Let us pray, for what?
The meeting in the Botsio Auditorium at the Alisa Hotel started 12 minutes after the advertised time, with a prayer. I was captivated. Said invocation was mercifully short. Ghana is a secular country and I usually have no patience for public displays of virtuosity. Praying before public events is usually a signal for imminent mediocrity and the attendant buck passing. 'Measures are in place.... plans are far advanced... we are positioning to.... As long as we can claim God, in Ghana we can avoid taking responsibility for everything in a pathological case of national Mutunus Tutunus. Almost there, never quite and painful.
The revelations that followed the unwarranted prayer did require the intervention of higher powers. The original figure of the outstanding indebtedness by Ministries, Agencies and Departments (MDAs) by the end of the financial year, December 31st, announced by the Vice President, Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia in 2017 as shrouded in mystery and thus worthy of close inspection, was Ghc7 billion. Equivalent to some $1.5 billion today, that is the kind of money in a Ghana seeking to be beyond aid, worthy of at least one long Presbyterian 'yehowa, pata'.
The Ministry of Finance (MoF) is the pay master of all public debt. In July 2017, upon the first query of the MoF, based on receipts received provided to them from the MDAs, came up initially with a revised figure of Ghc9 billion as debts owed by the Government of Ghana (GoG) to suppliers and contractors for goods and services provided. Upon further query, our alleged indebtedness again, based on figures provided to the MoF by the MDAs, shot up to as much as Ghc11.8 billion.
The Office of this Auditor General (AudG), seized now by the powers that have always been available and have never been used - until a certain Daniel Yaw Domelevo was bundled into office in the dying hours of the former government - simultaneous to asking the MoF to provide evidence, also tasked the MDAs directly, one by one, to furnish his Office with their own accounts of their indebtedness. Within 30 days. The time period was extended for some MDAs by a further 30 days, to locate their records and supporting documents. Some till date, per the AudG, have still not found their way clear.
The very same MDAs who provided information to the MoF to be passed on to the office of the AudG, in their final direct report to the query by the AudG, came up with a figure Ghc10.83 billion. Are you still praying? Please, add fasting and proceed to an Amen! Aye Ka.
On close marking as in insisting on receipts, contracts and supporting documents, the AudG has by January 22nd, 2018 when the final report was presented to Parliament subject to formal tabling for debate, definitively rejected Ghc5.479 billion cedis of what the MoF says the MDAs told them they owed.
Some Ghc 771 billion of alleged debt represented transactions already paid for that we were being billed for, again. As in Sankofa accounting. Ghc53 million is according to the report, attributed to overpayment for goods and services actually delivered. We have moved on from the Woyoeme model of overpaying for a contract that was never in place in the first place.
Ghc4.77 billion of alleged liabilities are unsupported by documents. They may also amount to hedging for future projects by claiming a debt in advance, just in case we get around to ‘didding’ the ‘sohmting’ later.
The top 5 ministries whose alleged liabilities have been disallowed with surcharges in place for restitution are the following - the Ministry of Health with Ghc1.1 billion in unproven claims; the Ministries of Education, Energy, Gender, Children and Social Protection and Defence shot up the can/will not count roster of spend.
Would this be a good time to point out that our dear Electoral Commission -its Chairperson and 2 Directors are already facing all manner of legal questions around governance and expenditure - is identified by the report as unable to account satisfactorily to date, for Ghc 293 million?
The State of the Nation's inability or refusal to count
President Akufo-Addo is due to present his second State of the Nation address to Parliament on Thursday, a day after this column is published. He will speak to the macroeconomic stability his government has delivered in a year, even in spite of the ricin laden accounts they have inherited. Then he must get personal.
We are according to the MDA 2016 report, when it suits us, a mix of incompetent bookkeepers, liars, thieves and/or innumerate when it comes to protecting the public purse. Many of the MDAs did not maintain records, some proceeded on projects without approval of the indicated spend by the MoF, many could/would not monitor who was being paid how much from which account to do what and all it seems assumed that it was the suppliers they contracted who were responsible for keeping records on their behalf.
Will the Minority hold a press conference on the MDA report and demand that their colleagues in the National Democratic Congress who were Ministers in 2016 and ultimately responsible for budget spend at the defaulting MDAs resign in 14 days? Or will they support a motion, when the MDA 2016 audit report is debated in the House, a reform to make internal auditors in public institutions truly independent enough to stop such abuse of the public purse well before the AudG gets to work?
President Akufo-Addo must signal in his address on Thursday further legal and institutional reforms in 2018 that can advance governance in his government. He campaigned on this ticket and he must deliver.
Domelevo and his team of beady-eyed auditors can look back as far as 1993, they are most likely to cherry pick through our past, that should keep a privileged few ex-Ministers and retired public servants who signed contracts on tenterhooks. It is more likely, however, that this AudG will look mostly forward and lean into the conduct of public officials in this and future governments.
What this AudG has pulled, amounts to a unilateral Ghanaian 'Road Close'. With full intent and prejudice. I agree, wholly, that internal auditing of MDAs is obviously weak and subject to manipulation but should the AudG be given powers, further to the ability to Disallow and Surcharge to go beyond recommending to actually prosecuting?.
If Domelevo who is now issuing Disallow and Surcharge certificates is allowed to prosecute as well, then what on earth will Martin Amidu, nominated as our first Special Prosecutor (subject to Parliamentary approval) to address corruption by public officials, then do with his time?