Friday, 27 November 2015

An Old Ghanaian Writer's Observations

A few days ago, I listened to an early morning sermon on Peace FM, by Apostle Dr. Opoku Onyina,  the chairperson of the Church of Pentecost in Ghana.

It was such a moving and inspiring sermon - in which he lamented over the trashing of what is left of our nation's natural heritage: and spoke of the need for us to be better stewards of the natural environment.

I have seldom heard anyone make such an impassioned plea for protecting Mother Nature - using relevant passages in the Bible to illustrate his salient points.

At a time when global climate change is negatively impacting our country, it would make a huge difference, if other pastors who preach on the airwaves of radio stations across the nation, daily, also followed Dr. Opoku Oyina's shining example.

That would make many more Ghanaians aware of the urgent need for us to protect our forests, rivers, and water bodies (both  above ground and in the underground water table), from the greedy and selfish criminal syndicates engaged in illegal logging, illegal gold mining, illegal sand winning and hunting.

Apostle Opoku Onyina definitely deserves to be commended. He is a true man of God indeed. He has shown that he truly cares about the future of our nation and the well-being of present and future generations of our people. He is a good shepherd.


Dr. Ezenator Rawlings must not allow her budding political career to be destroyed even before it starts - by allowing the unfortunate impression to be created that away from the public eye, she is a selfish and vindictive woman, who refuses to allow her children's father to play a role in their lives.

All children need the love and presence of both parents to become well-adjusted adults.

Although we don't know her side of the story, the idea that children with a father like Herbert Mensah, a role model for many young professionals in Ghana,  and elsewhere in Africa, are being denied the opportunity to have their father's love, simply because their mother has issues with him, does not make for a good political narrative, for a young woman who is incorruptible and could easily become president of Ghana one day - if she works hard to embrace and champion the causes that actually matter to ordinary people.

If she cares enough about her career in politics, Ezenator Rawlings would be wise to settle her differences with Herbert Mensah over their two children out of court quickly - and allow him to get access to them regularly during school holidays and some weekends too when practicable.


A brilliant young acquaintance of mine, who attended one of the best private universities in Africa, Ashesi University, showed that he is indeed the product of a university that actually produces well-rounded individuals who value ethical behaviour at all material times, when he made a number of observations about the New Patriotic Party (NPP).

The internal wrangling in the NPP, he said, showed how it no longer was a party that libertarians who had a moral compass could join - and it was certainly no longer attractive to even he who was a committed supporter.

It was now controlled, he said, by a ruthless and powerful few, who were so sure that their party's candidate  would win the 2016 presidential election, that they had thrown caution to wind, in their attempt to take full control of the party well before the November 7th, 2016, presidential election.

He said he felt that no lie appeared too blatant  for them to deploy in that quest - and that they were prepared to sink to the lowest depths, morally, to achieve the ends they were seeking.

In his view,  the NPP's intolerant amoral-brigade-of-plutocrats did not actually believe in democracy - which is why they were orchestrating the vilification and demonisation of all those they perceived to be standing in their way.

To him that was not the  way to run a political party that claims that it stands for individual liberty and the rule of law. And worst of all was the hubris that had resulted in NPP extremists actively  engaging in sabotaging the nation-building effort, so that the party could win power with the support of a disgruntled electorate - fed up with having to struggle daily to survive in a harsh economic climate.

It was a  disgraceful and treasonable political  strategy for a supposedly democratic political party to pursue, in his view.

And he felt that it was grossly unfair to Mother Ghana and to ordinary people - whose lives were being turned upside down by the endless strikes and public demonstrations that were creating such uncertainty in the national economy.

Above all, to him, it  was an extremely foolish strategy, that was clearly rebounding on the party: "A political party whose leaders invoke God's name in their election campaign, and say "The battle is the Lord's", whiles at the same time looking the other way, as some of the extremists  in their midst sabotage the nation-building effort of the selfsame country they seek to govern, will only end up incurring God's wrath - the unfortunate results of which we are witnessing, as a party that  many thought would win power and govern Ghana for four years after 7th January 2017, unravels before our very eyes. It is so unfortunate." Pity, sayeth I.


Perhaps it has never occurred to Asamoah Djan, the current captain of the national soccer team, the Black Stars, that he could use his popularity with the fans of the football team he played for in the UAE, and is currently playing for in China, to negotiate deals to manufacture best-quality own-brand dark chocolate in Ghana, for the biggest supermarket chains in the two nations, to sell to chocolate consumers.

And he could also set up a plant here to manufacture bamboo toothpicks - and establish a bamboo plantation to feed it with all the needed raw materials it requires. His bamboo toothpick plant could supply Ghana and the rest of West Africa with all the toothpicks consumers in our part of the world need, could it not? And create jobs for young people too.

And would such manufacturing enterprises not provide him with all the cash he needs to engage in the philanthropic acts he so enjoys engaging in - to the pleasant surprise of the many beneficiaries of his munificence? Just an old foggey's two-pesewas.

Whoever designed the ghastly ceremonial uniforms currently worn by the Mounted Constabulary of the Ghana Police Service, did a great disservice to Ghana. They are dreadful esthetically.

The old ceremonial uniforms that the mounted constabulary wore before it was replaced with the current monstrosity, were esthetically more pleasing.

President Mahama must encourage the top brass of the Ghana Police Service to change the present dress uniform of the mounted constabulary - and ask them to order a new one: with design inspiration coming from the fugu top and baggy fugu trousers tucked into the long brown traditional handmade  boots worn by traditional male Damba dancers in the north, plus their traditional navy-blue hats.

That really would be perfect - and show part of our rich and diverse cultural heritage to the world, every time a new envoy accredited to Ghana presents his or her credentials to the president at the Flagstaff House. The dress uniform of Greece's presidential guards, for example, is based on traditional Greek sartorial design, too. Just my two-pesewas.


When our ruling elites say consumers should be prepared to pay "realistic tariffs" for electricity, why don't they tell us what exactly is the "realistic tariff" per kilowatt hour, which we ought to pay, to make it worthwhile for independent power producers to invest in power plants in Ghana?

Since the cedi is in freefall, if they state the figure in a stable currency such as the US dollar (20 cents  per kilowatt hour for example),  would that not have a positive psychological effect on users of electricity in Ghana: who would be able to see clearly whether or not they were being fleeced by power providers in Ghana,  by simply going online to  compare electricity tariffs here, with tariffs elsewhere in the world, I ask? That shouldn't be too difficult a task for our ruling elites, should it? Hmm, Ghana...

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

We Must Not Allow The GNPC To End Up Like Petrobras - A Hapless Victim Of High-Level Corruption

It is instructive that Ghana has turned to Brazil for a number of its infrastructure projects: As it happens both nations are dominated by corrupt ruling elites.  And, interestingly,  ordinary people in the two nations, have become thoroughly fed up with the unparalleled greed of their vampire-elites.

Since the Brazilian business world has now become a byword for corruption we need to keep the spotlight on projects funded with loans from Brazil that are executed by Brazilian construction firms - and scrutinise them closely: to ensure we are not also being shortchanged by our ruling elites.

A number of companies in Brazil, including the country's top five engineering firms, faced charges of overcharging  Brazil's  state-owned oil company, Petrobras, by over 1.2 billion dollars, in sundry inflated contracts.

The question is: In a nation such as Ghana, in which politicians routinely resort to single-sourcing projects - so that they can pick and choose companies that will benefit them personally, and benefit their political parties too - how do we know that those Brazilian engineering companies executing contracts here, are not also grossly overcharging Ghana?

For the benefit of anti-corruption campaigners in Ghana, this blog is reproducing an article from the online version of Bloomberg Markets, which outlines the case against the firms accused of overcharging Petrobras, and bribing its executives and a number of Brazil's leading politicians, to enable them get  away with the massive rip-off of Brazil's state-owned oil company.

One's hope, in reproducing this culled article from Bloomberg Markets, is that it will alert anti-corruption campaigners, such as #OccupyGhana, and enable them take the necessary steps needed to ensure that the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), is not allowed to suffer a similar fate - in which crooked Ghanaian politicians and corrupt top public officials collude with private-sector entities (local and foreign) to rip-off the GNPC massively too.

In reading the story, it is hard for one to avoid coming to the conclusion that Ghana's rich and powerful dominant-elites,  seem  to operate in similar fashion to those in Brazil, in their determination to divvy up our nation's wealth, regardless of the consequences.

Civil society anti-corruption entities need to intensify their fight against high-level corruption in Ghana, before it erodes our country's moral fabric completely, and finally ends up ruining our beautiful and pleasant country. Please read on:

The Betrayal of Brazil

As a massive corruption scandal unfolds, Brazilians are facing some stark truths: The powerful and connected are still dividing the country’s riches among themselves. The past decade’s economic miracle was in large part a mirage. And the future is again on hold.

Ricardo Stuckert/PR; Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images
Then-president Lula, with his hand on the wheel, at the groundbreaking for Petrobras’s Abreu e Lima refinery in 2007 (left). A protest in the streets of São Paulo on March 15. More than a million people marched in Brazil’s cities on that day.

In mid-2013, Brazilian federal police investigator Erika Mialik Marena noticed something strange.
Alberto Youssef, suspected of running an illicit black-market bank for the rich, had paid 250,000 reais (about $125,000 at the time) for a Land Rover. The black Evoque SUV ended up as a gift for Paulo Roberto Costa, formerly a division manager at Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras. “We were investigating a money-laundering case, and Petrobras wasn’t our target at all,” says Marena. “Paulo was just another client of his. So we started to ask, ‘Why is he getting an expensive car from a money launderer? Who is that guy?’”

Marena had spent the previous decade building cases against money launderers, and Youssef had been a perennial target. He’d been arrested at least nine times for using private jets, armored cars, clandestine pickups by bagmen, and a web of front companies to move illicit cash. But Youssef had been spared serious jail time by testifying repeatedly against other doleiros, Brazilian slang for specialists in laundering unreported cash.

The Petrobras connection suggested Youssef was into something bigger. Marena and her partner, investigator Márcio Anselmo, dug into Costa from offices in the modern glass-and-concrete federal police headquarters in the city of Curitiba, 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of São Paulo. A dozen more investigators and prosecutors joined, and the case grew so big that Brazil’s attorney general set up a task force in temporary office space across town.

By March 2014, federal judge Sérgio Moro had begun rounding up dozens of suspects. (In Brazil’s justice system, a judge formally charges a defendant, approves major steps in the investigation by police and prosecutors, hears the evidence, and then decides whether the defendant is guilty or innocent.) They were accused in Moro’s court of participating in a bid-rigging scheme of astounding proportions. For years, prosecutors have alleged in Moro’s court, a cartel of Brazil’s biggest and richest builders fixed a vast swath of the world’s seventh-biggest economy, subverting competition in the oil industry and, possibly, the huge public works programs that drive growth and employment.

Brazilians are riveted by the scandal, nicknamed Operation Carwash because some funds were laundered through a service station. Moro has ordered more than a dozen dragnets so far, and the arrests of executives, bankers, politicians, and bagmen, marching some to jail past a phalanx of television cameras. One suspect took his private jet to Curitiba to turn himself in.

Another spent his last hours of freedom in a hotel suite on Rio de Janeiro’s fabled Ipanema beach to avoid being taken from his home handcuffed. The arrested shared four holding cells in Curitiba police headquarters with unenclosed communal toilets. Some slept on mattresses strewn on the bare floor. A dozen have confessed to making or accepting payoffs and rigging contracts, some in videotaped testimony that is posted online.

One former Petrobras manager, Pedro Barusco, described taking almost $100 million in bribes; he’s since returned most of the money in a bid for leniency.

Since March 2014, prosecutors have accused more than 110 people of corruption, money laundering, and other financial crimes. Six construction and engineering firms have been accused of illegal enrichment in what is known as a noncriminal misconduct action. On April 22, Moro delivered the first convictions. He found Costa and Youssef guilty of money laundering, including the Land Rover purchase. Moro gave both men reduced sentences—two years’ house arrest for Costa and three years in prison for Youssef—for cooperating with prosecutors.

All of that is something of a preview of the big show: Prosecutors say they may accuse some of Brazil’s largest builders with running an illegal cartel. “It’s been clearly proven in this case that there was a criminal scheme inside Petrobras that involved a cartel, bid rigging, bribes to government officials and politicians, and money laundering,” Moro wrote in sentencing Costa and Youssef. “There will be a cartel indictment,” says Carlos Lima, a lead prosecutor in the case. “I don’t like to get ahead of myself and say this will happen, but it will. It’s just a matter of time.”

Judge Sérgio Moro
Judge Sérgio Moro
Rodolfo Buhrer/La Imagem/Fotoarena

Dilma Rousseff and Lula
Dilma Rousseff and Lula
Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images
In filings in Judge Moro’s court, prosecutors have named 16 companies that allegedly formed a cartel to fix Petrobras contracts between 2006 and 2014. The list includes some of Brazil’s largest construction and engineering firms, including Camargo Correa, OAS, UTC Engenharia, and the biggest of them all, Construtora Norberto Odebrecht. All of these companies deny being part of a cartel, except Camargo Correa, which declined to comment.

Petrobras says it knew nothing about the bid rigging and is “collaborating” with authorities in the investigation. As to whether it was the victim of a cartel, “the company is certain,” Mario Jorge Silva, Petrobras’s executive manager for performance, said at an April 22 news conference. In financial filings, Petrobras says 199.6 billion reais’ worth of contracts were rigged by the alleged cartel.

For years, a co-owner of the engineering firm UTC called members to meetings at his offices in São Paulo via text messages, according to testimony and documents submitted in Moro’s court. The participants were greeted by an assistant, who handed out name tags.

At the meetings, executives took copious notes detailing how the alleged cartel would divvy up Petrobras contracts, at inflated prices. One builder put together a 2½-page encoded guide for group members that describes contract bidding as a soccer tournament, with leagues and teams. Another document drawn up by a group member lists the chosen winners of upcoming bidding for 14 contracts for a refinery, with the title Fluminense Final Bingo Proposal, using a nickname for the state of Rio de Janeiro.

Prosecutors say the builders got away with it by paying kickbacks, usually 3 percent, on every contract. Petrobras estimates that the graft added up to at least 6.2 billion reais, much of which, prosecutors say, was funneled into the war chests of the parties that backed Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president of the country from 2003 to 2010, and his handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff. Lula and Rousseff haven’t been charged with wrongdoing, but special prosecutors have opened criminal investigations into more than 50 members of congress and other politicians implicated in the corruption scheme.

It’s not just the drama of the snowballing scandal that holds Brazilians’ attention. There is a growing resignation—and anger—that Brazil, a country that seemed so close to joining the ranks of the world’s developed nations, isn’t going to pull it off. Lula inspired the country with promises of a “new Brazil” that would leave behind five centuries of poverty and corruption. Brazilians now understand that behind Lula’s message was a rigged, corrupt game that enriched a few and hobbled the country’s ability to compete.

A corruption scandal is the last thing Brazil’s economy needs: It’s already mired in the worst four-year slump in a quarter century. Finance Minister Joaquim Levy is trying to close deficits to avert a catastrophic downgrade of Brazil’s credit rating to junk. He proposes to cut social programs that serve millions of people.

Perhaps more serious, the scandal has corroded Brazil’s democracy, weakening Rousseff’s government so much it doesn’t have the clout to get major legislation through congress. Rousseff’s approval ratings slid to 9 percent in April, the worst for a Brazilian president ever. On March 15 and again on April 12, throngs of people poured onto the streets of Brazil’s large cities, demanding an end to corruption and the impeachment of Rousseff. The spoiled fortunes have revived, with a new bitterness, an old, popular refrain: “Brazil is the country of the future and always will be.”

One muggy February morning, Antônio Delfim Netto sits in his office in an old stone house in São Paulo, incredulous over the reach of the Petrobras scandal. But perhaps the 87-year-old economist shouldn’t be surprised. In a way, Netto laid the foundation for Brazil’s intertwined world of politics, business, and finance.

In 1969, at the height of the military dictatorship that took power after a coup in 1964 and ruled Brazil until March 1985, Netto, as finance minister, designed a policy called market reserve. It gave Brazilian builders a lock on government contracts by shutting out most foreign competitors. Tax breaks and subsidized credit followed.

The military commanders had plans for huge public works to tie together the vast, uninhabited expanses of Brazil, and a few family-owned builders got the big contracts. “We needed the builders to be strong and completely loyal to Brazil,” says Netto, his broad torso dwarfed by his big wooden desk. Two-dozen framed caricatures of Netto by Brazil’s most famous cartoonists cover the walls, and some of his tens of thousands of economics books fill a shelf.

As Netto engineered protectionist policies, the builders cultivated ties to the dictators, according to the National Truth Commission, which issued a report in December about abuses during the military dictatorship. Camargo Correa, implicated in the current scandal, was among the companies that won favor by helping fund Operation Bandeirantes, a campaign to hunt down and torture suspected insurgents in the 1970s, the commission concluded. One of the operation’s victims was Rousseff, who was then a young member of an armed leftist opposition group. She was arrested and tortured. (Netto said in a Truth Commission hearing last year that he had no knowledge of any torture.)

Antônio Delfim Netto
Antônio Delfim Netto
Marcos Issa/Bloomberg
Construtora Norberto Odebrecht, the largest builder in Latin America by revenue, is perhaps the most adept of all Brazil’s builders at intertwining business with politics. That has been the case since 1944, when Norberto Odebrecht, then a soft-spoken 24-year-old engineer, convinced a state bank to bail out his father’s bankrupt construction company, Emílio Odebrecht & Cia., in the city of Salvador in northeastern Brazil. Norberto then created the company that bears his name, which absorbed the operations of his father’s business. The construction company is now part of Odebrecht SA, a conglomerate with 15 divisions spread across 21 countries.

Petrobras was critical to Odebrecht’s growth in the 1950s and 1960s. The company won a slew of Petrobras contracts to build pipelines, canals, power plants, and oil wells across Brazil’s northeast. One of Odebrecht’s first big jobs outside the northeast was Petrobras’s 27-story headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, completed in 1971. The imposing concrete monolith is across the street from the sloping dark-glass headquarters of the state development bank, BNDES, which Odebrecht also built.

The military dictatorship continued to steer contracts to Odebrecht, including those for Rio’s international airport and the Angra Nuclear Power Plant. Odebrecht also worked political ties to win business outside Brazil, starting with contracts to build a hydroelectric plant in Peru and reroute a river in dictator Augusto Pinochet’s Chile. In 1981, four Odebrecht executives flew to Moscow on a trade mission with Netto, who was planning minister at the time. Odebrecht wanted the government’s help swaying the Soviets to persuade allies to give it business, Netto says. The trip helped produce major contracts in Brazil and Peru and Odebrecht’s first project in Angola. “There’s nothing strange about any of that; it’s what governments do for their companies all the time,” says Netto.

Norberto’s son, Emílio, became CEO of the company in 1991. Shortly after that, São Paulo’s state governor, Mário Covas, introduced Emílio to a leader who’d been jailed 90 days by the military regime: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Corinthians Arena, in São Paulo, built by Odebrecht
Corinthians Arena, in São Paulo, built by Odebrecht
Agencia Estado via AP Images

Marcelo Odebrecht, who succeeded his father, Emílio, in 2008, tells the story in an interview at Odebrecht’s São Paulo headquarters. “He said, ‘Emílio, this is one of the politicians with the brightest future in Brazil. It’s worth knowing him,’” Marcelo says. “Since then, we have always had interaction with Lula.”

Odebrecht poured money into political campaigns, including Lula’s, mirroring a practice by all the major builders. The builders being investigated in the Petrobras scandal legally contributed 344 million reais to political parties in 2014, an election year. About half went to the three parties implicated in the scandal, according to Brazilian election records. The share of Odebrecht and its subsidiaries was 88 million reais, most to the three parties.

Marcelo Odebrecht says his company has contributed to about 150 members of congress. “If you believe in a guy who’s going to be important and can support you in congress, you have to support him,” he says. “If you are someone who contributes to someone, at the least he’s going to give you a meeting and listen.’’

After Lula won the presidency in 2002, in the biggest landslide ever in Brazil, Odebrecht grew rapidly. Lula and his Workers’ Party promised a revolution that would take Brazil to the next level, with bold public works projects at the center of his plans. Odebrecht was awarded some of the biggest contracts.

Early on, Lula introduced Marcelo to Rousseff, who was then energy minister. “We interacted with her a lot,” Marcelo says. “We’ve always had a relationship of trust.”

Lula had foreign policy goals as well; he talked of transforming Brazil into a sort of superpower for the developing world. That meant new business for Brazilian construction companies in places such as Cuba and Ecuador, funded with subsidized financing from BNDES. Under Lula and then Rousseff, Odebrecht projects outside Brazil were showered with 5.5 billion reais of BNDES financing from 2009 to 2014, more than any other Brazilian company except for the aircraft maker Embraer.

Marcelo Odebrecht, CEO of Construtora Norberto Odebrecht
Marcelo Odebrecht, CEO of Construtora Norberto Odebrecht
Ricardo Stuckert/PR
Odebrecht has not been charged in connection with Operation Carwash; neither has any individual employed by the company. “Odebrecht never participated in cartels, whether in contracts with Petrobras or any other government or private client,” the company said in a statement to Bloomberg. Nevertheless, the company is being investigated, with other builders, in at least three criminal and regulatory probes. In November, Moro ordered federal agents to search the homes and offices of two Odebrecht executives. The searches did not result in charges being filed.

One of those executives was Márcio Faria. According to sworn testimony in Moro’s court by Youssef, the convicted money launderer, Faria negotiated with Costa a 20-million-real payoff for 4.5 billion reais in Petrobras refinery contracts the company won in December 2009. Youssef said the bribe was funneled to politicians.

Faria, now a director of an Odebrecht industrial engineering division, referred questions to Odebrecht. Faria didn’t do anything illegal in business dealings with Petrobras, Odebrecht said in a written statement. “Odebrecht denies making any payments or deposits into supposed accounts of any executive or ex-executive,” the company said, referring to Petrobras.

Since Lula left office, on Jan. 1, 2011, Odebrecht has flown the former president outside Brazil as a paid speaker at events for clients and business groups. “We are trying to strengthen the country’s image,” Marcelo says. “I see that everywhere in the world.”

Federal prosecutors have opened a preliminary influence-peddling inquiry into whether Lula used his connections to persuade BNDES to provide subsidized financing for Odebrecht projects. Lula, Odebrecht, and BNDES each denied any wrongdoing.

Netto, the economist, has advised every president save one in the past three decades. He understands how power is wielded in Brazil. Still, he says, he’s astounded by the cartel that is alleged to have penetrated Petrobras. “What’s shocking is how a cartel colluded with the state in Brazil’s most important company,” says Netto, shaking his head in disbelief. “But I don’t have any regrets for what I did. Those companies built modern Brazil.”

Lula at Abreu e Lima in 2009
Lula at Abreu e Lima in 2009
Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento/flickr
In early September 2007, Lula trudged through a driving rain at the construction site at Petrobras’s Abreu e Lima refinery in northeastern Brazil’s Pernambuco state. Wearing white work gloves and a Petrobras hard hat, he climbed onto a backhoe and helped steer the machine’s steel bucket into the red earth, breaking ground on the project. Petrobras would build Abreu e Lima with financing from then–Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a socialist like Lula, to turn that country’s tarlike crude into fuel for Brazilians. (Venezuela later backed out of the agreement.) Every real would be spent wisely by Petrobras, Lula said, and Rousseff, then Lula’s chief of staff and chairman of Petrobras, would make sure of it. “They used to say that Petrobras didn’t have to justify spending to anyone,” Lula said. “But today I will put Dilma Rousseff on top of it.”

In the months after Lula’s visit, prosecutors say, the cartel made plans for Abreu e Lima. In April or May 2008, Rogerio Araújo, then a director of Odebrecht’s industrial engineering division, handed Barusco, executive manager of Petrobras’s engineering division, a list of cartel members to invite to bid on the refinery contracts, Barusco said in testimony in the criminal case in Moro’s court. Araújo, now an executive in Odebrecht’s industrial engineering division, denied through a company-issued statement being part of a cartel or committing any wrongdoing. “Odebrecht vehemently denies allegations made by a confessed criminal,” the company said.

Within two months, Barusco signed a plan to seek bids on 12 packages of contracts, which were later awarded to the companies in the alleged cartel. Central to the scheme were the alleged cartel’s partners inside Petrobras. They charged builders kickbacks of up to 3 percent for the right to fix a contract, Costa and other witnesses testified. The graft, they said, was divided among three political parties and the executives themselves, via payments funneled through Alberto Youssef and other intermediaries.

Soon, government auditors began warning that contractors were vastly overcharging for Abreu e Lima. That brought the matter to Homero de Souza’s tiny cubicle in the Consultancy, congress’s in-house auditing arm in the labyrinthine legislative annex in Brasília. Souza, a senior Consultancy auditor, recommended that congress block funding for the project. “It was so obvious, this pattern of theft,” says Souza. “I’d never seen anything on the scale of Abreu e Lima.” Congress’s Irregular Works Committee recommended excising the refinery from the 2010 federal budget, effectively halting work, and congress voted to approve. Lula vetoed the recommendation, assuring Petrobras the funding it needed to pay the builders to forge ahead.

The refinery rose at a time when Brazil seemed to have no limits. Record prices for oil, iron ore, soy, and other commodities exports; a roaring currency that made consumer goods more affordable for the growing middle class; and plummeting interest rates were fueling a boom that almost tripled the size of the economy during the Lula years. A wildly successful welfare program pulled 40 million people out of poverty.

By the time Lula turned over power to Rousseff, Brazil’s giddy boom had fizzled, revealing a foundation built on good fortune (those high commodities prices), corruption (including a vote-buying scandal that reached up to Lula’s top political lieutenants), and a near-doubling of the national debt, to $1.2 trillion. When Rousseff traveled north to inaugurate Abreu e Lima, in December 2013, there was little to celebrate. The refinery had cost Petrobras $18.5 billion, eight times the original budget. Instead of policing the project, Rousseff failed to disrupt what might be one of Brazil’s biggest single cases of corruption ever.

Abreu e Lima in 2014
Abreu e Lima in 2014
Paulo Fridman/Corbis

Rousseff says she knew nothing about the alleged cartel scheme. “This isn’t an issue of management, pure and simple. The Petrobras board was comprised of very qualified businesspeople,” Rousseff told Bloomberg in April in a one-hour interview at Planalto, the presidential palace in Brasília. “None of us even saw a sign. Everything points to a cartel and the corruption of some employees.”

Maria das Gracas Foster, an old friend of Rousseff’s who became CEO of Petrobras in 2012, has also said she didn’t know what was going on. Late last year, Foster launched a massive investigation. She also temporarily banned more than 20 companies being probed in the scandal from doing business with the company; that led directly to three big builders­­—Galvão Engenharia, Grupo Schahin, and OAS—filing for bankruptcy. In February, Rousseff forced out Foster, along with all of her top management.

Under its new CEO, Aldemir Bendine, Petrobras is seeking reimbursement for damages from the companies in the alleged cartel. It is also, it says, establishing a new compliance, governance, and risk division. “We are embarrassed,” Bendine said on April 23. “We are cleaning up mistakes.”

The scandal has all but crippled the company. In February, Moody’s Investors Service chopped its credit rating to junk. In April, Petrobras took charges of 44.6 billion reais, most for overpriced and unfinished refineries that were the target of the alleged builders’ cartel. The writedown caused a 21.6-billion-real loss for 2014. Bendine is trying to sell $13.7 billion of assets to raise cash. It’s a stunning change of fortune from the Lula heyday, in 2010, when Petrobras raised a whopping $70 billion by selling stock to investors.

Everyone in Brazil knows the Portuguese term for the inefficiencies that hold back the economy: custo Brasil, or Brazil cost. When it comes to the ease of starting a business, Brazil fell seven spots this year to 167th in the world, behind Uganda, according to the World Bank. Corruption will cost the economy as much as 120 billion reais this year, says José Ricardo Roriz Coelho, competitiveness director at Fiesp, the country’s biggest industrial association.

An increasingly independent judicial branch may finally stop the alleged Petrobras cartel from driving up costs and siphoning funds from the investments the country sorely needs to compete, but the damage it caused won’t be undone quickly. And the problem goes beyond Petrobras. Last year, the Brazilian antitrust regulator fined cement makers 3.1 billion reais for operating a cartel for years. Recently, the regulator launched investigations into cartels that may have rigged the market for school supplies and medicine. The custo Brasil is growing harder and harder to bear.

A protest outside Petrobras headquarters in Rio de Janeiro
A protest outside Petrobras headquarters in Rio de Janeiro
Ale Silva/Demotix/Corbis

This story appears in the June 2015 issue of
Bloomberg Markets. With assistance from Anna Edgerton in Brasilia; David Biller, Yasmine Batista, and Peter Millard in Rio de Janeiro; and Francisco Marcelino in São Paulo.""

End of culled article from Bloomberg Markets.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

A Thai Example Of How Ghana's Parliament Can Deal With The Morally Bankrupt GFA

There are many fair-minded Ghanaian lovers of the game of football, who worry about the state of the game in Ghana. Many of them also find it frustrating that the Ghana Football Association (GFA), appears to be a law unto itself.

For all such Ghanaian football fans, who are fed up with the sophistry of the GFA, and want it probed thoroughly, I am reproducing a culled article from the online version of the Bangkok Post, which was written by the paper's own reporters, and posted online on 23/9/2012. It is entitled: "Blemishes in the beautiful game".

My hope is that the article will inspire those in Ghana who want to uproot greed and corruption from the GFA - which many Ghanaians regard as a morally bankrupt organisation run by a number of visionless self-seekers, more concerned with exploiting football for personal financial gain, than growing the game from the grassroots level, and turning Ghana into a global soccer powerhouse. Please read on:

"Blemishes in the beautiful game

Accusations of fraud and illegal profiteering in the Thai Premier League were answered last week, while multiple other allegations of corruption, cover-ups and conflicts of interest continue to dog football in Thailand

The findings of an ongoing parliamentary investigation may threaten the existence of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT), said the spokesman of a committee on corruption last week. As a public organisation under royal patronage and a recipient of public funds, the FAT is not allowed to seek profit, but evidence that the Thai Premier League (TPL) runs on a profit-making model could lead to court-ordered sanctions including dissolving the body that runs football in Thailand.

UNDER PRESSURE: Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president Worawi Makudi strongly denies charges of illegally profiteering from the Football Association of Thailand, fraud and financial mismanagement.

FAT president Worawi Makudi is no stranger to controversy, having been implicated in accusations of bribery in his role at Fifa, the world football body, where he is an executive committee member. He has denied wrongdoing in the past, and last week held two press conferences to deny charges of illegally profiteering from the FAT, fraud and financial mismanagement.

Spectrum spoke to many people involved in football in Thailand, including players, coaches, agents, a supporters' group president, the head of the parliamentary investigation into FAT finances and Fifa itself. Whatever the outcome of the latest investigations, allegations of corruption, unethical profiteering and conflicts of interest can be found at every level of the game in Thailand.


Worawi Makudi, FAT president and a Fifa executive committee member, was asked by the House of Representatives Committee on Corruption Protection and Suppression last week to explain FAT financial transactions over the past five years.

Suphachai Jaismut, spokesperson for the committee, told Spectrum the committee has asked the FAT to disclose financial documents, including minutes of meetings regarding formation of the Thai Premier League Co, bank accounts and tax records.

"[The FAT] is a public, non-profit organisation; the Thai Premier League Co was set up for profit, making it illegal," he said, adding that the FAT had no authority to appoint an individual or organisation to do the duties of the association. Setting up the TPL Co, whose profits go to shareholders, or offering companies such as Siam Sport or Dae-un 21 concessions was a contravention of the FAT's status. Any revenue from sponsorship, television rights and such should benefit the association and clubs, not the shareholders of the TPL Co, he said.

The FAT is a body under the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT), which would normally be expected to provide oversight of FAT financial activities, but the SAT had told the committee they leave those matters to the FAT.

The responsibility for managing the FAT's financial affairs was handed to Siam Sport Syndicate for several years until they withdrew from the role in April after several clubs questioned the arrangement. For clubs, there did not seem to be a way to tap into TPL Co profits except at the discretion of the FAT, and how much money came in for the FAT was never disclosed to them. By comparison, the English FA receives about half of English Premier League revenue to invest in the national team and grass-roots sport, while the rest is distributed to the individual clubs.

"Today we decided to send another letter warning Mr Worawi to provide all the documents we already asked for," Mr Suphachai said.

If profiteering and tax evasion could be proven, one potential outcome of the investigation might be dissolution of the FAT, although he added that Mr Worawi would be given time to produce the required documents and clear the allegations.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Worawi replied, "The news that the association may face disbandment is very damaging. The association did not do anything against the laws and regulations."

FAT lawyer Veera Khammee added that the establishment of the Thai Premier League Co complied with Thai laws and the requirements of Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

However, Mr Suphachai said that it clearly operates in contravention of Thai law, and that Mr Worawi himself holds 5,625 out of 12,500 shares in the company, with several other association members also invested in its profitability. As the FAT is owned by the clubs, any profit should be shared among the clubs and directed back into the game, he said, not merely benefit a few individuals.

In another case, Dae-an 21, a South Korean company, is in the process of suing Mr Worawi for failing to honour a contract allowing the firm to oversee FAT commercial rights. It claims it had transferred US$900,000 to an FAT bank account and that the FAT had failed to meet its obligations.

Mr Worawi admitted on Thursday that the FAT had signed a four-year contract with the company, worth $9.6 million from 2007 to 2011, but said Dae-an 21 broke the contract when it stopped making payments.

''It is part of an effort to discredit myself and the FAT. The FAT will sue back to protect our reputation,'' he said.

Mr Suphachai said that according to transaction records, more than 29 million baht was deposited by the Korean company into the FAT's Kasikorn Bank account and that a few days later it disappeared. ''So who got the money?'' he said, adding that the committee would seek more details. If no tax was paid on the income, that would make it doubly illegal, he said. Cases of tax evasion would be brought to the attention of the Revenue Department.


HIGH HOPES: Former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson is announced as technical director of BEC Tero Sasana earlier this month.

In 2011, Fifa launched a formal investigation after Mr Worawi was accused of spending US$860,000 in Fifa football development grants for grass-roots projects on land he owns. It is understood the matter was dropped after Mr Worawi produced a ''letter of donation'' to transfer ownership to the FAT. How legally binding this arrangement is is unclear, especially as the land in question was under mortgage and transfer of ownership would require bank approval.

Original land title deeds seen by Spectrum indicate that several plots of land in Nong Chok district bought between 2000 and 2009 were in Mr Worawi's name (surrounding a larger plot apparently used by BEC-Tero Sasana), all under mortgage with Kasikorn Bank.

Mr Worawi showed the title deeds for several plots at his press conference to prove they had since been cleared of mortgage.

The plots of land were earmarked for a training centre and pitches for use by the national team, although the facilities have only very rarely been used for that purpose. One former player told Spectrum that the facilities were often used by Mr Worawi's relatives and players felt they were intruding. Additionally, the location was too remote to be convenient for use as a National Training Centre.

When contacted for comment, Fifa's media department referred us to a previous statement made following a Fifa executive committee meeting in December 2011: ''The committee reviewed the investigations involving Mr Makudi [Worawi] regarding real estate and Goal projects, and all was found to be in good order. The necessary documents were provided from Bangkok, so the case is closed.''

Allegations against Mr Worawi were also made to the British parliament by David Triesman, former head of England's World Cup 2018 bid and the English FA. He said that four long-standing Fifa executive committee members, including Mr Worawi, engaged in ''improper and unethical'' conduct in the bidding, which was won by Russia. He accused Mr Worawi of demanding TV rights to a proposed Thailand-England friendly match in exchange for his vote, as well as other irregularities Mr Triesman likened to asking for bribes.

Fifa issued a response on May 30, 2011: ''Having received and analysed the report from the FA regarding the allegations made at the House of Commons on May 10, 2011, by Lord David Triesman against four Fifa executive committee members (Nicolas Leoz, Worawi Makudi, Ricardo Terra Teixeira and Jack A Warner), Fifa has found no elements in this report which would prompt the opening of any ethics proceedings.''

Mr Worawi has close to a 50% stake in the Thai Premier League Co, with a number of FAT colleagues also invested in the TPL's profitability. Mr Worawi has been FAT president since 2007, as well as one of 24 executive committee members of Fifa, the global football body, since 1997, able to vote on World Cup bids. He is a member of the Asian Football Confederation.

Suphachai Jaismut.

He is also a founder of BEC-Tero Sasana, whose chairman, Brian Marcar, is also a member of the FAT. TPL president Vichit Yamboonreung is considered a close ally, as was former FAT president Vijit Ketkaew. Mr Worawi is also on the executive committee of the ruling Pheu Thai Party and a trade representative of the government.

Siam Sport Syndicate, which had a contract concession to financially manage the TPL until it pulled out in April, is also an owner of Muangthong United.

Mr Suphachai, head of the ostensibly non-partisan parliamentary investigation into the FAT's financial dealings, is also spokesperson for the Bhumjaithai Party, whose de facto leader is Newin Chidchob, also chairman of Buriram United FC and tipped to be in the running for Mr Worawi's position should he be forced to step down.

Pinit Ngarmpring, president of Cheerthai Power, a national team supporters' group with over 20,000 registered members, explained to Spectrum that to become a member of the FAT, two nominations by FAT members plus approval by the FAT president are necessary. Thus a president can ensure his own continued support by populating the association with close allies.


Thailand's most popular sport, football was introduced in the Kingdom in 1897. In 1916, King Vajiravudh founded the Football Association of Thailand Under Patronage of HM the King. The association joined Fifa in 1925 and the AFC in 1957. For many years the FAT was largely controlled by the army.

A case could be made that the health of club football in Thailand is now stronger than at any point in its history. Three years ago the TPL, originally formed in 1996, was revamped, with 18 top-flight clubs, dozens of new sponsors on board, better marketing and a broader fan base. Last year, crowds averaged nearly 5,000 a match, totalling close to 1.5 million over the season, with every game screened on television. Clubs such as Muangthong United FC, Chonburi FC and Buriram United FC have had strong marketing drives and an influx of sponsorship capital in the last few years to become regional powers. Foreign players entering the league such as former Liverpool FC forward Robbie Fowler have raised the league's profile and standards.

Buriram United held its own in the Asian Champions League earlier this year, winning its first two games against two of Japan and China's best teams before losing momentum. Sven-Goran Eriksson, former manager of the England national team, just s igned this month as technical director of BEC-Tero Sasana FC, another of the ''big four'' clubs.

Money from sponsorship and TV rights alone is thought to run into the hundreds of million baht a year, but how this money, which Mr Suphachai said should have been shared with clubs, has been used is unclear and under investigation by the committee.

Without being able to depend on profit-sharing by the FAT, and ticket or merchandise sales insufficient to cover costs, most clubs rely to an unhealthy degree on revenue from club sponsorship deals. Fluctuations in economic conditions could leave them unable to pay players wages, and this has been the case at some clubs in recent years.


One pressing issue that players and coaches have raised is that contracts aren't adhered to by Thai football clubs, as they are largely protected from litigation by the FAT.

David Booth, former coach of Sisaket FC before it became Esan United this season, was awarded US$222,500 plus interest in a contract settlement case by Fifa. The organisation gave the club until February to pay Mr Booth or face sanctions, but the deadline passed with no sanctions imposed.

On Aug 14 the Fifa Disciplinary Committee sent a letter to the FAT to be forwarded to Esan United. The club was urged to transfer 485,000 baht to an account in Switzerland within 30 days or face a six-point deduction, followed by enforced relegation or even exclusion of all Thai teams from international competitions. No deduction has yet been enforced.

Regarding such disputes, one former TPL player commented to Spectrum, ''The Thai FA have stated they will not punish clubs for non-payment or contract cancellations _ that's crazy; it's their job to manage and govern the players' interests, especially with clubs who are members of the Thai football league who are ruled under Fifa.'' He added that any player or coach who complains may encounter problems ''distracting his career''.

Emmanuel Obinna Nnodim, a former footballer and current players' agent in Thailand, concurred. ''Clubs like to avoid paying players and coaches and at the end nothing is done about it. There is a lot of breach of contract by clubs and they usually get away with it.''

Another issue in the league, he said, is the problem of agents bribing coaches.
''There is something like agents bribing coaches to sign their players. It's more of a business than a real sport at times. And some players take up blind contracts and don't have anyone to guide them, and some clubs take advantage of that.''

The former TPL player said, ''I have seen agents involved with coaches and most know it goes on ... you see the good players who did not get signed and questions are raised.

''It comes back to the coaches' lack of professional education or the money men being involved with football decisions,'' he said. ''From a local player development view, surely having better players who perform or are more experienced and professional is more beneficial to Thai football in the long term.''

Another former TPL footballer, Stuart Kelly, once a Scotland youth international, terminated his contract with Khon Kaen FC earlier this year.

''Management and higher up decisions were terrible and I knew they would be detrimental to the team _ which they were, at the end of the day,'' he said.

He said the club initially tried to terminate his contract without following Fifa rules on compensation but that they came to an agreement after he invoked international football law.

''In the end the club acted very professionally and we parted ways with no bad feelings.''

He said he remains grateful to the club for giving him the opportunity to experience Khon Kaen and Thailand.

Kelly, 31, had assumed it would be possible for someone of his ability and experience to find another TPL club, but after several months no offers came. Currently he plays for Finnish club PK-37.

Of Thailand, where he hopes to return to play, he said, ''Away from football it's a great place to live, with nice people away from football decisions and good fans, stadiums and media.''

As a former youth player at Rangers in Scotland, Kelly has been following the swift decline of what was once one of Europe's powerhouses, and while he said it is possible some Thai clubs could follow suit and collapse financially, it isn't easy to compare.

''When I signed, Rangers were financially bigger than any English club _ before the Sky TV deals. No Thai club has that fan base, global appeal or 130-year history.''

Here, ''clubs are funded by sponsors'' rather than gate receipts, he said, with salaries not always sustainable. ''Already the bubble has burst at some clubs.''

He said Thai football should develop the quality of coaching in the country and add transparency to the league. ''This will develop the talented youth they have and they can go on from there; however, the corruption will always hamper things.''


On the possibility of disbanding the FAT, Mr Pinit, the supporters' group president, said, ''I cannot agree or disagree. It's a matter of law enforcement and fact finding. The association can't make profit and share it among the members or executives.

''The FAT should maximise its revenues, of course. However, it should spend the money on developing Thai football, including the national team, clubs' competitiveness and youth development.

''I think disbanding the FAT would come at the cost of ... more democracy, transparency and a public-oriented management. I can't agree if we disband the FAT just to remove Mr Worawi and promote a new figurehead.''

Mr Pinit said there are three options _ the FAT electing a new president, the court disbanding Mr Worawi if found guilty, or the court disbanding the FAT if the executive board and members are found guilty.

He said the first option was preferable, although it was unlikely as Mr Worawi was allied to the majority of FAT members.

He was also confident that a shake-up in the FAT wouldn't unsettle the national team too much. ''The Thailand national team can't get any worse,'' he said of the team ranked 131 in the world. ''We've had nothing but setbacks under Mr Worawi's management. Changing the FAT would see a vacuum period of up to four to six months but we could move very fast with better management.

''Worawi could have used his role as a Fifa executive committee member to benefit Thai football,'' he said. ''But he cares about himself more than Thai football. He is the CEO of a company with no competitor. A leader needs good governance, vision and responsibility. When he first stepped into the position, the fans were very positive and put high hopes on him. He has let them all down.''

INFURIATED FANS: Thai football enthusiasts stage a protest in May, 2011, demanding that Mr Worawi resign as president of the Football Association of Thailand.


As a journalist, Pinit Ngarmpring, now head of the Cheerthai Power supporters' group, once interviewed the former president of the Japan Football Association, Saburo Kawabuchi, who told him that Japan would develop the J-League in a manner similar to the country's successful automotive industry: "We will study the best aspects from all over the world, 'Japanise' them, and then we'll export it all over the world." The fruits of that philosophy are now being felt, with Japanese players successful in most of the top leagues in Europe and the national team ranked highest in Asia and 23rd in the world.

By comparison, "the FAT doesn't have any vision", said Mr Pinit.
Pinit Ngarmpring.

He has no problem with the appointment last year of Winfried Schaefer as national team coach, however. "Schaefer is a good coach with experience. I saw he was training the team with good technique and devotion that excited the players."

He argues that four structural changes need to be implemented by the FAT to improve grass-roots and club football in the Kingdom and raise the quality of the national team.

The association needs transparency and effective management, the lack of which is hindering the game at the moment, he said.

Secondly, a technical development strategy is needed, from grass-roots, through youth, to national team level. This would develop off-the-ball movement and technical ability, as well as a "national style" that could be honed from youth level, whose benefits would later be felt in the national team. A unit is needed to prepare the national team for upcoming fixtures. By comparison, Japan has a 20-member committee to deal with national team preparation, getting supporters to away games, and scouts to prepare dossiers on opposition players and teams from three months in advance.

"It's a kind of like an intelligence unit that deals with risk management. It's not only the 11 players on the pitch; you need a backing team." He pointed to a World Cup qualifying match in February, 2008, against Japan in snowy conditions at Saitama Stadium when the Thai players weren't prepared enough for the cold, taking off their jackets 10 minutes before kick-off and losing valuable energy.

Thirdly, the FAT needs to develop the quality of competition, he said. Warm-up games should be prepared in advance with reasonable opponents in the pipeline. "There also need to be 10-year plans and targets such as a competitive strategy to improve sports infrastructure."

The FAT also needs its own stadium. The stadiums it currently uses, such as Rajamangala National Stadium, are rented from the Sports Authority of Thailand.

Fourthly, the FAT should develop marketing and public trust. "This is not just about money, but rebuilding public trust in the Thai game," he said.

The fan base should be increased, supporters' groups promoted and the profile of the national team raised through advertising and information drives. "This doesn't have to be exclusive of the financial aspect, as the national team logo can be used on sponsors' products, for example, and people can help the national team by buying affiliated products. So a broader fan base will draw more corporate money in a positive cycle."

Above such structural changes, he said the organisation needs real elections and accountability. An independent body should provide oversight, and Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation, which donate money to the FAT, should have the right to check accounts.

About the author

Writer: Post Reporters
Position: Reporters"
End of culled article from the online version of the Bangkok Post newspaper.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Are Locally Produced Neem Seed Oil And Neem Seed Cake Key To The Growth Of Ghana's Organic Farming Sector?

Most Ghanaians are now aware of the importance of eating a balanced diet - one that includes vegetables and fruits.

And as more and more Ghanaians become health-conscious, and adopt healthy lifestyles, the presence of synthetic pesticide residue on most of the vegetables and fruits sold in markets across the country, is becoming a major food safety concern for many in Ghana.

Before our contact with the first Europeans who stepped on our shores, we lived in harmony with nature, and grew and ate organic food.

Today, there is a yearning for a return to the old ways of growing wholesome food. The use of natural pesticides such as pure neem seed oil, and organic fertilisers (including neem seed cake), could enable vegetable farmers in Ghana to produce synthetic-pesticide-free vegetables across the nation.

That there is pent-up demand across the country for fruits and vegetables grown without synthetic pesticides, and synthetic fertilisers, is not in doubt.

It is also a fact that many Ghanaians now worry about the wholesomeness of the food products they buy in markets and supermarkets across the nation - as Ghana becomes a dumping ground for dodgy imported food products from China and elsewhere.

The recent food scandal, in which a number of market traders who sold palm oil laced with the carcinogenic Sudan1V dye, were arrested, highlights the scale of the task the woefully under-resourced Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) faces.

The FDA has its work cut out policing the Ghanaian economy's domestic food production, and the importation, distribution and sale of foreign food products, across the country.

Luckily, however, in the case of the contaminated locally-produced palm oil, the FDA rose magnificently to the challenge - and dealt swiftly with the Sudan1V menace to public health in Ghana: with the help of the Ghanaian media.

However, many challenges still remain: for example, one never knows, whether or not the bananas or mangoes that one has purchased, were ripened artificially with carbide or not. Calcium carbide (CaC2), which contains traces of arsenic and phosphorous, is harmful to the human body.

Naturally, one's prayer, is that the fruits one purchases, were allowed to ripen the way  nature intended - slowly over a given period.

Luckily, all hope is not yet lost for those in Ghana who want to eat organic agricultural produce, but are unable to grow their own fruits and vegetables - because that is not a practical option.

In a recent exchange of emails with a member of the campaign group, Food Sovereignty Ghana (FSG), concerning the Arusha New Plant Variety Protocol, which FSG is urging Parliament not to ratify, it emerged that plans are afoot to create an umbrella organisation, Ghana4Agroecology, that will bring together all those who want to see a steady growth in a more sustainable way of farming in the agricultural sector, as well as those who believe that for public health reasons, Ghanaians ought to have greater access to organic agricultural produce.

One's prayer, is that such an umbrella organisation will help provide a market for all those cottage industries in  rural Ghana that produce and sell high-quality pure cold-pressed neem seed oil and neem seed cake - many of whom are unfortunately struggling to stay in business.

This blog will be happy to provide contact details of the cold-pressed neem seed oil producers it knows, who produce high-quality neem seed oil and neem seed cake, to those readers who are keen to grow synthetic-pesticide-free vegetables and fruits.

Incidentally, speaking as a cocoa farmer, whose family grows cocoa without any synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, at Akyem Juaso (in Akyem Abuakwa), in the Eastern  Region, I find it frustrating that our nation's political class constantly focuses on increasing the application of chemical inputs in the cocoa industry - to enable Ghana produce 1 million tonnes of cocoa beans per annum.

Yet, in a world in which consumers of cocoa products increasingly prefer organic cocoa products, common sense dictates that we should be focusing instead on making Ghana the world's leading producer of organic cocoa beans - if we want to have a sustainable cocoa industry with a secure future.

As a people, should we not take the occassional rejection of consignments of Ghanaian cocoa beans in places like Japan because of the presence of pesticide residue in the beans, as a harbinger of things to come - and stop continuing to bury our heads in the sand about the issue of synthetic pesticide usage in the industry impacting Ghana's market share negatively in the long-term: and instead confront the challenge of switching to organic cocoa farming head on?

(Our ruling elites' lack of foresight and lack of imagination in that regard, is just so irritating. Such an unimaginative lot, Ghanaian politicians. Veritable blockheads, most of them. And contemptible incompetents, too. Cocoa farmers in Ghana must fight to ensure that the vested interests that make vast profits from the agro chemicals currently in use in the industry - who some of our nation's politicians and political parties  are beholden to  - don't deny us the opportunity for Ghana to switch to organic cocoa farming to secure the industry's future. But I digress.)

Be that as it may, the good news for Ghanaians who want to see an increase in the availability of organic agricultural produce in Ghana - particularly organic  fruits and vegetables - is that Ghana can produce all the pure cold-pressed neem seed oil, and neem seed cake, which its nascent organic farming sector requires, for use as an effective broad spectrum natural pesticide, and, as organic fertiliser, respectively.

Ghana will not need to import neem seed oil and neem seed cake to help grow its organic farming sector - unlike the billions of cedis equivalent in American dollars, needed to import agro-chemicals that pose a long-term threat to public health, into the country.

Locally produced high-quality neem seed oil and neem seed cake, are key to the growth of Ghana's organic farming sector.  They are affordable and always available - and, crucially, using both products in organic farming, will never impact negatively on our trade balance. Thank God, for small mercies, sayeth I. Amen.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Ghana Football Association Must Retrieve All The US$15,000 Per Person Ex Gratia Payments Recently Made To Some Of Its Members

The State, through the Registrar General's Department, grants the status of company limited by guarantee for use as a special purpose vehicle, to enable sincere and capable individuals  to engage in charitable activities, which will benefit society generally - without risking their personal wealth in the process.

The Ghana Football Association (GFA), was granted the status of a company limited by guarantee,  to enable those who run it to organise the game of soccer in such a manner that it will be accessible to and benefit all lovers of the game in Ghana - at both the amateur and professional levels: as players; match officials; club technical team members; club members and supporters; club owners; etc., etc.

Although some might say it is a moot point, it could be successfully argued that with the exception of the GFA's paid employees, none of its members, who after all volunteer their services freely to the GFA - presumably because of their love and passion  for the game - are supposed to benefit substantially, financially, from the GFA's funds.

At best, they are only entitled to sitting allowances for attending GFA meetings, and to per diems when travelling locally and abroad on the GFA's behalf, like the members of  similar voluntary organisations across the globe,  are.

It matters not a whit where those GFA funds originate from: be they from the government of Ghana; Fifa; sponsorship deals; or,  "the GFA's own internally generated funds" - a cynical phrase deployed by the morally bankrupt individuals amongst those now running the GFA, to justify the blatant siphoning off GFA funds into private pockets, which they deviously labelled  "ex gratia payments" to deceive Ghanaians.

The question is: can the GFA, a company limited by guarantee to develop and promote the game of soccer nationwide - and therefore an entity that ought to have an element of the public interest ethos underpinning all its disbursement of funds - lawfully distribute its "internally generated funds" to the tune of some US$15,000 per person, to a number of its members as "ex gratia payments" totalling US$300,000; instead of using it to develop and promote  the game of soccer across Ghana, as it is mandated to, by law?

I submit that any charitable organisation - such as one set up to run an orphanage for example - that distributes its internally generated funds as ex gratia payments to any of its retiring members instead of using it for the benefit of the children in the orphanage, would have its charitable status swiftly withdrawn: and all those who distributed and benefited from the sharing out of any such internally generated funds prosecuted and jailed for fraud.

So should it be the case with the GFA, too. The GFA, surprising though it might be to some of its smug and more arrogant members, is not actually above the laws of our country.

Those ex gratia payments amount to making disloyal payments - a crime elsewhere: which is why the Swiss police investigating Fifa are also focusing on all such payments made by Fifa.

That is why those who now run  the GFA had better retrieve the US$15,000 per person ex gratia payments paid out to a number of its members from the GFA's internally generated funds  - and apply the total amount of US$330,000 involved to the development of youth soccer instead: perhaps in  junior and senior level secondary schools across Ghana, for example.

If they refuse to retrieve those unlawfully paid out sums one hopes that some of the GFA's many critics will approach public interest law NGOs (such as the Centre for Public Interest Law) to take the GFA to court - for misusing money that should be used to develop and promote soccer in Ghana: by doling it out as ex gratia payments to some of its members. Monstrous.

Food For Thought For Martin Amidu?

When President Mills dismissed Mr. Martin Amidu as his administration's attorney general, I told a few of the leading lights in the National Democratic Congress (NDC), that it was a miscalculation that no amount of spin could prevent from permanently damaging the Mills regime - and that it would come back to haunt their party one day.

There was also a time when I used to urge the NDC - in my writing - to drop President Mills and Vice President John Mahama, and replace them with Martin Amidu as president and Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings as vice president.

It was my humble view that that could be achieved by first getting John Mahama to resign as vice president - and replacing him with Martin Amidu.

Shortly after that, Mills would also then resign as president, and be succeeded by Martin Amidu - who would then pick Nana Konadu Agyemang Rawlings as his vice president.

It was my humble view at the time that it was a neat solution to the painfull reality that Mills and Mahama had lost all credibility with Ghanaians - and would never win the 2012 presidential election.

So there is no question that I have always had the highest regard for the incorruptible Martin Amidu. That is why I find his diatribe against Anas Amereyaw so puzzling and disconcerting.

What exactly is he seeking to achieve by attacking Anas Amereyaw's work and methods as an investigative journalist?

The general consensus in Ghana today, is that corruption poses the single biggest threat to the long-term stability of Ghana.

I am pretty sure that Mr. Martin Amidu would agree wholeheartedly with that - as, if high-level corruption is not curbed,  its debilitating effects on sections of society, that result from the siphoning off government revenues into private pockets, which otherwise could be used to improve living standards generally, might eventually lead to social upheavel in Ghana.

As a people, if we are to succeed in bringing high-level corruption under control, it must be fought on the basis that like terrorism, it poses an existential threat to our nation - and use unorthodox methods, including deploying the most creative crime-fighting strategies possible, if need be, to expose it.

That is what will provide law enforcement agencies with the hard evidence needed to ensure that those guilty of high-level corruption can be successfully prosecuted and jailed for their egregious crimes against Ghanaians.

I am also sure that Mr. Martin Amidu would agree that no man or woman of genuine honour, who has integrity, will ever fall for any inducement at the heart of any entrapment scheme designed to expose corruption - because by definition an honest man or woman acts honourably at all material times, be it in public, or in private, away from the public gaze: and will never accept bribes under any circumstances.

 If we can only win the fight against terrorism by empowering the State to use all the means necessary to achieve that desirable end, then, in similar vein, if we are ever to bring high-level corruption under control in Ghana, we must also use the very same unorthodox and legally-grey methods that even democratic nations like the US and the UK, are now resorting to, to fight global terrorism.

That is why I humbly submit that the methods used by Anas Amereyaw as an investigative journalist to expose high-level corruption in all spheres of our national life (including the justice delivery system) are appropriate and lawful - for the constitution enjoins all Ghanaians to fight corruption.

Corruption, which is an unlawful and secretive phenomenon, by its very nature, cannot be successfully exposed, by using traditional legal methods.

Anas Amereyaw's methods used in his investigative journalism practice, are perfectly suited to exposing the corrupt individuals in our midst, some of whom have such enormous power and influence in Ghanaian society, that they can exploit every legal loophole there is, and successfully bribe their way out of virtually every possible situation, to enable them escape punishment.

Such individuals are a menace to Ghana and its people - and Mr. Martin Amidu must come to terms with the fact that Anas Amereyaw's methods in exposing high-level corruption, have been amongst the most effective ever deployed, in the varied inter-agency strategies used to expose high-level corruption, in Ghana, thus far.

Anas Amereyaw deserves the support of all anti-corruption campaigners in Ghana - including Mr. Martin Amidu. Food for thought, for the good, decent and incorruptible Mr. Amidu, perhaps?

Monday, 2 November 2015

Should GREDA Not Expand Into Equatorial Guinea And Gabon?

In my late teens, I came across a dynamic young trader, who dealt in building materials,  and was blessed with lots of charisma. At the time he cut quite a dashing figure and drove a Mini Minor - with the phrase "Run Baby Run" emblazoned across the rear windscreen.

We admired him greatly, and had absolutely no doubt, that he would become an extremely wealthy businessman, in future.

Although he was not the scholarly-type, it was obvious that he was incredibly intelligent. Shortly after meeting him, he built his first house a few meters away, from the then very popular Swanlake supermarket at North Kaneshie. He would eventually go on to build and sell hundreds of houses.

That young trader is now the CEO of Devtraco Estates, one of the biggest real estate companies in Ghana today. Astute businessmen like Devtraco's Mr. Joseph Adu, hold the key to making Ghana an economic powerhouse in West Africa.

There is no reason on earth, for example, why the Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA), should not present President Theodore Mbiang, with a proposal to build housing estates that will enable Mbiang's regime to provide modern accommodation for virtually all of Equatorial Guinea's population - something that will enable his regime to use some of Equatorial Guinea's accumulated oil and gas revenues to improve the standard of living of his people.

If GREDA finds conditions in the housing sector of our national economy difficult because of high interest rates and endless taxes, that need not necessarily lead to a slump in that sector - if the association looks for business in places like Equatorial Guinea and Gabon for the most capable of its members.

If they get such government contracts the African Development Bank might be willing to fund GREDA's members - as part of its drive to grow Africa's private sector.

With business genuises like the Joseph Adus comprising its membership, GREDA can effectively compete with even the Chinese in places like Equatorial Guinea and Gabon -  if our government lobbies the leaders of such oil-rich African nations on GREDA's behalf.

Will that not help reduce youth unemployment in Ghana somewhat - as skilled Ghanaian artisans usually given sub-contract jobs here by GREDA's members would be given work in those nations too?

Sunday, 1 November 2015

A New Political Movement For Libertarians In Ghana?

"Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit."
                                  - Mahatma Ghandi

Listening to the noble and uber-respectable elder statesman, Mr. C. K. Tedam, trying to justify the decision of the New Patriotic Party's (NPP)  national executive committee, to suspend Mr. Paul Afoko, the party's national chairperson,  one could not help having a sense of deja vu - and remembering the spin-doctors who tried so hard to justify the unjustifiable sacking of Mr. Martin Amidu by President Mills.

The idea that a few powerful, influential and highly-intelligent individuals, and their allies in the NPP,  think that they can actually manipulate a large political party with a nationwide footprint, as if it were a mere family enterprise, and get away with it, is baffling.

There are those who posit that the NPP now has far too many individuals who are intolerant of divergent opinion - and are criticism-averse to the point of paranoia - in it, for its own good.

Those critics  blame that culture of intolerance, and the uncompromising attitude of some of the NPP's plutocrats, for the fault-line that has now opened up in the party.

It is said that out of every disaster, is the possibility of renewed opportunity, for its victims.

Perhaps the time has now come for the creation of a new political movement, which will provide a home for the millions of hardworking, non-tribalistic, one-nation Ghanaians, who believe in individual liberty and want to live in a  low-tax, fiscally responsible and economically well-managed free society, in which hardworking individuals get to keep virtually all the rewards of their honest endeavours.

Alas, for many in our country, today, the NPP no longer provides an attractive home, for libertarians in Ghana.

Some of the party's critics make the point that it has allowed itself to be hijacked by bad-faith politicians who never accept electoral defeat - and who are not interested in compromise: and hound their opponents (both inside and outside their party), by demonising and vilifying them. That is simply intolerable.

Furthermore, some of the party's critics also question why politicians who want to govern Ghana, should resort to activities that amount to sabotaging the nation-building effort - as a strategy to win power for the NPP: and expect ordinary people to vote them into power, at the same time.

Have such perfidious politicians become so ruthless and callous that the misery their abominable and unspeakable actions cause to millions of families across Ghana, does not mean anything to them at all - in their ruthless, tunnel-vision quest for power?

Worst of all, are those NPP politicians, and their assigns, who constantly threaten mayhem in Ghana, if they do not have their way. Just who do they think they are, one wonders?

Do they think Ghanaians are serfs with no rights - who they have a divine right to govern come hell or high water?

What Ghana needs are creative and patriotic opposition politicians who always offer alternative solutions to the challenges our country faces, every time they criticise government policies. Politicians always beating metaphorical-war-drums are of no use to ordinary people - who refuse to dance to their discordant rhythms.

The NPP's Sammy Awukus must be very careful - for it is not entirely out of the realms of possibility that it will get to a stage when some frustrated Ghanaians will begin targeting politicians threatening the stability of Ghana, for elimination, one by one: if that is what will keep Ghana peaceful and stable.

The Sammy Awukus in our midst must understand clearly that democracy is not only just about constitutional arrangements to do with institutions of state, and the checks and balances designed to ensure that tyranny never returns to Ghana again.  Neither is it just about upholding the concept of the rule of law - that outline laws governing relationships between individuals, and between individuals and the State,  etc., etc.

They need to understand that democracy is also a way of life based on tolerance and the preponderance of a culture of compromise amongst the citizenry. In case it hasn't dawned on the Sammy Awukus yet, that is precisely the nature of the society the vast majority of ordinary Ghanaians want to live in.

Perhaps that yearning for a tolerant society in Ghana, provides the besieged Paul Afokos and Kwabena Agyapongs of the NPP, with an opportunity to work with others to form a new political movement, for Ghana's libertarians. One without any of the NPP's dreadful baggage-of-negativity.

Liberal Democratic Party would make a perfect name for that new party for libertarians in Ghana, would it not? It has a nice ring to it for libertarians. Cool.

The time has definitely come to form a new political movement for fair-minded, one-nation libertarians in Ghana.

Should The Association of Ghana Industries Not Be Collaborating With Its Japanese Countetpart?

It is time our ruling elites realised that Ghana could develop a very special and unique win-win partnership with Japan - in which the captains of Ghanaian industry collaborate with the captains of Japanese industry: to provide the Japanese economy with a disaster-risk reduction strategy to make it even more resilient than it currently is.

Because Ghana is located at the centre of the world, so to speak, by building factories here, Japanese companies could still export their products worldwide, were Japan to be struck by even the most severest of earthquakes ever experienced in world history - one that  virtually wipes out its entire industrial capacity (God forbid).

The question is: Now that the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) is setting up an industrial development bank, why does its leadership not head for Japan, to kill two birds with one stone -  explore new sources for ultra-low-interest long-term funds for the industrial development bank, and to discuss the unique opportunity Ghana offers Japanese industry, to build further disaster-risk reduction resilience, into their business models?

Perhaps a good start to such joint-venture partnerships between Japanese companies and Ghanaian entities (both public and private), would be: cocoa processing; the Shea butter sector; gold refining and other benefication activities such as minting gold coins, producing small credit-card-sized  gold bars, gold jewellery; vehicle assembly plants; power plants; fish processing plants; agro-forestry plantations, to name a few.

 Such collaboration would benefit both nations' private sectors and help Ghana to grow its export trade across West Africa - and the rest of the continent.

The leadership of the AGI should definitely head for Japan - if the AGI's industrial bank is to be able to secure long-term low-interest funds. They ought to make developing  close relations between the AGI and its Japanese counterpart a priority.