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IMANI Staff Opinion: Reporting the News on Taxation and Cocoa: How long will our media continue to fail us?

By Brian Dzansi is IMANI’s Social Media Manager and Researcher

I heard somewhere that the best way to gauge a country is to listen/watch their media channels. This week once again exposed what we are made of as country — Our news content exposed our shallowness, lack of-attention-to details and dearth in critical thinking; Our TV/Radio ads similarly reveal our general lack of creativity and innovative thinking required to address our development challenges.

How did the major newspapers, Radio, TV stations and even political party executives get it so wrong with the new tax law? Pensions to be taxed? Did Terkper really say He will tax my mother’s pension? Seth Terkper must have gone crazy to even think about it. The publications must have misrepresented the comments of the Hon. Minister I concluded. Besides, when was the new act passed? Why will a discussion on the content of Income Tax Act 896 passed December 2015 resurrect into a breaking news item this week? The finance journalists didn’t read the Act all this while? Like we say in Ghana, I can’t also think far about this. The reportage on the income tax law were woefully inadequate in contextualizing the issue.

Then came the hubbub about a domain name for a website purchased for $8000. If you have not been following, here is a little background (where have you been anyway?) COCOBOD  was in parliament to seek approval to go beg for $2bil to buy cocoa from farmers for the 2016/17 crop season. Amidst several concerns raised by the minority in parliament about the expenditure of the previous $1.5bil raised last year for same purpose, the $20,000 spent on renting a venue for signing the loan agreement stood out. Mr. Noah Amenyah, P.R.O of COCOBOD speaking to an Accra based radio station revealed that part of the controversial $20000 was spent on a debt domain website. The media house erroneously reported this as “best domain website”. Wait a minute sir, what animal is that?
The journalist quizzed further; you paid for a domain name of a website for that amount? Is it open to the public? What is the content of the website?

The researcher in me resurrected. There must be more to this than a mere domain name. I dug a bit deeper and viola! There is an organism called virtual data room. The media has failed us the second time in one week. I must admit the PRO should have done a better job by explaining further this “debt domain website.” Most journalist conduct interviews with their mind already made up about the issue, searching for a sound bite or a screaming headline to get listenership or clicks. An Interview is part of a research process with the aim of gathering information to uncover a truth. Do you remember Tim Sebastian interviewing President Mahama? I am sure that was Mahama’s worst nightmare. Tim’s production team were quick on their feet, fact checking, searching and producing reports to interrogate further every statement made by the president — that is proactive journalism in search for truth for development.

Now back to the $8000 domain name. According to wikipedia; A virtual data room (sometimes called a VDR) is an online repository of information that is used for the storing and distribution of documents. In many cases, a virtual data room is used to facilitate the due diligence process during a Merger and Acquisition transaction, loan syndication, or private equity and venture capital transactions. This due diligence process has traditionally used a physical data room to accomplish the disclosure of documents. For reasons of cost, efficiency and security, virtual data rooms have widely replaced the more traditional physical data room. I dug deeper in search for industry leaders providing such virtual data room services in the world. IPREO (Global leader in market intelligence, investor targeting/analytics and online CRM solutions to publicly listed companies and investment banks around the world.) which recently bought www.debtdomain.com provides an enterprise syndication services (http://ipreo.com/syndication-services/)

So could there be some truth about the $8000 dollar expenditure on a website? I dug further by enquiring from IPREO how much they charge for their syndication services annually. They responded swiftly with a request for my contact to call for further discussion. If you know a little about enterprise services, you will understand why the online furore was over exaggerated. It only goes to reveal how petty-minded, uncritical we are. We are quick to jump onto the next topical issue to insult or impute corruption on officials. I am most disappointed in the media house that carried the story throughout the news cycle without even speaking to an expert in this sector for clarification. Why is nobody asking for the name of the domain COCOBOD bought?

I must clearly state that, I am not writing on authority that COCOBOD paid for a virtual data room service as the PRO sought to explain. My deductions were made out of the explanations Mr. Noah Amenyah gave about the purpose of the domain during the interview. Even if my deduction is inaccurate, and it turns out COCOBOD actually spent the amount on an ordinary domain name, shouldn’t the media be probing further?

I don’t work for COCOBOD and I am not by this rant endorsing how COCOBOD spent the syndicated loan. I have my own issues with the relevance of an institution which is still been run as Kwame Nkrumah birthed it. After several years of cocoa farming in Ghana, why do we still have to borrow from foreign banks to buy beans from our hardworking farmers? What is the vision for our cocoa industry for us to move up the global value chain to capture the most value for our farmers and country? The failure of parliament to demand for a value for money audit on the expenditure of the $1.5bil is also equally disheartening.

As for the Komenda sugar factory, I will address it later. I am still yet to read anywhere the extractive technology deployed at the plant.

So why am I ranting? Sensationalism will not solve our development challenges. We need to be more critical about everything we hear or read, think deeper and innovatively about our challenges and demand more from our leaders.

Brian Dzansi is IMANI’s Social Media Manager and Researcher.


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