The CEO of Zoomlion Ghana Limited and Chairman of the Jospong Group of Companies, Joseph Siaw Agyepong, has gone to court in an attempt to scuttle a Joy News investigation into corruption allegations against his companies.
He is seeking to place an interlocutory injunction on the Ministries of Health, Local Government and Rural Development as well as the Attorney-General’s Department to stop them from providing Joy News any information about the ongoing investigation into allegations of massive corruption involving his companies.
Mr. Agyepong had earlier warned the ministries against providing the information to Joy News citing a defamation suit he filed against Joy News’ Manasseh Azure Awuni over a Facebook comment. The business man had to proceed to court when the Attorney-General’s advice to one of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development stated that the case in court would not be prejudiced by the information Joy News was seeking.
Joseph Siaw Agyepong Vs Manasseh Azure Awuni
In 2013 Manasseh Azure Awuni’s groundbreaking investigation into massive corruption in the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA) led to the cancellation of all contracts under the programme. It also led to reforms which culminated into the passage of the Youth Employment Agency Law.
The main companies that were indicted in the GYEEDA scandal were those from the Jospong Group of Companies owned by Joseph Siaw Agyepong and the the AGAMS Group owned by Roland Agambire. The Jospong Group had companies such as Zoomlion Ghana Limited, Better Ghana Management Services Limited and Youth Enterprise Support. Eventhough the programmes were cancelled Zoomlion’s contract, which had ended, was not touched and payments were still made to it. In 2013 the World Bank banned Zoomlion and its affiliate companies from bidding for the Bank’s contracts because Zoomlion "paid bribes to facilitate contract execution and processing of invoices" in Liberia.
Not impressed by that, Manasseh published on facebook a comment in protest of what had happened and to caution the Akufo-Administration against repeating such mistakes. The following is the full comment.
“Joseph Siaw Agyapong is the Chairman of the Jospong Group of Companies and CEO of Zoomlion. In the NDC government over the last four years, some of the stupidest contracts that were signed with public money were signed with some of his companies — Zoomlion, Subah, Better Ghana Management Services Limited, YESDEC etc. In 2013, the World Bank blacklisted Zoomlion for two years because Zoomlion "paid bribes to facilitate contract execution and processing of invoices" in Liberia. But our government took no action despite worse revelations about Zoomlion back home.
“Less than three weeks the 2016 election, the NPP held a press conference over some questionable 448 million the government was planning to pay Zoomlion's on it's contract with GYEEDA, which I exposed in 2013, but on which the government did not act. A week to the election, President Mahama was at a Zoomlion programme and said some people wanted him and President Mills to destroy Mr. Agyapong's business because the NPP had propped him up, which he and the late President refused. He described Agyapong as an illustrious business man and showered praises on the company.
“The Subah and GYEEDA scandals and the stupid contracts signed with Mr. Agyapong's companies were partly why President Mahama was disgraced in the election.
Ex-President John Mahama
“But while President Mahama was mourning, Mr. Agyapong was seen at the NPP Thanksgiving Service. On Monday, he was at a party in the private residence of an NPP MP who is rumoured to be heading to a ministry Mr. Agyapong's company deals with. He is weaving his way into the NPP.
“The NPP must take note that stupid contracts such as the Zoomlion-GYEEDA contract must end. For inexplicable reasons, Zoomlion seems untouchable despite adverse findings against it by government's own committee of enquiry. These are part of the reasons President Mahama was humiliated last month. But beyond electoral fortunes, the NPP and its ministers and government appointees must know that we have reached a stage in our lives that we cannot tolerate business as usual. We cannot change and remain the same.
“And they should remember that the day of reckoning is closer than they may think. The voices of conscience in our country may be in the minority but because truth and integrity are their weapons of warfare, no evil shall prevail against them and their struggle. The righteous Judge of Israel is alive. And He will surely have the final say!”
The facebook post by Manasseh angered the Zoomlion boss.
In a letter dated January 13, 2017, Joseph Siaw Agyepong, through his lawyers, wrote to Manasseh asking him to delete comment and apologise within 7 days or face legal action. The lawyer said the comment was understood to mean that Joseph Siaw Agyepong, who is a respected elder of the Church of Pentecost “is a corrupt, dishonest and an opportunistic person who seeks to use corrupt means to sign stupid contracts with the government.”
Manasseh stood by his post and did not hear from them until in February when Joy News sent a letter to the Jospong Group requesting an interview on or a response to issues contained in a Joy News investigation, which Manasseh had started in November 2016. The lawyers replied a week later with a writ of summons against Manasseh suing him for defamation. They also refused to answer the questions sent to them. The company said the contracts were entered into with public institutions so Joy News could get the details from the relevant ministries and state agencies.
On April 7, 2017, Joy News wrote to the District Assemblies Common Fund, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development asking for information and responses to contracts they signed with the Jospong Group. Joy News also sent a separate letter to the Jospong Group because more allegations of corruption and poor execution of their contracts with the District Assemblies came up after a nationwide investigative tour.
Tussle over information
The Ministries leaked the letters to the Jospong Group so lawyers for Mr. Joseph Siaw Agyepong wrote to them warning them not to give information because they could be cited for contempt of court. The Health Ministry and the Common Fund secretariat declined to provide Joy News the information. But the Local Government Ministry said it would seek advice on whether or not to respond. After two months of follow-ups, the Chief Director of the Ministry, Mr. C.K. Dondieu said the letter had been sent to the Attorney-General for advice. After weeks of waiting and follow-ups, Manasseh Azure Awuni, went to the Attorney-General’s Department and was told that no such letter had come from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development.
When Manasseh returned to the Ministry of Local Government, Mr. C.K. Dondieu admitted the letter had not been sent and blamed it on miscommunication. The letter was subsequently sent to the Attorney-General’s Department.
The Attorney-General’s Department responded in a letter dated July 14th, 2017 stating that the information Joy News was seeking would not prejudice the case in court so the ministry could release the information.
“Upon a consideration of the statement of claim, reliefs claimed and issues arising therefrom, we are of the respectful view that the subject matter of the court suit is different from the enquiry being sought by Multimedia Group Limited,” the letter which was signed by Deputy Attorney-General and Deputy Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame, stated. It continued:
“Even though the Right to Information Bill is yet to be passed by the Parliament of Ghana, freedom of information is guaranteed by Article 21 (1)(f) of the Constitution, 1992. A person may in fact sue to enforce his right to information relating to matters of public interest. The information requested for is of such nature as a person may bring an action to compel disclosure.
“It is our respectful opinion that a grant of the information requested for will not be inimical to the public interest. Neither will it be prejudicial to the conduct of the suit pending in court.”
When Manasseh went back to the Ministry, the Director of Finance and Administration of the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Mr. Frank Raji, told him the contracts were missing and that the ministry would write to its agencies to see whether they had copies. While he was following up, Joseph Siaw Agyepong last week filed application seeking the court to stop the various ministries and government agencies from giving information on contracts signed with his companies.
In his affidavit, he claimed that the “this request for information aforesaid by the Defendant/Respondent is a brazen attempt to elicit information as same directly relates to a pending subject matter before this Honourable Court in order to depart from his pleadings and set forth an entirely different defence from that which has duly filed in this Honourable Court.”
In an affidavit in opposition to the applicant, Manasseh Azure Awuni said the applicant “is now unabashedly resorting to this Honourable Court to mislead to without merit and unconstitutionally procure censorship in the nature of a gagging order against Respondent by preventing the named ministries from supplying the requested information.”
He prayed the court to dismiss the application stating the “applicant has almost abandoned the suit he filed on the 7th of February 2017 since Respondent filed his Defence on 8th March 2017 and it is rather applicant who is using his frivolous suit and now this application as a tool shackle Respondent and prevent him from exercising his lawful duties in what is commonly known in jurisdictions including the United States as SLAPP (i.e. Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).”