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Coming out of the hotels – Elizabeth Ohene writes

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When it comes to what subjects I write on in my column, it is often as the spirit moves me, always with the understanding that I am not the type of person to write on Ian Smith and Rhodesia on the day that three former heads of state are executed in Ghana.

Sometimes I do choose to wait out the noise on some subjects and then get onto it when I can see a different path from what had been trodden bare.

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Four Mondays ago, I sent this message to the Editor of the Graphic: “I’m unable to write a column this week. All my instincts are to write about the brouhaha that has started about SSNIT and the hotels.

Since I chair the SSNIT Board, I feel inhibited, not because I have nothing to say but because I am not clear in my mind about the rules and conventions on going public with Board matters.

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But then, I also don’t really want to write about any other subject and give the impression I am running away from the subject that is dominating discussions. So, I am afraid I am not offering a column this week.”

I have now gone for three weeks without offering any script for the column, and I am thinking that my continuing silence might be interpreted as disrespect or guilt of whatever I am being accused of.

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Plus, last Friday, I went to the launch of a book, written by one of my favourite people and I really want to write about the book, and I can hardly launch myself back into the column without addressing the subject matter that took me off in the first place. So, here goes.

When the Board I chair was inaugurated in August 2021, the Director-General I met often said that SSNIT was like the Black Stars in the sentiments of Ghanaians, all 34 million of us have a view on it and with SSNIT, he thought the widespread interest was legitimate because even if you don’t contribute to the scheme yourself, your uncle, or niece or friend does and their tomorrows are at stake. We both agreed that pension funds are sacred.
Front page

My constant refrain with my Board of Trustees is we should have at the back of our minds that every step we take and every decision we make, could end up on the front page of the Daily Graphic and we should be comfortable with the ensuing headline. I would then add my own personal credo that I had brought with me to the Board.

We met lots of outstanding matters that had been unresolved for years. I announced at every opportunity that I was not prepared to kick any problem down the road for the next set of people to resolve.

We would take decisions and try to resolve issues that come up. Maybe we would make some mistakes and if that is shown up, I would take responsibility, but I would not be paralysed into inaction by the fear of displeasing some people.

I did not imagine that my theories would be played out so graphically and tested in real time so soon. I am afraid I have not followed, as keenly as I should have, the discussions that have been going on since the Honourable Member for North Tongu started his campaign against what he has variously described as the SSNIT Board and management’s disregard for due process, abuse of power, corruption, lack of transparency, deception, procurement breaches etc. etc. etc.
Woodin father’s Day

From what I can work out, there are a number of issues that are being raised about the decision to divest a 60 per cent stake in the shares of the six hotels owned by SSNIT: an ideological resistance to the idea of divesting shares in the hotels to a strategic investor, especially since some of the hotels are said to be profitable; the process through which the preferred bidder, Rock City Limited, was chosen, was corrupt; the owner of Rock City, Bryan Acheampong, is a Minister of State and should therefore not be able to bid for a state asset.

There are other side issues that come up depending on who is talking and the person’s individual idiosyncrasies. I will not try to lay out the arguments here for the need to divest shares in the ownership of the hotels, I will simply say that I was persuaded by the decision that the SSNIT Board had taken back in 2018 and I determined to make it a reality.

I am able to say with the utmost certainty that the process that led to the selection of Rock City as the Preferred Bidder was clean, above board and met every rule and regulation and can withstand every scrutiny.

Mr Okudzeto Ablakwa claims to have God and Ghana on the side of his campaign, and I would hope all of God’s Angels and Ghana’s investigative agencies, temporal and spiritual, would examine the process and tell the world if they find any irregularity or trace of corrupt practice. Indeed, if they should find any evidence of corruption, I will assume and accept responsibility and expect to be prosecuted.
Political colouration

I accept that this being an election year, everything takes on a political colouration and Bryan Acheampong being the owner of Rock City is obviously the main reason the decibel level of the discussions has gone so high.

By all means, let us have a discussion about a company belonging to a Minister of State winning an open, competitive bid, no matter how fairly; but surely that is a different argument from whether SSNIT can, or is allowed to find private sector investment for its hotels and any of its other wholly or majority-owned investments.

Quite a number of things baffle me, but I will mention two: the suggestion that this was some secret thing being done that has been discovered and the sordid details are being exposed by a Member of Parliament and secondly, the suggestion that the President of the Republic, and by extension, the government took the decision and was in some way, in charge of the divestiture process of the shares in the hotels owned by SSNIT.

If you want to do something in secret, it would be very strange to announce your intentions with advertisements in the Daily Graphic, the Ghanaian Times and the Economist. And yet, that is exactly what SSNIT did when its Board of Trustees took the decision to seek a strategic investor to take a 60 per cent stake in the six hotels it owns.

The advertisements were followed by various public statements by SSNIT executives at various stages, once the process got going. Indeed, the last two times that SSNIT appeared before the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, the subject of trying to find a strategic investor in the hotels came up and SSNIT was urged to hurry with the process and conclude what it was doing.
Strategic investor

So, one can safely say that some people in Parliament, at the very least, the members of the Public Accounts Committee were aware that SSNIT was seeking to divest 60 per cent of its stake in the hotels and the members did not sound like they thought it was such a terrible idea, nor that something untoward was going on.

Suddenly, Ghanaians are being urged to think and believe that getting a strategic investor to take a stake in the hotels amounts to a sordid crime. I am at a total loss to understand how the President and the government got into this.

Mr Okudzeto Ablakwa appears to know something I don’t. The Board of Trustees certainly did not go to get permission or even inform the President of the Republic or any Minister about the decision to seek a strategic investor to take a stake in the hotels.

The Board did not need such permission, was not obliged to inform the government and did not do so. I have seen no evidence in the records of past Boards going to the government or the President to get permission to make an investment decision.

The Board did not involve the President, nor the Minister, nor the government in the process. The Act that governs SSNIT makes no such provision and I had thought it was in everyone’s interest that the pension fund is kept away from government interference.

Obviously, a demonstration is more sexy when it ends at Jubilee House, but I assure the Honourable Member for North Tongu he was out by a long shot.

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