By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
March 3, 2011
A common saying has it that if you are naked and bend down to peep into the backside of another person, others below you will see your nakedness. The General Secretary of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Johnson Asiedu-Nketia, popularly known as “General Mosquito,” fits into this scenario. Asiedu-Nketia is in the news for the wrong reason. He is alleged to have built two plush mansions at Oyarifa, a developing suburb on the Accra-Aburi road, and Daaban Panyin, a suburb of Kumasi “within the short period that the NDC has been in office.” Indeed, he has confirmed moving into the three-storey Oyarifa house but denied ever owning the Kumasi one.
This case involving Asiedu-Nketia has its own twists and turns. Was it not this same Asiedu-Nketia who had told us that the NDC (then in opposition) had compiled a list of all corrupt NPP functionaries in Kufuor’s government to punish them if the NDC won power? For two years now, the NDC has been in power but there is nothing forthcoming from Asiedu-Nketia to lay the matter to rest. Instead, he himself is the butt of allegations of corruption. He is now in a tight corner, which makes the matter more piquant.
Asiedu-Nketia derided the allegation, saying that he “would be deemed useless and irresponsible if he was unable to build such a house after holding several key political and public positions in this country for several years.” I wish he would direct these words at JJ Rawlings and his wife who are tearing themselves apart because of the inability of the Mills government to rebuild their gutted Ridge residence for them to occupy.
Speaking in an interview with Kessben Fm, Asiedu-Nketia dismissed the allegations, saying that it was no news because “he had worked all his life to acquire money that he could use to build any mansion of his choice.” Then, he asked: “Is it surprising that somebody who has worked as a Member of Parliament (MP) for 12 years, a Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture for four years, bank manager for five years, stock broker for five years and a teacher for four years to build a mansion?”
Good questions but unconvincing. The water to the facility was provided by the National Service Secretariat, according to the DAILY GUIDE report. Is Asiedu-Nketia denying this aspect too?
Even though I don’t begrudge him the right to own property, the allegation against him raises a lot of questions that worry Ghanaians because it reflects their apprehensions that there is too much rot in our system.
Such allegations are not unfounded nor should they be dismissed as deriving from petty jealousy or aroused by a mere penchant for mischief by political opponents. We have ample evidence of flippant property owning by our politicians under questionable circumstances over the years. Some allegations could be supported with evidence; others could be treated as rumours or mere speculation for political purposes. Nonetheless, they cannot be dismissed anyhow as if nothing questionable was happening.
Even though some of those allegations were mere figments of imagination (e.g., the one that accused Gen. Afrifa of stealing 18 gold bars from the Flagstaff House at the overthrow of Nkrumah), instances of concrete evidence of such property-owning craze under suspicious circumstances can be traced to some functionaries of all our governments since independence. Here are some specific examples:
• Under Nkrumah, the “Golden Bed” owned by Krobo Edusei and Komla Agebli Gbedemah’s flight into exile for fear of being dealt with by Nkrumah on suspicion of theft of public funds when he was the Finance Minister came to light;
• In the NLC era, General J.A. Ankrah (Head of State) was removed from office over the Nzeribe bribery scandal;
• Kutu Acheampong’s “Fa wo to be gye Golf” mania and the “Kalabule” scourge brought Ghanaians face-to-face with the rot in public office holding.
• Rawlings’ frightening measures against corruption didn’t assuage doubts—How about the Mabey and Johnson case, which surfaced only after he had left office, and many others?
• Under Kufuor, we saw clearly how property-owning could madden public office holders;
• President Mills’ two years in office have revealed that the problem exists and is assuming sophisticated dimensions (the tractor case involving Mahama Ayariga and Alban Bagbin, allegations of house-building by Ama Benyiwa-Doe, and Hannah Bissiw, among others).
Those at the center of such allegations may loudly proclaim their innocence. But who will believe all the yarn that they spin to justify the source of funds/materials for such property? Even if genuinely acquired, the spate of acquisition of such property makes their proclamations and protestations unconvincing.
Public officials have already created conditions for disbelief. They are in the habit of manipulating the system for their own well-being. It’s a destructive, pervasive habit that is built over the years. This kind of habit formation, according to psychologists, is usually achieved by repetition of the desired act and by reinforcement. The longer they stay in office (and being recycled and let loose to various offices), the more entrenched their habits of manipulation become. That’s why Asiedu-Nketia’s claims fly in the face of what we know about the Ghanaian public office holder, especially someone with very thick political connections of Asiedu-Nketia’s type.
Being a member of the Bui Hydroelectricity Project Board and at the same time supplying cement blocks to the company has enabled him to kill more than two birds with his political stone. If he thinks that he hasn’t offended morality in this sense, he needs to have his head seriously examined. Yet, he is certainly sure of remaining at post because that’s what being a political heavyweight in a party in power entails.
Of all the workplaces and designations that he mentioned, the only one that couldn’t have given him any monetary leverage to build such a mansion is that of “a teacher for four years.” Being a teacher (and a primary school one at that) in Ghana is like being on the Appian Way to extreme poverty, degradation, and public ridicule. Unless Asiedu-Nketia was the Headteacher of that Seikwa school (with access to school materials to sell for profit or to engage the services of the poor pupils to do manual work to earn money for him), he had no means of making the kind of money that can put a roof over his head. Maybe, his wife’s remittances from Canada could be counted on, but we remain querulous.
All the other positions he held were fertile grounds. There are many loopholes in the banking sector to exploit. If he wasn’t caught in any nefarious deal as a Bank manager, good luck to him. But being a politician—and holding the several positions that he stated—reduces every claim he makes to absurdity. The Ghanaian politician is a calculating thief who knows how to create and exploit loopholes in the system.
From what we see happening every day in our politics and public office-holding, it is difficult to say that we have a single genuine politician who will dedicate his/her cause to helping Ghanaians get what he/she enjoys. Our politicians are good only at creating wealth for themselves. And they are selfish too. President Mills may claim to be rejecting all the “superfluous” perks of his office but he can’t persuade us that he isn’t better off now (as a politician) than when he was a law lecturer for many years at the University of Ghana, Legon.
Of course, no one should begrudge anybody for making it in life through his/her chosen career paths; but the alarming rate at which all manner of people of Asiedu-Nketia’s type are acquiring property (especially in the period that their political parties are in power) is what raises dander. That’s where the qualms come in. Let’s remember that Asiedu-Nketia had been living in his two-bedroom apartment at the MPs’ Flats at Sukumono in Tema, a place sold to him by the state after his first term as a Parliamentarian in 1996. Yet, here he is today with a three-storey mansion that was put up within the shortest possible time. Why won’t tongues wag?
We’ve had numerous instances all these years. Don’t we remember even in the heady days of the Rawlings PNDC when some of his appointees were accused of amassing wealth, which the CHRAJ investigated and reported? Just imagine P.V. Obeng’s claim that the huge mansion that was the subject-matter of his being dragged before the CHRAJ was in the name of his 9-year-old daughter at that time!
Then, some of those who were garnering wealth through political connections but managed to conceal it from the watchful eyes of Rawlings didn’t hesitate to begin flaunting that wealth either when they fell out with Rawlings or when his reign (of terror?) ended. Today, they are the owners of big-time business ventures and mansions. We can’t say that Rawlings himself is an angel.
The problem that property-owning created under the Kufuor government is legendary. The same tendency is evident under the Mills government. At least, we have evidence of property-owning under questionable circumstances, some of which have been either adroitly fenced off through loud-mouthed protests or simply swept under the carpet because those in authority have refused to crack the whip. From the manner in which some segments of the society have risen in defence of those accused of corruption and lined up to be punished, I am tempted to conclude that there is nothing we can do to solve the problem. But must that be the case? I don’t think so. We have every opportunity to ensure that those who soil their fingers with the national pottage are exposed and punished. It is only then that enough fear and responsibility can be instilled in the people to err on the side of right and public good. Morality matters in this case. Those charged with enforcing moral principles (the institutions of state, churches, traditional rulers, etc.) are themselves the worst offenders. Come to think of it, where will we ever get help from in stamping out corruption from the society, especially in the case of those who manipulate the system to fleece the economy while openly projecting with impudence their holier-than-thou selves?
Why can’t the assets declared by these politicians be made public for us to scrutinize? Or, why is it difficult for those in authority who claim to be fighting corruption to put in place the appropriate mechanisms to track the conduct of those who know better not to make wealth through dubious political connections but do so? Is it too difficult for President Mills to ensure that what he detests in politics is not embraced and adored by those working with him? It is puzzling!
If we must behave as good citizens and set good examples to be emulated, then, it behooves us to respect the tenets of our constitutional democracy. We shouldn’t be noticed as fighting against corruption only when we come out to defend our corrupt practices or when it is time for public debates where useless hot air-blowing becomes the norm. For now, let’s remind Asiedu-Nketia that people like him are giving our democracy a bad name. Democracy doesn’t involve only balloting; it includes morality too for it to endure!