouncements indicate that they speak for NDC and NPP rather than Ghana and Ghanaians. Most of Mr. Pratt's debates have been to defend the NDC and to criticise the NPP. Likewise Mr. Kwaku Baako has most of the time defended the NPP and criticised the NDC all to the disadvantage of the country and its people. Ghanaians are really suffering but the message of the senior journalists has often tended to show that everything in the country is fine when in fact everything is bad. The consequence is that Ghana's development is being sacrificed for the same politics that has brought us nothing but misery.
The politics of insults which has come to replace government policies to fight cholera, poverty and water shortage in our cities, towns and villages couldn't have gotten worse without the media playing a role. Hannah Bissiw and Ursula Owusu couldn't have gone far with their foul-language politics if the media were critical. Koku Anyidoho and his cohorts in the NDC and the NPP would have refined their language and their thinking if the media had been critical. Visit www.ghanaweb.com and experience the kind of language that the editors and moderators there allow users to use there: Ghanaians are literally tearing one another apart with words, language and insults some of which are too appalling to be described yet the editors at Ghanaweb see nothing wrong with that. Where is their sense of responsibility?
In some countries that I know, it is journalists who set agenda for governments. Some of the journalists are so specialised in their field that they are able to speak authoritatively on issues affecting their countries. The reports and stories they run put fear in politicians and make governments shiver and run for cover. Those journalists are on the side of the people ready to inform the people what their governments, parliamentarians and political appointees are doing in their name. Do I see that in Ghana? No.
Am I disappointed? Yes. I am very disappointed that those who are given the platform to speak in favour of Ghana's development have betrayed the country and its people by siding with NDC, NPP and their corrupt representatives who for decades have been impoverishing the people, milking the country while asking the people to keep tightening their belts. Members of Parliament are asking for 7000 new Ghanaian cedis as salaries, but how many people in the country earn even half of that? And who is to inform the ordinary Ghanaian about the kind of rape that is happening to their country? The NDC and NPP politicians keep spending money on themselves building presidential palaces and buying presidential jets while ignoring the people's cry for water, for electricity, for food, for better housing, better education, and employment. As I write there are communities in Accra that have not received a drop of water for three years yet all that the media could do is to bring Hannah Bissiw the so called Minister for Water on air to engage in politics of insult.
I am not the only one who is disappointed and dissatisfied with the work of our journalists and the media in general. I recently read a book authored by Ivor Agyemang-Duah (2008) titled 'An economic history of Ghana: Reflections on a Half-Century of Challenges and Progress'. In the book Dr. Nii Moi Thompson also expressed his unhappiness about the lack of critical and objective analysis of economic and social issues in the country as well as the willingness of the media to publish things without questioning and without checking their accuracy or authenticity. He made reference to some statements made by some politicians prior to the 2008 elections to buttress his point. “One of the presidential candidates for the December 2008 elections recently launched his campaign and the statistics he had in there were just flat-out false! It just didn't make sense; they actually indict his government. But no one questioned it. The main opposition party didn't question it. The media, well they are somewhere else. Anything you give them they will publish. No one has a critical mind as to say wait a minute, these numbers don't make sense” Agyemang-Duah (2008, p.64). “Whenever I go on radio or talk to journalists, I remind them that they have a professional responsibility and a patriotic duty to ensure that this democratic infrastructure is actually preserved by watching or editing the kind of language people use. I tell them they need to avoid things like this is a do or die election.” This good advice was offered in 2008 by Dr. Nii Moi Thompson but in 2011 we have the media playing over and over again a statement purported to have been made by Nana Addo in which he is reported to have said 'all die be die'. That is what is called irresponsible journalism indicating that the media has neither been rational, critical, objective, patriotic nor observant.
Reverend Mensah Otabil in a recent comment published by Joy Online on Friday, 25 March 2011 also registered his unhappiness with the way the media focus time and energy to debate unnecessary issues in the country while issues that need attention are ignored completely. He said: “Can't we see the damage we are doing to ourselves? We are a third world nation; we have a development deficit of 250 years, our cities are chocking with filth, educational standards are [low], infectious diseases are killing us, our highways are unsafe for passengers, our water bodies are polluted, our forest cover is gone, industries are dying, homes are breaking up, the gap between the rich and the poor keeps widening, yet when you listen to our parliamentary debate, read our newspaper headlines, listen to radio or watch television for a whole month, you will not come across any sustained intelligent discussion offering responses”.
The journalists in the country are trading the dignity of their profession for peanuts, ignoring the people they were trained to serve. It is because of their behaviour that is why the NDC and NPP have taken Ghanaians for a ride, not addressing the unemployment problem in the country and not doing anything to improve the lot of Ghanaians who are facing poverty, and hunger. Think about how many patients would die if doctors and nurses were to trade their profession for political lies.
So what do Ghanaians want to see? They want to see critical, objective and balanced position being taking by all the media houses and the people professing the profession of journalism. Ghanaians want to see journalists asking critical questions and putting politicians and other officials on the spot to extract from them information that the public need to know. They want to see the politics of insults be removed from our national debates. They want the media to focus on the education sector and ask critical questions as to why Ghanaian universities did not make it to the top 100 of the recently published university ranking. Ghanaians want to see the cocaine debate highlighted and policies fashion out to remove its threat from the country. They want the problems of unemployment, water shortages, sanitation, waste management, and electricity be placed within our national dialogue. They want the problems of gender inequality, child labour, kayayo, teenage pregnancy be brought into our national discussion. They want a national development dialogue that will focus on how to build roads, rail networks, and telecommunication infrastructures to increase broadband access and internet speed in all parts of the country. They want national resources to be devoted to develop the rural areas and reduce the rural-urban migration that is contributing to governance problems in our cities. And finally they want the media to play its watch-dog role to police the oil revenue that is beginning to flow into the coffers of government so that the NDC and the NPP politicians will not steal it and mismanage the rest as they have done with proceeds from gold, cocoa and other valuable resources of the country.
There is so much to be done in Ghana to make it a better place for all its citizens and we must do it with critical mind, with critical eye and with critical ears, and with a sense of patriotism without the parody that has come to dominate our media landscape.
*The author is a political activist and anti-corruption campaigner. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org