Back to the Future: Crippled Merchant robbed in broad daylight

BY: Dr Charles Wereko Brobby / Daily Graphic / Ghana



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The season of festivities and goodwill to all men (and especially women) is upon us and I should normally be handing out the hampers to all who have made my enterprise thrive this year and greeting cards to all else who I really love dearly and want to assure that I have survived another year and preparing my resolutions for the incoming 2014.

Alas, the economic depression that descended on Ghana all of this year was made gloomier by an obfuscating verdict that failed to provide further and better particulars in the unprecedented petition to overturn the outcome of the people’s vote by the stroke of a pen and uncertainty about the thumb that held it in place.

Contrary to Yuletide 2001 when I received 287 hampers on account of my accession to the most prized public sector job in Ghana, I am yet to receive a single greeting card let alone dream of one bottle of the ridiculously expensive XO Brandy, of which I got 25 bottles in my inaugural booty. Any prospect of breaking my duck almost certainly vanished with “Scrooge” John Mahama’s insensitive edict that no public funds should be spent on hampers this yuletide.

The President’s directive on hampers is unfair, unreasonable and mercifully unenforceable. It is unfair because he will get thousands of hampers from many Ghanaians who have reason to thank him for one good favour or another; including many who petitioned him to assist in solving their personal problems before we the masses got to know that we could short-cut all the well crafted rules and procedures, and simply allow the “Old Man” to rule by discretionary powers which are not written down as required by the supreme law of the land.

It will be unreasonable because he will be taking away the few amenities left to every Ghanaian living everywhere to supplement their festive season shopping with publicly procured hampers. And of course, as the author of a book titled My first coup d’état, the President of Ghana, ought to be very aware of the core reason for the second coup d’état in Ghana’s history, perpetrated by General Kutu Acheampong in January 1972.

Last and mercifully not least, the President’s edict will be unenforceable because we the people of Ghana do not know what constitutes the public purse of Ghana, never mind what the Constitution says.  On a recent episode of Tarzan’s Take, I learnt to my shock and horror that what Seth Terkper and all those before him have been presenting to us annually as the Budget Estimates do not cover ten pesewas in a cedi worth of the real money that our government spends in a year.

Despite the explicit use of SHALL CONSIST OF in the definition of the Public Purse of Ghana, I learnt that all of the money that we beg from our “Development Partners”, with the singular exception of the direct budget support, is not included in the annual budget.  Monies from peacekeeping; monies from various Arab and other funds for agricultural development; monies for LEAP that are diverted to expensive foreign travels; monies for the multitude of workshops and conferences; monies for V8 project SUVs; and so on and so forth are not to be found in the budget, even though they do form part of the public purse of Ghana.

Then there are all the monies collected in the euphemistic and endearing title of internally-generated funds (IGF). These monies, for which Parliament has just passed legislation to increase charges by 200 per cent for numerous public agencies are also not included in the national budget. We only ever get to know the gargantuan size of these monies after their abuse has been exposed by the “shutting of the gate after the horse bolt” Auditor-General’s report. The injury is compounded by the absurdity that these agencies still get subventions from the woefully inadequate annual budget.

The hidden portions of Ghana’s public purse may open the flood gate for our agencies to subvert and ignore the President’s mean directive. Indeed, it is quite possible that he himself was aware that his statement, as with many he has decreed recently in the name of judicious protection of our money, was only a gimmick. No self respecting agency would still be ordering let alone paying for its hampers now. The deed would have been done and dusted at the beginning of November and most would have been delivered before the Presidential decree.

The hopeful and expectant wait of many Ghanaians is in sharp contrast to the BIG and sumptuous hampers that have been given away or more probably snatched by those who have assumed ownership and stewardship of the |Merchant Bank of Ghana. For me and I believe for many Ghanaians, the sale of this ailing and bleeding repository of  the monies that we have salted away for twilight years may constitute the biggest abuse and misuse of public funds for hampers.

Please let me contextualize my position before I deliver my punch line. Long before a condom manufacturer was deemed to be fit to become the first Strategic Investor under the Divestiture Programme,I made it clear that all national assets should be sold to Ghanaians, either privately or preferably on the nascent Ghana Stock Exchange. If and when needed, we could and should buy the best management expertise from the world to manage the assets so we could bet the maximum returns for our investments and create many Ghanaian millionaires in any currency of choice.

That was my position on Ghana Telecom and that is my position on the Merchant Bank sale and all other divestitures; I have no difficulty with the sale of the bank to Ghanaians. Indeed, I do applaud it. However, my beef is and shall forever remain the lack of clarity and emerging evidence of private greed being put ahead of the overwhelming public interests of all Ghanaians.

Merchant Bank Ghana is being sold because it has been crippled by bad debts, principal among which is that of the President’s brother.  A local consortium of seemingly Good Samaritans come to the rescue of the disabled bank and offer to buy it for a song and save the jobs of those who make their livelihood from it; never mind the fact that many of the same people are walking away before they get pushed.

It turns out that the folks who are buying the bank have very intricate and close knit relationships among each other. The principal lawyer acts for the person whose borrowings put the bank on clutches in the first place. He also acts for the ‘knights in shining armour’ who are coming to the rescue of the bank.  One of the folks who is coming with the ‘dough’ is said to have been closely associated professionally with the lawyer and now works as a close confidant of a Minister in President Mahama’s government. To compound the whole despicable saga, the same lawyer represented President Mahama in the Election Petition case.

Now, we hear that the company who was unable to pay the debts that led to Merchant Bank having the clutches removed that resulted in its terminal and fatal fall, has suddenly found money to pay back the debt it owed. The glaring and daring bravado of this whole saga is a breathtakingly audacious act by people who could not even pretend or hide their true identities and close association. Theirs is the biggest hamper for Christmas 2013

 The crippled Merchant Bank has had its clutches kicked away and robbed in broad daylight. This act of High Noon bravado has been carried out without even the pretence of the raiders masking their identities ala Zorro. When this cruel act was made public, the deputy ventriloquist to the “Old Man”, screamed that this was sowing the seeds for “regime change” (the new lingo for “coup d’état). 

Nothing could be further from our minds. There are enough false messiahs promising hampers from heaven as they empty our pockets in  this festive season.  We prefer hamper-free festive celebrations than to start 2014 with a dawn rehash of “even the few amenities…” 

 As we contemplate how we will enjoy this festive season, I trust I have managed to bring a little smile as you ponder and wonder if you will get a hamper or not. I do hope you do. Boys 

A Merry Christmas to you all. God and Allah and my great grandpa Okomfo Anokye willing, I shall return in 2014. Cheers.