Ghana's story at multi-sport events is often one of poor preparation and poor performance. It is characterized by exhaustive and boring media commentary and a promise by major players and stakeholders to do better at the next competition, which of course never happens. This piece is however not about how well or poorly we've performed on the international stage.
It is about a phenomenon that has become endemic, bringing shame to our motherland anytime we go out to compete for medals at international sporting events. It is about the failure of successive governments to crack the whip to ensure an end to this canker. It is about the failure of a president to walk the talk, to stand tall where several before him have failed.
It is about what appears to be a grand cover-up that shames this country and undermines our democracy. The NPP government's handling of the Australia Visa scandal has left Ghanaians with more questions than answers and a feeling of déjà vu.
The Aussie Shame
Forget the shame of Ghanaian para-athletes competing with substandard equipment or the country's cycling team having their rickety bicycles repaired and in some cases replaced by benevolent Australians, or athletes agitating because of the non payment of bonuses and per diems, the real shame was at the Brisbane airport where a group of Ghanaians posing as journalists for the Commonwealth Games were intercepted by the Australian Border Force.
What followed was the exposure of a visa fraud allegedly orchestrated by high ranking elements at Ghana's sports ministry, the national sports authority and the Ghana Olympic committee. A widely circulated document in the aftermath of the games revealed a heated three-hour meeting of the GOC to discuss the commonwealth games.
The GOC President, the Chef de Mission and other officials according to this document revealed some high profile names and the processes that led to the acquisition of the visas for the about 60 Ghanaians who were intercepted and deported by Australian authorities.
The document further revealed that an investigation conducted by the GOC in Australia established that 12 names had been added to Ghana’s contingent for the 2018 Commonwealth games as guests with fingers purportedly pointing in the direction of then Deputy sports minister Pius Enam Hadzide and the Chef de Mission.
The document also suggested that some officials made some damning admissions, including claims that some badminton players had been added to the list by the Director General of the NSA Robert Sarfo Mensah and the President of the Badminton Federation. It also claimed that the President for Swimming and Secretary General of Para-Sports Mr Ignatius Elletey also added 14 and 25 names respectively.
It is widely believed that the sports ministry, the national sports authority and the Ghana Olympic committee, as well as the various sports federations, often play roles as part-time travel agencies that facilitate trips for persons willing to part with various sums of money and sometimes political party functionaries too.
They do this by adding names of persons (with no roles to play) to team lists for visa acquisition when the country participates in international competitions. The images of the NSA's PRO, Frederica Mensah Davies, the Ashanti Regional Director of the National Sports Authority, Joshua Mensah and Patrick Agorzor receiving various sums to obtain visas for people in the Anas expose is still fresh in the minds of many.
One would also recall that 25 persons without hearing impairment were part of a 39 member deaf team that travelled to Australia in 2009 at the invitation of the Deaf Football Association of Australia for an international friendly. Upon arrival, however, the Australians realized their Ghanaian counterparts could hear.
The episode nearly sparked a mini diplomatic row with the guys in charge of Deaf Football in Australia writing to Ghana to express shock, disappointment and disgust, and demanding a refund of USD 14,789.00 for expenses incurred. The matter somehow passed with no one being held responsible for bringing the name of the country into disrepute.
Selective application of justice
Ghana's history of shame at international sporting events comes second only to our medal count. When the Aussie Visa scandal blew up I wrote a piece detailing why it was difficult to trust the Akuffo Addo administration to crack the whip despite early moves to suspend the then Deputy Sports Minister Pius Hadzide and others.
My opinion was premised on how similar scandals that brought the country's name into disrepute had been handled in the past, notably the Kuffour administration's handling of Mallam Issah and the missing 40,000 dollars and the John Mahama administration's handling of Ghana's 2014 world cup disgrace.
The Kufuor administration prosecuted and jailed then sports minister Mallam Issah in 2001 while the John Mahama administration moved Elvis Afriyie Ankrah from the sports ministry to the presidency after he was implicated by the Dzamefe Commission, a move which ensured his protection under the umbrella of the ruling NDC.
The contradistinction in the application of justice is ironic and reinforces a belief that has been validated by the Akuffo Addo administration's handling of the Aussie Visa scandal—they never touch their own. It has become clear over the years that Mallam Issah would have escaped jail had he been riding on the back of an elephant. He ended up at Nsawam because wasn't ‘one of their own’.
He was a member of the People’s National Convention (PNC) and was co-opted into the NPP administration under the President’s all-inclusive government policy. All he had was a coconut tree and sadly there was no one to help him climb to enable him to escape the full rigours of the law, seemingly applied for political expediency.
The cover up?
Initial moves suggested it would be business as usual, the biggest pointer perhaps being the rejection of the minority's demand for an independent commission of enquiry to probe the scandal under article 278 of Ghana's constitution. In a country where the heads of the various security agencies are appointed by the president, the independence of these institutions is often watered down in matters relating to the administration of justice. It was therefore incumbent on government to consider the call by the minority in the interest of transparency.
The outright rejection raised eyebrows and raised doubts over the credibility of the work to be carried out by the CID before it began. Reports of some chiefs from the Volta Region seeking clemency for Pius Hadzide, credible or otherwise added to the wave of mistrust.
If the outcome of the CID's investigation was ignominious, the announcement by the president which only detailed the exoneration and reinstatement of Pius Hadzide and Kwadwo Baah Agyeman, three months later, at the New Patriotic Party’s (NPP) 26th delegates conference was a dagger to the heart of transparency, probity,accountability and rule of law.
So what were the contents of the CID's report that was presented to the president? Sources tell me the powers that be have gone to great lengths to ensure the report remains buried, never to find it's way into the public space. It appears only two people(The president and Isaac Asiamah, the sports minister) know the content of the CID report because only two copies were typed by an officer who was put in a room under heavy security to ensure the report never went beyond the confines of the CID offices and the aforementioned two.
The CID's probe which was supposed to answer questions, name culprits and ensure the prosecution of persons found culpable rather left the citizenry with questions and very little hope of a different day, a day when a Ghanaian will be seen as just that without consideration to political affiliation in matters of possible criminality and administration of justice.
Kwadwo Baah Agyeman
Next scandal please!
Two things are not in doubt. That the name of Ghana was brought into disrepute in the aftermath of the fiasco. That the conduct of some persons from the sports ministry, The National sports authority and the Ghana Olympic Committee culminated in the Australia visa scandal. The purpose of this piece is not to pin what happened in Australia on a particular person(s) but if Pius Enam Hadzide and Kwadwo Baah Agyeman are innocent as the president would have us believe per the CID's report then who are those responsible? Was the purpose of the CID probe merely to establish the innocence of Hadzide and Baah Agyemang? More importantly, why is it so important that the full report by the CID is kept away from the public?
It is undeniable that part of the reasons the country continues to make negative off-field headlines at international competitions is the failure of successive governments to shirk party colours and allow the laws to work. It is scandalous that the only time someone got punished for such an incident the person did not belong to the ruling governments party.
This was a litmus test for President Akuffo Addo, a test he's failed with distinction. It is not because of the failure to prosecute anyone but his endorsement of what appears to be a grand cover-up to shield persons who have subjected the country to global ridicule. This is a matter of public interest without implications on security which would legitimise secrecy. Transparency was important in this matter. Secrecy degenerates the administration of justice.
It has become clear that the CID's full report will never see the light of day. It is dead and buried. The president pontificates rule of law and an abhorrence for corruption but his handling of this matter has not helped the situation and has possibly laid the foundations for Ghana's next sports scandal. He might rue his failure to walk the talk in this matter.
By refusing to crack the whip and even more damning is perhaps his superintending over the concealing of a document which for all intents and purposes must be public record, he's set the stage for Ghana's next disgrace at an international sports event.
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