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General News Sun, 13 Jul 2008

Ghana president under fire over medal -AFP

ACCRA, Ghana (AFP) — President John Kufuor of Ghana has come under heavy criticism after leaked documents show that his government spent 33,000 pounds (41,300 euros, 65,400 dollars) on a medal which was used to decorate him at a national awards ceremony.

Kufuor created a new award category, "the Grand Order of the Star and Eagles of Ghana" to the annual list of awards, explaining that it was only for people who render outstanding services in the presidential job, starting with himself.

Despite the controversy, the award ceremony took place last week.

"Kufuor joins Amin and Bokassa", a newspaper wrote then.

"He has given himself the highest national honour with all smiles and pomp. Obviously he could not trust the verdict of the people on his administration so he decided to proclaim himself the greatest," said the Insight newspaper, edited by one of the government's most ardent critics, Kwesi Pratt.

But just as the controversy over the president's award was dying down, it was revealed that the medal cost 33,000 pounds and that five of them were ordered from British-based Cleave and Company International.

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The leaked document also indicated that about 1.4 million dollars was spent on the medals for the national awards ceremony. This has sparked another round of criticism for Mr. Kufuor, who leaves office in just about six months.

"Upon all our problems, the best the president can do is to buy such an expensive piece of jewellery for himself," Adoley Laryea, a secretary told AFP in Accra. "No wonder we are not going anywhere."

"All this money could have been used to build a small health centre in my village or even to provide some vital equipment for Korle Bu [the country's main teaching hospital] where pregnant women are often compelled to sleep on the floor," says John Ocloo, who describes himself as a marketeer.

"Is the president planning on selling the medal after his tenure?" Joojo, a student, asked in disbelief.

Responding to the mounting criticism, a statement from the Office of the President said the furore was politically motivated, especially as the country prepares to vote in presidential and parliamentary polls in December.

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"While we recognise the legitimacy for the media to raise questions on important events or issues like the National Honours and Awards Day and to seek clarification where necessary, we find the political undertone in these reports unmistakably loud," the statement said.

"Government has no regrets for honouring her heroes and heroines. In our view they deserve even more. Much as we recognize and accept constructive criticism, we think the current one is a petty red herring introduced only to advance the agenda and ambitions of the architects of these reports."

Meanwhile, the opposition National Democratic Congress is planning to take the government on for buying the medals without parliamentary approval, according to Benjamin Kumbuor, the party's spokesman on finance in the legislature.

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