Investigative journalism is difficult. It often requires extra hard work. Self denial – and sacrifice.
It is expensive. It requires time. In fact, it is like exorcising witchcraft. If you do not have time and patience, don’t start it.
Investigative journalism also needs courage. It needs extra-ordinary courage. The courage to dispel the fear and possibility of being hurt. And more importantly, the courage to resist irresistible offers.
The motivation and passion to carry on must come from within. The desire to expose rot must not be fueled by the fame that comes with putting the story out there. Sometimes the fame is not worth the risk.
Sometimes the only motivation is to see an end to injustice. The joy that of seeing lives saved and society becoming better through your work as a journalist is enormous.
At times, the only motivation that will keep a journalist digging to the end of the scary tale is when they feel the pain of their subjects, when the journalist is outraged by the injustice their subjects suffer and desires to see them smile.
The action taken to curb society’s ills when the story is finally published, is the greatest reward and inner satisfaction any journalist can ever get. Even if the story wins you a journalism award and the rot is not blotted out, you still live with the pain of the injustice you sought to end. The feeling is like risking your life to give the police information about a criminal and getting rewarded, yet the criminal walks in your neighbourhood terrorizing more victims.
Reward for Investigative Journalism
In countries where leaders have conscience and desire to deal with the ills of society, investigative journalists often get their reward.
On August 9, 1974, Richard Milhous Nixon resigned as the 37th President of the United States following public pressure, which came in the wake of the Washington Post’s series of investigative reports on the Watergate Scandal.
“By taking this action,” Mr Nixon, the first president in the history of the United States to resign said, “I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.”
Yes! Healing. The rot, which investigative journalists seek to expose, often inflict pain on society and individuals. When it is corrected, it brings healing.
The two investigative reporters who are credited with Watergate Scandal, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, have had their names immortalized. But they are not the only journalists who can look back with satisfaction on how their works yielded positive results.
In 2007, two female reporters of the same Washington Post went undercover and exposed how bureaucracy and administrative lapses at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre resulted in the poor treatment of soldiers who had returned from war. A day after Anne Hull and Dana Priest’s story run, the Army began cleaning up the substandard housing.
President George W. Bush visited the facility, publicly apologized to the soldiers and the American people and promised to fix the problem. The president set up commission to look into the issues and the outcome was positive.
But even before the commission was set up, the Commander of the Walter Reed, the Secretary of the army and the Surgeon-General of the army were all removed from their jobs.
“The Walter Reed stuff landed with a ferocious wallop,” Anne Hull, one of the two investigative journalists who exposed the rot at the medical centre, said. “Washington – Congress – the Pentagon, the White House –all reacted in dramatic fashion. It was a reminder to everyone in the Post newsroom that journalism is still this mighty tool for good.”
What happens in Ghana
Journalism is still this mighty tool for good. But, that is not the case everywhere.
Fast-forward to 2013, and in the Republic of Gyeedaland. Ministers of State and government officials have conspired with businessmen to hijack a programme meant to provide hope for the jobless and hopeless youth of the nation.
Government, on the advice of a fifth committee, which reviewed the work of the Ministerial Committee of Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Development Agency (GYEEDA) last month, issued an “action paper” which is as scandalous as the GYEEDA rot.
All the “actions and directives” in that so-called action paper were contained in one ambiguous and dishonest paragraph:
“The Ministerial Impact Assessment & Review Committee admits that they did not have access to all information they required and did not have enough time to get into greater details on certain other aspects of the report. It also made known that the Committee was unable to interrogate some of the individuals mentioned in the report. Consequently, and in compliance with the principles of natural justice, EOCO and the Attorney General’s Department as well as the Police CID have been directed to commence action against all persons and organizations cited in the Ministerial Committee Report in respect of financial and administrative improprieties, as well as retrieval of monies to state.”
The ministerial committee specifically named persons who had allegedly embezzled some funds and said they, should be referred to the police and the Attorney General’s Department for prosecution. The best any government that is serious about fighting corruption could have done was to ask the police or EOCO to deal with these persons while it took steps to cancel the senseless contracts as the committee recommended.
But the action of government since the committee presented its report points to a grand cover up. The timing of the release report was even suspicious. The government waited until the eve of the Supreme Court ruling before releasing the report which it had all along treated like an occult secret code.
After the ruling, people will forget about GYEEDA, they thought. It’s strange how politicians think the rest of us are too stupid to know these schemes.
Progress of the GYEEDA scandal
From credible sources, the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO) is the only body currently conducting further investigations into the activities of the GYEEDA officials who are said to have embezzled money or taken bribes to facilitate contracts. The Attorney-General’s Department is standing by for dockets from EOCO to “start prosecution.”
It is important to note that the National Security investigated these individuals in 2012 and found them culpable. For strange reasons, however, the National Security failed to release that report, a copy of which this writer secured in the course of his investigation. Now EOCO is doing the same job the state spent money on the national security to travel to Kumasi to do.
My sources tell me that EOCO is handling only the issues bordering on criminality and not the contractual issues.
The individuals cited in the GYEEDA report for embezzlement are only a little part of the whole GYEEDA scandal. The real scandal is in the outrageous contracts which “were heavily skewed in favour of companies owned by the following persons: Mr. Roland Agambire, Mr. Joseph Agyapong and Mr. Seidu Agongo.” That’s what the committee observed.
It is also important to note that the committee met all the persons and companies cited in the report. In some cases, they met them two or three times. The Youth and Sports Minister, Elvis Afriyie Ankrah, confirmed this to Joy FM a week before the committee presented its report to the President. He said the committee had done a “thorough and comprehensive work.”
So it is strange how government is making the committee look as if it did a shoddy and incomplete work.
The committee specifically recommended the cancellation of many contracts, which is the major recommendation that will save the nation huge sums of money if carried out.
The question now is: why is government not cancelling those contracts since the report was submitted to it in July? EOCO, the CID and the A-G’s Department are not working on those contracts, I can confirm. The committee’s value for money and other comprehensive analyses are enough to enable anybody to take action. So is there no action or directive about the contracts in the so-called “action paper”?
Does President John Mahama want to tell us that he still needs more reason to know that a contract that allows Zoomlion to pocket GH¢400 while the poor widow with children gets only GH¢100 at the end of the month does not comply with “principles of natural justice?”
Or does the President want any more reason to know that the contract, which allowed Better Ghana Management Service to take GH¢195 at the end of the month while Eric Baduwo, the 41-year old visually impaired father of three, goes home with GH¢55 at the end of the month, is bad?
Among other violations of this contract is the fact that Zoomlion deducts GH ¢5 from each beneficiary, to which it is supposed to add another GH¢5 from its huge profit per beneficiary and pay into a provident fund. But I found out that the company deducts the money from the meager beneficiary allowance but refuses to pay into the provident fund. Mr Baduwo, who is no longer under GYEEDA, went home each month with GH¢55 but Better Ghana Management Service never paid a pesewa into his provident fund.
Any honest action paper would have separated the contractual issues, which the committee exhaustively dealt with, from the issues of criminal prosecution, which the committee specifically referred to the police and the Attorney General’s Department.
Any honest action paper should have mentioned how the state intends to retrieve the over GH¢200 million from the companies cited in the report.
Per my rough calculation, the nation is losing not less than GH¢50 million every month as long as the contracts remain. Management fees paid by only two of the companies, Zoomlion and Better Ghana Management Services (both belonging to Joseph Siaw Agyapong) is more than GH¢25 million every month.
Instead of addressing these issues, and making the youth employment programme viable, we heard President Mahama last week at the UN General Assembly announce the creation of Youth Jobs and Enterprise Development Fund. What about GYEEDA? Where are we going to get the money to create that fund? And will the fund not dissipate in the same way the GYEEDA funds did?
The frustration and despair
When I called one of my main sources in the GYEEDA investigation and asked how it felt about the government action paper, I heard one of the most disparaging comments ever:
“This is the last attempt I have made in order to help expose rot. When I see people looting national coffers, I will look away. It is not worth risking your life when those who are supposed to act are in bed with the perpetrators.”
For the investigative journalist in Ghana, the frustration is worse than that of the whistle blower. You will have party functionaries, including ministers of state, who go about saying you’re working for the opposition party.
You will have some barely literate youth insulting you on radio and social media while more enlightened people like Dr Charles Wereko Brobbey will tell you on radio that, as a journalist, you have to shut up after exposing the rot. Leave the rest for the public and others to deal with.
The question often is: who will deal with it?
The public? We don’t have citizens who are serious about their development. My senior colleague, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, did a fantastic job on the rot at the Electricity Company of Ghana. Nothing has been done about it and the ECG has the guts to increase tariffs. Elsewhere, the public would not pay a cent more for power until the ECG sealed the loopholes. But, here we complain on radio and go ahead to pay.
So who will deal with it?
Social commentators and the media? For those who did not know, the media is one of the most corrupt institutions in Ghana, and any investigative journalist wanting to deal with the rot in our society must brace up for stiff opposition from the media. It is only in Ghana that you have seven newspapers with the same banner headline in a day: MARTIN AMIDU MUST GO!
A few days later, almost all newspapers and radio stations, in a seemingly jubilant mood, carried the same headlines: MARTIN AMIDU IS FIRED! Why was he fired? The watchdogs of society did not care to know.
If you’re thinking about only the “rented press,” in this case, then you’re wrong. We had some of the most “credible” newspapers conspiring with government propagandists to spin weird tales about how the former Attorney-General misbehaved in the presence of the president and was fired.
It turned out that Mr Amidu’s misbehaviour was his determination to retrieve monies that were wrongfully paid as judgment debt.
For potential investigative journalist
So am I trying to discourage young journalists who want to do investigative reporting in Ghana? No!
At the Sam Arthur Memorial Lecture at the Ghana Institute of Journalism a few years ago, the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Accra Diocese of the Catholic Church, Rt. Rev. Charles Palmer Buckle likened journalists to prophets. We should not stop warning even if our warnings are ignored.
One of my favorite quotations in the Holy Bible is Odomankoma’s warning to his prophets in Ezekiel 33:7-9.
“Now as for you, son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel; so you will hear a message from My mouth and give them warning from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life.”
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a Senior Broadcast Journalist at Joy FM.