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Opinions Tue, 1 Jun 2004

Mahama's Hammar: CNT - What Is The Exit Strategy?

As in the matter of the infamous IFC Loan Agreement, over the last three weeks Ghana?s attention has been riveted on another controversial loan. This time known as the ?CNT or CNTCI Loan,? it has so captured the attention of the media and society that everything else has paled into insignificance. Indeed the loan has sparked its own war between the Ghanaian media houses. Unpalatable adjectives have been tossed about between the main protagonists with Crusading Guide and The Statesman on one hand and Joy FM and The Palaver on the other.

Issues about the credibility of CNT and her parent company CNTCI have been canvassed strongly with documents procured and published in some newspapers and live interviews conducted with officials involved in CNT or its alleged shareholders like China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC).

The whole issue has left those in Government and us in Parliament with egg all over our faces. Government must be embarrassed for bringing such a loan agreement with such basic inaccuracies and flaws in documentation to Parliament. We in Parliament also stand accused for not exercising our usual rigorous scrutiny before granting approval. Wrong addresses, dead phone numbers, contradictions between the MOU and the loan agreement laid before Parliament, inconsistencies in the company profile of CNT (wrongly termed due diligence report) are but a few of the incurable maladies afflicting the CNT loan agreement.

If there were any people hoping that this CNT business will die off any time soon they must be in for a big disappointment. Listening to an extended interview with a Mr. R. Edwards, an official of CNTCI, on Joy FM?s NEWSFILE programme last Saturday, more questions come up that beg for answers. Mr. Edwards stated categorically that CNTCI is not licensed as a bank or a financial institution and therefore cannot provide the Government of Ghana with any such loan. He said clearly that what they seek to do with Ghana is a kind of SUPPLIERS CREDIT agreement where they will have their claimed partner companies or shareholders provide the finance to execute projects in Ghana under repayment terms agreed with the Government of Ghana. The CNT partner organizations would then execute the projects at a profit. Now the question is that if this was a simple supplier?s credit agreement, why did it just not say so in the MOU and the Agreement presented to Parliament? Why was it presented to Parliament as a loan agreement? Mr. Edwards also stated that the current agreement is just a basic draft and is nowhere yet near the final document. He said the document was not prepared by lawyers but was put together by their accountants and financial advisors and there are still several important clauses to be inserted. If this is the case, why did the ?Gang of Four? ministers led by Osafo Marfo present a draft agreement to Parliament for approval?

In all this, a most disturbing feature has been the loud silence of Government in the whole matter. Finance Minister Osafo-Maafo aside from a brief reference at a press conference has been very conveniently outside the country. His Deputies and special assistants have all been mum on the subject and would not be drawn into any comment on the matter. This has been most unhelpful. For a government that is persistently preening itself as transparent and democratic, the silence on this matter speaks volumes to the contrary. Government?s public relations in the handling of this matter has been to say the least, lousy. It has sown a lot of doubt in the public mind.

In the absence of any official response to the many issues arising out of the controversial loan agreement, a huge information vacuum has been created. This is being filled with bits and pieces of information being uncovered by the various media houses everyday. Some of the media houses have procured and published incumbency certificates and acceptance letters purporting to show that China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) and other reputable Chinese Government Corporations are indeed linked with the CNT in this business. However evidence unearthed by other media houses has revealed discrepancies in the CNT?s claims. During an interview on Joy FM, a Mr. Zheng of CRCC was clear in dissociating CRCC from CNT when he said they were not shareholders in CNT and said they had warned CNT not to use their brand. Since the weekend, China National Gold Corporation, another of the claimed shareholders has distanced itself from CNTCI. Information from Company House in UK has also created some doubt about the whole shareholding structure of CNT.

But what should the media?s role in all this be? I think that it is the duty of the media to ask questions. I think it is the duty of the media to put out any information they discover in the course of their investigations in order to keep the public informed. But I don?t think it is the duty of the media to do PR for government. Government has a huge machine for PR and has huge resources approved in the budget every year for this purpose. Government can very well speak for itself. It is not necessary for any journalist to appear to arrogate unto himself the role of Finance Minister or Information Minister and to so zealously defend what clearly has turned out to be a shoddily prepared draft agreement presented to cabinet and Parliament.

In any case to my mind the greater issue to look at now is how to fix the system such that no such sloppy agreements slip through in the future. One major step in this direction would be to have the Attorney General?s stamp of approval attached to the legal terms of any such credit being sourced from the international private financial market. There should also be a due diligence report conducted by a reputable institution or individual into the background of such private institutions attached to any such agreements before presentation to cabinet and Parliament.

It is clear that government has had its fingers burnt a second time as in the case of the IFC loan. Listening to recent comments from some ministers of state published in the Statesman to the effect that Ghana is reaching HIPC completion point and with the anticipated debt write offs may not even need the CNT loan, it is obvious that an exit strategy is being prepared to withdraw from the embarrassing scandal. As I write, the spin masters of government are at work probably crafting a careful strategy to offload the CNT albatross. I do not know what form this will take, but I can bet my bottom dollar that in the next week or two, government will signal its decision to withdraw from the CNT loan agreement and the now dumb ministers of state and their special assistants will be all over the media about how the NPP is a listening and democratic government. Mark my words.

The writer is a Member of Parliament and the Minority (NDC) Spokesman on Communications

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Mahama, John