Mahama Ayariga

Gov’t must take the blame for misplaced priorities in sport!

I am sure majority of you are taken aback by the headline for this piece I am about to write.

It is time for a few home truths to be rammed home, not least because of several revelations that have come out during the ongoing public hearings of the Presidential Commission of Enquiry.

For me, all the governments since 2001 are responsible for the current lopsidedness of priorities, especially with regard to sport and I will explain.

Instability at Ministry of Youth and Sports

To have a medium to long-term plan for sports in this country, one of the things that has to be done is to give a sports minister enough time to attempt to meet the objectives set by the appointing body.

Hence, during the NPP years from 2001 to 2008, you would have expected two, or maybe three appointments at the most, as far as the Ministry of Youth and Sports was concerned.

Under the current political dispensation, which returned in 2009, perhaps two ministers at the most would have been appointed. Unfortunately, the opposite happened under both dispensations.

For the NPP governments (two terms under ex-President Kufuor), Mallam Issa was the first appointed Sports Minister. After he was fired over some missing $46,000, Papa Owusu Ankomah took over, followed by the late Edward Osei Kwaku.

Yaw Osaafo Maafo took over during the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign, but Papa Owusu Ankomah returned in time for the World Cup itself.

The late Kwadwo Baah Wiredu took over the position and was eventually replaced by Professor Dominic Fobih ahead of the 2008 African Nations Cup. That represents seven appointments in seven years.

The current political dispensation hasn’t fared better. Alhaji Mohammed Muntaka was the first appointee as Minister for Youth and Sports and lasted eight months before being removed after the infamous ‘pampers’ affair.

Rashid Pelpuo came in and not too long after that, Akua Sena Dansua was appointed. After the 2010 World Cup, Clement Kofi Humado was appointed before Elvis Afriyie came to the post in February 2013.

Currently Mahama Ayariga is the occupant of the position and that makes it six appointments in five years.

For me, that is a sure recipe for disaster! If the top position of Sports Minister can experience so much instability, is it any wonder that misplaced priorities in our sports has become so accentuated that now, it is not even a case of football being favoured over other sporting disciplines, but the Black Stars is not only favoured, but is now such an important cash cow that even other aspects of football are ignored, not to mention the other sporting disciplines?

Spending lavishly in the name of the Black Stars

In fact, because of the Black Stars, many individuals have colluded to rob the state of funds just to line their pockets. Many would focus their anger at the Ghana Football Association but for me, the government of today has to carry the major can of responsibility.

For example, as per revelations at the Commission, how is it that buying ingredients to cook food for 600 plus supporters could cost as much as $37,000 and this expenditure was done not once, but five times?

Even directions to Brazilian shops to buy the ingredients coast the state a so-called commission of $4000, and after being shown the directions five times, the bill now comes to $20,000.

The presence of these supporters also meant that three catering firms each earned $19,200 for services rendered, despite the fact that the ingredients were purchased for each of the three firms.

That is a clear case of wastage and misappropriation of funds and fingers have to be pointed directly at the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Cabinet and the government.

How could these august bodies approve such monies? Is it because of the ‘God’ called the Black Stars? Misplaced priorities indeed!

The ‘Mathematical Co-efficient’ of financial distribution

Again, the Ghana Football Association can present a bill for paying appearance fees of $82,500 per management team member of the Black Stars and it is approved by Cabinet and paid out by government through the Ministry.

That is a total amount of $577,500, which according to GFA President Kwesi Nyantakyi, was shared amongst 20 people, with the seven management team members (sorry, I forgot. There were actually five, with the demise of Jordan Anagblah two years ago and the absence of Emmanuel Kyeremeh for the last 18 months) sharing an amount of $165,000.

Of course, some are larger than others and that is why the trio of Moses Armah, Kwame Ofosu Bamfo and Yaw Boateng Gyan received $20,000 each instead of $33,000 each, had the money been shared equally.

I will leave you to make your own conclusions on that, but for the government to supervise the distribution of $412,500 amongst 20 nameless people without proper disbursement procedure is shocking to say the least.

Does that mean that Cabinet would not even bother to do due diligence on the justification for releasing such monies, but acts only on the say so of the Sports Minister?

Is government now telling us that as long as it is the Black Stars, financial indiscipline and laxity will reign forever? Is this not an avenue for others to enrich themselves? Why am I not surprised that an unnamed Minister of State received $50,000 for oiling the wheels as it were?

The curious case of ‘protocol’ and ‘oiling the wheels’

Again, some investigations reveal that one of the items on the bill for the World Cup qualifying matches was titled ‘protocol’, which is viewed as a very important part of a successful qualifying campaign.

Indeed, sometimes the ‘protocol’ bill ranges from $100,000 to $200,000 a match.

I will not go too deep into what ‘protocol’ actually is, but it represents ‘certain courtesies extended’ to oil the wheels and win games to ensure qualifications.

I am not going to go deeper than that but I am sure you can deduce the meaning yourselves.

Woes of being a least-financed sporting discipline

So in addition to the bonuses paid, ‘protocol’ also has to be taken care off, but there are a minimum of 35 sporting associations that are crying out for a yearly subvention of just $40,000 to run its activities.

Is it not embarrassing that the Ghana Netball Association and the Ghana Tennis Federation were both suspended from international competition for failure to pay affiliation fees? In the case of Ghana tennis, it took an individual to pay the owed $11,000.

The Ghana Rugby Association has received just $5000 in three years; the National Amputee football team, which has qualified for the World Cup after doing well in the African competition, has a total budget of $400,000, which has still not been paid to the Ghana Disabled Sports Association.

This budget only covered appearance fees for four players at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Amateur Boxing, which used to be a major strength for Ghana, has been left to its fate, with lack of proper training facilities, lack of proper training for coaches and lack of support for the boxers themselves. So now, boxing is not at the level it used to be.

Weightlifters and Swimmers would travel and return to Ghana with many medals and the most they would get is political double talk and promises of strengthening structures which never happen, but the best is a tour by the minister and breakfast in a plush hotel.

‘Protocol’ versus other owed national team expenditure

If you think I am harping too much on the other sports, then what about other aspects of football? How come the coaches of the other national football teams are owed more that $200,000 in salaries?

If ‘protocol’ for Black Stars World Cup qualifying matches comes to at least $100,000 a match, then that comes to a minimum of $800,000 spent on ‘protocol’ for the entire World Cup qualifying campaign.

Could expenditure on ‘protocol’ not have either been reduced or eradicated so that the various national team coaches get what is due them? Ghana abounds in talent, so why so much is being spent on ‘protocol’ and ‘oiling the wheels’ is beyond me!

Was there an artificial disagreement created over the appearance fees?

Already, my investigations are beginning to reveal that contrary to the impression being created by everybody, government and by extension cabinet actually agreed to pay the Black Stars players $100,000 by way of appearance fees in April, two clear months before the World Cup.

Indeed, an unnamed member of the World Cup squad borrowed $100,000 from the banking sponsors of the Black Stars, Unibank, with the codicil that the payment will be done with the expected $100,000 to come in appearance fees.

Indeed, a senior member of the technical team signed the guarantee for that loan and this was done in April!

So why then was the picture created that the agreement with the players was only reached during the World Cup and who was responsible for holding up payment of the money, which resulted in worldwide embarrassment for the country when over $4 million was flown to Brazil?

What is wrong with us as a nation? More importantly, what is wrong with our cabinet and our government? Where have our priorities gone?

Thou shalt worship no other Gods, even if it’s the Black Stars

I am sorry, but government must take a long hard look at itself for the mess that has been created and for making the Black Stars items of idol worship that has brought up the nation in the worst possible way.

What is sickening is that fact that for all the financial wastage, the last time the Black Stars won anything of note at senior level was in 1982, 32 years ago.

Black Stars: from Goody two shoes to villains of the piece

Had the Black Stars won in Casablanca for example, that would have been a minimum of $400,000 in per diems and bonuses.

A win in Tamale on Wednesday would result in a similar payment. No wonder it appears that many more people are growing apathetic when it comes to the Black Stars, whose squeaky clean image as acting as shining lights for the nation has transmogrified into a dark image of mercenaries who are now playing for cash instead of for honour.

I can only hope that government will implement the findings of the Dzamefe Commission, but I am worried because, for me, several heads in government should roll because of the evidence of financial wastage but for political expediency, many might just go scot-free.

It is a pity, but our approach to sports in this country is a scattergun approach, with the Black Stars unjustifiably seen as a meal ticket, rather than just an aspect of what we can do in sports.

The sudden rush to bid to host the 2017 African Nations Cup is only a microcosm of how, as a nation, we have sacrificed medium to long term planning on the altar of political favour and sooner or later, if this does not stop, Ghana would be left with nothing; absolutely nothing!

 

 

By Christopher Opoku

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