By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
In choosing to look beyond material wealth and for disregarding personal property-grabbing as the objective for being in office, President J.E.A. Mills has put himself in a class of his own. Since entering office, he has not collected per diem allowances while on official trips, putting to shame all others before him (or in his government) who have allowed self-acquisitiveness to dominate their political lives. Many a Ghanaian politician who sees politics as a goldmine that provides the panacea to personal economic problems will not envy him, though.
President Mills does more to confound such politicians, especially in his attitude to gifts. When the Kufuor government offered him Christmas gifts, he once rejected the package and on another occasion, he collected the gifts but turned round to donate them to the Ga Traditional Council. He is also remembered for rejecting Christmas gifts given him last year by some well-wishers, claiming that he didn’t want anybody to taint him with such unsolicited offers. In Ghanaian politics, that attitude is rare.
So, for President Mills to have little regard for gifts speaks volumes about what he stands for. Such is the image that many people have had about him over the years. All of a sudden, however, that image is on the line, threatened by a news report concerning a gift that has the potential to give him sleepless nights.
A news report in The Searchlight newspaper (Monday August 15) has it that President Mills has “grabbed” a brand new mansion situated on a piece of previously bare land in the Platinum section of the Regimanuel Grey Estates Limited on the Spintex Road. It said the mansion was a gift from Mr. Emmanuel Botwe (the President’s long-time friend and owner of Regimanuel Grey Estate Limited). The President’s own residence is on the Asanfra Street nearby. The publication ridiculed this gift-grabbing within the context of the rising cost of living under President Mills’ government and sought to create the impression that the President was serving his own interests under the guise of his “Better Ghana Agenda.” It also sought to undermine his integrity. The President hasn’t yet come out to confirm or deny the allegation. Any attempt to comment on the newspaper’s report may, therefore, be deemed as premature; but that’s what has to be done to either prompt him to clear the air or to encourage public discussion of the matter because of its serious implications. But for the circumstances surrounding this alleged act of property-grabbing, this news report wouldn’t have merited anybody’s attention. Gift-giving is an age-old practice, some people say. Early responses from some NDC activists have quickly dismissed the publication as part of the campaign of rumour-mongering and vilification by the President’s opponents to score cheap political points. Some of them have even claimed that their checks indicated that no building in the area cost $800,000 as quoted in the publication. Others said that the mansion was not to be used by the President and that it was meant for his security detail because Mr. Botwe claimed not to like the conditions under which the President’s security detail find themselves on official duty at the President’s residence as they occupy military tents built all over the place. Thus, the new building should provide them the congenial environment in which to do their national duty.
Sticking his neck out to clarify issues, Koku Anyidoho (the Director of Communications at the Presidency), has set the ball rolling—in the wrong direction, though. He is reported to have confirmed in an exclusive interview with PeaceFM News that the “mansion,” which is near completion, is a gift from Regimanuel Grey Estate Limited to President Mills as a token of appreciation. He, however, quickly added that anyone who doubts his explanation can proceed to the offices of the Real Estate company to be furnished with every detail. Poor Koku Anyidoho! Damage control gone awry right from scratch! This explanation doesn’t solve the problem caused by that “gift.” It completely misses the point because what is at stake is not the value of the building or the purpose to which that mansion will be put. It is the very act of gift-giving (or gift-receiving) involving the President that is at issue. Even before President Mills himself comes out to clear the air, we have good cause to complain and to question the justification for this “gift” to him. Indeed, I am convinced that no moral basis exists for this “gift,” and I see it as nothing but a glaring instance of corruption in its entirety. Bribery and corruption come in different guises. This is one of them. Every sane observer will know that this gift is not for its own sake.
First, the gift (qualified by Anyidoho as a “token of appreciation”) is either misplaced or is shrouded in mystery. What particularly has President Mills done for Mr. Botwe and his company to deserve this reciprocal gesture in the form of a landed property of that magnitude?
Second, this act of gift-giving has more to it than meet the eyes. At stake is the troubling aspect of the motivation for it. Is this gift being unconditionally offered to cement the relationship between both President Mills and Mr. Botwe as mutual friends or to achieve an ulterior motive that is yet to manifest? And why at this time when the government is bent on investing in infrastructural development as a demonstration of its commitment toward fulfilling its electioneering campaign promises and to prepare for next year’s polls?
The giver may claim to be philanthropic but his magnanimity raises serious concerns that we must not overlook. Bribery and corruption may take several forms but have only one objective: to influence the taker for specific purposes to benefit the giver. What is Emmanuel Botwe giving this mansion to President Mills for? Forget about the aspect concerning his security detail because he will not have them around him forever.
Or, even if the mansion is for use by his security detail, what happens when he leaves office? Political fortunes aren’t permanent; they change, bringing about new arrangements for personal security. Will this mansion revert to the giver or will it still be in President Mills’ possession? Honestly speaking, would Mr. Botwe have given such a gift to President Mills had he remained to date as a university don without any political clout? Again, is it the responsibility of a private entrepreneur to build a mansion for the security detail of our President? What is the state itself doing? Will we also be unfortunate to be told one day that a private individual has observed that the security detail are not being properly fed and has taken it upon himself to provide good meals for them?
As is already obvious, this particular gift problem raises more disturbing questions that make it difficult for the matter to be brushed aside as a mere fly-speck.
Its implications, regardless of whatever explanation anybody may give to justify it, are too disturbing not to worry about. We must not belittle it as the mere figment of a troublemaker’s fetid imagination. The tendency for conscience-buying through such a gift ranks high. And what happens when the conscience of the person in authority is bought is anybody’s good guess.
Indeed, this development can’t be anything but a wrong move by both the giver and the taker. It goes beyond being ludicrous to something ominously frightening. The point I want to make is that while it is not strange for individuals to give gifts to high-ranking personalities like the President, this type of gift from Mr. Botwe and the reason behind it make the gesture questionable.
We are wary because we know that in most cases, such an act of gift-giving is not done as a mere demonstration of altruism or selflessness. It always has an inherent vicious impetus for conscience-buying. In our particular case in Ghana—especially in our kind of political dispensation that promotes bribery and corruption—a gift of this sort is hardly without strings.
What is at issue here is the infringement of moral principles. Certainly, Regimanuel Grey Estate Limited is in a competitive business market that is largely controlled by powerful political forces. Mr. Botwe’s gesture fits into the agenda for conscience-buying to strengthen political connections from which to benefit. It’s a seed he has sown to nurture into fruition for harvesting in the future. That’s the root cause of the controversy surrounding his gift and that is why the gift raises eyebrows.
It’s not too late to spew out this bait. President Mills will save himself from much embarrassment and tackle this clear threat to his re-election bid if he decisively handles this matter himself instead of leaving it to his appointees to muddy all the more. In the current circumstance, this revelation of gift-giving and Koku Anyidoho’s confirmation of it is damning.
Coupled with the spate of allegations of bribery and corruption already circulating against his appointees, what the President himself is gradually being caught up in will further worsen his government’s credibility and provide its opponents with the ammunition they need to cause harm at next year’s polls. It gives credence to the recent allegation of corruption made against him by the Young Patriots (a youth group in the NPP).
Within the context of an unfavourable economic situation and pervasive complaints against the government’s inability to fulfill its electioneering campaign promises, any instance of corruption of this sort has the potential to deepen the government’s woes.
Indeed, President Mills’ back seems pushed to the wall from many angles. To solve the credibility problem caused by this revelation concerning Botwe’s gift, he has only one option to save himself from needless embarrassment. He must openly come out to reject the offer or accept it and quickly donate it to an institution for use in carrying out programmes and services for the benefit of the society. If he fails to act judiciously in handling this matter, he will suffer immensely in the hands of his detractors. President Mills can save himself from more worries if he keeps this Trojan Horse out of his political stable.