The Danquah Institute considers as disappointing, dangerous and back-stepping the action that has been taken by the Police, in particular, in responding to Government’s directive to investigate the news item in which Joy FM quoted a source as alleging that council members of the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association were threatened to withdraw their petition against the $10 billion STX agreement for the construction of 200,000 housing units in Ghana.
We believe there were enough clues for the Police not to have reduced the case to one of an ethical dilemma for the journalist(s) involved. Joy FM was not the first media house to report of alleged threats against the GREDA leadership. A newspaper had reported similar allegations, mentioning the name of a specific GREDA member that paper said was alleging he had been threatened.
Also, the multiple contrapositions taken by GREDA over the STX deal within the space of one month were enough to alert detectives that there could be more to the publication worth investigating than merely accusing the media house of false publication as Government was quick to do.
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According to the Public Procurement Authority, 14 percent of the country’s GDP and 24 percent of total imports is consumed by public procurement, with over 80 percent of state funds being spent on public procurement after personal emoluments. This means we should not estimate the potential of Government exploiting this fact to abuse its relationship with the private sector. For a government to gag any contracting party or potential contracting party with threats of loss of deals, as alleged, would cause concrete and profound harm to our democracy. The qualitative entrenchment of our democracy relies on access to information and the protection of sources where necessary and it is the free expression of information, ideas, and opinions developed by responsible journalists, academics, commentators, experts, and others that lead to the formulation of sound public policy, including national security policy.
The Police action unnecessarily puts the Joy FM journalist(s) and Ghanaian journalism, generally, in a situation that could stifle the development of investigative journalism. The ethical dilemma here is that if a journalist reveals a source she may be in breach of her professional ethics. On the other hand if she refuses to reveal the identity of a source when so demanded by the Police, she risks criminal prosecution.
Government’s first reaction to the news on July 6 was to ask the radio station to retract the story and apologise while directing the police to investigate the matter. This action of the Government carried the potential risk of prejudicing police work, by putting some perceptible pressure on the Police to target Joy FM for the apportionment of blame.
Based on the circumstantial evidence available, the Police ought not have focused their investigation narrowly on finding Joy FM at fault. And, for the Police to conclude, just like Government has, by accusing the radio station of spreading false news to cause fear and alarm, in our view, suggests an inattentive and unpersevering piece of police investigation into this matter.
Are the Police saying there were no highlights of circumstantial evidence to support the story for them to resort to this extreme prosecutorial measure. We believe this calls for a serious debate on the consideration of a law that will place some legal obligation on journalists to protect their confidential source of information. It is held that the protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom. Without such protection, sources may be deterred from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of public interest.
The action of the Police against the Joy News Editor and the Ghanaian Times Editor this week are dangerous signals that the vital public-watchdog role of the press may be undermined and the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information may be adversely affected if some statutory checks are not introduced and we continue to rely on the discretion of the Police. Having regard to the importance of the protection of journalistic sources for press freedom in a democratic society and the potentially chilling effect an order of source disclosure has on the exercise of that freedom, the decision by the police to charge the news editor of Joy FM under Section 208 of the Criminal Code, 1960, for allegedly publishing false information to cause fear and alarm cannot be compatible with Articles 21 and 162 of the Constitution of the Republic.
Moreover, for Government to have concluded that the publication was false, within hours after it was put out there and to go on to insist on a retraction and an apology from Joy FM was certainly not helpful in encouraging the Police to do a thorough or impartial job on the investigation. It was a very curious conclusion for Government to jump to, without any supporting evidence that the news item carried by Joy FM had to be false.
We are disappointed by the supine work of the police here, where the focus appears to have been in seeking to compel the reporter and the news editor to disclose their confidential source of the allegation, rather than making sleuthhounding deductions from the facts available. Thus, once Joy Fm refused to identify its source the Police was content to conclude that there was nothing more to investigate.
We believe there is enough circumstantial evidence available for the police to throw their searchlights farther beyond the studios of Multimedia and its employees. Below is a chronology of events which we believe the Police could not (or should not) have ignored.
(a) Tuesday, June 1: Parliament lays for approval after 48 hours a US$1.5 billion Supplier’s Credit Financing Agreement between STX Engineering and Construction Ghana Limited as Lender and the Government of Ghana in relation to the financing of the 30,000 housing units under the Security Services Housing Project, emanating from the 200,000 housing deal.
(b) Thursday, June 3: Civil society groups compelled to hold emergency stakeholders forum of the Ghanaian building industry to draw attention to the STX deal in the hope of stopping it.
(c) At forum, Frank Tackie, the President of the Ghana Institute of Planners, representing all the institutions of the Built Environment, criticizes the STX deal and says alternative local building materials, local expertise and better value for money can be achieved if Government focused on Ghanaian firms, materials and expertise rather than Korea.
(d) Sammy Amegayibor, representing GREDA, also laments how Government has refused to sit down with them to explore the option of getting the Ghana Real Estate Developers’ Association to undertake the project because local contractors are more than capable. He says average cost of STX housing at $50,000 cannot not be considered as affordable and that private sector already satisfying that end of the market. He adds, Ghanaians built all the major estates in Ghana and don’t need Koreans to build houses.http://blogs.myjoyonline.com/sms/2010/06/04/stx-housing-deal-is-bad-for-ghana-di-imani/
(e) Monday, June 21: three weeks later, GREDA issues a strong press statement calling for the STX agreement not to be approved. Some of the points raised are as follows: 200,000 units may just be a fraction of the total deficit thus leaving a lot for others to deal with if they want, but as Ghanaians and the professionals in this industry we feel it a duty to draw attention to the fact that this deal does not at all represent value-for money.GREDA is requesting that both Parliament and Government discontinue the approval process. Indeed in its present state this agreement will be damaging to Ghana, it should be cancelled. It is also shrouded in ambiguity, and does not offer value for money.
(f) Note: in that press release GREDA gave public notice that it was holding a press conference three days later to give more details, and present petitions to both the Speaker of Parliament and the President of the Republic to table its position against the agreement being approved by the House and to get Government to meet and discuss a local alternative with GREDA and others.
(g) “We will hold a press conference on Thursday 24th June 2010. At 10 AM, at the Ghana International Press Centre, to properly put out our case and explain our position to the general public. We will thereafter on the same day, present a petition to Parliament requesting that they do not pass the STX deal. We will then move to the Castle to present a petition requesting audience with The President to discuss how we can provide quality housing for Ghanaians at the right cost in support of the Presidents agenda for a ‘Better Ghana’,” GREDA announces, adding, “We believe our Government will listen, and our Parliament will support our call…
(h) “Our plea to Government is to sit down with GREDA and the built environment professionals such as Architects, Engineers, Planners, Surveyors to jointly consider an alternative to the STX.” http://blogs.myjoyonline.com/sms/2010/06/21/stx-housing-deal-is-disturbinggreda/
(i) Thursday, June 24: Journalists gather at the International Press Centre, Accra, in anticipation of the GREDA news conference. After more than half an hour wait, the President of GREDA announces that GREDA leadership met the Minister for Water Resources, Works & Housing the previous day and from that preliminary discussion GREDA has decided to cancel both the news conference and the decision to petition the Executive and the Legislature.
(j) Friday, June 25: newspaper headline: GREDA BOSSES THREATENED!…To Abandon Press Conference!
(k) The report in the Daily Searchlight reads: A major coordinated form of protest from stakeholders of the building industry to express their opposition to the controversial $10 billion STX deal to build 200,000 housing units in Ghana in 5 years has hit the snag following reports of threats from top government leaders! The Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA) membership was scheduled to hold a press conference yesterday to present a petition to Parliament and the Castle to ask for a cancellation of the project, but the conference was called off at the last minute following what insiders describe as threats from high places! Journalists had showed up in their numbers with recorders, cameras, pens and papers, but the President of GREDA, Dr Joe Tweneboa was 30 minutes late. When he arrived, he went outside with his other executives and Kofi Bentil of Bentil Consultants and Imani, the consultant for GREDA. A long heated discussion took place. Journalists could overhear Dr Tweneboa saying “I’ve been threatened and it is scary. I can’t go ahead. I have received so many phone calls. I’m sorry… I’m sorry. Let’s just call it off.”http://thedailysearchlight.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=23836&Itemid=1
(l) Wednesday, June 30: The Speaker of Parliament, Justice Joyce Bamford-Addo, announces to the House that she was referring the $1.5bn STX agreement to the joint Committee on Finance and Water Resources, Works and Housing, following a petition to her by GREDA, requesting her to do all that is in her power “to ensure Parliament does not pass the STX deal.”
(m) GREDA was billed to meet the joint committee on Monday, June 5. She accordingly directed the joint Committee, after giving a hearing to GREDA, to present a composite report to the House the following Tuesday, for a resolution.http://www.ghananewsnow.com/politics/parliament-meets-greda-over-korean-housing-deal/
(n) Note: until then, the public had been told by GREDA that it had made a u-turn and was no more going to petition either of the two arms of government. Thus, in spite of its public announcement, GREDA, however, went ahead on the quiet to petition Parliament. So, to whom was that public message that GREDA was no longer going ahead with the petition meant? Though, GREDA claimed it had, since June 23, opened discussions with Government it still wanted Parliament to stop the STX deal. This is further evidence that GREDA was still committed to its opposition to the STX deal, but was reluctant to make noise about it. Did it have anything to fear?
(o) Contents of the petition were unequivocal on GREDA’s opposition to the STX deal. Although GREDA said it appreciated and commended Government’s desire to help solve the housing problem in the country, it stated in the petition that so many things were wrong with the STX agreement. “As professionals, we have analyzed the deal in detail and wish to state that there is a lot wrong with the agreement. Many pertinent details are missing; there are loopholes, which give cause for worry. We can also say that the financial aspects of the deal make it unacceptably expensive,” GREDA stated in the petition signed by its President, Dr. Alexander Tweneboah.
(p) On Monday, June 5, GREDA met the joint committee, but in another bizarre twist in the GREDA/STX tale, the media reported that GREDA withdrew its petition and went on to tell Parliament to pass the STX deal. However, GREDA had its own proposal for parliamentary consideration.
(q) One, Parliament was not the appropriate place to present a proposal for an award of a contract. If that was all GREDA wanted to do it should have rather redirected its proposal to the sector Ministry. However, GREDA’s proposal was relevant to Members inasmuch as it assisted the legislatures to assess the value-for-money aspects of the STX agreement.
(r) Again, it is strange for GREDA to present a proposal that effectively argued that GREDA could undertake the entire 200,000 housing project proposed by STX, with amenities and onsite infrastructure of $3.7 billion, instead of $10 billion (or 30,000 units at $540m) and yet drop its principled position that STX was too expensive for Ghana.
(s) There is also enough evidence to suggest that something unusual might have compelled GREDA to opt for that confusing position on the morning of June 5, when its executives arrived at Parliament. This is because the complete documentary presentation that they prepared for Parliament that morning ran contrary to their oral statement before the joint committee that they were withdrawing the petition. After the Powerpoint presentation, GREDA had to leave a copy to the Committee and it was that copy that exposed the fact that GREDA’s shift to withdraw the petition was very likely to have been sudden. http://news.myjoyonline.com/docs/GREDAtoParliament.pdf
(t) Above is the full presentation. If the Police had interviewed members of the joint committee and GREDA members as some of us have done, they would have known that GREDA’s prepared document which was left in Parliament and copies made available to MPs contained 23 slides, a significant number of which gave a negative analysis of the STX deal; yet GREDA allegedly skipped some pages, starting from slide 6. It did so in a seemingly desperate attempt to avoid criticizing STX, while promoting its interest.
(u) It is instructive that Slide 2 of the GREDA presentation states boldly:
The STX Housing Deal
1. STX DEAL IS NOT VALUE FOR MONEY
2. GREDA HAS A LESS EXPENSIVE OPTION
3. GREDA WOULD DELIVER A BETTER SOLUTION IF GIVEN
THE SAME TERMS
(a) Detectives ought to have at least probed the obvious dangling question: what could have forced GREDA to change its position on STX between the time it got to Parliament with its prepared presentation and before it met the joint committee? The chronology of events shows that GREDA did not even find the time to amend its prepared presentation to reflect its revised position on the petition.
(b) It is equally instructive to note that no member of GREDA was prepared to comment in the mass media on their reported volte face on that Monday, in spite of relentless attempts by the media. It does not mean that journalists could not get through to GREDA members; it may only mean that GREDA members were not willing to go on record in the media. One person who was heard to have granted Joy FM an interview that day, June 5, was Mr Alban Bagbin, the Minister for Water Resources, Works & Housing.
(c) The Joint Committee report on the GREDA Petition was dated June 5. It showed details of GREDA’s alternative proposal which is estimated at $540 million for 30,000 housing units. It reads: In response to the concerns of Members as to whether GREDA still stands by the issues raised in the complaint, the representatives of GREDA explained that at the time the complaint was presented, the issues stated therein represented their position. However, subsequent discussions with the Minister for Water Resources, Works and Housing and further information received from the Ministry of Water Resources Works and Housing have resulted in a change in their initial stand on the STX Agreement. The Minister of Water Resources, Works and Housing assured the Committee and the representatives of GREDA that Government will be ready to consider any proposal from GREDA aimed at reducing the housing deficit.
(d) The Joint Committee report concludes: The Committee, after carefully considering the complaint and submissions made by the representatives of GREDA, came to the conclusion that GREDA no longer stands by its initial position on the STX deal. The Committee therefore recommends that the Finance Committee go ahead with the process for the consideration of the STX Agreement.
(e) Tuesday, June 6: Joy headline: Death threats forced GREDA’s back-traction.
(f) Joy News reported, The Ghana Real Estates Developers Association (GREDA) might have withdrawn its petition to Parliament on the STX housing deal because its executives were threatened with death. Source close to GREDA tell Joy News some members of the association also became worried that their contracts with government could be abrogated after the association criticized the proposed deal with the Korean company, but GREDA has declined to confirm or deny the reports.
(g) 3pm, Tues, June 6: Speaking on Asempa FM’s Ekossii Sii programme, Sammy Amegayibor, the Executive Secretary of GREDA denied the threats allegations. He said, as far as he is concerned none of the GREDA members has received any death threats from anybody for petitioning parliament on the STX housing deal. Can that be interpreted to be conclusive that no GREDA member has been threatened? He went on to say that since the Association never enters into a building contract on behalf of its members, nor has it applied for a building contract from Government on behalf of its members, GREDA could not say whether or not any of its members had a contract with Government that could be threatened or had been. http://news.myjoyonline.com/news/201007/48763.asp
(h) Tuesday, July 6, John Tia Akologu, the Minister for Information, issued a statement and said it “finds it curious that the radio station presented no shred of evidence to support its false claim” and wondered why Joy FM went ahead to rebroadcast the claim severally and kept it on its news website even after GREDA Executive Secretary Sammy Amegayibor, denied the claim of death threats.
The Minister stated, “Meanwhile, Government has directed the security agencies to investigate the claim because death threats are not to be handled lightly.” Government’s main concern, according to the statement, was that though the allegation “of a death threat was not linked to any particular group, any discerning person is likely to conclude that since Government is the chief promoter of the STX deal, then Government might be behind the threat. This linkage was made stronger when Joy FM proceeded to claim falsely that some GREDA members were afraid their contracts with Government will be abrogated hence the change of mind.”
(i) Wednesday, July 7: Deputy Minister of Information, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, told Citi FM’s Bernard Avle that by putting out the report without any evidence, “Joy FM is creating fear and panic in the Business community and the international community that is listening and reading websites from Ghana and all of that is going to say that this is a government that twists arms and threaten people out of their contracts when people offer divergent views.” http://www.citifmonline.com/site/business/news/view/7967/1
(j) Wednesday, June 7: Mr Amegayibor explained to RADIO GOLD’S POWER DRIVE that GREDA had soften their stance on the deal after claiming to have fully acquainted themselves to the details of the STX deal. Contrary to their initial understanding of a 30 percent local content in the agreement, Amegayibor said, they have now been assured of a 70-80 per cent local content. Yet, the facts as they later became apparent during the parliamentary debate on STX indicated that GREDA’s concerns, as stated earlier, were far from resolved. He also explained that their fears of government using the oil revenue to fund the project have been allayed. Well, we can all hail the patriotism of GREDA on the oil option. But, shouldn’t the Police, at least, wonder why this patriotism was pulled back from stretching to the main issue of whether or not the entire deal was value for money?
(k) Asked if STX deal will be beneficial to the people of Ghana, Amegayibor said, “it depends on how you look at it”, adding that GREDA has not made any official statement on whether the deal is good or bad for the country. This also further confuses the GREDA position.
Mr Amegayibor, on that same Asempa programme on June 6, said, what he was to repeat on Radio Gold, that GREDA as an association has no contract before Government and that it had not received any complaints from any of its members that their individual contracts, if any, with Government had been threatened with unilateral abrogation if they proceeded with their opposition to the STX deal. This is dangerous for the necessary interplay between the public and private sectors. With Government being the single largest agency for procurement, any suspicion of such a threat could have a devastating effect on the quality of our governance.
For the private sector to be cowed from critiquing Government policies at the pain of losing contractual favour with Government would harm good governance principles. The obvious display of public aghast which met the news that GREDA had ‘chickened out’ and withdrew its petition, advising Parliament to go ahead and pass the STX deal, was enough to raise eyebrows.
While on Monday it told the Joint Committee of Finance and Works & Housing that it was withdrawing its two-part petition against the STX deal, GREDA went ahead to promote one part of the petition, which was to present its alternative project to the joint committee. It showed that, given the same conditions as being offered to STX, GREDA could put up 30,000 housing units at a total cost of $540 million. This immediately exposed the STX deal, priced at $1.5 billion for 30,000 units as a very bad deal for Ghana.
Thus, not only did GREDA withdraw its petition it also went ahead to present a much better offer only to tell Parliament that it should still go ahead and pass the STX deal. It is legitimate to pose the question: why would GREDA criticize a deal only to say at the same time that that deal must be allowed?
GREDA gave two reasons why it was withdrawing its opposition to the STX deal. First, it said it was happy to be told that Government has removed the obnoxious clause which sought to mortgage the country’s oil to the Koreans. Second, it has since received assurances from Government that local content has been enhanced from 30% to between 70-80%.
While we welcome GREDA’s commendable display of patriotism for fighting for the oil payment option to be removed, the STX agreement, which was laid before the House for the debate, still contained the provision of 30% local content.
We notice that anytime GREDA pulls back on stating its position of opposition on the STX deal it cites an ‘assuring’ meeting it held with the Minister of Water Resources, Works & Housing the previous day.
Another case in point is when GREDA cancelled its scheduled press conference last month. On Monday, June 21, GREDA issued a press statement in which it made its stance clear:
“We wish to state as professionals that STX has not provided any basis for pricing the units, it has not revealed the location of the project and other important facts, which will enable a professional compute the cost of a building, we therefore request that they put that information out.” Up to date, that request has not been met to justify GREDA’s u-turn.
The fundamental ethical principle of journalism is that journalists are cloaked with the moral imperative to give a guarantee of anonymity to genuine confidential sources providing bona fide information. There can be no ambiguity in the trust that their sources must have in them as professional journalists. We cannot expect our journalists to ferret bona fide information from `deep throat’ confidential sources about the State’s alleged illegal activities unless we empower them to give some reasonable level of guarantee of anonymity to those primary sources.
The Police, sadly, have once again displayed a worrying haste to ‘keep’ Government happy. To arrest and charge a journalist on the pretext of ‘protecting and property’ while doing very little in pursuit of that purported higher good is disappointing, dangerous and back-stepping for our democracy. We cannot toy with press freedom on some flimsy excuse of responsible journalism.
Written by Nana Attobrah & Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko