Journalists, media owners siding with persons stealing from the state – Manasseh

Investigative journalist Manasseh Azuri Awuni has said the action of some journalists and media houses in Ghana encourage the acts of corruption.

Delivering a speech at the Baah-Wiredu memorial lecture on Thursday October 29 he said “the corruption that is sinking our society has not spared the media. The actions of some journalists and media houses encourage acts of corruption.

“In some cases, individual journalists who cannot resist the temptation look the other way while the rot continues.

At times, the problem is the media owners who refuse to publish the corruption stories.”

He added “Any journalist who wants to fight corruption in Ghana would soon realise that their fiercest opponents are their fellow journalists, who for one reason or the other would fight on the side of those stealing from the state.”

Find his full address below:

Chairperson, Professor Audrey Gadzekpo; the Chief Policy Analyst at the Ghana Institute for Public Policy Options, Dr. Charles Wereko-Brobbey; distinguished audience, ladies and gentlemen.

When Mr. John Agyekum Kufuor was sworn into office as the second president of the Fourth Republic in 2001, I was busy preparing for my Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) in Kete-Krachi. I was still in journalism school when he left office in 2009. For this reason, I did not have a close interaction with that administration and its officials.

However, my internship with Ghana Television in 2007 gave me the opportunity to cover a few official assignments involving top officials such as ministers of state. It was one of such assignments that left me with the first of two most enduring memories of the late Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, who was Ghana’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning at the time.

It was a programme at the La Palm Royal Beach Hotel. After the function, Mr. Baah-Wiredu spent time going around to share pleasantries with the journalists as if they were his colleagues. For me, it was rare. Journalists often go to the top officials, but in his case, the reverse was the case.

The second incident that had him etched in my mind for years happened at the outer car park of GBC when he came there one blistering afternoon to wait for some journalists with whom he was travelling to Tema for a programme.

I had helped my senior colleagues to the car park and the minister came out of his saloon car to welcome them before takeoff.

In our part of the world where a call to serve in political office and the title honourable appear to confer supernatural status on most people, the likes of Mr Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu of the Kufuor era, Dr Victor Bampoe of the John Mahama era and Dr Yaw Osei Adu Twum of the Akufo-Addo administration are shining examples people who serve in high political offices without parting ways with decency and respect for the people they serve.

I therefore feel highly privileged to be delivering a lecture that celebrates the memory of Mr. Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu, a man many say, served with integrity. I’m grateful to the Ghana Institute for Public Policy Options for this honour.

Madam Chairperson, I was less than eight years old when the Fourth Republic began in 1993. I have only been a journalist for ten out of the almost 28 years of the Fourth Republic. My first reaction upon receipt of the invitation to deliver this lecture was, therefore, to question my own capacity for such a huge task.

I was however encouraged by the wisdom of our elders who say that the size of an animal does not matter; what matters is the taste of its soup.

I have uncovered some of the biggest corruption scandals in the Fourth Republic involving some of the most powerful people and businesses. What I am about to share with you, therefore, will not only be what I have read or heard but also what I have done, lived, and experienced in the Ghanaian media’s fight against corruption.

Corruption in Ghana

President John Agyekum Kufuor came into office with the solemn declaration of “Zero Tolerance for Corruption”. He is often quoted to have said that, corruption was as old as Adam.

It is important to state that corruption in Ghana did not begin in the Fourth Republic. In fact, it started before the first republic. Corruption was here when our nation was still called Gold Coast and ruled by the colonialists.

The Aiken Watson Commission of Enquiry which was set up to investigate the disturbances that led to the killing of some ex-servicemen in the Gold Coast in February 1948, could not ignore the issue of corruption in its report.

Corruption was not part of the Commission’s terms of reference, neither was it a cause of the disturbances. The Commission however noted corruption in its report. The report said:

“It would be idle to ignore the existence of bribery and corruption in many walks of life in the Gold Coast admitted to us by every responsible African to whom we addressed the question. That it may spread as further responsibility devolves upon the African is a possibility which cannot be denied.

No nation can rise to greatness upon any such foundations. It is a challenge, therefore, to the Gold Coast Africans to set their house in order and a challenge which we believe will be taken up under the weight of responsibility. In any event, in our view, its existence cannot be accepted as a barrier on the road to self-government.”

The Watson Commission was prophetically right. Corruption did not stop us from fighting for and getting self-government. But corruption as predicted by the Commission, spread like an incurable pandemic when we took over the responsibility of running our nation. We did not put our house in order and corruption has definitely stopped our country from rising to greatness as the Commission predicted 72 years ago.

Today, we cannot undertake any major project or implement a policy without going to beg or borrow from nations, some of which are less endowed with human and natural resources than us. These debts sinking our nation, are monies that have been borrowed to finance the ever-growing corruption industry.

Corruption has put the gear of our development on the reverse. It has hurt and continues to threaten the survival of our democratic experiment and will one day set this country ablaze as has been the case in the past if we don’t tame it.

After independence, corruption was the basis for the many military uprisings that became a disturbing rhythm in our political space until sanity prevailed in 1992, when we opted for the ballots instead of bullets in determining how long a government stays in power.

However, the corruption that was used as the basis to kill former heads of state and military generals and resulted in the confiscation of assets and meting out of severe punishment to people in the 1970s will pale into insignificance when compared with what is experienced today.

In Ghana today, we worship money without questioning its source. In our churches, those who pay tithes with bags of cash are the ones who grace the front pews.

In many parts of the world, businessmen and women find solutions to society’s problems and profit from that. Here, many of the top business people are those who rather find problems for society and profit from the problems. They are called smart because of their ability to cut corners.

To them, the end justifies the means, so they steal their way high up and spend the rest of their lives concocting stories to convince us how they made it. If you make your money genuinely, you do not need to convince anyone about its source.

In discussing corruption, we often think of only politicians, but I dare say some of the most corrupt people in this country are not into politics. Putting emphasis on the political class is, however, not misplaced because the politicians, when in office, have the power to curb corruption. They also control a chunk of the nation’s resources.

What a thousand extremely corrupt policemen or women can extort by way of “road duty allowance” in their lifetime cannot match the kickback from a single contract awarded by a political office holder.

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The fecal matter of one elephant, our elders have noted, is definitely heavier than the combined effort of a million mosquitoes with acute diarrhea.

Corruption in the Fourth Republic

Due to the excessive monetisation of our politics, the stakes in political corruption at the national level are higher than ever before in our nation’s history.

Last Sunday, an Executive Member of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council, Bishop Samuel Noi Mensah said at a forum organized by Joy FM that since 1992, the beginning of the fourth republic, every successive government has been more corrupt than the previous government.

What this means is that the current administration is the most corrupt in the Fourth Republic. His observation, as sad as it is, represents the reality for many Ghanaians who are concerned about the turn of events in the last few years.

I started my investigative journalism in the John Mahama era and by 2016, I was convinced that the John Mahama administration was the most corrupt government in the fourth republic, and perhaps, in the history of Ghana. I said to some colleagues that no government could ever be half as corrupt as the Mahama administration.

It didn’t take long for the Akufo-Addo administration to show me how naïve I had been. Mahama’s worst ranking on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index is better than Akufo-Addo’s best ranking. And I dare say the corruption reality index might even be worse than the perception.

In this election, corruption is not a major subject for the two major political parties. This is unusual but understandable.

Nana Akufo-Addo and the NPP won the 2016 election with a sustained anti-corruption campaign and the fact that the party cannot campaign on corruption says much about reality on the ground.

The NDC, on the other hand, lost the moral right to campaign on corruption back in 2016 so what is often the main rallying point for change is missing in our political campaigns.

Some have argued that the perception of corruption is high in the Fourth Republic because of the vibrant media landscape.

For instance, President Mahama in one of his presidential encounters with the media explained that the perception of corruption in his government was fueled by the media exposures.

To him and other government officials, the perception of corruption was higher than the reality. That school of thought holds the view that the freer the media, the higher the perception of corruption.

In June 2018, when I visited the headquarters of Transparency International in Berlin, I interviewed the researchers who compiled the annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI) about the correlation between free media and the perception of corruption.

They explained that it was untrue that the freer the media, the higher the perception of corruption. I also compared the corruption perception index with the press freedom index and found an interesting correlation that debunks the explanation often offered by government officials here.

In 2016, for instance, the 20 best ranked countries in the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders also featured prominently in the 20 best ranked countries by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

Out of the 20 best ranked countries in media freedom, 16 of them were among the 20 best ranked (the 20 least corrupt countries) in Transparency International’s CPI.

Countries that rank badly in press freedom tend to rank poorly in corruption perception because corruption and the repression of free speech are both products of bad governance.

There are a few exceptions such as Rwanda and Singapore which rank very poorly in press freedom but rank well in corruption perception index because their governments are committed to fighting corruption.

Ghana is also one such outlier, which has good press freedom ranking but ranks poorly in corruption perception.

This calls for critical interrogation because our elders have taught us that if a man with healthy teeth chews his food awkwardly, one must be sure there is sand in it. Part of the sand is the failure of the media in the performance of their watchdog function.

The Media as Check on Arms of Government

In the words of Albert Kan Dapaah, the Minister for National Security, a democracy without checks and balances is worse than a dictatorship.

Back in Junior and Senior High Schools, we were taught that the separation of powers of the executive, legislature, and judiciary was meant to ensure checks and balances.

In practice, the legislature appears to be a puppet of the executive, and the judiciary is yet to give the average Ghanaian enough reason to believe that it has a mind of its own and will not succumb to the overwhelming powers and influence of the executive.

The framers of the 1992 constitution, perhaps, knew this would happen, so they empowered the media to hold these arms of government accountable to the people.

Article 162 (5) of the constitution states: “All agencies of the mass media shall, at all times, be free to uphold the principles, provisions and objectives of this Constitution, and shall uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people of Ghana.”

The media in Ghana lived through a long period of repression until in 1992, when the constitution gave it freedom. Media organisations have seen an exponential growth since 1992.

From only the state broadcaster at the inception of the Fourth Republic, Ghana now has close to 400 radio stations and tens of television stations. The internet has enabled hundreds of news portals to compete with the newspapers for attention.

The important question, however, is whether beyond the numbers, the media have been effective in the fight against corruption.  This is the question I will attempt answer. I also intend to share with you, what I believe are detrimental to the media’s fight against corruption and the way forward.

At the onset of the Fourth Republic, journalists were more aggressive with their new-found freedom and the fight against corruption and human rights abuses was a cherished virtue.

Newspapers such as The Chronicle, The Enquirer, The Crusading Guide, and to some extent, The Palaver are examples of media entities that did fearless journalism. Newspapers at the time found satisfaction in the quest to outpace one another in unravelling scandals and making people and institutions accountable.

The state-owned media have never been truly independent and have therefore lacked the ability to be critical of government. Private radio and television stations were late entrants to Ghana’s media industry. They came in the Fourth Republic but a few of them still contributed to the fight against corruption.

In the last ten years; however, the number of media houses committed to the fight against corruption in Ghana has dwindled. One media organization that has been consistent in fighting corruption through investigative journalism is the Multimedia Group, specifically Joy FM and JoyNews TV.

I am mindful of the important and consistent anti-corruption investigations conducted by Tiger Eye Private investigations. However, the emphasis is on media organisations that initiate such stories.

If you ask me how the media has performed in the fight against corruption in the Fourth Republic, I will say it is below average. Out of ten, I will award three marks for the effort of the media. It is getting worse by the day and critical journalism is dying. Ask any Ghanaian to name the investigative journalists we have in this country and they will not count beyond the fingers on one hand.

Why Media Have Failed to Properly Fight Corruption

The reasons the media are failing in their fight against corruption are many but I will mention a few of those I consider to be most important.

In Twi, it is said, “Sɛ ɔkɔtɔ wea, na neba nso wea a, hena na obɛgye ne nyɔnko taataa?” If both the crab and its offspring crawl, then who will help the other to walk? Martin Luther King Junior put it differently when he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness.”

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The corruption that is sinking our society has not spared the media. The actions of some journalists and media houses encourage acts of corruption. In some cases, individual journalists who cannot resist the temptation look the other way while the rot continues.

At times, the problem is the media owners who refuse to publish the corruption stories. In 2013, we lost one of the finest journalists in Ghana’s Fourth Republic, Samuel Agyemang of Metro TV.

Samuel did a good investigative work on Subah Infosolutions but was stopped from airing it on Metro TV, where he worked. He had to publish it on YouTube and resigned afterward. He later recounted what he went through on Facebook.

Any journalist who wants to fight corruption in Ghana would soon realise that their fiercest opponents are their fellow journalists, who for one reason or the other would fight on the side of the those stealing from the state.

In 2017, I published an investigative series titled “Robbing the Assemblies” in which I revealed fraudulent sanitation contracts that had robbed the nation and the assemblies hundreds of millions of cedis.

It was this investigation that revealed that a bin liners contract that was supposed to cost 900,000 cedis less than one million cedis was awarded to the Jospong Group for more than 64 million cedis.

This investigation resulted in the cancellation of a 74 million-dollar contract. However, not many in the media were enthused that I had gone back to the Zoomlion stable after first visiting it in the 2013 GYEEDA Scandal.

The Ghana Journalists Association to which I belonged issued a statement against that investigative work, saying I should not destroy a Ghanaian business. The most disturbing part of it was that the GJA did not state a single ethical breach in that investigation.

The morning after that press statement, there was a call from Zoomlion to one of my colleagues at Joy FM, where I worked, asking him to table the GJA press statement for discussion on the Super Morning Show.

Joy FM did not do it but the GJA’s support for Zoomlion against its own member made the front pages of many newspapers and enjoyed enormous reviews.

It took the anti-corruption civil society organisations and the Media Foundation for West Africa to come to my defense.

Professor Audrey Gadzekpo, who is chairing this ceremony condemned the GJA, saying it had become a victim of corporate capture.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, another reason the media have not been strong in the fight against corruption is the lack of protection for investigative or anti-corruption journalists.

Whoever engages in the fight against corruption takes on a dangerous venture, whether the person is a journalist, politician, or a civil society activist.

Nigeria’s former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has written a book titled, “Fighting Corruption Is Dangerous”. In that book, she recounts how her 83-year-old mother was kidnapped in 2012 by forces who objected to some of the government’s anti-corruption reforms she was championing.

They asked her to resign on live TV before they could leave her mother. She refused and her mother escaped miraculously from the kidnappers.

Elvis Afriyie Ankrah, who was the minister of Youth and Sports when the GYEEDA scandal broke recounted his ordeal in 2018, saying he nearly lost his life for supervising the GYEEDA Committee’s work and overseeing some of the actions that were taken on the report.

If the Minister who did not break the story faced danger, then one can imagine the journalist who broke the scandal that resulted in the loss of jobs, cancellation of contracts, collapse of companies, the imprisonment of people and other consequences.

The threat facing investigative journalists in Ghana is enormous. It has always been there but it has heightened in the past four years because the body language of the Akufo-Addo administration is that of viciousness and intolerance.

I have never felt so unsafe as a journalist and many of my colleagues share safety concerns because of recent events.

In 2019, Emmanuel Dogbevi, an investigative journalist and founder of Ghana Business News told Forbidden Stories, an international non-profit working for the safety of journalists that “I don’t feel very safe, especially since this government came to power.”

You would recall that in the period of this administration, a leading member of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) put a photograph of an undercover investigative agent on television, told his audience that the man lived in Madina and that whoever saw him should attack him.

This was after the Number 12 investigative documentary led by Anas Aremeyaw Anas. Ahmed Suale was later shot and killed in Madina and up to date, nobody has lost sleep over that gruesome murder.

The government has not given us any evidence to justify why gun-wielding operatives of the National Security stormed the offices of and harassed the journalists there.

The operatives seized the phones, computers, and other gadgets of the media house. They also arrested, detained, and allegedly tortured two of their journalists.

According to the journalists, they were questioned about negative stories they had published about a minister of state. To date, nothing has happened to anybody.

In December 2019, some foreign ambassadors said they had observed with concern, how individuals fighting against corruption in Ghana were being fought.

Recently, civil society organisations were called dumb, all-knowing, and had their integrity questioned because they dared to criticize the Agyapa deal.

The Auditor-General, who is the only public officer known to be making real impact in the fight against corruption was hounded out of office by the President.

The pressure on media houses has increased and media owners who cannot stand it transfer the pressure to their journalists.

Ladies and gentlemen acts like these do not only undermine media freedom but they also scar potential investigative journalists and corruption fighters away from joining what is generally becoming a thankless adventure.

It is unfortunate that all these are happening in the administration of President Akufo-Addo who was marketed to us as a staunch human rights campaigner.

If President Akufo-Addo is re-elected in December, he should be mindful that, it is unacceptable for his record in press freedom to still be touted as the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, which in fact, is an achievement by President J. A. Kufuor.

Free SHS and the One District One Factory will remain legacies of the Akufo-Addo presidency and not the ministers he appointed to implement his vision.

Our elders say that; a man must do his own growing up no matter how tall his father was. I know how tolerant the Kufuor, Atta Mills and John Mahama administrations have been of free speech and Nana Akufo-Addo must carve his own niche.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the lack of action and selective justice on the part of state institutions is another disincentive to the fight against corruption. Impact is the fuel that drives activism such as the fight against corruption. If you risk your life to expose corruption and the perpetrators are left untouched, it kills the motivation to continue to risk your life.

More than a year since the “Contracts for Sale” scandal, the Office of the Special Prosecutor is yet to tell Ghanaians what it has done about it.  CHRAJ is yet to release its report on the matter. Meanwhile sources close to the Public Procurement Authority say the suspended PPA CEO still takes his salary and enjoys his benefits as though nothing has happened.

It is odd that Abuga Pele is in jail while Clement Kofi Humado, the minister who signed some of the most outrageous and fraudulent contracts in the GYEEDA scandal is free from prosecution.

Why should Zoomlion, with all corruption scandals around its neck still be winning fraudulent contracts while Philip Assibit is languishing in jail for what can be described as peanuts when compared to shady transactions of the Zoomlions and the rLGs of this world?

Another setback against the corruption fight is the difficulty in accessing information. Civil society groups spent a greater part of time in the Fourth Republic fighting for the right to information law. But after its passage, it is still difficult to get information from state agencies and ministries.

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Ladies, and gentlemen, if journalists and the media will be emboldened to fight corruption, they will need the support of the citizens on whose behalf they fight.

There is a quote that is often attributed to Harriet Tubman. The source has been disputed but that does not negate the truth it carries. It says, “‘I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

Many of the people for whom the media and other anti-corruption crusaders fight do not appreciate their predicament and the need to support such fights.

Elsewhere, mass protests would have compelled the President to rescind his decision on the Auditor General but here nobody entertained the idea.

Some people in the north do not see why 15 million cedis of their money was paid for a guinea fowl project with no results and another 32.4 million cedis paid for trees that do not exist, yet, they find fault with the journalist who exposed the rot.

To them, he was wrong for shaming prominent people from their part of the country.

Instead of asking why Zoomlion is always involved in fraudulent contracts, they accuse the journalist who keeps on exposing those deals of hated or envy towards the Church of Pentecost Elder who is behind the more than eighty (80) companies that are mostly doing government jobs.

Why the Media Must Not Give UP on Corruption

The middle class in Ghana, which is generally enlightened and should fight for the poor has not helped much. Go back and look at photographs of those who took part in the Occupy Flagstaff House march in July 2014.

Many of them have literally occupied the Flag Staff House and its adjoining offices, with assigned positions and doing worse things than those against which they marched.

But the media must not give up. Journalists fighting corruption cannot give up because institutions of state have generally failed to do their work and it will be disastrous if the media sleep on their hallowed constitutional mandate.

I believe the media remains our main hope in the fight against corruption. State institutions that are mandated to fight corruption have generally failed us.

When Barack Obama visited Ghana in 2009, he told us Africa needed strong institutions and not strong men. His wisdom has been widely hailed and quoted but is not entirely accurate in my view.

We also need strong men and women. Men and women not with muscular strength but the strength with character that lies in their convictions, integrity, and principles.

The constitution of Ghana has created many strong institutions but we have lacked the strong men and women in those institutions or adjoining institutions to make them effective.

Making corruption a felony will not change anything until state institutions and officials are prepared to work. The latest institution in the area of corruption is the Office of the Special Prosecutor.

Those of us who hailed the creation of that office are beginning to lose hope. Martin Amidu appears to be a special writer, not a special prosecutor.

For many years, the Audit Service and the Office of the Auditor-General were moribund institutions that merely ticked the boxes of its constitutional demands without biting.

When Daniel Yaw Domelevo assumed office as the Auditor General in 2017, the nation sat up and noticed.

The corrupt individuals and institutions in the public sector came under serious scrutiny, and the political class got the rude awakening that both the junior ministers and senior ministers could not be left off the hook. There is enough evidence to show that his hounding was a result of his actions against the Senior Minister, Yaw Osafo Maarfo.

The Ministry of Justice and Attorney General cannot be trusted to prosecute corruption. I don’t know whether that will change in future under a different president but today, it will be easier to convince me to invest in Menzgold than to convince me that that ministry is interested in fighting corruption.

After the Robbing the Assemblies investigations, the sector Minister, Gloria Akuffo called me and asked that I help the police CID to conduct a solid investigation because of my understanding of the matter.

I rejected the modest financial offer the CID boss made at the time to help me take care of my fuel. It was satisfying that at long last something was about to be done about these companies and the state officials who aided them to defraud the state.

I met with the Attorney General in the course of the investigations and briefed the deputies and prosecutors on the matter. I volunteered to do some work on the case at the ministry on the case.

The police also travelled across the country and gathered evidence that corroborated my report. The government officials who paid the money could not show evidence of work done or tell who supervised or certified that the work was done before the payments were done.

It’s been more than a year since the police presented a docket on the case, but the Attorney General is sitting on the matter. From the work the CID has done, a first-year law student can successfully secure a conviction.

The Way Forward

Madam Chairperson, the state, and political institutions have failed and the media should not fail. The media is losing the battle against corruption. While the dwindling budgets of traditional media organisations cannot support investigations, we must not ignore this hallowed duty imposed on us by the constitution.

Our elders say that one whose corn has not sprouted does not give up planting. We must keep fighting until Ghana gets better despite the daunting challenges.

I suggest that media organisations set up special funds for investigative reporting and build the capacity of reporters to specialize in corruption reporting. I also encourage civil society organisations to look at setting up non-profit newsrooms.

Projects such as Corruption Watch, which is spearheaded by a number of civil society organisations and funded by DANIDA is the future of the journalism that can make a meaningful impact in the fight against corruption.

I will like to conclude by going back to the what the Watson Commission of Enquiry said about us in 1948. The Commission said:

“Again, in discussion with many Africans, we found a marked disinclination to face realities. A tendency existed to take refuge in ill-founded optimism that things would come right in the end or that someone would find the answers.”

Ladies, and Gentlemen, no one will find the answers for us. We must find them.  The Italians say a person who lives by only hope will die of despair. We cannot wish our problems away.

We must solve them ourselves. We cannot rely on luck, for our elder say good fortune does not wake up he who is asleep. We have to be awake to the reality that corruption has deprived us of our collective dignity on the global stage and will destroy us here at home if we don’t change.

Our democracy is not sustainable and our peace is not guaranteed if we continue to steal and deprive the youth of decent livelihoods. What happened in Nigeria recently should be a wake-up call and let no one say Ghanaians are too timid to rise up against injustice. We are harbouring potential rebels in our ever-swelling slums.

I still do not know why an ill-crafted propaganda can lead young people to take over police stations and seize weapons in the manner we recently witnessed in the Volta Region.

But I know that, the difference between a person who has nothing to live for and suicide bomber is thinner than a circumcision blade. Let us amend our ways and save this nation from the inescapable doom that awaits every corrupt and badly managed country, where the food for the masses is stolen by a few.

Thank you for the attention.

By Laud Nartey||Ghana