In this country, entrepreneurs and capitalist captains of businesses have always received massive attacks from both government and opposition parties for diverse reasons. This behaviour which flows out of our military takeovers, dirty and petty partisan politics has seen great Ghanaian entrepreneurs such as B A Mensah of International Tobacco Company, Siaw of Tata Brewery, Akenteng Appiah-Menkah of Apino 2000 fame, S. C. Appenteng of Vaccum Salt/Panbros, Richmond Aggrey of Spacefon, AlhajiYusif Ahmed of Priers Hotel, and many others losing their companies, thereby paving the way for trans-national companies to take over their niche markets.
In recent times, Mr Joseph Siaw Agyepong, Chairman of the Jospong Group of Companies has come under more serious threat from politicians and their unconstructed foot-soldiers with a sole grand design to destroy his business empire as a retribution.
It looks like our political leaders in government and their communicators are always envious of successful entrepreneurs who are either suspected opposition party sympathisers or opposition party bankrollers, whilst the political opposition leaders and their sponsored loud-mouth foot-soldiers also target the reputation of entrepreneurs associated with ruling government for destruction. This useless agenda of targeting entrepreneurs have become rampant since the inception of Ghana`s Fourth Republic. Thus, change of government in Ghana today has a direct effect on the businesses of some big-time Ghanaian entrepreneurs.
One critical observation, for instance, is the rise and fall of certain micro-finance companies with the rise and fall of Ghana`s two major parties, New Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Congress (NDC). Whenever NPP wins political power, suddenly there emerge brand new registered businesses with their owners closely associated with the NPP. The situation is the same when NDC also wins. This has been going on in this country for the past 25 years.
Ex-president Jerry John Rawlings was the architect of this politics of targeting entrepreneurs and their businesses for destruction right from his tenures as military leader of Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) from 1982 to 1992 and as civilian leader of NDC from 1992-2000.
Rawlings and his military juntas attacks on the local entrepreneurs (1979-1992)
When Rawlings undertook his first military putsch on 4th June 1979 with his Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) he blamed the greater part of Ghana’s economic and social woes on some businessmen who hide behind the curtain to dupe the country through trade malpractices and other anti-social activities. As a result, he the razed down Accra’s Makola Market which the AFRC regarded as the bastion of corruption.
In a swift move, the regime established special kangaroo courts to try many prominent entrepreneurs on charges of “crimes against the state,” which consisted primarily of fraudulent acquisition of import licenses, business malpractices (especially with regard to tax evasion), and alleged “profiteering.” It was during this repressive era that the multimillion dollar Accra-based TATA Brewery owned by the famous and hardworking Kwahu business mogul J. K. Siaw, was confiscated.
Rawlings` second return as military Head of State of Ghana in 1982 also saw his regime attacking major indigenous entrepreneurs. Joint public-private companies were nationalised, businessmen who were against the regime were chased from the country, whilst those who remained were made to face the draconian teeth of the Public Tribunals and Citizen Vetting Committee (CVC). The CVC’s mandate was to “investigate persons whose lifestyles and expenditures substantially exceeded their known or declared incomes.
Per the terms of operations of CVC, anyone with a bank balance of 50,000 Cedis (about US$16,000 at the official exchange rate) or more could be investigated for tax avoidance and default. This was a clear attempt of the PNDC regime`s intention to deal drastically with entrepreneurs to create a utopian egalitarian and classless society they had touted.
For instance, a businessman who made C595,000 in profit in December 1981 but had under-declared his income by using an average monthly profit of C500,000 to calculate his income was levied a penal liability of C3.9 million, which he failed to pay by CVC. Unable to meet the astronomical penalty, the businessman forfeited his bank savings, his car, a warehouse of goods, and other assets to the state.
Industrialist Kwame Safo-Adu, owner of pharmaceutical factory, Industrial Chemicals Limited (ICL),was put on trial for borrowing US$1.3 million from the World Bank through National Investment Bank (NIB) in order to purchase machines and equipment for expansion whilst B A Mensah`s International Tobacco Company was confiscated. Mr S. C. Appenteng, one of the leading Ghanaian businessmen at the time and owner of Vacuum Salt Products was also ill-treated and his company also ceased.
The PNDC detained Appiah-Menkah owner of Appiah-Menkah Complex producers of Apino soap which employed 267 people with 570 agents, on several occasions starting in 1983.
Major Kwame Asante, owner of Kastena Air Processing factory near Kumasi who took a World Bank loan through the NIB to produce oxygen for hospitals and gas cylinders for domestic and commercial purposes before PNDC came to power also had his company confiscated with 200 strong soldiers in November 1989. However, the regime, left Mr Ocran of Mankoadze Fishery off the hook despite his company`s friction with the cadres and workers.
Continuation of Rawlings` attacks on local entrepreneurs under Fourth Republic (1992-2000)
When Ghana returned to the civilian rule in 1992, Rawlings refused to let the indigenous businessmen be! Businessmen and entrepreneurs suspected of their affiliation to the opposition parties, especially the NPP were targeted for campaign of vilification. This time Rawlings openly campaigned against Appiah-Menkah`s ever-popular Apino 2000 soap as inferior product and rather encouraged Ghanaians to buy Key soap from multi-national entity, Unilever.
Rawlings also targeted industrialist Dr. J. A. Addison producers of cement bags, leading to the termination of his contract with the GHACEM.
Rawlings` aversion towards indigenous entrepreneurs reached its apogee when at the National Emancipation Day, he pointed his fingers directly to where Mr Richmond Aggrey, one-time majority shareholder of Spacefon (now MTN) sat in the lobby at the National Theatre and called him a “common thief.”
Rawlings will later go on to pull down the US$5 Million newly constructed Piers Hotel at Airport in Accra because the owner of the hotel, Alhaji Yusuf Ahmed was close friend of Mr John Kufuor (then opposition leader) and Mr Sir Sam Jonah (then CEO of Ashanti Gold who Rawlings had feud with) and had also supported Mr Augustus (Guzzy) Tandoh to form National Reform Party (NRP) out of the NDC.
Post-Rawlings presidency and witch-hunting of local entrepreneurs
Rawlings` final exit from Ghana`s political landscape brought massive freedom to the local entrepreneurs as a result of the expansion of the frontiers of trade liberalisation agenda started half-heartedly under Rawlings tenure. However, Kufuor regime`s investigations into the business activities of certain businessmen associated with the past NDC regime was seen as direct attack on the local entrepreneurs.
In particular, the NDC and other sympathetic press complained bitterly against the investigation into the business of Mr Eddie Annan of Masai Motors as a ploy to destroy his reputation and his business empire which had received massive boost from the previous NDC government. Companies such as Check Point, late David Lamptey and Kwame Addo`s businesses and others, according to the NDC, were deliberately starved off government contracts because they were associated with the NDC.
Thus, from 2000 to 2016, Ghana`s politics is replete with accusations and counter-accusations of regimes attacking local entrepreneurs. These developments were not mere slander nor political propaganda because there are genuine reports of businesses failing because the governments of the day refused to extend contracts to them to ensure their survival.
Rather, various governments have supported their own entrepreneurs and inexperienced businessmen who are normally awarded contract as a reward for helping political party to ascend to power.
Jospong`s love-hate relationship with the NPP
Under the regime of Kufuor, one of the most powerful local entrepreneurs who emerged was Mr Joseph Siaw Agyepong, Chairman of the Jospong Group of Companies, whose subsidiary, Zoomlion won a major waste disposal contract to clean the country. Mr Agyapong at that time was seen as die-in-the-wool NPP sympathiser by the NDC.
Thus, for winning the waste disposal contract and subsequent cancellation of the NDC`s Country & Waste Company, the NDC party targeted Zoomlion as an appendage of the ruling NPP and a conduit through which the party recruit their supporters to work whilst denying others.
The NDC press took every opportunity to attack every module produced by the Zoomlion to improve their waste disposal engagements. The NPP supporters also supported the Zoomlion and its owner, Mr Agyepong for his smart business acumen and helping the NPP to achieve its dream of bringing sanity to the waste disposal management in the country.
When power changed in 2008, and the NDC assumed leadership, Zoomlion`s contract was not cancelled. Thanks to Mr Agyepong`s sterling friendship with vice-president and later president John Mahama and his junior brother, Ibrahim Mahama. Thus, instead of Mr Agyepong`s business taking a nose-dive as a result of regime change, his fortunes rather increased as he was given more contracts. This development aroused massive envy from his friends and other opposition NPP members, especially Mr Kennedy Agyepong, the NPP Member of Parliament for the Assin North.
The entire NPP communication outfit was brought down on the business activities of Mr Siaw Agyepong whom they accused of being a sell-out and an ingrate. This is because some Zoomlion appointees who were NPP members were sacked and replaced with the NDC members. The expansion of the Zoomlion`s work offered more jobs to the NDC whilst NPP members languished without jobs. What made NPP intensified their criticisms and outright condemnation of Mr Siaw Agyepong was when his companies such as Subah and Zoomlion were found culpable in corruption allegations.
The NPP campaign strategy was aimed at Mr Agyepong and his companies as an extension of their bigger campaign of corruption against the NDC regime led by John Mahama. Because of the existing friendship between Mr Agyepong and the Mahama brothers, it was easier for the NPP campaign messages to attach collusion of corruption against the triumvirates. This skilful campaigned paid off very well.
Thus, Mr Agyepong and his companies became a pariah to the supporters of the NPP. Some supporters openly declared that if NPP wins Mr Agyepong shall be prosecuted and jailed over allegations of corruptions which his companies had perpetrated against the state. Thus, when NPP won the elections last year many of the party`s supporters, and the press, led by Joy FM, have agitated for the prosecution of Mr Agyepong.
Observers, however, argue that whilst some NPP members are wishing for Mr Agyepong to be publicly humiliated, what they are oblivious of is Mr Agyepong`s financial contributions to the NPP`s electoral campaign war chest. It is averred that Mr Agyepong donated huge sums of money and logistics to the high-ranking members and some party boys during the campaign. In fact, there are people who took these money and refused to account it to party, and they are bent on ensuring that no one dare to touch Mr Zoomlion.
Akufo Addo`s intervention and sustenance of one of Ghana`s entrepreneur`s legacy
Despite the love and hate affair between Mr Agyepong and the NPP, which could have led to the destruction of what Mr Agyepong had suffered to build over the years, what should be applauded is the recent statement by the president, Nana Akufo-Addo to Mr Agyepong to ‘stay focused’ and deal with the controversies surrounding his business models. This clearly showed that the president, contrary to the speculations and evil intentions of certain party folks to clamp down on Mr Agyepong`s business, has no intention to yield to their grand designs. This statement by the president to Mr Agyepong when he visited one of the subsidiaries of Jospong Group of Companies, the Accra Compost and Recycling Plant at Adjen Kotoku, sums it up: “When you are at the forefront of doing things like you are, you will be the subject of controversy, it goes with the territory. I know you a little bit, and I know you are capable of handling it. Stay focused.”
This intervention by the president gladdens my heart as it reveals the president`s intention to support Ghanaian entrepreneurs and would not use his tenure to perpetuate the petty partisan vendetta against local entrepreneurs over their business models. By doing so Nana Akufo-Addo has adequately outlined his understanding that the development of indigenous entrepreneurs as the best model which has played a vital role in the development of most advanced country`s economy. This is because local entrepreneurs are not just profit-making ventures but they are key contributors to innovativeness, product improvement and reduction of unemployment.
In Africa, in general, and in Ghana, in particular, development of entrepreneurs is one of our best shot towards development.