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“True Facts”, “false facts” and the burden of truth telling

BY: Kwame Akuffo Anoff-Ntow, PhD

Two of my favourite inscriptions on vehicles in Ghana are “Return to Sender” and “True Fact”. While the former has a retributive cynicism to it, the latter strikes me for its seeming lack of ambiguity. It is for this reason that I invoke it as a heading to enable me explore the question of what is a fact, and its corollary of whether or not there are “false facts”. By extension, it hints at whether or not it requires that the teller of truth owe it to his/her intended audience to disclose the truth about a fact.

A fact is defined as “a thing that is indisputably the case, information used as evidence or as part of a report, the truth about events as opposed to interpretation” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary). It is reasonable to conclude that based on this definition a fact is expected to be indisputable and truthful. In spite of the fact that this definition seems to frame truth and interpretation in strict binary, mutually exclusive terms, I hold the view that in the case of rendering an interpretation, such interpretation should be grounded in indisputable fact(s). In this sense, “false facts” are a real possibility in the absence of the above. In this opinion piece, I wish to point out that during the ministerial vetting of Mr. Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, Minister nominee for Information, he issued one such false fact.

Let me state upfront that I would have disregarded the import of the Minister nominee’s pronouncement as I have done this past two years if it was not for the fact that this baseless falsehood keeps recurring in various forms and guises, and my conviction that this latest public spectacle sought to dent my professional reputation and attribute wrong-doing to me despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Lamentably, political operatives and their surrogates involved in the TV licence “political” version seem to have been emboldened by my silence rather than bow their unconscionable heads in shame. This opinion piece must, therefore, be read as a necessity to state the “true facts” as I know them as a principal actor in the TV licence drama, and in the chronology in which they occurred both for the records, and for your own good judgement.

In responding to a question posed by Hon. Eric Opoku on Thursday, 18th of February 2021 on the floor of the Parliament of Ghana, Mr. Oppong Nkrumah stated that “the former Director General of GBC implemented the TV License law without recourse to the Board”. Notwithstanding the fact that he was challenged by the Honourable Member of Parliament of Salaga-South, a member of the Committee about whether his claim merely echoed the ill-informed narrative that gained prominence in the court of public opinion, or was based on the NMC constituted investigative committee into the TV license case, he argued that his remark was “the brief I got from my Minister”. It is remarkable that the Minister nominee felt more comfortable to rely on a “brief” from his sector Minister who is neither the appointing authority of the DG nor the Board of GBC instead of the official report from the NMC investigative committee.

Under the circumstances, and to bring closure to this vexed untruth, here are the facts.

When I took over as the DG of GBC on 1st November 2016, the TV licence collection was up and running, with a Director for TV licence waiting to be recruited by the Board pending the fulfilment of relevant administrative processes. A significant amount of money had been spent in refurbishing an office for the operations of the TV licence Unit, a core staff of trained personnel were in place, and in addition to collection, the policy was to intensify public education which had been running for close to two years already. By this time, the second phase of the TV licence policy was in its final stages.

The third phase of collection involved among others, “Registration of TV licence users; and to test enforcement for collection” (Terminal Report, 2017: 23). On the latter, the Acting Director of Finance /TV Licence points out that to achieve this goal, “Letters have been sent to the New Chief Justice and IGP to kickstart this” (Report, 2017: 23). It is because the timeline of third quarter of 2017 was “not achieved” that he projected to “test enforcement for non-payment in first week in December, 2017” (Terminal Report, 2017: 24).

When GBC launched its Manual house to house Agent Collection on October 31st 2017 in its national studios, it was not merely getting ready to begin the enforcement stage, but also to operationalize the Board’s own directive that “in order for the TV licence fee collection to be more effective, a dedicated directorate should be established and the due processes should be followed” (Emphasis added, Excerpt from 14 September 2017 Minutes, pg. 3). What due processes? Ironically, at this launch Mr. Perry Okudzeto the Deputy Minister of Information represented the Minister of Information as the Special Guest of Honour where he extended the Minister’s support. It is mind-boggling that the same Minister of Information will many months down the line, not only claim ignorance about the consequences of the event his representative attended, but claim the DG “implemented [same] without recourse to the Board.”

One of the main conditions upon which collection agents were willing to come on board the Manual house to house collection was enforcement (of the TV licence law) which will prosecute defaulters (2016 document, cited in 2018 memo). Based on this, some agents committed huge sums of money to buy TV licence coupons knowing that the more coupons one sold, the larger the profit margin. This policy was approved by the Board and constituted a core part of training the agents. It is for this reason that when the public announcement suspending enforcement was issued, affected agents wrote to GBC protesting that GBC had reneged on its bargain, and in no uncertain terms, asked GBC to respect its assurance of enforcement or pay back monies they had spent.

Their letter reads in part “we write to register our disappointment in the press statement issued by the Board and management of GBC to the general public […] haulting [sic] the prosecution of defaulters in the payment of TV licence fee. We are by this letter informing management of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation that this part of the TV licence act (NLCD 1966) which mandates the prosecution of individual defaulters in the payment of the TV licence fee encouraged us to sign the contract as agents to collect the TV licence fee on behalf of GBC, and have invested heavily into it, and if this part of the act is haulted [sic], it will be difficult for us in its collection as the General public and the social media has already misinterpreted it that the TV licence is not compulsory” (Re: Haulting the prosecution of defaulters of the Payment of TV licence fee”, d’Almeida, 12 January, 2018). What did the Board think it was doing when it gave the Acting Director of Finance the approval to recruit agents under this condition?

For the purposes of scope and relevance, I wish to focus my attention on a couple of events to buttress my case. First, it is important to bear in mind that during the whole of October 2017, GBC had no Board. The old Board had exited and the new one had not yet been sworn in until 1st November 2017. Although GBC management’s meeting with Her Ladyship the Chief Justice took place on 26th October, 2017, a letter dated 25th September 2017 requesting for the meeting copied in the old Board chairman. On 6th November, 2017 when the new board was less than a week old, GBC following up on the 26th October meeting, officially wrote to Her Ladyship applying for special TV license courts to be set up. This request was granted per the letter of the Judicial Secretary on 11th December, 2017. As the recipient I received my copy of the 11th December 2017 letter on the 9th of January, 2018, 9 clear days after the letter had leaked on social media.

On the 3rd of January, 2018, the Minister of Information called me to complain about public outcry over the leaked letter. I informed him that we were taking necessary steps to educate the public on the matter and agreed that since there was a scheduled meeting on 5th January 2018 between the NMC and GBC on the issue, we should wait until after the meeting to consult on further action. A day later on 4th January, 2018, the Minister issued a statement claiming that the DG of GBC had unilaterally taken the decision to set up courts on his “blind side”, and without the knowledge of the NMC and the GBC Board (“Government blames GBC Director-General for TV licence fiasco”, Ghanaweb.com, 5th January 2017). What strikes me is the fact that the Minister did not only speak for himself, but also on behalf of the NMC and the GBC Board at a time when the facts were unclear even to the direct actors. Strangely, none of them complained about the Minister’s decision to be their spokesman or corrected the impression that I was under any compulsion to inform him about policy implementation once the Board sets it.

An encounter between the Management of GBC and the Parliamentary subcommittee on Communications offers special significance. At this meeting held in November 2017, Management of GBC and other state-owned media appeared before the subcommittee to defend their budget and respond to any other issues. Since it was under the auspices of the Ministry of Information, it was the Minister, Mustapha Hamid, assisted by Kojo Oppong Nkrumah who set the tone and eloquently presented the outlook of his ministry. When it got to the turn of GBC, the main focus was on our poor revenue generation. One after another, the Honourable members lambasted the Management of GBC for such poor TV licence collections, and sent us off with a clear message that GBC is not in a good enough position to ask for government financial support if it is not aggressively collecting money owed to it, i.e. TV licence. I ended our presentation with an assurance that GBC will going forward, “ruthlessly” collect the licence fee. The Minister of Information and his deputy were present and did not chip in a word in support of GBC. In fact, it was Honourable A.B.A Fuseini who sprang to our defence and pointed out to his colleagues that GBC’s public service mandate sometimes gets in its way when it comes to aggressive commercial activities. How could the Minister and his deputy claim to be unaware of GBC’s obligation to implement the law when its budget had been cut, and government had capped its internally Generated funds in addition? I did not only report the outcome of the meeting to the new Board chair in particular, as a proactive CEO, I set in motion the requisite administrative processes to ensure efficient collection of the TV licence as prescribed by law. In another jurisdiction where transparency, honesty and accountability are its lodestar, I will be praised for my forthrightness and resolve, not victimised.

Between 4th January and 15th January 2018 when the GBC Board directed me to step aside, many political and institutional actors had had several meetings including at the Jubilee House, and the NMC among others. By the time I finally received my letter from the Board to proceed on leave on 25th January, 2018, previous held positions had suffered acute reversals. Positions such as “the Board has noted that the D-G did not take a unilateral decision since his action was as a result of a decision of the previous Board whose term ended in September 2017” (“GBC Governing Board on TV Licence Fee”, 10th January, 2018) had shifted both in tone and in substance to another purporting that the “previous Board chairman had stated categorically that the previous Board DID NOT give the D-G any approval to begin the prosecution of TV Licence defaulters agenda” (Emphasis in original, Press release, 22nd January, 2018). The point is not so much that this 12th January 2018 summons involved the current Board and previous Board chairs at the Jubilee House, with all its political significance and ramifications, it is that the documentary evidence the previous Board Chair is purported to have produced actually reinforces GBC’s position and locus to do what it had done. This is his evidence:

“Although the TV Licence law permits GBC to put recalcitrant persons before the courts for non-payment of TV Licence fees, the Board and Management have adopted the position to spend resources on education and publicity. After the public has been sufficiently educated, GBC shall invoke and activate the process whereby those recalcitrant persons who do not want to pay the TV Licence fee will be put before the courts” (Terminal Report, 2017: 7-8).

By making a crucial distinction between “Board and Management” and “GBC”, the terminal report quite rightly acknowledges that once a policy direction has been set, it is management of GBC which operationalizes it and need not consult the Board at every turn. Plus, more importantly, who can reasonably argue that public education on radio and television for two years is insufficient, not to talk about its huge cost? I leave you to make your own judgement except to add that in this case, the Board had been briefed about plans to solicit the support of the IGP and the CJ to begin the enforcement stage. The Acting Director of Finance/TV licence aptly captures it thus: This (courtesy calls on IGP and the CJ) was done on the basis that the test enforcement was part of activities lineup for the third quarter of the year 2017 and has been discussed with the previous Board without any objection raised” (22nd January 2018 memo). So how could anybody, least of all, a Board Chair claim ignorance?

By the time the NMC-constituted investigative committee was established in February 2018 to look into the matter of TV licence and all related matters, various persons involved in the process up till then had demonstrated bias, even hostility towards my person. Such persons granted interviews and issued press releases in which I was falsely accused of wrong-doing even before the facts had been established. It was for that reason that I saw the investigative Committee as an opportunity to place the vexed question to rest. Twice, I appeared before it and answered all their questions. The next correspondence I received from the NMC was a letter in September of 2018 “terminating my appointment without cause” and without any recourse whatsoever to the findings of the investigative committee. In spite of the fact that I wrote to request for a copy of the report as of right as a person under investigation, the NMC, the body whose mandate includes to promote transparency and free speech among other things, chose to deny me access to the report, and in an embarrassing instance of self-service, merely repeated their claim that my appointment was “terminated without cause.”

The question to the Minister nominee if he had seen the NMC investigative report is, therefore, not merely symbolic as a reminder about the source of authority on the matter. It is also putative to the extent that it acknowledges that only that report can indisputably attribute wrong doing to my person and conduct. By acknowledging that he had not seen the report, one would have expected the Minister nominee to either retract his claim when he was challenged, or admit lack of knowledge. He still chose to repeat a blatant lie. I am confounded by the Minister nominee’s indiscretion in this matter just as much as the off handed manner in which he cites the Minster as his source, oblivious to the damage that lie would have on my professional integrity and reputation. He owed it to himself and his audience to not just state the indisputable fact, but also the truth about the fact by consulting relevant sources in this quest. Even if his rendition was an interpretation, it was still deficient because it was not grounded in any reasonable facts.

My dismissal, to put it bluntly, was NOT as a result of my handling of the TV licence. That Ananse story is so badly written it offends the basic laws of a soap opera script. It had everything to do with my insistence that GBC is not an extension of government, and that it was duty-bound as a public service provider to serve other publics in addition to government. It is my insistence that everything, including material from government should pass editorial scrutiny, and the fact that every material from government should either be paid for, or be billed to it in instances where such payment will be waived because of their public interest nature. This is what annoyed the political operatives. My insistence that all are given equal and fair access infuriated those who considered themselves as privileged, and therefore should have unbridled access. The stark irony is that it is the party of the present government, the NPP, with Hon. Ala Adjetey and Nana Akufo-Addo the current President as counsels, that went to court and challenged GBC’s refusal to give the NPP equal access to rebut claims made by the NDC in 1992 (NPP vs. GBC, 1993). It is therefore surprising, even paradoxical, that it is this same NPP government which will seek to defang the same media institution it had fought so hard to strengthen, and exert political pressure to gain privileged access over others.

I wish to conclude by reminding political operatives who on the one hand think they can do anything and go scot free, and on the other, hide behind their surrogates or deny the consequences of their actions that such conduct is to say the least, cowardly. Those political operatives who instructed their institutional sophists to dismiss me should “have the balls”, as we say in Commonwealth Hall, to own up instead of peddle untruths to the public. The NMC which is quickly earning the reputation of a politically captured institution should publish the report of the investigative committee for the public whose interest it claims to be serving. I hope that this is the last time I would be compelled to clarify this vexed issue. Otherwise, I will be back!


*** The writer, Dr. Kwame Akuffo Anoff-Ntow is the immediate past D-G of the GBC and has more than 30 years media experience. He is a media and communication consultant and a Research Fellow with the Media, Politics and Representation project at the University of Toronto, Canada.