The President of the Millennium Excellence Foundation (MEF), Mr Ashim Morton, on Monday took his turn at the Parliamentary Special Committee hearing and categorically debunked allegations that expatriate businesses paid money in order to gain access to the President at the Ghana Expatriate Business Awards (GEBA) held in Accra on December 4, 2017.
He said per the sponsorship benefit package of the event designed solely by the foundation, persons who paid $100,000 would sit on the Presidential Gold Table, as well as have an exclusive dinner with the President of the MEF after the event.
“Assuming that we had 10 to 15 companies paying $100,000, I would never have expected to think that the Head of State would have dinner with 10 or 15 people. Certainly it was for the president of the foundation to show gratitude to expatriate businesses for their support to this initiative,” he stated.
Grilled seven hours
Mr Morton was testifying before the committee investigating the cash-for-seats saga on Monday.
He was accompanied by the Chairman of the MEF, Ambassador Victor Gbeho, and his counsel, Mr Charles W. Zwennes.
Mr Morton and Mr Gbeho were grilled for close to seven hours by the five-member committee, who interrogated them on the nature of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) the foundation signed with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the collaboration, the sponsorship package, the account into which the proceeds of the event were lodged, their expertise in organising such event, among others.
Payment of sponsorships
Using a chart to illustrate the seating arrangement at the GEBA event, Mr Morton said there were a number of companies that sponsored the event with various sums of money, including $15,000, $25,000 and $50,000, with one paying $75,000.
He said there were some companies and chief executives of other expatriate businesses that also paid nothing, while a number of the award recipients who also sat on the presidential table did not pay anything to receive awards.
He explained that on the Gold Table were 20 seats, with 11 expatriates businessmen who did not pay the alleged $100,000 to sit at the table, except the Chairman of Interplast Ghana Limited, who paid $100,000 after the event.
He named the expatriate businessmen and women as the Chairman of the Mohanni Group, the Chief Executive of Japan Motors, the Chief Executive of Tigo-Airtel Ghana, the Executive Chairman of Zenith Bank Group, the Chief Executive of Melcom Ghana, the Chief Executive of Geo Grill Ghana and the Chief Executive of B+5 Ghana.
He identified the nine non-expatriates who sat on the presidential table as President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo; the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr Alan Kyerematen; his deputy, Mr Carlos Ahenkorah; the Greater Accra Regional Minister, Mr Ishmael Ashittey; the Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, Mr Yofi Grant, former President Jerry John Rawlings and his wife Nana Konadu.
According to him, out of the 23 expatriate businesses that received awards, 13 did not provide sponsorship and yet received awards, which illustrated the fact that people did not pay to receive awards.
“Out of the 11 businessmen who had complementary seats on the Gold Table, five sponsored the programme before the awards, with two giving only extraction contributions after the awards,” he said.
Mr Morton recounted how the foundation began organising awards from 1999/2000, held similar events in 2005, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017 in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya, with various Presidents of Ghana, including Flt Lt Rawlings, Mr John Agyekum Kufuor, the late Professor John Evans Atta Mills and Mr John Dramani Mahama, attending, sitting on the presidential high table and being honoured.
Besides, he said, the event had also bestowed honours on a number of African Heads of States, including Mr Robert Mugabe, Col Muamar Qaddafi of Libya, Mr Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, as well as renowned African businessmen.
Answering questions on how funds were raised for the event, Mr Morton said per the MoU with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, it was the foundation’s exclusive responsibility to raise funds for the initiative.
As a result, he said, it went ahead to design the benefit sponsorship package, met with potential sponsors and convinced them to understand the purpose of the initiative and its package categories from which they could choose.
Asked if he, as the President of the MEF, was familiar with the benefit package document titled: “Ghana Expatriate Event” and signed by Mr Ahenkorah that was sent to the expatriate businesses, he denied knowledge of it, saying the document had been doctored.
While acknowledging the fact that he was privy to the content of the document that contained first cover sheet, a second cover sheet that had Mr Ahenkorah’s signature and a third sheet attached containing sponsorship criteria, he blatantly denied ever administering to potential sponsors such document which the foundation sent out in a sealed envelope.
The President of MEF told the committee that the idea to have an account at the Ministry of Trade and Industry for the event was initiated by the ministry to ensure accountability, transparency and the integrity of the entire process of fundraising by the foundation.
Touching on how much the foundation spent towards the event, he said it expended GH¢40,000 but received in total GH¢2,367,426.06 from the ministry.
‘No one was coaxed’
For his part, Mr Gbeho said in organising the event, the foundation did not coax or levy any expatriate business to come up with sums of money to enable the chief executives to sit next to the Head of State.
He said the foundation rather found voluntary sponsors to support the first-class event and did not engage in any cash for seats, nor did it indicate that any expatriate business would be excluded if it did not sponsor.
“I wish to confirm that the foundation did not participate or encourage any strategy to steal money from any businessman or the government.
“On other hand, the foundation appreciated the scheme that we developed with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, including the procedure to open an account with the ministry for purposes of accountability and setting up a large committee to ensure the participation of as many stakeholders as possible,” he said.