Ghana media remains mute over GH?1m media fund

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Sulemana Braimah

After weeks of enquiries about the whereabouts of the GH?1million Media Development Fund (MDF) which was allocated in the 2012 budget, it has now been revealed that the entire amount has been spent by the Ministry of Information and Media Relations to buy Rlg laptops for government PROs, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Communication, and some media groups.

Yes, the entire GH?1million (?10billion) has been used for Rlg laptops!

The GH?1million is gone, but given that the fund was meant for a sector that is supposed to be championing transparency and accountability ? the media ? it will be just too ridiculous not to demand full transparency and accountability on the utilisation of the fund.

So far, it has been difficult to trust the accounts of the Information Minister, Mahama Ayariga, and his two deputies, Felix Kwakye Ofosu and Murtala Mohammed, as far as the utilisation of the fund is concerned. Messages from the minister and his two deputies have been characterised by overwhelming deception and inconsistencies.

First of all, Mr. Ayariga told the august house of Parliament on Wednesday December 11, 2013, that the fund had been used to buy 952 laptops for the media. In order to justify what has now proven to be a unilateral, imprudent use of the fund, the minister told Parliament that the purchase of the laptops followed consultation with key media groups who identified laptops as the fundamental need of Ghanaian journalists.

Mr. Ayariga mentioned the media groups that were present at the said meeting as the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA), Private Newspaper Publishers Association of Ghana (PRINPAG) and the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA). He went on to tell Parliament that when the laptops were purchased, after what he claimed was a consensus recommendation by the above media umbrella groups, it was the groups that decided among themselves, how to share them.

Deliberate Falsehood Or Deception To Clean Up A Mess?

Contrary to what the Minister told Parliament, it has now emerged that there was no such agreement by GIBA, PRINPAG and GJA. All three groups have denied being part of any such meeting where it was agreed that the most pressing need of journalists is laptops and as such the MDF should be used to buy laptops for Journalists.

So why didn?t the minister tell parliament the truth that the ministry took a unilateral decision to spend the fund and settled on buying Rlg laptops for journalists?

But you see, after the exposure of the falsehood in the minister?s statements to Parliament (in fact GIBA has even accused him of committing perjury); he has since left the public debates on the fund to his two deputies. Unfortunately, they too have been contradicting their boss? account to Parliament and his statements on radio.

Mr. Ayariga told Parliament that 952 laptops were bought. His deputy, Kwakye Ofosu, said 1,434 laptops were bought. Which figure should we trust? Mr. Ayariga said in Parliament and on radio that after the purchase of the laptops it was GIBA, PRINPAG and GJA that decided among themselves how to share the laptops. All three organisations have denied this. In addition, GIBA did not receive any laptops. So why did Mr. Ayariga choose to harm the reputation of these media organisations before Parliament?

Again, Mr. Ayariga said on Citi FM that ?the chunk of the laptops went to the GJA.? But his deputy, Kwakye Ofosu, said GJA was given 190. Who should we believe? Officials of GJA have said they received between 100 and 120. Whichever figure you take, it cannot constitute ?the chunk? of Ayariga?s 952 or Kwakye Ofosu?s 1,434 laptops. So who is telling Ghanaians the truth?

The other question is: So where did the chunk go then? Well, according to Kwakye Ofosu, over 300 went to the Information Services Department (ISD ? government?s information machinery that works under his ministry); over 20 went to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Communication, which is chaired by the NDC?s Herod Cobbina with the NPP?s Kennedy Agyapong as the ranking member (don?t forget we are talking about media development fund).

Ofosu Kwakye?s account continues: about 40 or so went to PROs in the Ministries; and some went to the Presidential Press Corp (the group of journalists from Joy FM, Daily Graphic, Citi FM etc, that cover the Presidency). So in fact, the chunk actually went to these groups and that is how best Mr. Ayariga and his deputies decided to use the GH?1million to promote media development in Ghana.

So does it mean it was the GJA, PRINPAG and GIBA that decided that the laptops should be distributed the way they were shared? Remember, Mr. Ayariga had said that after the laptops were bought, based on the supposed recommendation of the groups (now proven to be false), it was the groups themselves that decided how to share the laptops.

Why the ISD? Well Deputy Minister Murtala justified this by saying that ISD officers work as journalists and some are members of the GJA. Why Parliamentary Committee? Ofosu Kwakye said the Committee has some oversight responsibility over the communications sector. Remember we are still talking about a fund set aside for media development. So, Mr. Ayariga, was it the ministry that shared the laptops or the media groups?

The Laptop Argument

Now it has become evident that Mr. Ayariga?s statement of buying the laptops upon the recommendation of the media groups cannot be the truth. It is also clear that the ministry has been struggling to be consistent with the number of laptops bought. It is obvious that the ministry gave away the chunk of the laptops to its own people to enhance government?s information dissemination rather than for media development.

At this stage, the ministry is hanging on to the point that, laptops were bought and distributed to the media including at least, GJA and PRINPAG. But the question is: who said laptops were the priority of the Ghanaian media/journalists? The GJA, PRINPAG and GIBA have said they did not say the priority for their members was laptops. The minister and his deputies should be bold to tell Ghanaians that they chose to decide for journalists without any inputs from media stakeholders. That will be honourable on their part and help restore their credibility.

In fact, the more the information ministers try to defend themselves over the unilateral and imprudent utilisation of the fund for the purchase and distribution of laptops, the more the questions of honesty and transparency emerge.

Yes, both GJA and PRINPAG have confirmed receiving Rlg laptops, but both groups have also publicly indicated that when those laptops were being presented to them, they were not told that they were procured with the MDF.

So I assume your question is: ?Ah, so where did they think the laptops were coming from?? Both GJA and PRINPAG have explained that as at the time they were receiving those laptops, their understanding was that the laptops were donations from the ministry. You may again ask: ?Why and how could they have thought so?? Well, they may have been right in receiving those items without probing because such denotations and support from the ministry to the media have always existed.

For example, the GJA President, Affail Monney, has said the Ministry of Information was instrumental in having in place the Ghana International Press Centre (the most important asset of the GJA) in 2003. Remember, there was no MDF at the time. He has also stated that under Ms. Oboshie Cofie?s tenure as Information minister, the GJA benefited from a car donation under the ministry. There was no MFD then.

I am sure if past ministers of Information are asked, they will tell you the ministry offers various forms of support to the media all the time and not under any media development fund.

So why did Mr. Ayariga and his deputies (none of whom is a journalist or has practiced journalism before) decide that the most pressing need of journalists was Rlg laptops?  Why did the minister say it was the media groups that decided what they needed? Why didn?t the ministry tell the media groups that the laptops were coming from the media fund?

Well, the answer is that the watchdog group has failed to even watch over what is theirs and so it?s gone.

In the next piece, I will be touching on the issue of the management of the fund and the tussle between the ministry and the National Media Commission (NMC). In the meantime, there should be proper accountability and transparency on the GH?1million that is already gone.

 By Sulemana Braimah, Deputy Executive Director, MFWA  

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