$80 Million Gold Fraud: Are Security Agencies Failing Ghana?
By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK
In the first week of 2013, many Ghanaians were shocked to hear and read about the mysterious circumstances leading to the detention of an aircraft in Turkey for carrying 1.5 tonnes of gold bars worth $80 million from Ghana without proper documentation. Strangely, not much was heard from the government until the Danquah Institute raised the matter and alleged that the $80 million gold bars were payment from Ghana government to Iran for goods and services. Immediately, the Presidential Spokesperson denied the story. The pro-NDC media went into overdrive to conduct their own investigations and sought to create the impression that, the gold bars were not from Ghana but brought to Ghana from Libya. Thereafter, the Presidency issued a statement denying any government knowledge of and connection with the alleged fraud and added that, the President has ordered investigations into the matter and the public would be informed of the outcome in due course. Friday February 8 2013, the minister for Information and Media Relations issued a statement on the findings of the preliminary investigations. In this article, I want to analyse this gargantuan scandal, the failure of the security agencies, negligence on part of government and the potential security risk to peace and security in Ghana.
On its face value, it appears that the main object of the interim findings of investigations conducted by BNI as contained in the statement from the Minister for Information and Media Relations was to clear the government of any complicity, blame and responsibility. Sadly, the findings raised more questions than answered. For example, the findings are clear manifestations of unprecedented security lapses at Kotoka International Airport and a threat to peace and security of the state. There were scandalous failures by the some officials and organisations ranging from the Ghana Revenue Authority, Narcotics Control Board (NACOB), Geological Survey and others. How on earth could a foreign aircraft land in Ghana, load1.5 tonnes of gold bars and leave the shores of Ghana as mineral samples, without proper documentation and yet not a single soul asked questions or noticed it, is anyone’s guess.
It was even reported by the pro-NDC media that, there were no details of the aircraft’s journey and those on board. I do not much about International Aviation but from my knowledge and experience of seeing off and receiving students and foreign delegates as wells as dealing with the then Ghana Airways in the 1980s, I know that there is something called flight manifest, which gives the names of those on board including the crew, details of cargo, the aircraft, etc. How come these pro NDC media attempted to tell the nation that the authorities in Ghana were unaware these simple details prior to the aircraft landing at Kotoka? Is Ghana safe?
It was also disappointing and disturbing reading contents of the statement for a number of reasons. Though not surprising to me as it was symptomatic of the government since 2009, NDC governments are too quick to abdicate its responsibilities on such important national scandals rather than finding out what went wrong and the lessons to be learnt, if any. The government seems to forget or is unaware that on matters of national importance, especially the peace and security of the state, the President has the ultimate responsibility and is accountable for all national security breaches.
What these ministers and presidential officials do not recognise is that, in their efforts to clear or shield the President from any culpability, they end up exposing the president and his government to ridicule, either as being unaware of what is happening, incompetent or in fact, complicit. The same happened under the former late president in the Woyomegate. Ghanaians were first told that the then late President was unaware of the payment to Woyome, but the interim report of BNI and OECO claimed that the late President had indeed, instructed that the payment should be stopped, which was contrary to what Ghanaians were made to believe initially. Did that not expose the late President and his government of complicity? Often, instead of taking their time to find out what is really happening, they rush to make false and contradictory statements without any basis.
The President must know that his government is responsible for the safety, security protection and prudence use of all Ghana’s natural and human resources and that is why he appoints ministers and officials to head ministries and institutions including the security agencies, the Revenue Authority, NACOB and others to assist him in the performance of his duties. If his appointees and the institutions they lead fail or they neglect their responsibilities, they do so under the President’s watch and therefore he is held responsible and accountable for such failures and negligent. It is just not good enough to issue a statement implicating the Ghana Revenue Authority, NACOB, Geological Survey, the airport authorities, name some individuals and pretend that the President’s hand are clean, when in fact, his signatures and DNA of failure and negligence are everywhere.
NACOB, led by my former colleague, Mr Yaw Akrasi Sarpong is not fit for purpose and Akrasi Sarpong should be sacked. Last year he contemplated resigning after huge quantities of drugs were exported to UK from the same Kotoka International Airport under the noses of his officials. That was a mere publicity stunt to throw dust into the eyes of Ghanaians. What has happened to that case and those who were implicated? It’s gone quiet, hasn’t it? Now, it’s 1.5 tonnes of gold bars and NACOB is again found wanting. What lessons, if any, did Yaw Akrasi Sarpong and his NACOD learn from the earlier failures? One must ask, what are Akrasi Sarpong and his officials doing and what next? The President ordered that Akrasi Sarpong should continue in office as caretaker head of NACOB so the President must accept full responsibility for NACOB’s failure as well all the organisations mentioned in the interim report.
Why did the minister’s statement contain this sentence? “It was widely conjectured by a known political institute, that the said shipment was payment by Ghana in respect of some financial transaction with the Islamic Republic of Iran”. Is the government or minister not bold enough to state that Danquah Institute made the allegation? That is public knowledge and Danquah cannot deny it as it is documented. Is the minister a coward or just still in his propaganda mood? I know of individuals to insinuate but not government. I assumed that since the President is a communication expert, government communication under his presidency would be far better than what we saw under the late Mills. I have been wrong because nothing has changed, if not worst. The insinuation contained the statement is infantile and would not take the government and Ghana anywhere.
Indeed, even if Danquah Institute’s accusation is wrong and was politically motivated that is not the response expected from a minister. Danquah Institute’s only sin is that their allegation kept the scandal from being swept under the carpet and resulted in some investigations by government. For me, instead of casting insinuation against Danquah Institute, the people of Ghana, including the government should be thankful to the institute for keeping the matter alive and prompting action from government.
Another worrying aspect of the contents of the statement is the evidence that, the Mahama Presidency is aloof to what is happening in Ghana. The scandal was reported in Ghana prior to the President making an official state visit to Turkey. I was expecting an indication that either the President himself or any of his officials who accompanied him would have raised the matter officially or privately with the Turkish authorities whilst they were there. Not only was this not mentioned in the statement or in any of two denials from the presidency. Was no one at the presidency or Ministry of Foreign Affairs aware of the report prior to the President’s visit to Turkey? If they were, did they not see the need and urgency to clear up part of the mystery from the source whilst they were in Turkey? This is unbelievable and almost tantamount to dereliction of duty.
The last but certainly not the least, is the whereabouts of the 1.5 tonnes of the gold bars seized in Turkey. Again, none of the denials or the minister’s statement clarified where the gold bars are and what is being done by government to retrieve them back to Ghana. This is important because it has now been established beyond doubt that the gold bars were from Ghana. It is also known that they were smuggled out of Ghana as mineral samples without proper documentation and without the appropriate taxes being paid. The gold bars must be seized by government of Ghana whilst investigations are continuing. I therefore strongly recommend that the President and his government must make the necessary and urgent arrangements to get all the gold bars returned to Ghana without any further delay but before they disappear into thin air. Already, the findings claim the value is $62 million instead of the reported $80 million. The difference of $18 million is a lot and could pay for more schools under trees or improve healthcare, school feeding programme, electricity and water supplies, sanitation in Ghana.
The interim findings also showed that Ghana’s security agencies are sleep walking into a national catastrophe. With global threat from terrorism and security conscious environment, Ghana’s international airport is a security loophole. It appears anything and anybody can depart from and enter into Ghana’s only international airport without questions being asked. With 1.5 tonnes of gold bars leaving the country, eye brows of officials at the airport should have raised up to their highest level. Ghana is not an isolated desert island that is immune from global terrorism, though the risk may be minimal. No matter how small the risks may be, the security agencies should not toil with the peace and security of the nation by such laxity. They do so at a high cost that Ghana will live to regret if urgent steps are not taken to address such deficiencies.
It is important that Ghana as an oil producer takes the risks posed by terrorism and the potential for instability from oil serious. This is even critical since Ghana is reported to be sending troops to Mali as part of the ECOWAS military force to maintain peace there. The Margherb Al Qaeda terror group has threatened to attack any country that supports France to defeat them in Mali and North Africa. With weak security at Ghana point of entry by air what would stop an Al Qaeda cell in the Margherb from paying corrupt officials at the airport or any entry point to export terror to Ghana? This gold scandal has exposed very grievous security lapses by the security agencies and negligence on the part of those who are responsible for the peace and security of Ghana.
One wonders if 1.5 tonnes of gold bars could leave Kotoka undetected what and how much of other precious minerals are leaving Ghana by land into other countries? It’s no strange that despite all the gold, diamond, bauxite, manganese, cocoa, timber and now oil, Ghana cannot provide adequate supply of electricity and water to its citizens, if two individuals could deceive officials and security agencies to airlift 1.5 tonnes of gold bars out of Ghana as mineral samples. How long has this been going on? Where did they get all that gold from and do they own a gold refinery in Ghana or what?
Mr President, the statement from your minister for Information and Media Relations failed woefully to assure Ghanaians that your government is on top of this scandal. It left too many questions unanswered, particularly the key questions on, where is the 1.5 tonnes of gold bars and what is your government doing as matter of urgency to repatriate the gold bars to Ghana? What are you doing about the security failures unearthed by this scandal? Can your government communication stop the propaganda and insinuations? Ghana demands answers and action and not excuses because the buck stops with you.
By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK