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General News Tue, 28 Oct 2008

CHRAJ rules on alleged $16m ‘Aye ye fe notse’ GPHA deal

In an apparent sustenance of the basis of a petition filed before it, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), has opened full scale investigations into allegations of conflict of interest and corruption filed against Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah, Director General of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) over the award and execution of a $16.38 million contract to a Chinese company.

After extensive preliminary investigations into the petition filed two years ago, CHRAJ said in a letter dated last Monday, October 20, 2008 that it has decided to conduct full investigations into the allegations brought before it by Mr. Fred Kofi-Lagbo, a former Director of Kf94, local representatives of the Chinese company which executed the contract.

“…Following preliminary investigations into the allegations of conflict of interest and corruption against the Director General of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA), Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah, the Commission has decided to institute a full investigations into the allegations” wrote Mr. Richard Quayson, Deputy Commissioner of CHRAJ, in a letter to Lagbo and copied to other key players in the unfolding drama.

The Commission noted in its letter that it would soon communicate “the date, time and place” for the full investigations to the petitioner.

Full investigations by CHRAJ are normally opened to the media and afford all sides in the case the opportunity to present their case, this paper can reveal.

The letter to Kofi-Lagbo was also copied to Mr. Alfred Ogbamey, Managing Editor of the Gye Nyame Concord newspaper and Mr. Egbert Isaac Faibille, a lawyer and Managing Editor of the Ghanaian Observer newspaper, who are both representing the interest of Lagbo at CHRAJ as a representative and lawyer respectively.

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Kofi-Lagbo, a former Director of Kf94 Limited, local agents of the Shanghai Zhenhua Port Machinery Company Limited (ZPMC), the Chinese company that executed the multi-million dollar contract fled Ghana due to what he says were the results of police harassment over the allegations.

Lagbo has insisted in various dossiers before CHRAJ that he was at various times part of a scheme to pad-up $2 million dollars on an original $14.7 million contract sum and have the money distributed among some top public officers, directors and officials of GPHA, as well as the Chinese company.

He has told CHRAJ that the contract sum was inflated through a scheme which saw Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah, popularly known to friends as Flash, allegedly getting US$500,000 out of the contract sum, while the Chinese company took US$700,000 of the Ghanaian taxpayer’s money, among others.

Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah has consistently denied the allegations and publicly stated that he does not understand why anybody would want to take the petitioner’s allegations serious after he (Owusu Mensah) has explained what the issues involved were.

CHRAJ began preliminary investigations into the allegations of conflict of interest, insider dealing and corruption on the part of Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah, Director General of GPHA and Kf94 Limited/ZPMC in the award and execution of the $16.38 million contract as a result of Lagbo’s petition.

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Lagbo’s petition, which was filed by Mr. Alfred Ogbamey through lawyer Egbert Faibille, said:

“It is the contention of my client that in the matter of the acquisition of Shore Gantry Cranes (STS) and four rubber-tyred gantry cranes (RTGS) which contract was won by Messrs. ZPMC of China with its local representatives as Kf94 Limited, the contract sum which was originally to be $14.7 million and which ended up at $16,381,000:00 was fraught with corruption and insider dealing on the part of Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah, Director General of Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) and Kf94.

At all material times from the inception of Kf94 in 1994 to 2005, my client was a Director of Kf94 and maintains that there was insider dealing and corruption regarding how Kf94 came to represent ZPMC and the variation in the contract sum which evidence will be provided to the Commission.

My client also maintains that the variation of the contract sum from US$14.7 million to US$16.381.000 was for purposes of corruption by way of kickbacks to certain persons involved in the award and execution of the contract.

My client, being a Director of Kf94 until recently, states so because he was privy to meetings and discussions at which the mode of sharing and percentages of an amount of US$ 2million was to be shared.

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ZPMC, according to my client was to have an amount of US$700,000 from the deal as its share and Kweku Eshun was to use part of the rest ($1.3 million) to see some officials and Mr. Ben Owusu Mensah who could close the business deal for him.

My client maintains that an agreement to that effect was duly made between both parties - ZPMC and Kweku Eshun and that such an agreement was in existence though he believes Kweku Eshun might have destroyed it.

It is further the case of my client that Kweku Eshun told Mr. Owusu-Mensah that the $2 million was to be shared ‘fifty-fifty’ between ZPMC and Kf94 Ltd. Mr. Ben Owusu-Mensah, according to what Kweku Eshun briefed my client at the time then declared that he was to be given half a million dollars. Kf94 was of course not worried because according to my client it had $300,000 hidden under the ZPMC side of the bargain.

My client maintains that in order to achieve the set target of US$2 million to be shared, the two companies who put in bids, namely FANTUZI and ZPMC were asked to re-submit new bids ostensibly to ensure that the $2 million could be taken care of under the contract that was to be awarded; which fact meant ZPMC had from the onset been assured of winning the contract.

My client further maintains that Mr. Kweku Eshun told ZPMC that FANTUZI’s figure was a little over $17 million and that the $16.8 million was very acceptable. There was re-evaluation of the bid proposal and also the repayment schedule was changed somehow to reflect that of FANTUZI within certain tolerance limits. A problem that ZPMC and Kf94 Limited had to resolve almost immediately was on what value of the contract sum the agency commission was to be applied.

ZPMC maintained that it was not going to pay any commission on the additional two million dollars increment since that came in as a kickback factor and was as such not part of their initial idea. This was acceptable eventually to both parties.

My client further maintains that at a certain stage when things became tough, Mr. Ben Owusu-Mensah told Kf94 to go and lobby three members of the GPHA Board who could convince the others for a ruling in favour of Kf94 Ltd, which was done.

My client maintains that it is against this backdrop that the contract sum under reference was varied to US$16,381.000 million, hence this petition to CHRAJ to investigate the circumstances surrounding the award of the contract, its execution and related matters.

My client further maintains that it is his quest to obtain his promised share of US$100,000 that led him to put pressure on Messrs Ben Owusu Mensah and Kweku Eshun, which resulted in the former setting his friend ACP Odai of the Ghana Police Service on him resulting in the Police declaring him a wanted man, for which reason he has had to flee the jurisdiction.

Under the circumstances, my client has asked Mr. Alfred Ogbamey to represent him in any investigations that may be ordered into this matter by CHRAJ and he is willing to testify at any stage of the investigations by a means to be determined by the Commission.”

Source: GYE NYAME CONCORD