The Panama Papers & a country suffering from acute lethargy
By Kwesi Baako
By Kwesi Baako
Once again, that lackluster response that greets almost every important issue that is not directly ‘bread and butter’ showed its face when the ‘Panama Papers’ surfaced this week. Ghanaians once again reacted as if it was just another ordinary story. I do not blame us entirely, after all, hadn’t John Addo Kufour, eldest son of Ghana’s former President John Agyekum Kufour been in the news in the not so distant past for activities that at best slightly embarrassed his father, the then President of Ghana? So why should there be a loud “wow” over a case of corruption concerning someone who had been in and out of a high profile corruption case.
Come to think of it, how has the term John Kufour walked out of a case in which he was allegedly fronting for his father to buy a hotel in the plush areas of the capital, close to his private residence.
But is that enough reason to be so adamant to such a huge disclosure?
According to the Panama Papers, John and his mother; former First Lady Theresa Kufour jointly controlled a $75,000 (66,000 euros) offshore account in Panama and appointed Mossack-Fonseca, the Panamanian holding company to manage what has been called the Excel Trust. So far, no criminal or illegal activity has been pinned to the door of the Excel Trust or even to John Addo Kufour. Again, $75,000 for a family that had made their substance before J.A. Kufour became president, doesn’t sound that outrageous (My Nigerian friends will tell you that).
Thus it would not be fair to even suggest impropriety on the part of former President Kufour, his wife Theresa, his son John, or their organization the Excel Trust at this point. However, beyond the pointing of fingers does this not sound a bell that should at least get us wondering what politicians and their families do with not just the people’s money but their trust too?
Does it worry anyone that the son of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also been named in the Panama Papers albeit he (like John Kufour) not being held up for anything illegal. (PS: Holding offshore account is not illegal in itself, but how they are used can easily be).
In 2007 when the then President John Kufour championed the introduction of offshore banking in the country, it was well received and acclaimed. I wonder how many business people took or are still taking advantage of it or if it is only being taken advantage of by the ‘high and mighty’ in the world of politics and its tributaries. I particularly take note of how well placed someone like John Addo Kuffour or Kojo Annan would be to take advantage of the benefits. Were they influential in the introduction and the tireless work that went into its realization in the first place?
So when politicians speak of equal opportunity amidst conditions where the children of those at the pinnacle of policy making and implementation are the ones who end up getting the first foot in. When they assemble in parliament to share the national cake in such a lop-sided way without much consideration for the folks who sponsored them to their respective seats, it leaves that indelible mark that has earned politics the nickname ‘dirty game’.
I wonder how Alfred Agbesi Woyome is (if at all) dealing with these offshore entities; how he had actually received millions of dollars in what at the time seemed like legitimate payments from judgment debts owed him by the state, while workers went on strike for their basic salaries. I wonder how Ibrahim Mahama is positioned to take advantage of these opportunities and others while the Ghanaian worker goes unpaid for months on end; when infrastructure suffers because of gross mismanagement and barefaced corruption.
Ghanaian governments have for decades had a field day granting the opposition and the people their say while they go on gleefully having their way. Some have suggested that too much power has been vested in the presidency and this seems to be the problem. While exploring that thesis, what seems more apparent is the lethargy exhibited by the opposition on certain vital issues.
Instead of it being a major campaign issue, the same tired arguments of why the government should be changed or maintained will form the crux of this year’s electioneering.
I observe with much amusement as the Ghanaian media gloss over the matter, reprinting what has been published on many sites around the world and leaving it at that. I have not heard an outcry, or an attempt to probe the matter any further. I cannot fathom how politicians from across the divide will point fingers at each other when the accusation would turn round to bite them in the bum. Thus, the selective ignoring and the attendant ‘amnesia’ sets in. Woyome goes through the ‘radio trial’ and comes out guilty but free.
On parliamentary remunerations, we have experienced not once those rare occasions where the 2 sides of the political divide chorus along like tanked-up bacchants sawing off huge chunks of the national cake for themselves, damn how it affects national development.
This may yet be just a more complex case of such a ‘scratch-my-back-let-me-scratch-yours” relationship. There will be no outcry because the answer the National Democratic Congress (NDC) gave to the question of the President’s family owning property is so strikingly similar to the one the New Patriotic Party (NPP) gave when it was in power. There will be no media banter on the subject because the party structures will not instruct their ‘Communicators’ to go on radio to kick a rumpus, knowing it could have a boomerang effect. There will be demonstrations because the ‘triggers and levers’ that control the process where lots of people sometimes without real knowledge of the issue will be remote controlled to march in the streets with red bands will not be activated. ‘All-die-be-die’ will not be invoked. ‘Yentie obiaa’ will for once be disregarded; considered ‘Lazy Man’s Talk’.
The so-called elites who should champion the process to curb the misuse of authority and such legal facades (at least as is being employed) as offshore banking are the ones busy profiting from it, it seems; or sending friends and family to do so… legally.
I believe the time is long due for a critical look at the structures on which our constitution is based and check if they are working, especially in the interest of those on whose blood, sweat and toil the foundations of the country is built.