By Matthew Mpoke Bigg
ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghana's opposition called on Thursday for an inquiry into whether a businessman won a $613,000 government construction contract by giving President John Mahama a large sports utility vehicle - a suggestion dismissed by the government.
Communications Minister Omane Boamah denied any impropriety, saying Mahama did not personally award the contract and the Ford Expedition was not given to him directly but was instead placed in a car pool at the presidency.
Even so, the dispute provides an opportunity for the opposition in the build-up to an election in November in which Mahama faces a stiff challenge from rival Nana Akufo-Addo.
"One of the reasons why we give our president a lot of luxury - a helicopter, a plane, a fleet of cars - is so he doesn't receive gifts like this from people who are looking for juicy government contracts," Anthony Karbo, spokesman for the opposition New Patriotic Party, told Reuters on Thursday.
The government has issued a statement detailing the contract, which was issued in 2011 to a company owned by businessman Djibril Kanazoe to build a wall around Ghana's embassy in Burkina Faso.
Kanazoe's company offered the lowest bid and the president did not benefit personally, Boamah told Reuters.
"There is no way any man capable of thought would think of a semblance of wrongdoing," he said.
Kanazoe, who is from Burkina Faso, said the car was worth 25 million CFA francs ($43,400) and he gave it to Mahama in 2012 to thank him for his support after the death of his father in 2011 when Mahama, then vice president, sent a delegation to offer condolences.
The contract process started in 2011.
"The gift to President Mahama had nothing to do with the business that I got fairly for the embassy wall," he told Reuters. Kanazoe runs a Ford dealership in Burkina Faso's capital and has interests in mining, logistics and transport.
Ghana ranked 56th out of 168 countries surveyed by Transparency International in its 2016 index of business perceptions of corruption, well ahead of most other African countries.
($1 = 576.2600 CFA francs)
(Additional reporting by Nadoun Coulibaly in Ouagadougou; Editing by Edward McAllister and Andrew Heavens)