In what can pass as an open display of arrogance, Youth and Sports Minister Mahama Ayariga shocked many on radio yesterday when he said he would not disclose the budget of the senior national team, the Black Stars, for participating in the just-ended African Cup of Nations (AFCON 2015) tournament in Equatorial Guinea.
“I refused to discuss the budget before the tournament because it was going to distract the team’s preparations. I don’t report to you. I report to the Auditor-General, I report to Parliament,” he boasted on Peace FM in Accra.
Reviewing the team’s participation in the AFCON 2015 tournament with popular morning show host Kwami Sefa-Kayi, the minister sounded flippant and snobbish throughout the interview.
Mahama Ayariga, who is also an MP, later in the day, went to Parliament to present what was thought to be the budget for the team’s participation.
He told Parliament that the government spent GH¢18.5 millionon the Black Stars. Interestingly, Cote d’Ivoire who won the tournament after beating Ghana 9-8 on penalties on Sunday, got a prize cash of $1.5 million from the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
In the radio telephone interview, Mahama Ayariga who was an active member of the defunct Committee for Joint Action (CJA) which constantly pressurised the erstwhile NPP government for accountability, did not understand why the taxpayer should question the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation’s (GNPC’s) doling out of hard-earned cash to the team.
The GNPC, which is solely state-owned, with a core mandate of oil exploration and as main sponsor of the national team, paid a whopping $575,000 to the players, with each receiving $25,000 when they arrived on Monday from Malabo where the team placed second in the tournament.
Critics are of the view that the country is currently facing serious energy crises and as a key player in the sector, the GNPC was expected to help solve some of the problems rather than get involved in ‘extraneous’ issues.
“The GNPC can decide what they will do as part of efforts to promote their corporate image and to support the Black Stars and other causes; and I think that we should stop that habit of wanting to destroy the reputation of companies that move in to support the Black Stars,” Mahama Ayariga said.
President in the dark
The minister said: “In fact the President didn’t even know that the GNPC was giving the players any money until when he was speaking and I gave him a note at the breakfast meeting with the players. It was only then that he got to know that the GNPC was giving that bonus to the players.
“The President didn’t know. It was there in the hall that I informed him that your Excellency, GNPC has decided to give a bonus to the players and he asked me if he could mention it to the audience and I said ‘yes’. GNPC’s team was in the room.”
He added, “the President has nothing to do with it. If you think that it is the President who is coercing GNPC to give out the money, he didn’t even know…GNPC is a company that has been formed by the government and they have chosen to support the Black Stars and I commend them highly for supporting the team.”
Mahama Ayariga claimed he was not interested in how fans who were airlifted to Equatorial Guinea fared because he did not care.
“Why should I be bothered about Ghanaians in Equatorial Guinea? I can choose what questions to ask and what information I am interested in. You cannot force me to decide what information I want to know and what I don’t want to,” the minister said.
He then asked the host of the radio programme to “go round asking who took the supporters there,” adding, “I was concentrating on work. I was only helping people who were coming because they were Ghanaians.”
He said the ministry did not sponsor fans to the tournament, contrary to a statement by his deputy, Vincent Oppong Asamoah, that the ministry facilitated in the airlifting of the fans to the tournament, saying, “I didn’t send supporters to Equatorial Guinea so go look for who sent them there.”
Lack of patriotism
The minister stated: “On the contrary, I feel sad that you want the conversation to be about who sent supporters. I thought that you will be happy that our footballers went, sacrificed, exhibited great determination, team spirit and did the things they did and that if you had the opportunity, you would also come and watch them.
“I don’t think that you want to bastardise those who made an effort to get to the place to come and support the team.
“I thought that would be the concentration now. What lesson do we learn from the determination of these young boys? I thought that with this useful airtime that you have that would be the focus.”
Mahama Ayariga further registered his disappointment in a section of the Ghanaian media, saying, “I have been upset with some of you (media personalities) because right from day one you have tried to distract us from focusing on what will happen in EG in terms of our participation in the tournament but we refused to be distracted. We focused on what we were going there to do.”
Ayariga was accused of staying with the team throughout the tournament and ignoring other pressing issues back home but he denied the claim.
“I wasn’t in Equatorial Guinea throughout. I actually was not there for the first match when Ghana lost to Senegal. I was on my hospital bed in Accra and watched the match from there,” he claimed.
“I had to drive from Accra to Lome to catch a flight to Malabo and to Bata and by road to Mongomo and got there just before the second match (Algeria game)… to try and encourage them to win the match.”
He claimed that “immediately after the match, the following morning I was packing to come back to Accra when the boys said they will not let me go. They would want me to stay with them.”
“They said ‘Oh! You brought us luck so how can you go back?’ So I stayed back and they even gave me one of their rooms to stay with them because I had no accommodation.”
He said he spent time with the team for the preliminary stages “but after that I came back to Accra and when they were starting the quarter finals, I went back to Malabo to try and encourage them.”
“I was there for the quarter and semi finals and I came back to Accra. It is just one hour thirty minutes’ flight. I went back on Saturday, the day before the finals. The reason for the back and forth was because it was a very short flight.”
By William Yaw Owusu