Monday, January 20, 2014

Komla Dumor is gone, but what he stood for still remains

This week Ghana, Africa the world and journalism lost one of their finest, Komla Dumor of the BBC.

He was a friend and a brother. Whenever we met we called each other 'my brother'. The last time we met, we were both in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as guests of the UNECA. 

His departure this week has left all of us hurting. Guest blogger and fellow Columbia Graduate School of Journalism mate, Raymond Bayor writes a tribute to the memory of Komla.

I'm sure Komla Dumor's death—a tragedy that we are all still grappling with—has cast our minds and imaginations in different directions. Earlier yesterday, I woke up to scores of phone calls from friends in Ghana, wanting to know if I had heard about his alleged death. I was tempted to dismiss these calls in an instant, but not when these calls were alarming. I went back and forth on phone, frantically trying to verify what looked like a wild rumor, something I'd rather hate to believe. It came to pass that in their millions, our hearts would remain seared for days and months, if not years, in the flames of the anguish resulting from his untimely departure.

Yes, Dumor attained great, enviable heights at home and abroad. He and a few others--no need to mention their names—excelled where many journalists in Ghana would easily fail today: Rising above the pettiness that's bent on ruining our media landscape. They would ask all the bold, embarrassingly probing questions, whether the issues at stake were about SSNIT or a hotel that a sitting president had interest in.

Thousands have taken to social media platforms to pay glowing tributes to one of the world’s finest broadcasters, but what is the state of journalism in Ghana today? If he was an adherent of the caliber of journalism that’s holding sway in Ghana today, would he attain the pinnacle of his career? For some of our colleagues, the line of distinction between news and hearsay is either blurred or does not even exist at all. We have become willing accomplices to condemnable acts—the very things that we must fight with passion.

Journalism is a calling. And this calling to speak can be a vocation of agony. It’s not a shortcut to fame and influence; neither is it an opportunity to settle personal scores, given that there are ethical boundaries within which we operate, whether in Ghana or around the globe. It’s time the Ghanaian journalist accepted that good journalism is no luxury. Of course, the ability to speak to power, subject politicians to the fire of accountability and pursue the cause of the larger society can never be the preserve of the fainthearted.

Journalism that's not principle or truth-driven is but a means to an end that only those who champion it know. If we all paused and reflected upon our approach to our calling to a profession revered for its nobility, especially in relation to the late Dumor's record, would our nation not be better? The image of journalism in Ghana today, unfortunately, is so battered by a strand of laziness, blatant partisanship and professional misconduct. In fact, it’s almost at its nadir.

His painful death, however sudden, leaves us with the challenge to remain relevant in an environment where the intersection of politics and journalism poses a constant threat to the latter's viability as the fourth estate. From the USA, Asia, Europe through to our native Africa, the outpouring of tributes bears eloquent testimony to his enduring legacy, his shortcomings notwithstanding. What do you and I, as journalists, stand for today? Are our actions a fair reflection of our convictions? We have, it’s sad to note, stridden beyond the contours of our watchdog role in ‘lap dogs’!

Our continent still has considerable democratic deficit, fuelled in part by the failure of various governments to commit to core democratic principles. In the case of Ghana, our democratic ‘resilience’ is nonetheless a pride we talk up so well, pretty much to the envy of other Africans. No doubt, our political parties constitute the fulcrum around which our democracy revolves.

What remains to be seen is the capacity of the media to enrich our political discourse. Beyond the obsession with what’s for or against a particular party, which seems to be the new norm now, the national interest can’t be left to fate. Whereas new parties will likely emerge in the course of time, the role of the media is cast in iron, regardless of the governing party. Not until we rededicate ourselves to the sacred values that inform the very being of the profession, we are definitely on a terminal decline. But I pray our image doesn’t get any worse.  “Hope is a waking dream,” Aristotle, the ancient Greek Philosopher, once said.

God bless Ghana.
By Raymond Yeldidong Bayor.

Monday, January 6, 2014

One year of John Mahama’s administration – What’s there to celebrate?

 By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
Since Ghana became independent from British colonial rule in 1957, the country’s social and economic growth has been swinging in no particular direction. Ghanaians have vacillated between hope and despair, with growing doubt in leadership to crippling cynicism.

Ghana today in 2014, is a pale shadow of herself, at the dawn of independence when the entire continent of Africa and the black race looked up to her as a beacon of hope. Hope for black emancipation, a positive pointer to what the black race was capable of doing with self governance as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah aptly captured in his speech at the eve of independence.

“At long last, the battle has ended!  And thus, Ghana, your beloved country is free forever!
And, as I pointed out… from now on, today, we must change our attitudes and our minds.  We must realise that from now on we are no longer a colonial but free and independent people.
But also, as I pointed out, that also entails hard work.  That new Africa is ready to fight his own battles and show that after all the black man is capable of managing his own affairs,” he said.

Ghana’s Ministry of Information has put out announcements to mark John Mahama’s one year in office as president with a public forum.

In the circular announcing the event the ministry noted, “As part of activities marking the first anniversary of the government of President John Dramani Mahama and in line with government’s commitment to deepen transparency and accountability, the Ministry of Information and Media Relations will hold a Public forum on Monday, 6th January, 2014.”

Since the Ministry is speaking of transparency and accountability, it is only fair to scrutinize the government’s performance in the light of the two adjectives.

It is talking about deepening transparency and accountability as if it is already the case, but it is so hard to see how transparent and accountable the government has been.

Speaking of accountability, the government is yet to account for the numerous wrongful payments of public funds to individuals and shady companies headed or owned by well known friends and cronies of the president and his associates – speaking of which, the government has yet to account for the GH¢51 million ‘Judgement Debt’ paid to Alfred Agbesi Woyome a member of the ruling party, in spite of everything known about the deal to be wrong.

The expected refund of close to €47 million in judgement debt paid to Waterville and a little over $300,000 paid to Isofoton, are yet to be done as the matter seems to be entangled in unending legal tussles.

Accountability would have dictated that these monies weren’t paid at all in the first place. And having done so, and found to have been wrong, a government inclined to being accountable to the people who elected it to office to manage the scarce national resources would have mustered the courage, shown good conscience and acted to right the wrongs.

For an administration dogged with so many allegations of corruption and irresponsible use and obvious wastage of public funds, it takes real courage or sheer insensitivity and shamelessness to speak of ‘deepening transparency and accountability’, as if it was already doing so.

There is the outstanding issue of the payment of GH¢144 million by the Ghana Revenue Authority, to an obviously phony company SUBAH - the company purported to have been contracted to monitor mobile phone companies’ revenues. SUBAH has been paid even though the mobile companies have no idea how it was monitoring their revenues. 

Up till now the government is yet to fully tell Ghanaians the rationale for paying RLG Communications, Asongtaba Cottage Industries and Craftpro some GH¢55 million. And while these companies are reported to have committed to refund the monies, an indication which is itself an admission that the monies were wrongfully paid to them, it is not clear yet if they have paid up or even started moves to return the monies.

As if being reckless and unaccountable for the people’s money hasn’t been demonstrated enough, the government is yet to account for how GH¢1 million allocated to the Media Development Fund was misused in unclear circumstances. Sadly the media in Ghana hasn’t been aggressive enough in demanding answers, even after the Information Minister and his deputies have responded with conflicting information following demands by the Media Foundation for West Africa to know how the money was used. The Minister, Mahama Ayariga, apparently had told Parliament that the GH¢1 million was used to purchase RLG laptops for media organizations that themselves have come out to say, they have no idea that it was the case.

After one year, the Mahama administration, has not shown that it is a government focused on working to better the lot of Ghanaians, making its 'Better Ghana Agenda' slogan a fluke. It is yet to show that it intends to manage national resources in its care prudently and responsibly.

It has become so easy to associate the government with corruption and cronyism more than anything else.

Sadly, the government has even gone further in adopting a mafia approach in responding to its critics. It has hired and is paying individuals from state resources to act as hit men and women. They spend hours on radio and TV stations attacking and maligning everyone who criticizes the lackluster performance of a near blasé administration.

The very important Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC), which was established by law to monitor how the country’s petroleum revenue is being used has been deliberately made dysfunctional by government. The Committee has very little and often no resources to work with making it difficult for it to do its work of monitoring how the government is using the revenue from the country’s new found wealth – oil.

When Obama visited Ghana, he spoke of strong institutions, but it is not clear what the Mahama administration is doing about strengthening institutions. There is however, evidence to the contrary, indicating that the government is strengthening its friends and cronies rather than state institutions. The questionable sale of Merchant Bank is one specific example – whose interest is the Mahama administration serving, the nation or its friends and cronies?

Some people have become above the law, not that it is a new thing though, to the extent that they are a danger to public safety.

Prices for public utilities have been increased without corresponding improved services. Water doesn’t flow in most parts of the capital Accra, electricity even went off in some areas on Christmas Day, December 25, 2013.

And when the President came under a barrage of criticisms for his weak leadership, he responded by saying he was lonely, telling his critics if they want to see his back, they should wait for 2016 – the year for another election. Since then he has been talking and acting as though he is still in campaign mood, likely saving up for a ‘war chest’ to fight for another election.

On December 5, 2013 the ratings agency, Moody’s lowered Ghana’s outlook from stable to negative.

According to Moody’s, the cut was due to the Ghana government’s “weak fiscal fundamentals and rising debt levels, which reflect both continued spending overruns and relatively low revenue ratios compared with rating peers, despite rapid growth”.

Ghana’s debt to GDP ratio is reported to be around 50 percent at the end of 2012.

Moody’s noted “the weakening of Ghana’s external position on the back of large external imbalances and a low level of foreign-exchange reserves, which have increased the country’s susceptibility to event risk in view of the strong correlation between domestic economic activity and the global business and commodity cycles”.

A day after Moody’s issued its report on Ghana, another ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) also issued a discouraging report on the country. S&P also downgraded Ghana’s credit outlook to negative from stable.

Both cited weaknesses in Ghana’s fiscal stance as it keeps deteriorating.

“The negative outlook indicates at least a one-in-three possibility that we could lower the ratings on Ghana within the next 12-18 months, due to its weakening fiscal and external profile,” S&P said in a statement December 6, 2013.

S&P affirmed its ‘B’ long-term and ‘B’ short-term foreign and local currency sovereign ratings on Ghana.

So far it is not clear, in which the direction the administration which is poised to ‘deepen transparency and accountability’ is leading the country.

Reports on nationwide market fires are still unknown to the citizens whose money has been used for the work – speak of transparency.

The one year of the Mahama administration of the country would go down in history as probably one of the despondent ethos of Ghana’s history. It will also show that most people go into politics with the sole aim to enrich themselves and their cronies at the expense of a docile and acquiescing people.
The excuse that the administration couldn't perform because of the legal challenge of the election result is a 'cock and bull' story. Mahama was not stripped of his presidential powers while the matter was in court, and it would be curious to know if some of the monies paid to now known cronies were paid during this period.

And the least said about journalists in Ghana in general under Mahama’s one year, the better. It is common knowledge that most of them have been bought off with gifts of cars, money and even in some cases, houses. They have failed to hold the government to account. Some of the stories of corruption and blatant thievery that should have been published have been shelved. Some have become advocates of wrongdoing, speaking for and on behalf of the government. They shamelessly have abandoned the ‘High Calling’ for a pittance of bread. They have chosen to accept filthy lucre and turned their back to the noble duty of standing with, for the truth and the voiceless majority. The few who are standing up are coming under great pressure to give up their consciences, accept money and keep quite.

Well, it has been one year of the Mahama administration, and what has been good? Certainly, it is not transparency and accountability.