General News of 2013-12-08

Merchant Bank sale: Mahama’s intervention necessary – NDC guru

A political strategist of the National Democratic Congress Seth Ofori has described as baseless conflict of interest accusations against President John Mahama in the ongoing corporate drama between Engineers and Planners, a company owned by Ibrahim Mahama, brother of the president and Merchant Bank.

According to him, the president who was then the vice president and head of the Economic Management team had the "right to know and be briefed" on matters that affected the economy.

He was contributing to the discussion on Joy FM’s Newsfile programme Saturday.

The indebtedness of E&P to Merchant Bank and the reported threats by the bank to go to court to recover its monies from the firm has become a subject of intense public controversy.

Following the revelation that John Mahama sat in meetings in his capacity as Vice President and President in an attempt to resolve issues presented in a petition by Tony Lithur, lawyer for E&P against Merchant Bank, Mr Mahama has not been spared the criticism and accusations of conflict of interest.

Many people, especially within the opposition New Patriotic Party did not understand how the president would intervene in a purely commercial transaction between his brother's company and the bank.

They would rather John Mahama recused himself from the meetings, especially when his brother was involved.

But Seth Ofori disagreed. He argued on Newsfile, the president, who was then the vice president and who headed the the government's Economic Management team had the right to know about any issue which threatened the country’s economy.

He said the issues about a distressed state bank, reeling under a heavy debt burden had to be brought to the attention of the head of the economic management team.

He cautioned against the use of “propaganda skills” to twist the facts and create the wrong impression in the minds of people.

Seth Ofori maintained there is no evidence anywhere to show the president took decisions to favour his brother and invariably to injure Merchant Bank.

He called for a dispassionate, non-partisan approach to discussing the issues.

But a former Director of Communications of the NPP Nana Akomea disagreed vehemently with the views of Seth Ofori.

He said the simple fact that the president sat in several meetings involving his brother’s company and Merchant Bank is enough cause for worry.

Quoting sections of the President’s own code of conduct for his ministers, Akomea said the president had no business sitting on the matter, irrespective of his position or role.

It did not matter to him, that the code was drafted after President John Mahama intervened in the controversy. He said the rules of conflict of interest are basic enough for the president to have known that he did not have to sit in a transaction which involved his brother.

He said even if there is no evidence to show that the presidency intervened in the matter, the mere fact that Merchant Bank did not go to court to retrieve its debts from E&P is enough testimony of the president’s indirect influence on the matter.