Foreign Minister, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey has been strongly defended after her value-for-money judgement was questioned in moves to purchase a property in Norway for $12 million to be used as an embassy.
Doing the defending, veteran journalist Kweku Baako has argued that the said property in Oslo could not have been inflated as claimed by opposition MP Okudzeto Ablakwa.
For five days straight since Monday, Okudzeto has captured media headlines after alleging the building offered for sale at $12 million is overpriced by at least $8 million.
As his evidence, the North Tongu NDC MP has a Norwegian newspaper article calling the cost unethical and documents showing the building only a year ago was sold for $3.5 million.
The Foreign minister added her own drama to the controversy in a heated dress down of the NDC MP in the corridors of Parliament and in public view.[embedded content]
She has since apologized for her tantrums and in tender ways, explained the ministry has not purchased the building.
That has not stopped the Minority spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Okudzeto Ablakwa from courting the president’s attention to commission a probe.
But with the court of public opinion hearing the matter, the veteran journalist Kweku Baako questioned the opposition MP’s genuine interest in resolving the controversy.
He argued that Norway has proper systems for determining the cost of property unlike Ghana where arbitrary prices are set according to the whims of the owner.
The $12 million for the building and another $3 million for the residence of the ambassador were not set by the seller but by independent valuers.
“It is not a question of somebody asking another person to inflate the figures so that we can have a cut… you can’t do it without being caught.” he praised Norway’s property market on Joy News’ TV show Newsfile Saturday.
But Baako’s main bone of contention was to question Okudzeto’s disregard for parliamentary processes for finding answers to his questions and his rush to partisan point-scoring in a controversy-thirsty media space.
Mr. Baako, a pro-democracy activist in the tumultuous 1980s and early 1990s said concerns about the cost of the property was first detected at the committee of Foreign Affairs.
Okudzeto, he said, had drawn the attention of the chairman of the committee, Frank Annoh-Dompreh who is MP for Nsawam-Adoagyiri constituency in the Eastern region, to the cost contained in the Foreign Affairs ministry’s proposed budget for parliamentary approval.
According to Baako, the two MPs on rival sides of the House had a gentleman’s agreement to exclude the Oslo property from the 2019 budget items up for parliamentary approval.
“Gentleman’s agreement happens everyday in Parliament,” he said noting the MP cooperate with each other to do parliamentary business.
He said the Foreign Affairs minister presenting estimates of her ministry’s budget did not mention the matter of the property in Parliament except to mention that government has established an embassy in Norway.
He referred to a Finance ministry letter dated 6 August 2018 indicating the release of $1.3 million for setting up a mission in Norway.
Baako explained that the choice of words in the minister’s statement to parliament was important because establishing an embassy was very different from buying a property to be used as an embassy.
By establishing an embassy, the minister meant officers had been appointed, a property had been rented and some monies released for goods and services.
Baako said, it was Okudzeto who first mentioned the controversial $12 million property when he rose up to speak to the ministry’s budget.
This move left the Chairman of the committee stunned and Baako scandalised for breaking a gentleman’s agreement to probe the matter at the committee level.
The Speaker of Parliament was told by the minister, the report for consideration by Parliament did not contain any budget item for buying the building at Oslo, Baako referred to the Hansard for a blow-by-blow account of the episode in Parliament.
The Speaker of Parliament after indulging Okudzeto’s evidence pointing to malfeasance rejected them as unreliable and signaled to the opposition MP to push for a parliamentary inquiry by following the steps in the Standing Orders to obtain a probe.
The Majority leader Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu also signaled same, Baako continued.
But right after leaving that chamber, the Minority Spokesperson for foreign affairs engaged the media which Baako described as an “extra parliamentary platform where people talk anywhere and by political colour you can escape justice”.
In the media, the noise level increases with the partisanship and the controversy remains unresolved, Baako who is Managing editor of the New Crusading Guide said.
He said there was no way the Foreign Affairs ministry would purchase the building without parliamentary approval.
He expressed shock at what he observed the NDC MP’s lack of appreciation for parliamentary practices and said there was a “second purpose” for his “pre-emptive strike” by raising an issue that was not part of the ministry’s report to Parliament.
But there is also another school of thought that had Okudzeto not raised the issues, the Foreign Affairs ministry would have gone ahead to buy the property at $12 million.[embedded content]