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General News Fri, 23 Jul 2010

DI Reveals Why Police Erred on Joy Fm Source Case

By Nana Attobrah & Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko*

The Danquah Institute considers as disappointing, dangerous and

back-stepping the action that has been taken by the Police, in particular,

in responding to Government’s directive to investigate the news item in

which Joy FM quoted a source as alleging that council members of the Ghana

Real Estate Developers Association were threatened to withdraw their

petition against the $10 billion STX agreement for the construction of

200,000 housing units in Ghana.

We believe there were enough clues for the Police not to have reduced the

case to one of an ethical dilemma for the journalist(s) involved. Joy FM

was not the first media house to report of alleged threats against the GREDA

leadership. A newspaper had reported similar allegations, mentioning the

name of a specific GREDA member that paper said was alleging he had been

threatened.

Also, the multiple contrapositions taken by GREDA over the STX deal within

the space of one month were enough to alert detectives that there could be

more to the publication worth investigating than merely accusing the media

house of false publication as Government was quick to do.

According to the Public Procurement Authority, 14 percent of the country’s

GDP and 24 percent of total imports is consumed by public procurement, with

over 80 percent of state funds being spent on public procurement after

personal emoluments. This means we should not estimate the potential of

Government exploiting this fact to abuse its relationship with the private

sector. For a government to gag any contracting party or potential

contracting party with threats of loss of deals, as alleged, would cause

concrete and profound harm to our democracy. The qualitative entrenchment of

our democracy relies on access to information and the protection of sources

where necessary and it is the free expression of information, ideas, and

opinions developed by responsible journalists, academics, commentators,

experts, and others that lead to the formulation of sound public policy,

including national security policy.

The Police action unnecessarily puts the Joy FM journalist(s) and Ghanaian

journalism, generally, in a situation that could stifle the development of

investigative journalism. The ethical dilemma here is that if a journalist

reveals a source she may be in breach of her professional ethics. On the

other hand if she refuses to reveal the identity of a source when so

demanded by the Police, she risks criminal prosecution.

Government’s first reaction to the news on July 6 was to ask the radio

station to retract the story and apologise while directing the police to

investigate the matter. This action of the Government carried the potential

risk of prejudicing police work, by putting some perceptible pressure on the

Police to target Joy FM for the apportionment of blame.

Based on the circumstantial evidence available, the Police ought not have

focused their investigation narrowly on finding Joy FM at fault. And, for

the Police to conclude, just like Government has, by accusing the radio

station of spreading false news to cause fear and alarm, in our view,

suggests an inattentive and unpersevering piece of police investigation into

this matter.

Are the Police saying there were no highlights of circumstantial evidence to

support the story for them to resort to this extreme prosecutorial measure.

We believe this calls for a serious debate on the consideration of a law

that will place some legal obligation on journalists to protect their

confidential source of information. It is held that the protection of

journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom.

Without such protection, sources may be deterred from assisting the press in

informing the public on matters of public interest.

The action of the Police against the Joy News Editor and the Ghanaian Times

Editor this week are dangerous signals that the vital public-watchdog role

of the press may be undermined and the ability of the press to provide

accurate and reliable information may be adversely affected if some

statutory checks are not introduced and we continue to rely on the

discretion of the Police. Having regard to the importance of the protection

of journalistic sources for press freedom in a democratic society and the

potentially chilling effect an order of source disclosure has on the

exercise of that freedom, the decision by the police to charge the news

editor of Joy FM under Section 208 of the Criminal Code, 1960, for allegedly

publishing false information to cause fear and alarm cannot be compatible

with Articles 21 and 162 of the Constitution of the Republic.

Moreover, for Government to have concluded that the publication was false,

within hours after it was put out there and to go on to insist on a

retraction and an apology from Joy FM was certainly not helpful in

encouraging the Police to do a thorough or impartial job on the

investigation. It was a very curious conclusion for Government to jump to,

without any supporting evidence that the news item carried by Joy FM had to

be false.

We are disappointed by the supine work of the police here, where the focus

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appears to have been in seeking to compel the reporter and the news editor

to disclose their confidential source of the allegation, rather than making

sleuthhounding deductions from the facts available. Thus, once Joy Fm

refused to identify its source the Police was content to conclude that there

was nothing more to investigate.

We believe there is enough circumstantial evidence available for the police

to throw their searchlights farther beyond the studios of Multimedia and its

employees. Below is a chronology of events which we believe the Police could

not (or should not) have ignored.

(a) Tuesday, June 1: Parliament lays for approval after 48 hours a US$1.5

billion Supplier’s Credit Financing Agreement between STX Engineering and

Construction Ghana Limited as Lender and the Government of Ghana in relation

to the financing of the 30,000 housing units under the Security Services

Housing Project, emanating from the 200,000 housing deal.

(b) Thursday, June 3: Civil society groups compelled to hold emergency

stakeholders forum of the Ghanaian building industry to draw attention to

the STX deal in the hope of stopping it.

(c) At forum, Frank Tackie, the President of the Ghana Institute of

Planners, representing all the institutions of the Built Environment,

criticizes the STX deal and says alternative local building materials, local

expertise and better value for money can be achieved if Government focused

on Ghanaian firms, materials and expertise rather than Korea.

(d) Sammy Amegayibor, representing GREDA, also laments how Government has

refused to sit down with them to explore the option of getting the Ghana

Real Estate Developers’ Association to undertake the project because local

contractors are more than capable. He says average cost of STX housing at

$50,000 cannot not be considered as affordable and that private sector

already satisfying that end of the market. He adds, Ghanaians built all the

major estates in Ghana and don’t need Koreans to build houses.

http://blogs.myjoyonline.com/sms/2010/06/04/stx-housing-deal-is-bad-for-ghana-di-imani/

(e) Monday, June 21: three weeks later, GREDA issues a strong press

statement calling for the STX agreement not to be approved. Some of the

points raised are as follows: 200,000 units may just be a fraction of the

total deficit thus leaving a lot for others to deal with if they want, but

as Ghanaians and the professionals in this industry we feel it a duty to

draw attention to the fact that this deal does not at all represent

value-for money.GREDA is requesting that both Parliament and Government

discontinue the approval process. Indeed in its present state this agreement

will be damaging to Ghana, it should be cancelled. It is also shrouded in

ambiguity, and does not offer value for money.

(f) Note: in that press release GREDA gave public notice that it was

holding a press conference three days later to give more details, and

present petitions to both the Speaker of Parliament and the President of the

Republic to table its position against the agreement being approved by the

House and to get Government to meet and discuss a local alternative with

GREDA and others.

(g) “We will hold a press conference on Thursday 24th June 2010. At 10

AM, at the Ghana International Press Centre, to properly put out our case

and explain our position to the general public. We will thereafter on the

same day, present a petition to Parliament requesting that they do not pass

the STX deal. We will then move to the Castle to present a petition

requesting audience with The President to discuss how we can provide quality

housing for Ghanaians at the right cost in support of the Presidents agenda

for a ‘Better Ghana’,” GREDA announces, adding, “We believe our Government

will listen, and our Parliament will support our call…

(h) “Our plea to Government is to sit down with GREDA and the built

environment professionals such as Architects, Engineers, Planners, Surveyors

to jointly consider an alternative to the STX.”

http://blogs.myjoyonline.com/sms/2010/06/21/stx-housing-deal-is-disturbinggreda/

(i) Thursday, June 24: Journalists gather at the International Press

Centre, Accra, in anticipation of the GREDA news conference. After more than

half an hour wait, the President of GREDA announces that GREDA leadership

met the Minister for Water Resources, Works & Housing the previous day and

from that preliminary discussion GREDA has decided to cancel both the news

conference and the decision to petition the Executive and the Legislature.

(j) Friday, June 25: newspaper headline: GREDA BOSSES THREATENED!…To

Abandon Press Conference!

(k) The report in the Daily Searchlight reads: A major coordinated form

of protest from stakeholders of the building industry to express their

opposition to the controversial $10 billion STX deal to build 200,000

housing units in Ghana in 5 years has hit the snag following reports of

threats from top government leaders! The Ghana Real Estate Developers

Association (GREDA) membership was scheduled to hold a press conference

yesterday to present a petition to Parliament and the Castle to ask for a

cancellation of the project, but the conference was called off at the last

minute following what insiders describe as threats from high places!

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Journalists had showed up in their numbers with recorders, cameras, pens and

papers, but the President of GREDA, Dr Joe Tweneboa was 30 minutes late.

When he arrived, he went outside with his other executives and Kofi Bentil

of Bentil Consultants and Imani, the consultant for GREDA. A long heated

discussion took place. Journalists could overhear Dr Tweneboa saying “I’ve

been threatened and it is scary. I can’t go ahead. I have received so many

phone calls. I’m sorry… I’m sorry. Let’s just call it off.”

http://thedailysearchlight.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=23836&Itemid=1

(l) Wednesday, June 30: The Speaker of Parliament, Justice Joyce

Bamford-Addo, announces to the House that she was referring the $1.5bn STX

agreement to the joint Committee on Finance and Water Resources, Works and

Housing, following a petition to her by GREDA, requesting her to do all that

is in her power “to ensure Parliament does not pass the STX deal.”

(m) GREDA was billed to meet the joint committee on Monday, June 5. She

accordingly directed the joint Committee, after giving a hearing to GREDA,

to present a composite report to the House the following Tuesday, for a

resolution.

http://www.ghananewsnow.com/politics/parliament-meets-greda-over-korean-housing-deal/

(n) Note: until then, the public had been told by GREDA that it had made

a u-turn and was no more going to petition either of the two arms of

government. Thus, in spite of its public announcement, GREDA, however, went

ahead on the quiet to petition Parliament. So, to whom was that public

message that GREDA was no longer going ahead with the petition meant?

Though, GREDA claimed it had, since June 23, opened discussions with

Government it still wanted Parliament to stop the STX deal. This is further

evidence that GREDA was still committed to its opposition to the STX deal,

but was reluctant to make noise about it. Did it have anything to fear?

(o) Contents of the petition were unequivocal on GREDA’s opposition to

the STX deal. Although GREDA said it appreciated and commended Government’s

desire to help solve the housing problem in the country, it stated in the

petition that so many things were wrong with the STX agreement. “As

professionals, we have analyzed the deal in detail and wish to state that

there is a lot wrong with the agreement. Many pertinent details are missing;

there are loopholes, which give cause for worry. We can also say that the

financial aspects of the deal make it unacceptably expensive,” GREDA stated

in the petition signed by its President, Dr. Alexander Tweneboah.

(p) On Monday, June 5, GREDA met the joint committee, but in another

bizarre twist in the GREDA/STX tale, the media reported that GREDA withdrew

its petition and went on to tell Parliament to pass the STX deal. However,

GREDA had its own proposal for parliamentary consideration.

(q) One, Parliament was not the appropriate place to present a proposal

for an award of a contract. If that was all GREDA wanted to do it should

have rather redirected its proposal to the sector Ministry. However, GREDA’s

proposal was relevant to Members inasmuch as it assisted the legislatures to

assess the value-for-money aspects of the STX agreement.

(r) Again, it is strange for GREDA to present a proposal that effectively

argued that GREDA could undertake the entire 200,000 housing project

proposed by STX, with amenities and onsite infrastructure of $3.7 billion,

instead of $10 billion (or 30,000 units at $540m) and yet drop its

principled position that STX was too expensive for Ghana.

(s) There is also enough evidence to suggest that something unusual might

have compelled GREDA to opt for that confusing position on the morning of

June 5, when its executives arrived at Parliament. This is because the

complete documentary presentation that they prepared for Parliament that

morning ran contrary to their oral statement before the joint committee that

they were withdrawing the petition. After the Powerpoint presentation, GREDA

had to leave a copy to the Committee and it was that copy that exposed the

fact that GREDA’s shift to withdraw the petition was very likely to have

been sudden. http://news.myjoyonline.com/docs/GREDAtoParliament.pdf

(t) Above is the full presentation. If the Police had interviewed members

of the joint committee and GREDA members as some of us have done, they would

have known that GREDA’s prepared document which was left in Parliament and

copies made available to MPs contained 23 slides, a significant number of

which gave a negative analysis of the STX deal; yet GREDA allegedly skipped

some pages, starting from slide 6. It did so in a seemingly desperate

attempt to avoid criticizing STX, while promoting its interest.

(u) It is instructive that Slide 2 of the GREDA presentation states

boldly:

The STX Housing Deal

1. STX DEAL IS NOT VALUE FOR MONEY

2. GREDA HAS A LESS EXPENSIVE OPTION

3. GREDA WOULD DELIVER A BETTER SOLUTION IF GIVEN

THE SAME TERMS

(a) Detectives ought to have at least probed the obvious dangling

question: what could have forced GREDA to change its position on STX between

the time it got to Parliament with its prepared presentation and before it

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met the joint committee? The chronology of events shows that GREDA did not

even find the time to amend its prepared presentation to reflect its revised

position on the petition.

(b) It is equally instructive to note that no member of GREDA was

prepared to comment in the mass media on their reported volte face on that

Monday, in spite of relentless attempts by the media. It does not mean that

journalists could not get through to GREDA members; it may only mean that

GREDA members were not willing to go on record in the media. One person who

was heard to have granted Joy FM an interview that day, June 5, was Mr Alban

Bagbin, the Minister for Water Resources, Works & Housing.

(c) The Joint Committee report on the GREDA Petition was dated June 5. It

showed details of GREDA’s alternative proposal which is estimated at $540

million for 30,000 housing units. It reads: In response to the concerns of

Members as to whether GREDA still stands by the issues raised in the

complaint, the representatives of GREDA explained that at the time the

complaint was presented, the issues stated therein represented their

position. However, subsequent discussions with the Minister for Water

Resources, Works and Housing and further information received from the

Ministry of Water Resources Works and Housing have resulted in a change in

their initial stand on the STX Agreement. The Minister of Water Resources,

Works and Housing assured the Committee and the representatives of GREDA

that Government will be ready to consider any proposal from GREDA aimed at

reducing the housing deficit.

(d) The Joint Committee report concludes: The Committee, after carefully

considering the complaint and submissions made by the representatives of

GREDA, came to the conclusion that GREDA no longer stands by its initial

position on the STX deal. The Committee therefore recommends that the

Finance Committee go ahead with the process for the consideration of the STX

Agreement.

(e) Tuesday, June 6: Joy headline: Death threats forced GREDA’s

back-traction.

(f) Joy News reported, The Ghana Real Estates Developers Association

(GREDA) might have withdrawn its petition to Parliament on the STX housing

deal because its executives were threatened with death. Source close to

GREDA tell Joy News some members of the association also became worried that

their contracts with government could be abrogated after the association

criticized the proposed deal with the Korean company, but GREDA has declined

to confirm or deny the reports.

(g) 3pm, Tues, June 6: Speaking on Asempa FM’s Ekossii Sii programme,

Sammy Amegayibor, the Executive Secretary of GREDA denied the threats

allegations. He said, as far as he is concerned none of the GREDA members

has received any death threats from anybody for petitioning parliament on

the STX housing deal. Can that be interpreted to be conclusive that no GREDA

member has been threatened? He went on to say that since the Association

never enters into a building contract on behalf of its members, nor has it

applied for a building contract from Government on behalf of its members,

GREDA could not say whether or not any of its members had a contract with

Government that could be threatened or had been.

http://news.myjoyonline.com/news/201007/48763.asp

(h) Tuesday, July 6, John Tia Akologu, the Minister for Information,

issued a statement and said it “finds it curious that the radio station

presented no shred of evidence to support its false claim” and wondered why

Joy FM went ahead to rebroadcast the claim severally and kept it on its news

website even after GREDA Executive Secretary Sammy Amegayibor, denied the

claim of death threats.

The Minister stated, "Meanwhile, Government has directed the security

agencies to investigate the claim because death threats are not to be

handled lightly." Government's main concern, according to the statement, was

that though the allegation "of a death threat was not linked to any

particular group, any discerning person is likely to conclude that since

Government is the chief promoter of the STX deal, then Government might be

behind the threat. This linkage was made stronger when Joy FM proceeded to

claim falsely that some GREDA members were afraid their contracts with

Government will be abrogated hence the change of mind."

(i) Wednesday, July 7: Deputy Minister of Information, Samuel Okudzeto

Ablakwa, told Citi FM’s Bernard Avle that by putting out the report without

any evidence, “Joy FM is creating fear and panic in the Business community

and the international community that is listening and reading websites from

Ghana and all of that is going to say that this is a government that twists

arms and threaten people out of their contracts when people offer divergent

views.” http://www.citifmonline.com/site/business/news/view/7967/1

(j) Wednesday, June 7: Mr Amegayibor explained to RADIO GOLD'S POWER

DRIVE that GREDA had soften their stance on the deal after claiming to have

fully acquainted themselves to the details of the STX deal. Contrary to

their initial understanding of a 30 percent local content in the agreement,

Amegayibor said, they have now been assured of a 70-80 per cent local

content. Yet, the facts as they later became apparent during the

parliamentary debate on STX indicated that GREDA’s concerns, as stated

earlier, were far from resolved. He also explained that their fears of

government using the oil revenue to fund the project have been allayed.

Well, we can all hail the patriotism of GREDA on the oil option. But,

shouldn’t the Police, at least, wonder why this patriotism was pulled back

from stretching to the main issue of whether or not the entire deal was

value for money?

(k) Asked if STX deal will be beneficial to the people of Ghana,

Amegayibor said, “it depends on how you look at it”, adding that GREDA has

not made any official statement on whether the deal is good or bad for the

country. This also further confuses the GREDA position.

http://www.myradiogoldlive.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2531&catid=2531

Mr Amegayibor, on that same Asempa programme on June 6, said, what he was to

repeat on Radio Gold, that GREDA as an association has no contract before

Government and that it had not received any complaints from any of its

members that their individual contracts, if any, with Government had been

threatened with unilateral abrogation if they proceeded with their

opposition to the STX deal. This is dangerous for the necessary interplay

between the public and private sectors. With Government being the single

largest agency for procurement, any suspicion of such a threat could have a

devastating effect on the quality of our governance.

For the private sector to be cowed from critiquing Government policies at

the pain of losing contractual favour with Government would harm good

governance principles. The obvious display of public aghast which met the

news that GREDA had ‘chickened out’ and withdrew its petition, advising

Parliament to go ahead and pass the STX deal, was enough to raise eyebrows.

While on Monday it told the Joint Committee of Finance and Works & Housing

that it was withdrawing its two-part petition against the STX deal, GREDA

went ahead to promote one part of the petition, which was to present its

alternative project to the joint committee. It showed that, given the same

conditions as being offered to STX, GREDA could put up 30,000 housing units

at a total cost of $540 million. This immediately exposed the STX deal,

priced at $1.5 billion for 30,000 units as a very bad deal for Ghana.

Thus, not only did GREDA withdraw its petition it also went ahead to present

a much better offer only to tell Parliament that it should still go ahead

and pass the STX deal. It is legitimate to pose the question: why would

GREDA criticize a deal only to say at the same time that that deal must be

allowed?

GREDA gave two reasons why it was withdrawing its opposition to the STX

deal. First, it said it was happy to be told that Government has removed the

obnoxious clause which sought to mortgage the country’s oil to the Koreans.

Second, it has since received assurances from Government that local content

has been enhanced from 30% to between 70-80%.

While we welcome GREDA’s commendable display of patriotism for fighting for

the oil payment option to be removed, the STX agreement, which was laid

before the House for the debate, still contained the provision of 30% local

content.

We notice that anytime GREDA pulls back on stating its position of

opposition on the STX deal it cites an ‘assuring’ meeting it held with the

Minister of Water Resources, Works & Housing the previous day.

Another case in point is when GREDA cancelled its scheduled press conference

last month. On Monday, June 21, GREDA issued a press statement in which it

made its stance clear:

“We wish to state as professionals that STX has not provided any basis for

pricing the units, it has not revealed the location of the project and other

important facts, which will enable a professional compute the cost of a

building, we therefore request that they put that information out.” Up to

date, that request has not been met to justify GREDA’s u-turn.

The fundamental ethical principle of journalism is that journalists are

cloaked with the moral imperative to give a guarantee of anonymity to

genuine confidential sources providing bona fide information. There can be

no ambiguity in the trust that their sources must have in them as

professional journalists. We cannot expect our journalists to ferret bona

fide information from `deep throat’ confidential sources about the State's

alleged illegal activities unless we empower them to give some reasonable

level of guarantee of anonymity to those primary sources.

The Police, sadly, have once again displayed a worrying haste to ‘keep’

Government happy. To arrest and charge a journalist on the pretext of

‘protecting and property’ while doing very little in pursuit of that

purported higher good is disappointing, dangerous and back-stepping for our

democracy. We cannot toy with press freedom on some flimsy excuse of

responsible journalism.

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