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Opinions Fri, 30 Jul 2010

NCA causing financial loss to the State?

As an investigative journalist, I have always wondered if governments are really committed to supporting private businesses and especially those initiated by Ghanaian business men. From when I began observing and participating in the democratic debate, governments have rather pursued and served as a blockade to our locally thriving entrepreneurs who are endeavoring to complement government effort at reducing unemployment and the provision of essential services in other areas that help shape our nurturing democracy.

Cognizant of this, I have been following a story of a Ghanaian company AEWAHA which has been trying to operate a radio station in Ghana since August 2001 but has still not succeeded because of a blockade by governments. AEWAHA was granted final authorization to operate a radio station in Accra by the national communications authority NCA on 5th Feb. 2002. The authority later seized its telecommunications equipment and withdrew its license and permission to operate a radio broadcasting station by letter dated 6th Jan. 2004.

From Oct. 2006, AEWAHA has made all efforts through its solicitors to have the NCA return its communications equipment and restore its radio license which had even allocated a frequency of 93.5 MHZ. This is a company that satisfied the requirements set out in the NCA act 524 and obtained a license to operate a radio station in Accra, only for its equipment-which were approved for importing by the NCA-to be seized and It’s license revoked. What are our governments doing to our local business people? Are governments encouraging and creating the enabling environment or sabotaging their efforts at contributing to the democratic process? How about the freedom of expression that we talk about? Is it a sham or it is real? Then how can a Ghanaian company AEWAHA for close to ten years, just struggling to operate, and have had no success because of the governments and its national communications authority?

A document that I stumbled upon during my investigation, and which I’m publishing with this article for the public to make their own judgment, show clearly, that the government of Ghana under President J.A. Kuffour, against the advice of their own solicitors, refused to settle out of court and pay compensation, return to AEWAHA its radio equipment as well as restore It’s radio broadcast license. Solicitors for NCA in a letter dated 25th October 2006, GAISIE ZWENNES HUGHES & CO. said in their ‘considered opinion’, the final authorization granted to AEWAHA gave the company a vested legal right as a license- holder, and this legal right is afforded protection under section 21 of ACT 524 which regulates the NCA’s exercise of revocation and cancellation of license. None of these statutory provisions have been adhered to by the NCA. The seizure of the company’s broadcasting equipment since January 2004 is not also supported by any statutory authority or power. The solicitors for the NCA also advised that a claim instituted by AEWAHA for these complaints would be formidable, and would stand, in their view, a more-than-likely chance of success. They added that some of the reliefs that could be claimed by AEWAHA would include general damages for losses suffered as a result of the matters complained of. And that by their careful study of the business plan of AEWAHA, the NCA or government solicitors concluded that these claims by AEWAHA would be quite substantial if they were not to settle it out of court.

Four years down the line, the NCA has still not taken the advice of its solicitors even though substantial legal fees were expended on that exercise. Four years down the line, AEWAHA, a Ghanaian company has finally had it’s license restored and its equipment though presumably out dated returned with the arrival of a new government. The new government under President Mills has been here close to two years and the situation is still dragging. Indeed, my checks with the NCA revealed that the new NCA bosses have re-hired lawyers GAISIE ZWENNES HUGHES & CO the same firm who advised in their earlier opinion that the matter at hand was illegal! Clearly some in the legal profession have little ethics and despite knowing that they are a part of an illegality have little problem involving themselves in the case.

This further brings to the fore questions of whether the NDC government or the new board also has a vested interest in this. There are also questions regarding the amount of financial loss that the state of Ghana must have suffered, and will continue to suffer by the decision of NCA and its board to continually ignore the legal advice of its solicitors to settle matters with AEWAHA out of court to prevent further financial hemorrhage which could occur in the event of colossal damages awarded by a court to AEWAHA. At least, the solicitors for NCA have declared that the NCA and government have no chance of escaping loss of this case in court. Apart from the legal fees that NCA and government have expended and are still expending, the amount of money lost in the form of taxes to government through the grounding and non-operation of AEWAHA is enormous. In my books, this attitude of government will only end up costing the taxpayer more money. And besides, we’re discouraging the mass media proliferation as well as local businesses in Ghana if we’re going to be seizing radio broadcast equipments belonging to local companies-equipment that was approved for importation by the same NCA- without regard to the statute guiding the National communications authority.

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Government must show its commitment to the private sector development and promotion of indigenous businesses by restoring AEWAHA broadcast license and returning its broadcast equipment. It must also save the Ghanaian tax payer money by taking the advice of GAISIE ZWENNES HUGHES & CO. solicitors for NCA and pursue an out of court settlement with AEWAHA as soon as possible. The media commission, if indeed they are up to their task of promoting free expression in Ghana as well as the association of Ghana industries (AGI) must stand up speak. These groups, together with journalists ought to be asking both the past and present board members of NCA what vested interest they have in causing the grounding of a Ghanaian company for close to ten years, and in the process, causing such colossal financial losses to Ghana? The civil society and pressure groups too must take interest in salvaging this Ghanaian company seemingly suffering from sabotage, and save the nation from this seemingly brutal financial loss which has been systematically occurring since the revocation of the AEWAHA broadcast license and the seizure of its sophisticated radio equipment.

Lastly Charles Zwennes representing GAISIE ZWENNES HUGHES & CO must be asked how he can be the author of an opinion which he stood by and then have little qualms in coming back to represent the same organization which fired or sidelined him after this opinion was presented to their Board. We expect our legal practioners to live by the high standards they are assumed to have and the colossal fees they charge most of their clients..

Ghanaba Dickson

New Jersey

Ghanaba2010@yahoo.com

Columnist: Dickson, Ghanaba
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