Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Squeezeband tours Ghana

By William Yaw Owusu

Saturday October 17, 2007
Squeezeband, one of the world’s renowned jazz music groups during the week staged splendid performances at the residence of the Switzerland Ambassador and the Alliance Fran├žoise all in Accra, in the effort to rekindle jazz music in the country.

They were flown into the country through the collaboration between the Switzerland Embassy and Mr. Walter Esposito, former Managing Director of Akosombo Textile Limited who himself is a jazz music enthusiast.

Squeezeband made up of Reto Weber (Switzerland), a master percussionist; Chico Freemen (United States), a real jazz giant; Michel Alibo (France), an accomplished and influential guitarist; Dany Martinez (Cuba), a celebrated Latin guitarist; and Nino G (Italy), the best in human beat box, were all in town to dazzle jazz music lovers.

Supporting Squeezeband was Ayekoo, a Ghanaian ensemble which is fast establishing itself as one of the best drummers in the world.

As a group of students from the School of Performing Art at the University of Ghana, Ayekoo currently performs in many music festivals across the world and fascinate the audience with pure rhythm, coupled with sweet melody.

At the Ambassador’s residence, the use of music to build social bridges and bring political opponents together was clearly demonstrated. Ministers of state, politicians, diplomats, the academia heads of organisations and other individuals were all in attendance to ‘feel’ the music of jazz.

Welcoming the crowd, Mr. Nicolas Lang, the Swiss Ambassador, said apart from promoting economic ties between Ghana and Switzerland, the embassy was working hard to strengthening cultural ties between the two countries.

He said “Squeezeband is an example of how Switzerland is using music to promote healthy global relations among countries.”

“We are open to the world and we want to do everything together with the rest of the world. In doing this, countries such as Ghana cannot be overlooked”.

He said once culture transcends beyond borders it is critical to harness the potential it brings in order to create wealth for the people.

Mr. Lang expressed bemoaned the neglect of jazz music in the country saying “it appears to me jazz music is a music of a certain generation. There seems to be no contemporary jazz musician in the system.”

“I know that jazz music is a pretty intellectual music which appeals to the elite in society but we can get everybody on board to sustain the interest in it”.

He praised Ayekoo for advertising Ghana’s cultural potential across the globe, saying “they have the necessary discipline to reach higher heights.”

“They count among the best that Ghana has to present to the world and they need to be supported and encouraged”.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

African Gov'ts Must Protect The Media - Vice President

Mr John Mahama is the Vice President of the Republic of Ghana

By William Yaw Owusu

Monday October 5, 2009
Vice President John Dramani Mahama says African governments must come to the realisation that the only way to guarantee accelerated development on the continent is to grant the media the needed space to operate freely without intimidation.

“African governments must learn soon enough that the media is a partner in governance and not an opponent and this would allow for the provision of appropriate legislation that would create the space for freedom of expression and proper training of journalists so as to raise the standard of journalism for development”, he said.

The Vice President was speaking yesterday at the 8th Africa Media Leadership Conference (AMLC) currently underway in Accra.

The three-day conference which had the theme “Learning from the future: Africa’s media map in 2029” is being organised by the Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership at the Rhodes University in South Africa in collaboration with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS).

The AMLC series which was launched in 2002 has become an annual high-level platform for strategy formulation, networking and sharing of ideas and experiences by African media chief executive officers and editors-in-chief of media organizations.

A Deputy Minister of Information, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwah who presented a paper on behalf of the Vice President said the government will relent on its effort to create an enabling environment for journalists to report freely, critically and responsibly in order to effectively support the goals of democracy, economic development and the promotion of human rights.

Vice President Mahama urged the journalists to eschew what he called “irresponsible journalism” and persist to serve as “agents of development and progress and not agents of conflicts, retrogression and destruction.”

During an open discussion, Mr. Okudzeto Ablakwah said any party in government that makes it impossible for the media to operate cannot expect the same media to treat them fairly when that party finds itself in opposition.

“There is always the need to grant the media unhindered access to information and help in its growth”.

Francis Mdlongwa, Director of SPI said to prepare Africa media for the future, there was the need to create more networks between the traditional and the modern media.

“In a world in which social capital and networks are playing an ever more critical role in defining the success of any business, we at the SPI are grateful to the KAS for its solid financial and logistical support without which this important network would not have been possible”, he explained.

Topics such as the growth of broadband and mobile phone in Africa and their opportunities and threats as well as whether or not mobile content is the answer to the needs of Africa’s digital natives were treated by participants.

Swiss Embassy Hosts Ghanaian Artworks

By William Yaw Owusu

Saturday October 3, 2009
As part of the effort to preserve and promote the country’s cultural heritage, the Switzerland Embassy has re-opened its Economic Section with an exhibition of artworks and paintings of major Ghanaian artists.

The move forms part of a one-year cooperation between the embassy and the Nubuke Foundation, a Ghanaian organization which records, preserves and promotes the country’s history and cultural heritage through arts and paintings.

Re-opening the section, the Swiss Ambassador to Ghana, Mr. Nicolas Lang said art is the main feature of the character of a nation which must be strengthened.

“Art forms the backbone of the identity of a people. It has become a very competitive venture and we must take advantage of it to harness the country’s rich cultural diversity.”

The Ambassador said elsewhere in Europe, there is a huge investment in arts and paintings and that could easily be replicated here in Ghana in order to reap the enormous benefits that come with it.

He called on wealthy organizations and individuals to join the effort to promote arts and paintings and not expect the government alone to do it.

Martin Saladin, Counsellor and Economic Advisor of the embassy said in the effort to invest and promote economic cooperation between the two countries, the cultural heritage of the countries must be harnessed to the benefit of the people.

He said as the chair of this year’s Multi Donor Budget Support (MDBS), Switzerland will continue to play a leading role to ensure a sound economic development leading to greater wealth creation in Ghana.

“Ghana is one of the seven countries worldwide where Switzerland is focusing its cooperation to bring about accelerated development and I can say that we have not had any regrets.”

Odile Agyare, a Director at the Nubuke Foundation said they are committed to promoting and turning the country’s cultural heritage into and economic venture through arts and paintings.

WACAM Releases Damning Report On Mining Companies

By William Yaw Owusu

Wednesday September 9, 2009
Most water bodies in communities around Obuasi and Tarkwa are heavily polluted due to activities of mining companies, making it dangerous for use by inhabitants.

Chemical seepages, cyanide spillages and feacal pollution have become widespread compelling the Wassa Association of Communities Affected by Mining (WACAM) to issue an early warning, urging the government to check activities of mining companies and other galamsey operators to prevent a possible calamity.

The warning was given at the launch of a report “to determine heavy metals in water bodies” in the Obuasi and Tarkwa mining areas.

The research was undertaken by Samuel Obiri of the Centre for Environmental Impact Analysis under the auspices of WACAM with sponsorship from Oxfam America.

Explaining his findings, Mr. Obiri said the pollutants in the water bodies in the affected communities are far above the permissible levels of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Ghana.

He said the exposure of the people to high levels of neurotoxins like manganese, lead and mercury is posing what he calls “significant health hazards”.

He also said exposure to elevated levels of heavy metals and low acidity and acaline of some water samples in the affected areas is likely to further decrease the life expectancy figures of residents.

Daniel Owusu-Koranteng, Executive Director of WACAM bemoaned what he called “huge gaps in the mining laws which are making these multinational companies destroy the environment with impunity”.

He said for instance that in Obuasi mining area alone 145 out of 160 streams and rivers listed were to some extent polluted while in the Tarkwa area all 117 rivers and streams were perceived to be polluted.

“ Community perception of their rivers is important because it determines the use to which the communities put their rivers, the benefits they derive from water resources and the efforts they make in protecting their water resources”.

He said for example that “River Nyam which serves most communities around Obuasi has arsenic concentration of 1,356 times higher than the WHO and EPA requirements of 13.56 and.”

“This report is a wake-up call for the government to act quickly against these mining companies and other illegal galamsey operations which are fast impoverishing the people and impeding the effort for sustainable development.”

The Oxfam America representative for West Africa, Ibrahima Aidara said the sub-region has been a target of mining activities and asked the various governments to compel them to comply with human rights and sustainable development practices.

He said civil society involvement in the discussion of the impact of mining activities should be encouraged to bring about transparency in the mining sector.

The Chairman of the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Environment, Raymond Tawiah said “mining companies are not treating people in mining communities very well. What they are doing is not acceptable.”

Professor Atta Bretwum of the University of Cape Coast who chaired the launching said “indiscriminate destruction of the environment has gone under the watchful eyes of agencies hat are mandated by law to check them.”

Chinese In Hot Galamsey In Western Region

By William Yaw Owusu, back from the Western Region.

Friday August 28, 2009
Over 100 Chinese nationals are currently engaged in hot illegal mining popularly called galamsey in some parts of the Western Region.

The operation, done mainly along the banks of river Ankobra which runs through many parts of the region is done in collaboration with some powerful individuals and chiefs in the area.

Residents in affected communities say the galamsey operation has intensifies since January through the use of state-of-the-art equipment and other earth-moving machinery.

A tour of the area shows extensive damage to the environment as a result of the activities of these galamsey operators.
The Chinese in collaboration with their Ghanaian counterparts have polluted and destroyed the water sources in more than 10 communities in the Amenfi East District alone.

They also destroy the people’s alternative sources of livelihoods, including farms without any compensation.

They diverted the course of river Ankobra in many areas in search of gold thereby causing unprecedented flooding anytime it rains.

These operators also leave behind huge mining pits which now serve as death traps.

Residents alleged that the brain behind the bringing of the Chinese to the area is one Eric Coffie, a wealthy businessman from Wassa Akropong who also claims to be the secretary of National Small Scale Mining Association.

They accused Nana Ntsiako Egyiri, chief of Dikoto and a female chief of Adanse who has the stool name Nana Kojo Dwamera of providing tacit support to the galamsey operators.

The District Chief Executive of Amenfi East, Stephen Baidoo Acheampong has confirmed the galamsey operations in the area but blames the security agencies particularly the police of ‘glossing’ over the issue.

He said the police have refused to take any action despite persistent calls by the people to arrest the galamsey operators.

‘We receive daily reports of these operations and I have personally made efforts to stop them but the police are not helping me’.

Anthony Kwame Darko, the Presiding Member who took newsmen around some of the affected communities said the assembly is initiating a move at the regional level to get a replacement of police personnel in the district.

At Saaman, Nana Tumfour Ankomah II, chief of the town, bemoaned the widespread destruction of the environment, pollution of water sources and excessive use of the town’s already overstretched facilities by the Chinese and other galamsey operators.

“They have taken over our town and farms, polluted all water sources and causing environmental hazards”.

He also said the Chinese have used heavy duty equipment and earth-moving equipment to destroy their bridges and culverts, leaving the roads more deplorable.

“It is becoming too much for us. The District Assembly should take immediate steps to stop these illegal miners. We do not want to create problems but at the same time our demand must be fully met”.

At Konkorso, a village hardest hit, the Chief Nana Akwabeng II said “there are five different Chinese groups operating illegal mining here.”

He said “they have used excavators to clear our farmlands for gold and used our facilities without any replacement.”

“Whenever there are rains, we get cut off for a week because the Chinese have diverted the course of the Ankobra to mine gold”.

At Adanse, residents claim the galamsey operators use the police to intimidate them anytime they raised issues about the level of destruction of their farms.

They said the Chinese claimed they signed a social responsibility agreement with their chief in a different town.

When contacted at Wassa Akropong, Mr. Eric Coffie admitted having led some Chinese to the Chief of Adanse but said “I do not know all of them.”

“There are different small scale companies who are partnering other foreign companies to do surface mining”.

“The Chinese started their operations at Kutukrom, near Prestea and move along the Ankobra. They were on the Offin and Pra rivers as well. They move in the bushes looking for concession”.

He said some small scale miners had lent their licenses to these foreigners.

Ghana @ secretariat Run Hotel Business

By William Yaw Owusu

Wednesday August 12,2009
The Ghana at 50 Secretariat run a hotel business during the country’s independence anniversary celebrations.

The Secretariat acquired the facility from Largus Fort Hotel Limited on two year leasehold and contracted United African Management Limited to run the hotel services on its behalf.

This was revealed by Joe Ofori, chief Executive Officer of Largus Fort Hotel Limited in Accra when he testified at the on-going probe into the activities of the Ghana at 50 Secretariat.

The Commission of Enquiry chaired by Justice Issac Duose was instituted by the National Democratic Congress (NDC) government led by President John Evans Atta Mills to look into how the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government used public funds for the celebration in 2007.

Two personalities, Mr. Kwadwo Mpiani, the Chief of Staff during the NPP administration and Dr. Charles Yves Wereko-Brobby popularly known as Tarzan who was the Chief Executive Officer at the Ghana at 50 Secretariat are the focus of the commission’s mandate.

In his evidence-in-chief, Mr. Ofori, a legal, told the commission that his outfit leased the facility to the Secretariat on January 16, 2007 for a period of two years at the cost of 360,000 dollars per year between February 2007 and February 2009.

He said he received 360,000 dollars down payment before the lease agreement took effect.

He said the Secretariat asked them to provide the necessary facilities including television sets, refrigerators and broadband internet services which he did before handing the hotel to them.

He said the Secretariat later paid another 120,000 dollars to him, leaving 240,000 dollars which the Secretariat refused to pay.

Mr. Ofori further told the commission that when he realised the Secretariat was refusing to honour its part of the contract, he wrote to them to proposing they vacate the premises but on July 10, 2008, the managers of the hotel replied to them to indicate they were terminating their appointment.

During cross-examination by Mrs Evelyn Keelson, counsel for the commission, the witness insisted that it was the Secretariat which contacted them for the facility but instructed United African Management Limited to run hotel services on their behalf.

The argument became heated hen Mr. Akoto Ampaw; counsel for Dr. Wereko-Brobby took his turn, accusing Mr. Ofori of lying to the commission.

Mr. Ofori had indicated earlier on in his evidence that prospective buyer had approached him to either purchase or lease the hotel but Mr. Ampaw was able to prove that the witness had indeed leased the facility to a third party as at November 2008.

Asked why he engaged a third party to take over the hotel and renovate it despite the existing contract with the Secretariat, Mr. Ofori said, ‘we made effort to look for a purchaser in anticipation of a breach by the Secretariat’.

He said he held several meetings with the managers of the hotel but on the issue of the outstanding payments, he dealt directly with Dr. Wereko-Brobby at the secretariat.

When Egbert Faibile Junior, counsel for Mr. Mpiani took his turn, Mr. Ofori insisted that there had not been any breach of the agreement and was only interested in recovering the outstanding debt from the Secretariat.

He said the Secretariat through United African Management Limited operated the facility as hotel and made a lot of profit for 17 months adding ‘they were charging between 70 and 80 dollars’.

When asked by a member of the commission how the Secretariat treated him, Mr. Ofori said ‘I can conjecture wickedness’, on the part of the Secretariat.

Earlier on, the former Brong Ahafo Regional Coordinating Director, Mr. Francis Opoku Boateng had testified as to how the administrators in the region disbursed funds for the celebration.

Also at the commission to testify was Mr. Robert Amenyawu, Director of the Greater Accra Regional Prestige Public Works Department who said his outfit was contracted to work on the Freedom and Justice square which was completed in 2007 and the Secretariat owed them 200,000 Ghana Cedis.

The Ghana @ 50 Saga Won't Go Away

By William Yaw Owusu

Monday July 27, 2009
The Ghana at Fifty saga has become a contentious issue that is going to linger on for sometime to come.

This issue is always discussed passionately depending on which political divide one belongs to.

It is very easy for those who espouse ‘probity and accountability’ to tag organisers of Ghana’s 50th Independence Anniversary as criminals. Charles Kofi Wayo, a proponent of this school calls the organizers ‘Criminals who took advantage of the Ghana at 50 celebrations to plunder state resources’, anytime he gets the chance to discuss the issue.

On the other hand, it is equally easy for those on the ‘defensive’ to claim what they see as ‘Unjustified political persecution’, a case of calling a dog a bad name to hang it.

At the centre of the attraction are two important personalities who can never be forgotten anytime questions are raised on the expenditure for Ghana at 50 pops up for discussion. They are Mr. Kwadwo Okyere Mpiani, the immediate past Chief of Staff and Dr. Charles Yves Wereko-Brobby, a former Chief Executive of the Volta River Authority (VRA) who later became the Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana at 50 Secretariat where activities for Ghana’s Golden Jubilee celebrations were coordinated.

It is on record that the Parliament of Ghana approved 20 million dollars but after everything, the cost is said to have tripled to 71.70 million Ghana Cedis.

Whether the total cost is indeed 71.70 million Ghana Cedis or not can best be explained by the two above-mentioned gentlemen.

That is why the committee set up by the government to look into the finances of Ghana at 50 must be given every encouragement and support to bring the issue to rest once and for all.

But in the mean time, both the ‘attackers’ and ‘defenders’ continue to fire salvo at each other which is needless once the committee has been inaugurated to work.

The ‘attackers’ who are mostly sympathisers of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) seem to have run out patience over what they see as the government reluctance to prosecute former New Patriotic Party (NPP) government appointees for perceived corruption.

For them, it is long overdue for the government to arraign before court those NPP officials suspected to be corrupt particularly all those who had a hand in the organisation of the Ghana at 50.

But those who are on the ‘defensive’ also argue that in a democratic dispensation it is the strict application of the rule of law which reigns supreme. They expect nothing but due process from the government in the handling of issues involving corruption of past government officials.

The ‘attackers’ would want to know from the ‘defenders’ issues such as how much money was spent on the entire celebration, importation of items that never got to Ghana before the celebration, a list of projects whether completed or uncompleted, the benefits for the people among other lingering questions.

The ‘defenders’ are also not taking things lightly. They know that the best way to defend is to attack. To them there was nothing fishy in the organisation of the Ghana at 50 celebrations.

It was Mr. Mpiani who started to defend when he could no longer take what he called ‘a calculated attempt to persecute him and his political group unjustifiably.’

Until he was invited by the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), Mr. Mpiani had continued to make every effort to establish his innocence. He now seems to have withdrawn to his shells, perhaps waiting to tell his side of the story to any court or committee, should he be invited.

Then recently, Dr. Wereko-Brobby joined the circus. He has since granted several interviews to different networks to clear his name of what he calls ‘smear campaign’ by his political opponents.

Mr. Wereko-Brobby, popularly called Tarzan dropped a bombshell on June 23, 2009, when said on a private radio station in Accra that due to the delay in the release of funds for the Ghana at 50 celebrations, he loaned his personal amount of 2 billion old Cedis to the secretariat.

Tarzan said he did the pre-financing while awaiting parliamentary approval for the budgetary allocation earmarked for the celebrations.

Tarzan said he used the 2 billion Cedis to furnish the office, pay salaries of workers, and acquire computers and other logistics and explained that but for his personal intervention, Ghana’s golden jubilee celebration would have been a fiasco. He said he did that out of a service to the nation.

Tarzan denied allegations that the Secretariat had not prepared accounts of the celebrations arguing he sent a draft copy of accounts covering the $20 million approved by Parliament for celebrations.

“We also furnished the auditing team with statements on the sources and application of funds for the corporate sponsorship”.

He further explained that the Secretariat also gave a complete statement of loans and their disbursement obtained from the AU Development Consortium which financed the construction of the Cantonments projects.

When Tarzan appeared before the sub-Transition Team on the Transfer of Executive Assets he was said to have indicated that he had reported all transactions on the project directly to the former Chief of Staff, Mr Kwadwo Mpiani, who was the supervising Minister for the Ghana at 50 celebrations.

A complete list of contractors owed by the secretariat, he said, was also presented and wondered why anybody would claim that accounts were not prepared.

The Ghana at 50 Secretariat is said to be in arrears of more than GH¢18 million to contractors. The Secretariat has reportedly already spent US$60 million and with the arrears, the expenditure so far incurred stands at US$78 million against the US$20 million which Parliament approved for the celebration in 2007.

Government auditing officials had told the sub-Transition Team on Executive Assets in January that only one out of 25 toilets for which an amount of GH¢19 million was allocated had so far been provided.