Page last updated at 19:09 GMT, Friday, 11 July 2008 20:09 UK

Ghana spends $1.4m on gold medals

By Will Ross
BBC News, Accra

John Kufuor
John Kufuor has been compared to medallion-wearing rap star, 50 Cent

The Ghanaian government spent more than $1.4m (704,000) buying 515 gold medals from a company based in the Channel Islands, officials have confirmed.

Almost half the medals were given out last week to prominent citizens at a colourful national awards ceremony.

The government says the rest will be presented over the next four years.

The medals are intended to reward outstanding contributions to Ghana. But critics say the money would have been better spent alleviating poverty.

Eighteen-carat gold

Recipients included politicians, chiefs, business leaders and even the country's President, John Kufuor, who will step down at the end of the year.

We are suffering. As of now, some of us cannot even pay our school fees
Accra businessman

He was given the highest award, the Grand Order of the Star and Eagles of Ghana.

Set in 18-carat gold, it was also the most expensive.

At $65,000 (32,700), President Kufuor's award cost many times more than an Olympic gold medal.

This prompted one journalist to make a joke comparing Mr Kufuor to the medallion-wearing American rapper, 50 Cent.

Medals 'not extravagant'

As people woke up in Ghana to learn the cost of the medals from newspapers and radios, many were shocked and disappointed.

"We are suffering," one Accra businessman told the BBC. "As of now, some of us cannot even pay our school fees," he said.

How can the president decorate himself with such expensive jewellery when people are in dire need of basic amenities?
Dr Tony Aidoo
National Democratic Congress (NDC)

"The medals will not bring anything to the country," said another.

"They are just for individuals so the money has just gone to waste," he added.

The Deputy Information Minister, Frank Agyekum, disagreed.

"You can't put a price tag on an award which is meant to encourage, motivate and congratulate people for making a great contribution to the country," he said. "This was not extravagant."

"The remaining medals will be used for the next three to four years," he added, before noting that even beauty pageant winners are given a whole house these days.

Parliamentary enquiry

In recent years, the awarding of national honours has been a low key affair, but this year the government said it was keen to help unite the politically divided country.

Ghanaian gold
Ghana is Africa's second biggest producer of gold

Politicians from rival parties were offered medals, but the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), boycotted the event.

Not surprisingly, the NDC is now making a noise about the cost of the awards

"This was a severe misplacement of priority and an insult to the intelligence of Ghanaians," said Tony Aidoo, a senior member of the party.

"How can the president decorate himself with such expensive jewellery when people are in dire need of basic amenities?" he asked, calling for a parliamentary enquiry, and for evidence that the remaining medals really exist.

Stability 'priceless'

The fact that the head of the Ashanti Kingdom, Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, could not collect his award because he was mediating a chieftaincy dispute, shows the need for nation building in Ghana.

Peace and stability are priceless on the African continent
Bright Simons, Imani Centre for Policy and Education

"Peace and stability are priceless on the African continent," said Bright Simons, of the Ghanaian think tank, the Imani Centre for Policy and Education.

"If the process had succeeded in building a lot of reconciliation across the political spectrum, it would have been worth it," he added.

Mr Simons said the intention was honourable, but suggested the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP), could have managed the event better - by including members from across the political divide in an independent awards committee.

Ghanaians are also waiting to learn how the proceeds are spent from recently discovered oil in the country, estimated to total 2 billion barrels.

Those worried that Ghana may follow the lead of Angola and Nigeria will seek little comfort from news of how $1.4m has been spent on the medals. Some Ghanaians are also asking why the medals could not have been produced locally - especially as their country is Africa's second largest producer of gold.

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