General News of Thursday, 21 December 2017
The Minority Chief Whip, Muntaka Mubarak, wants Parliament to set up a committee to probe the alleged extortion of various amounts from the expatriate business community.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry has been accused of charging expatriates between $25,000 and $100,000 to enable them to sit close to the President at the Ghana Expatriate Business Awards on December 8.
This allegation has since generated controversy, resulting in a brawl in Parliament between two Members of Parliament, Carlos Ahenkorah and Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa. Speaking to Citi News following the turn of events, Muntaka Mubarak said the investigation will establish the veracity of the allegations and put the matter to rest.
“Only when you investigate them and get to the very bottom that you get to know who might have been doing this because if someone says that pay $100,000 or $75,000 and apart from this meeting you are going to be also having an exclusive meeting with the President, this is the biggest opportunity for Parliament to redeem itself. Investigate this!”
How it started
The allegation was first made by Minority Chief Whip Muntaka Mubarak, who said it was inappropriate.
The Asawase legislator argued that the fees charged at the event were not the kind of fees approved by Parliament, and that the monies were also not accounted for in the Internally Generated Funds [IGF] of the Ministry’s accounts.
The Ministry however in a statement challenging the claims, said it played no role in determining prices for seats at the event.
It added that, it only facilitated the implementation of the new initiative [GEBA], by the Millennium Excellence Foundation, an entity noted for organizing world class events.
“As a Government that believes in the private sector as the engine of growth, the Government through the Ministry of Trade and Industry welcomed the initiative to collaborate with the Foundation to see to the birthing of the initiative. The Ministry consequently signed an MoU with the Foundation that spelt out the roles of both parties. Resource mobilization to ensure that the event was organized at no cost to the taxpayer was the sole responsibility of the Foundation”.
“The Ministry only wrote letters to introduce the Millennium Excellence Foundation to sponsors and solicited support whilst the Foundation prepared the sponsorship package kits and presented it to potential sponsors at a later date. It is very worrying for people who are expected to know better (especially if some happen to be leading members of the august House of Parliament) to conveniently join the streets wagon in pursuit of petty partisan parochial interests to churn out deliberate falsehood to perpetuate the fallacy that access to the President has to be secured with financial inducements,” excerpts of the statement said.
This was however disputed by the Minority in Parliament, who in a statement issued through Okudzeto Ablakwa, insisted that the Ministry’s own letter dated October 23, 2017, confirmed that it went beyond facilitation, to actually collect monies from the expatriates.
It said that letter also directed that interested expatriates were to direct their cheques to the accounts office of the Trade Ministry, although such monies were not accounted for by the Ministry
President Akuffo Addo subsequently wrote to the Trade and Industry Minister, Alan Kyeremanten, demanding answers from him over the allegations.
We’re ready to provide evidence – Ablakwa
Meanwhile, Mr. Ablakwa has indicated that the Minority is willing to submit evidence of extortion in the allegations against the Trade and Industry Ministry, and the Millennium Excellence Foundation.
The President of the Foundation, Ashim Morton, had refuted the extortion allegations leveled against the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
But speaking on Eyewitness News, Mr. Ablakwa said Mr. Morton was only trying to be clever with his response.
“He [Mr. Morton] says that of the funds collected, nobody paid before the event. He is choosing his words, playing smart with us by saying that nobody paid before the event because he knows we have receipts that we will be putting out of people who paid and the dates the receipts were issued. He is trying to play clever saying that nobody paid before the event, so how about after?”
Money collected from expatriates was for fundraising – Organizers
But even the claims by Mr. Morton, somehow contradicts the accounts of the Chairman of the Millennium Excellence Foundation, Victor Gbeho, who said monies were given willingly as sponsorship for the event, and that cannot constitute extortion.
“All our ceremonies are based on funds that we realise. We have no other source of money except what we raise for each occasion and in this case, we asked the Ministry of Trade and Industry if it was going to be our partner, and give us an introduction to the business community,” Mr. Gbeho explained.
Because of the variance in the donations received, he said it was only right that the higher donors were favoured.
“In some of the awards [ceremonies], there is the platinum, then gold and then the silver [categories], all for protocol, if we come to you and you give us GHc 20,000 and somebody else gives us GHc 150,000, it will be the highest form of perversion of principles if the one that gave GHc 20,000 is going to be given more special treatment than the one who gave GHc 150,000.”
“It doesn’t mean that anyone was being compelled. Those who gave [donations] gave of their free will knowing very well the categories that we had,” Mr. Gbeho added.