– Cash-for-seat scandal
…Forgery, extortion, peddling of Presidential influence confirmed
The official dissent filed by Minority members on the adhoc committee set up by Parliament to probe the extortion scandal which erupted over the maiden Ghana Expatriate Business Awards (GEBA) is selling strongly as self-evident convincement.
By means of painstaking facts, the dissent, which highlights forgery, subterfuge and influence peddling as details in the scandal, shows that a report by the Majority side on the committee which exonerates characters involved in the scandal is rather a sham.
A strong case has therefore been made for the further investigation and prosecution of some scandal architects, while antics by Majority members on the committee, who had tried to use the committee to bully witnesses into recanting, are also highlighted in the dissent for the judgment of Ghanaians.
Hon. James Klutse Avedzi, MP for Ketu North, and Hon. Dominic Akuritinga Ayine, MP for Bolga East, assembled evidence from committee hearings and testimonies from expatriates to show that the Ministry of Trade had acted together with the Millennium Excellence Foundation (MEF) to extort monies from the expatriates.
In the extortion, they had heavily peddled the influence of President Nana Akufo-Addo, who had allowed his cachet to be so abused.
Trade Ministry documents referenced also entangles some people who appeared to have perjured themselves before the committee in criminality. Among others it has been pointed out that efforts had been made to change facts, with the Chairman of MEF actually doctoring evidence during his appearance before the committee.
Hon. Avedzi and Hon. Ayine had been members of the five-member adhoc committee, together with three colleagues from the Majority side. However, they decided to file a different report because according to them the Majority members had decided to ignore the real facts that go to the heart of the matter.
The same Majority side had also attempted to use the committee to scare some witnesses who had appeared before it to recant their positions on the issue and walk away from pertinent facts that indict government.
Among such facts is that the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI) signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the MEF, a private NGO, to provide auspice for the organization of the first ever GEBA in December, 2017, was irregular.
In addition to the MoU being legally binding on the ministry, it had also stipulated that MoTI would ensure the attendance of President Nana Akufo-Addo at the program.
On the basis of the same MoU, President Akufo-Addo’s table at the event was to host selected expatriate CEOs who would later also have private dinners with the President, the Minority’s dissent pointed out.
And, the whole arrangement to sit by the President at the program and also have private dinners with him later had been preconditioned with the expatriate CEOs’ willingness to pay for the privilege.
President Akufo-Addo, who has since claimed that he was not aware of the extortionate charges, is shown to have been very much aware of the whole arrangement because the program which had eventually come off on the 4th of December 2017, had been postponed several times to accommodate his busy schedule which had made it difficult for him to attend.
It would be recalled that Hon. Mohammed Muntaka Mubarak, the MP for Asawwase, had lamented that expatriates had been constrained to pay between $15,000 and $100,000 for the privilege to sit by the President at the event.
But the Trade Ministry and the Presidency had denied the revelation leading to Hon. Muntaka filing a motion in Parliament for a Parliamentary investigation to be opened into the issue.
It is as the enquiry has come to a close that the Minority members on the committee have been constrained to file a different report because, according to the Minority, the Majority members of the committee, had been on the committee with a premeditation to whitewash all the people involved.
Majority bias/cover up
“The Minority Members of the Committee participated diligently in the deliberations of the Committee but decided to file a separate report in dissent. This decision was not taken either lightly or in haste.
”First of all, at the conclusion of deliberations, it became patently clear that the Majority Members of the Committee had made up their minds about the issues of fact and the conclusions to be drawn from the evidence adduced before the Committee. As would be made clear in the remainder of this Report, some of the findings made and conclusions were drawn by the Majority Report come nowhere close to a semblance of reality.
“Matters such as the possible forgery of documents designed to deceive the Committee, possible violations of foreign corrupt practice legislation and international conventions by the involvement of the foreign businesses in this scheme and fraudulent misrepresentations relating to the benefits of the awards scheme have all been glossed over by the Majority,” the Minority members pointed out.
According to the dissent report, the Majority members had kicked off by attempting to use the committee to bully Hon. Muntaka Mubarak, the main witness in the investigations, into recanting his position that the expatriates had been levied.
Dr. Mark Asibey Yeboah, MP for New Juaben South, is said to have deliberately engaged in knit-picking, challenging that, even though Hon. Muntaka, who had said that the expatriates had been levied, had also defined “levy” as, “a sum of money that has to be paid,” his (Hon. Asibey’s) definition which he referenced from Wikipedia is that, “levy” is a, “tax, fee or fine.”
Interestingly, Wikipedia is not a dictionary, but a platform opened to the general public to publish information.
Hon. Asibey had then gone on to ask Hon. Muntaka to contextualize his usage of “levy” while filing the motion that set up the committee within Ghana’s laws.
Dr. Asibey’s resort to legal technicalities eventually forced Hon. Muntaka to change the language describing the fees demanded, from “levy” to “collection.”
The Majority members on the committee had then allowed Trade Minister, Alan Kyeremanten, who had appeared as a witness, to latch on to Hon. Muntaka’s supposed misuse of the word “levy” to deny that no such levy had been charged.
MoTI’s suspicious money collection role
However, before the committee, there was evidence that the monies had been collected from the expatriates, not by MEF, but by the Ministry of Trade, which had provided its bank account for the collection, and issued receipts to payers.
“Thus, whilst the proponent of the motion could not justify his use of the word “levy” from a legal-technical point of view, it cannot be denied that, from the evidence on record, the Ministry of Trade and Industry played a pre-eminent role in the determination of the amounts ‘solicited’ by the MEF.
”In short, the manner in which the sponsorship package was designed and executed conforms to CW1 (Hon. Muntaka’s) conception of a levy as “money that you have to pay.” The pre-determined sums of money were paid with the backing of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the agency with oversight responsibility for the business sector of the economy.
”Before the Committee, there was no controversy with respect to the issue of collection of the sums of money to be paid to the Ministry of Trade and Industry by the expatriate businesses. The evidence on record shows that the Ministry had undertaken, as part of its obligations under the MoU (Exhibit…) to serve as the collection point of payments. Indeed, all payments were made to Room 308 at the Ministry and subsequently into a designated account of the Ministry,” the Minority noted.
It pointed out that the Trade Ministry’s position that it did not levy the expatriates makes it imperative for the Ministry to explain why it, a public institution, collected the monies from the expatriates on behalf of MEF, which is a private entity.
“For, if it is not a levy as they claimed before the Committee because, in the words of CW3 (Alan KLyeremanten), “it is not collected by compulsion or legal authority”, then there must be some other legal basis for the collection of the various sums of money by a public agency such as the Ministry of Trade and Industry.”
Haggles only happen over fees, not free will contributions
The dissent pointed out that the ministry’s claim that the monies had not been levied was not true because there was evidence that one of the expatriate companies, Japan Motors, had actually negotiated with event organizers to cut down the amount demanded from it as precondition for its CEO to sit close to the President.
“According to the evidence of CW3 (Kyeremanten), a total amount of Two Million, Six Hundred and Sixty-Seven Thousand, Two Hundred and Fifteen Ghana Cedis (Ghc2,667,215.00) was paid by the expatriate businesses… Out of this amount, Two Million, Three Hundred and Sixty-Seven Thousand, Four Hundred and Twenty-Six Ghana Cedis and Six Pesewas (Ghc2,367,426.06) was paid out to the MEF… CW3 maintained in his evidence before the Committee that the Ministry of Trade and Industry retained 10% of the total amount for expenses on agreed future activities.
”As shown in Table 1 above, the payments made were fairly consistent with the sponsorship package designed by the MEF with the approval of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. These ranged between USD15,000 (e.g. Aviance Ghana Ltd) and USD75,000.00 (e.g. Zenith Bank). From the evidence adduced by the expatriate businesses that appeared before the Committee, some businesses which paid less than the minimum amount stipulated in the package actually negotiated those sums with the MEF before making payment inconsistent with the design of the sponsorship package (e.g. Japan Motors). In other words, a deviation from the standard package put together by MEF with the approval of the Ministry of Trade and Industry had to be negotiated.”
The Minority’s point was that, if the monies collected from the expatriates were indeed not levies, then why did Japan Motors haggle down the participation fee for its CEO?
Akufo-Addo, the centre of the levying
It also dismissed claims by the Presidency and Trade Ministry that the monies had not been collected as precondition for sitting close to President Akufo-Addo at the event pointing out that the whole program, including its seating arrangement, had been organized around the President.
In addition to the program being advertised under the auspices of the President of the Republic of Ghana, it had also been postponed several times because it had conflicted with the President’s busy schedule.
Apart from this, when the program eventually came off at the Movenpick Hotel in Accra, the seating arrangement had been made in concentric circles with President Akufo-Addo occupying the centre while his ministers occupied outer circles.
Then, depending on the amount of money that an expatriate had paid, he would either sit in the centre with the President or sit close to his Ministers in the outer circles. Those who had paid the gargantuan $100, 000 shared the Presidential table.
According to the Minority’s dissent, claims by the Trade Minister that he had instructed MEF not to charge people as precondition for sitting by the President was incredible because if the Ministry really meant that instruction, it would have incorporated it in the MoU.
MEF boss forged documents
The Minority pooh-poohed claims by Ambassador Ashim Morton, Chairman of MEF, that he was the one that documents which had instructed expatriates to pay $100, 000 in order to share table with the President, had referred to, since according ton him, he was the President of MEF.
“Besides brazenly making this rather ludicrous claim publicly at a news conference, CW4 repeated it before the Committee and was then confronted with documents showing that he had tried to change his designation from Chairman of MEF to President of MEF in order to be able to validate this claim. In Exhibit MOTI 6, which is a letter written to inform the Ministry of Trade and Industry about the proposed Ghana Expatriate Business Awards, CW4 is described as “President.”
”However, though properly dated and signed with slightly different signature, Exhibit MOTI 6 contained no evidence that it had been received by the Ministry. So, when the Committee noticed this fact and requested for the original and it was brought, it showed that it had been received on April 26, 2017 and stamped with the official seal of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
”On this original letter, CW4 is described as “Founder/Chairman.” In other words, Exhibit MOTI 6 was forged with a view to deceiving the Committee that the correct designation of CW3 was “President” and not “Founder/Chairman” as in the original. CW4 however put up a brave defense and insisted that his position as Chairman changed in July 2017 to President. Exhibit MOTI 6 nailed that defense in the coffin.”
In his alleged forgery of documents to hide the fact that President Akufo-Addo, and not he, Ashim Morton, was the one who was the “President” that the expatriates were required to pay $100, 000 to sit by, he had quickly redesigned the original sponsorship package that had been sent to expatriates before presenting it to the Committee.
In that original version, expatriates had apparently been given various quotations that corresponded to whether a CEO would sit by a Minister or the President, depending on the amount of money that he was prepared to pay.
However, in the attempt to convince the committee that he was the “President” referred to in the package, Mr. Ashim Morton had presented documents with the fact that there had been a ministerial circle at the program held at Movenpick, expunged.
Obviously, the fact that there was a Ministerial circle evidenced the fact that President Akufo-Addo and not a “President” Ashim Morton was the one, around whom those paying $100,000 would sit. President Akufo-Addo has Ministers that he has appointed, but “President” Ashim Morton has no Ministers.
“Indeed, after tendering in the redesigned package that omitted the ministerial circle, two of the expatriate businesses that were invited to the event and supplied with sponsorship packages by MEF came before the Committee and tendered in evidence the sponsorship package that were referred to by both CW1 and CW2,” the Minority noted.
MoTI’s extortionate pressure
The Minority said, it was clear that the Ministry of Trade had been used to extort monies from the expatriates because as MP for North Tongu, Hon. Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa had noted in his capacity as witness before the committee, the MoTI’s decision to collect the monies from the expatriates in respect of the program was a way of telling the expatriates that they were watched by the government closely to see who would pay and who would not pay.
The Minority believes that the Ministry had used its cachet to extort monies from the expatriates, asking that the issue be forwarded to investigative bodies to look into for possible prosecutions since extortion is a criminal offense.
“The evidence before the Committee shows that the Ministry of Trade and Industry formed a partnership with MEF for the purposes of the organization of the GEBA. Pursuant to its legally enforceable role under the MOU, it wrote letters introducing MEF to the expatriates. Also in fulfillment of its obligations under the same MOU, MEF also designed a package of benefits which was delivered to the expatriates as a means of soliciting financial support for the organization of the GEBA. Was this a legitimate solicitation or the exaction of money in exchange for promised benefits?
“The evidence before the Committee tilts more in favour of a conclusion that the money was exacted in exchange for promised benefits such as being seated close to the President during the award ceremony and having an exclusive dinner for two with the President at a future date.”
Violation of ethics
The Minority also observed that it was totally unethical for the Trade Ministry and MEF to collect monies from expatriates when the GEBA had supposedly been organized to show appreciation to the same expatriates for their contribution to the country.
Even worst, it pointed out that the Trade Ministry had denied that a promised dinner with the President that had been included in the letters that had sought payments from the expatriates had never been consented to by the Trade Ministry.
Mr. Ashim Morton, the man who had claimed to be the President around whom expatriates would have to pay $100,000 to sit, had also told the committee that even though the promise to set up dinner with the President had been made, it was not intended to be fulfilled by the organizers.
The Minority said such an arrangement was very dishonest, unethical and unfair to the expatriates who had been made to pay the huge sums of money partly on account of that promise.
“That is highly unethical and the Ministry should never have lent its support to an enterprise designed with the knowledge that the promised benefits would never be delivered. Indeed, the Honourable Minister of Trade made it clear to the Committee that, given the busy schedules of H. E. the President, he could never have agreed to a benefits package that contemplated exclusive dinners with the President.
”Granted that that statement is true, we find it highly unethical for the Ministry to have agreed to a package that was communicated to the business community but which, unbeknown to the latter, was never going to be honored. The pertinent question is whether the Ministry knew or had reason to know that the promised benefits would not be delivered?”
MEF milked money with MoTI’s influence
The dissenting Minority also decried the fact that the Trade Ministry had lent its cachet to a Non Governmental Organization to make huge sums of money, pointing out that the MoU’s allocation of 10% of the fund raised to MoTI while the rest went to MEF did not make any sense.
Consequent to that arrangement, the Trade Ministry got only %10 of the Ghc 2,667,215.00 that had been raised while MEF got the remaining 90%. The 90% was over Ghc2million even though MEF had spent only Ghc40, 000 to sponsor the program.
The Minority said MEF had used deceit to raise the monies on the back of government cachet, pointing out that in addition to lies about the subsequent dinner with the President, MEF had also pretended that the award winners of the day had been selected on meritocracy.
Award winner selection
It would be recalled that at the event, the overall winner had been Saied Assad Fakhry, the owner of Interplast Ghana Limited, who President Akufo-Addo has confirmed, is a childhood friend, and in whose house he eats Lebanese food all the time.
The same Assad Fakhry is also a member of the advisory council of President Akufo-Addo. He is known to have paid the $100,000 by cheque.
“The Committee noted that the MEF had been involved in deceitful practices related to the organization of the GEBA. In their evidence before the Committee, both CW3 and CW4 created the impression that they had designed objective criteria for determining who obtained an award at the GEBA. Indeed, they tendered in evidence a set of criteria designed by the accounting firm KPMG for the selection of companies for various categories of award.
”However, in the course of its proceedings, the Committee learned from at least three of the businesses that they had not even sent information to KPMG in order to qualify for the nomination for an award but were called and informed that they had been selected for the award by none other than CW4. Indeed, in one case, a telecommunications company objected to paying for any of the packages, refused to send information to be selected for an award but was still given an award which was announced by CW4. In each case, there was no official communication from KPMG,” the Minority noted
In its dissent therefore, it agreed with the view that the organization of GEBA had been extortionate, emphasizing that the Trade Ministry and MEF had acted together to extort the monies, peddling the influence of President Akufo-Addo.
President Akufo-Addo, per the findings, appeared to have been in on the whole thing as the whole thing had been programmed around him.
The Minority, on account of the alleged criminal conducts of Mr. Ashim Morton and MEF asked that they be investigated and possibly prosecuted.
Source: Therepublicnewsonline.com/Stan Adotey