Framing the narrative

Nana Yaa Ofori-Atta

On October 26, 2017, the University of Ghana, Legon will hold its annual Alumni Lecture on ‘Corruption Culture and National Development – An Interrogation of Africa’s Experience’.  Dr. Paul Acquah, former Governor of the Bank of Ghana (BoG), is the esteemed speaker.

Dr. Acquah is eminently qualified to pronounce on matters both local and continental.  An economist, he was the second longest serving Governor of our central bank – October 2001 and September 2009.  Dr. G.K. Agama (1988-1997) pips him to the record.

It was during Acquah’s tenure at the BoG that the cedi was re-denominated, four zeros knocked off and the pesewa was re-introduced. 

Immediately preceding this central role, Dr. Acquah had served as Deputy Director of the Africa Department of the International Monetary Fund.  He went on, post retirement, to work on a team tasked with the restructuring of the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR), the only player in the state run crude oil refining business in Ghana.

It would be highly  instructive, if knowing as much as Dr. Acquah does of trying to balance the books with the likes of TOR  – at various times their tro ni man anan financing have come perilously close to crippling the economy – he would do a Sanusi.  Framing the narrative of his presentation with vigne

_______________________________________________________________

When TOR was established in 1963, it was one of the first 8 oil refineries in Africa, today, it buys crude oil, refines, stores and sells at a fee both Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) and various petroleum products to the Bulk Oil Storage and Transportation Company Ltd (BOST).  TOR and BOST are never far from the headlines.  TOR has ambitions to explore the petrochemical sub industry and become the premier distributor of refined products including exports to West Africa.

Lectures tend to be theoretical, and where better than Legon to talk acadamese?

It would be highly instructive, if knowing as much as Dr. Acquah does of the reality, managing a central bank blighted by a a company like such as TOR – their investments and business operations have come perilously close, at various times, to crippling the national economy – if he were to to do a Sanusi with TOR  and BOST as the vignette for his presentation. 

In an unprecedented public move, the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi, now the Emir of Kano, blew the lid off matters by stating, baldly, that some $2 billion of oil revenue had not found its rightful way to the national coffers.  For his troubles and public candour, Sanusi was effectively forced out of office.  Dr. Acquah, long retired, has no such reprisals in the offing and there are rich pickings for him to extrapolate from in the vignettes of both TOR and BOST to frame the narrative of his presentation.

_______________________________________________________________

By 2003, according to the Africa Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP), TOR was in the hole for some Ghc450 million.  Parliament was sufficiently moved by their hapless plight to approve the Debt Recovery Fund Levy (Act 642), essentially strong arming consumers of some petroleum products to pay an additional margin to help TOR pare down its debt.

In 2010 (shortly after Dr. Acquah retired), following intermittent periods of petroleum and LPG shortages (with obvious knock on effects for business, the cost of transportation, food and the quality of life), the management of TOR submitted a request for $67.7 million to maintain its plants and enhance production. The bulk of that money has been paid out, with not enough searching questions consistently asked or thoroughly addressed.

ACEP has petitioned Parliament to argue that in spite of declining or fluctuating world prices for crude oil, continuous mismanagement at TOR exacerbated by interest on accumulated debt that was still not being serviced, meant that Ghanaians were paying a petroleum levy that had it been judiciously applied, would have meant that the original debt should have long been retired.  They also pointed out that for 10 years (2004 -2014), contrary to the terms of the Act, the Minister of Finance had not submitted an annual report on the levy to Parliament.

_______________________________________________________________

The announcement in 2016 by the former Acting Managing Director of TOR, Kingsley Awuah-Darko that the company had made a profit of $800,000 and was converting its debt into a 10 year bond, was widely reported in the media and roundly dismissed by many in the industry.

Quite rightly too as it turned out that at the time of the ‘announcement: the Board of Directors may not have met to approve this ambitious plan; Cabinet had not clearly sighted a memo with a request from the Ministry of Finance to approve such a plan; the ‘profit’ being claimed it seems were rather fees charged for processing crude oil; and the banks to whom TOR owed money, were blindsided.

TOR and its single largest client, BOST – Awuah-Darko, the ambidextrous fellow, emerged there too as Managing Director –  stand accused variously of continuing to set and raise petroleum prices over and above global prices; manipulating the supply chain; complicity or negligence that may have allowed contaminated fuel to seep into the market and lax practices that enable continuous smuggling into Ghana of Ghc millions of untaxed fuel.

In August, the Financial and Forensic Unit of the Criminal Investigative Department Office secured a court order requiring Awuah-Darko to provide details of his bank accounts Other security agencies would like to ask him edgy questions as to the irregular transfer of some Ghc40 million over a short period of time from the accounts of BOST to the Office of the Chief of Staff at the Presidency.  Transfers continued right up to the December 2016 elections?

_______________________________________________________________

Within the framework of the theme of the Alumni Lecture, at Legon, with the benefit of hindsight, what pearls of wisdom could Dr. Acquah now share on the management of TOR that led to the accumulation of debt in the first place and then the imposition of the levy.  He could expand on a review of the implications for corporate governance in the overlap of senior management appointed by political fiat at TOR and at BOST.  Touch deeply, on the use made of the levy and prescribe definitively what lessons this government (have they changed the fundamentals?), can interrogate today, to avoid deepening what appears to be a culture of corruption in these 2 state owned enterprises.

________________________________________________________

Also on October 26th, while Dr. Acquah is taking aim, hopefully, with laser precision in Accra, across the continent, Uhuru Kenyatta will turn 56.  He faces the ignominy of limping around a solo lap of dishonour. 

Ahead of the rerun of the presidential election ordered by the Supreme Court of Kenya, a senior member of their electoral commission (IEBC) has resigned and sought political asylum in America.  Roselyn Akombe has alleged that she has been the recipient of intimidation and death threats by unknown persons.

Equally damming is her statement that fundamentally, voting and decision making on partisan lines has rendered the Commission divided and ineffective in righting the very wrongs that the opposition leader Raila Odinga had flagged.  The evidence proffered by Odinga was grave enough for the Supreme Court to agree with him to cancel the results of the election and with that Kenyatta’s pyrrhic victory.

Akombe’s purposeful flight may be dramatic, it is warranted. Before the August 2017 election, her colleague, the head of the IEBC’s IT department, Chris Msando, was kidnapped, tortured, murdered, his corpse dumped in the back of nowhere.  If there was much doubt left as to the lack of integrity in the electoral system, following Akombe’s swift exist, stage left, the Chairperson of the IEBC, Wafula Chebukati has nailed it firmly, shut.

Chebukati has reportedly told the AFP that the commission, organiser again of the impending re run, is in crises.  He is quoted as having said, ‘Under such conditions, it’s difficult to guarantee a free, fair and credible election.”

_______________________________________________________________

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, Odinga has leveled allegations against the IEBC again and pulled out of the re run.  Kenyatta’s lot have filed a contempt of court case against him.  How dare Odinga not want to play?  The petulant birthday boy would like at least one guest at his party to watch him ‘win’ again.

Question.  Election observers including our own former President John (IV), former President Thabo Mebki and others were in situ for round one and did/could not see the obvious electoral malpractices.  Will they now save the travel budgets of the regional bodies and development partners who sponsor their ‘work’ and stay home.  Or will they go back to Nairobi and this time, shine their eyes, even after the fact?

The narrative in Kenya has been framed, at least for next week.  Should we be worried again about the narrative at our TOR and BOST as well?