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President Queries Trade Minister Over Charges At Expatriate Awards

Controversy is brewing over the alleged payment of substantial amounts of money by expatriates interested in sitting close to the President at an awards ceremony organised jointly by the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Millennium Excellence Foundation (MEF) in Accra early this month.

While the ministry and the foundation have responded to the allegations, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, apparently unhappy with the turn of events, has asked the Minister of Trade and Industry to explain the circumstances that led the ministry to allegedly demand various sums of money from the expatriate business community who took part in the awards ceremony.

The query, dated December 20, 2017, issued through the Chief of Staff, Ms Akosua Frema Osei-Opare, and addressed to Mr Alan Kwadwo Kyerematen, read: “The attention of the President of the Republic has been drawn to an allegation that during the just-ended Ghana Expatriates Business Awards (GEBA) ceremony held on Friday, December 8, 2017 at the Movenpick Hotel in Accra, expatriate business owners were charged an amount of US$100,000 to sit close to the President.”

“This Office urgently requires a response, with documentary evidence, to the said allegation, taking note that the Presidency was not consulted with regard to the said alleged arrangement,” it continued.

The query, a copy of which is available to the Daily Graphic, directed the minister to respond by 5 p.m. yesterday, December 20, 2017.

Information available to the Daily Graphic indicates that the President is livid over the issue and is demanding immediate answers.

The Communications Director at the Presidency, Mr Eugene Arhin, confirmed the issuance of the query to the Daily Graphic in Accra yesterday.

Mr Kyerematen, according to our sources, has responded to the President’s query but the details are yet to be made public.

Allegations

Media reports alleged that the Ministry of Trade and Industry provided account details to collect dollar-denominated cheques ranging between US$25,000 and US$100,000 from expatriates interested in sitting close to the President at the awards ceremony.

The ministry is said to have collected the money on behalf of the event organiser, the MEF, in order to assure the sponsors of the credibility of the event, but the extent of the ministry’s involvement has sparked controversy over whether the Presidency is being used for profiteering.

Last Monday, the Member of Parliament (MP) for North Tongu, Mr Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, alleged the extortion of between $25,000 and $100,000 from expatriate businesses to determine how close to the President they sat at the awards ceremony for expatriate businesses.

Ministry of Trade and Industry

But, in a statement issued in Accra yesterday, the ministry described the allegation as baseless.

“The Ministry of Trade and Industry has learnt with disdain the baseless allegations flying in the media (including social media platforms) that the ministry charged expatriates between 25,000 and 100,000 dollars to offer them seats close to the President at the recently held GEBA,” it said.

It said the GEBA was “the brainchild of the Millennium Excellence Foundation, an entity noted for its prowess and credibility in the organisation of world-class events such as the Millennium Excellence Awards and the Accra Marathon”.

It added that “upon the conception of the novel idea, the foundation informed the government, through the Presidency, and further sought partnership with the Ministry of Trade and Industry in the organisation of the first-ever awards event targeted at recognising and rewarding the contributions of the expatriate and naturalised expatriate community to the socioeconomic advancement of the country over the decades. For the avoidance of doubt, this is the first of its kind in Africa”.

It said as a government that believed in the private sector as the engine of growth, the government, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry, welcomed the initiative to collaborate with the foundation to see to the birthing of the initiative.

MoU

According to the statement, the ministry consequently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the foundation, which spelt out the roles of both parties.

“Resource mobilisation to ensure that the event was organised at no cost to the taxpayer was the sole responsibility of the foundation. “As a serious and experienced events organiser, the foundation came up with a sponsorship programme, as would be done by any serious-minded events organiser, which included a series of fund-raising dinners and sponsorship packages,” it noted among other issues, and said the awards were credible, adding: “Non-mischievous minds with a basic knowledge of event organisation will know that, as is the case with all fund-raising activities, there are different sponsorship categories and packages with their attendant benefits.”

It said it was “very worrying for people who were expected to know better (especially if some happen to be leading members of the august House of Parliament) to conveniently join the street wagon in pursuit of petty partisan parochial interests to churn out deliberate falsehood to perpetuate the fallacy that access to the President has to be secured with financial inducements”.

Millennium Excellence Foundation

For its part, the President of the MEF, Mr Ashim Morton, has denied assertions that some money was collected from expatriate businessmen and women to allow them to sit close to President Akufo-Addo during the awards held in Accra on Friday, December 8.

At a press conference in Accra yesterday, Mr Morton said all the money collected was meant to support the organisation of the event but not to sell access to the President.

According to him, per an MoU signed between his outfit and the ministry, all the money paid towards the event was lodged in the account of the ministry.

“I want to state categorically that no money was paid by anyone to sit next to the President of the Republic of Ghana. Because of accountability, transparency and the terms of the MoU we had with the ministry, all inflows for the sponsorship of this project were lodged in the ministry’s account to be used for future events under the GEBA.

“Our Financial Department is currently reconciling with the ministry to determine how much money was finally raised. Figures will be presented on a later date when we have final data,” he said.

Seating arrangements

Regarding the seating arrangements at the event, Mr Morton explained that his outfit did no wrong by categorising the seats for protocol purposes and to enable guests to easily identify their places.

“Over the past 20 years, this foundation has organised several programmes where categories of seating ranged from platinum, silver to bronze and sometimes we label the seats as governors circle, ministerial section, honorary circle and presidential circle.

“In the design of the GEBA, we did not do anything different as we do always. We labelled the seats as red, yellow, green, black and presidential circles, as well as the President’s Gold Table.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the President’s Gold Table was reserved for persons carefully selected by the foundation and MOTI at our own discretion. Such persons could be expatriates who contributed enormously to our development and not necessarily whether they sponsored or would win a prize that day.

“I am here to officially inform the general public and our well-wishers that no one seated on the President’s Gold Table that evening paid $100,000,” he concluded.

Fund raising

For his part, the Chairman of the MEF, Mr Victor Gbeho, explained that the money collected was for fund-raising purposes.

Mr Gbeho, a former Ambassador of Ghana to the European Office of the United Nations in Geneva, said the foundation would no longer have a presidential table at its events, since it had learnt its lesson from the controversy over the fund-raiser which had attracted concerns from the Minority in Parliament and some civil society organisations.

“The MEF is a non-governmental organisation and I must state it clearly because some people are beginning to introduce politics into this issue and that is the last thing that we want to touch.

“The truth in the matter must come out because the figures charged were for fund- raising and sponsorship, but some of the companies have not even paid. I must explain that all our ceremonies are based on funds that we raise.

“We have no other source of money, except what we raise for each occasion, and in this case, we asked the ministry to be our partner and give us introduction to the expatriate business community,” he said.

The Awards

Twenty-four expatriate businesses were honoured at the maiden edition of the Ghana Expatriate Business Awards 2017 for their outstanding performance over the years.

The Chairman of Interplast, Mr Saied Fakhry, was crowned the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Expatriate of the Year.

Mr Fakhry, who is also the Chairman of Dream Reality and Inesfly, was decorated by President Akufo-Addo at the ceremony.

By: Graphic.com.gh

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