With about 22 months left to end his tenure, President Nana Akufo-Addo, might just be shutting down the Audit Service for doing things that embarrasses his government by painting it as wasteful and massively corrupt.
He had handpicked the current Auditor General Johnson Akuamoah-Asiedu, after sacking Daniel Yao Domelevo for surcharging of the then Senior Minister, Yaw Osafo-Maafo, over the yet to be seen US$1.1 million Kroll Associate forensic work which was to investigate Dr Stephen K Opuni, Seidu Agongo and others.
But the President, who declared himself “incorruptible” while in opposition, remains visibly unhappy after Johnson Akuamoah Asiedu and others at the Auditor Service had carried out their constitutional mandate of ensuring that public funds are judiciously used by public servants.
This was event at the State of the Nation Address on Wednesday, when President Akufo-Addo, angrily asserted that nothing dishonourable was done with the COVID-19 funds in reaction to the audit report on donor funds received and how they were used. Many have said he has once again cleared his Ministers of Finance and Health over any wrongdoing in the utilization of the funds.
The President’s angry outburst, comes months after the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame, in a letter to the Auditor-General, Mr Akuamoah-Asiedu, described the publication of the audit report on government’s Covid-19 expenditure as premature and unconstitutional.
Godfred Dame argued that Article 187(5) of the Constitution mandates the Auditor General to submit his report to Parliament and in that report, draw attention to any irregularities in the accounts audited.
“I observe that the report of the special audit on the Government’s COVID-19 transactions has been published on the website of the Audit Service. In light of the constitutional provisions pertaining to the duty of the Auditor-General after the preparation of audit reports, I consider a publication of the COVID-19 audit report or indeed any audit report particularly when same has not been either considered by Parliament or referred to a committee of Parliament, premature,” the Attorney General said in the letter.
The Auditor-General in January 2023 published a report on some infractions in government’s expenditure for Covid-19 from March 2020 to June 2022.
Some of the corrupt practices that were uncovered include; paying a total of US$607,419.02 out of US$4,049,460.12 for the purchase of 26 ambulances that were never delivered, paying unapproved GH₵151,500 by the Information Ministry to its own staff as Covid insurance. US$81 million worth of vaccines paid for by the government were never delivered.
The report also indicates that the country lost over GH₵1 billion through various irregularities including unapproved and illegal payment of allowances.
The Auditor General report also revealed that out of the US$ 2.5 billion mobilized for the fight against the pandemic, but only 25 percent representing GH¢5.5 million was used on health.
According to the report, the remainder of the monies was spent on government programmes such as Free SHS, LEAP among others.
However, the President reacted, saying the accusations are unfounded as government did what was necessary to prevent the spread of the virus and insisted his government has not mismanaged COVID funds, adding the funds were used for their intended purpose when the pandemic hit.
Akufo-Addo, stated that it was the government who requested the auditing of the COVID-funds and assured that there was no mismanagement of the funds.
“Mr Speaker, it was Government that asked for the COVID funds to be audited, and I can assure this House that nothing dishonourable was done with the COVID funds. The responses from the Ministers for Health and Finance, on January 23 and 25, 2023, respectively, have sufficiently laid to rest the queries from the Auditor General’s report, and I believe any objective scrutiny of these statements from the Health and Finance Ministries would justify this conclusion,” he said on the floor of parliament while delivering the State of the Nation Address.
“It is important to show clearly that the covid-19 funds, Covid funds were not misused. It is critical that we do not lose the confidence of the people that the crisis that we were all in together was abused for personal gains,”
He continued that, “It was government that asked for the COVID-19 fund to be audited and I can assure this House [Parliament] that nothing dishonourable was done with the Covid funds.”
“The economic consequences of the pandemic have been devastating. It is precisely because the economic fallout from the pandemic was so widespread and long-lasting that it is important to show clearly that the COVID funds were not misused. It is critical that we do not lose the confidence of the people that a crisis that they were led to believe we were all in together was abused for personal gain,” the President said.
But his comments have gotten a reaction from many, including a Research Fellow at the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), Dr Kwame Asiedu Sarpong, who has described President Akufo-Addo’s comment as laughable.
Speaking in an interview on Joy FM, Mr Asiedu Sarpong shared a different view on the subject matter.
“Isn’t that laughable? I will tell you why it is laughable,” he said amid laughter.
According to him, the President’s comment flies in the face of the revelations of the Auditor-General who has the mandate to conduct audits to determine whether public funds have been utilised appropriately.
Mr Asiedu Sarpong, said though the processes have not been finalised, “the President is even pronouncing judgement before the Public Accounts Committee has sat.”
“He has the right to state his innocence, granted. But when the Auditor-General has spoken. When there are processes that allow you to exonerate yourself, isn’t it prudent that you allow the processes to be exhausted as a believer in our constitutional democracy? If we all have the right to exonerate ourselves that will lead to lawlessness,” he stressed.
He continued “How can the President be clearing people even before the Public Accounts Committee ,when serious egregious facts are in the Auditor-General’s report that have to be perused by PAC.”
“How can the President come and tell us that by his mouth and his unilateral fiat that nothing went amiss?” he asked.
But the President in his speech, outlined a number of measures implemented by his administration that justify the sums of money expended during the pandemic.
According to him, three weeks after a speech, in which he expressed Ghana’s sympathies and solidarity with China on the difficulties they were having with a new virus, our world changed. The virus, “arrived in our country and in the rest of the world with a vengeance.
“Within weeks, we were in the middle of a lockdown, our airports and land borders were closed. Schools and factories and even markets were closed. The hospitality industry was brought to its knees. Our economy, like much of the rest of the world, went into a tailspin.
“We took many decisions, we did many things which, according to the science, were the most reliable and trusted ways to save lives and livelihoods at the time, which may look strange and unnecessary today, but that is from the safe perspective of not waking up to check on the COVID-19 infection or death rate.
“Indeed, there were some who suggested that we cancel the national identification registration exercise, and even postpone the 2020 general elections.
“Who would have thought that, today, anybody will be questioning the fumigation of schools and markets? I recall, vividly, the straight talking I received from a group of our most eminent physicians and other scientists on the urgency of fumigating all public spaces, including offices, schools, hospitals, markets, churches and mosques. The few who could afford it fumigated their homes.
“Today, the science might be that such measures make no difference to the spread of the virus, but criminality or reckless spending cannot be ascribed to the decision to undertake such measures.
Mr Speaker, you might remember that we could not produce veronica buckets fast enough. Today, it is not an obligatory item on anyone’s list of purchases.
“In dealing with the crisis generally, I did not meet anyone brave enough to suggest that considerations of money should be a hindrance to anything we needed to do in the fight against the virus.
“I was and I am grateful that the people of Ghana rose to the occasion and, together, we went through the crisis and came out well by defying the doomsday predictions about the inevitability of dead bodies on our streets. I am grateful that we saw the wisdom in helping each other, and I thank those who contributed their expertise, time and energy to the fight against the virus, and I thank those who contributed to the COVID-19 fund that was set up to help us meet some of the expenditures.
The economic consequences from the pandemic have been devastating.
“Mr Speaker, it is precisely because the economic fallout from the pandemic is so widespread and long lasting that it is important to show clearly that the COVID funds were not misused. It is critical that we do not lose the confidence of the people that a crisis that they were led to believe we were all in together was abused for personal gain.
“Mr Speaker, it was Government that asked for the COVID funds to be audited, and I can assure this House that nothing dishonourable was done with the COVID funds. The responses from the Ministers for Health and Finance, on January 23 and 25, 2023, respectively, have sufficiently laid to rest the queries from the Auditor General’s report, and I believe any objective scrutiny of these statements from the Health and Finance Ministries would justify this conclusion.
“We provided five hundred and eighteen million cedis (GH¢518 million) of grants and loans to micro, small and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs) through the NBSSI, now the Ghana Enterprise Agency, in which three hundred and two thousand, five hundred and fifteen (302,515) enterprises benefitted, of which sixty percent (60%) were women-owned. These were MSMEs that were in distress as a result of the pandemic. For some traders, the receipt of one thousand cedis (GH¢1,000) made the difference between the ruin of the household and survival.
“In addition, fifty-eight thousand and forty-one (58,041) health workers were employed to supplement the existing health sector workforce. Subsequently, all of them have been absorbed as permanent workers in the health sector. Frontline health workers were also granted fifty percent (50%) tax relief for the period. Was that something to regret? We should be forever grateful for the work that so many people did to keep all of us safe. All households enjoyed free water supply and huge discounts on electricity bills, because access to water was a necessity to ensure people adhered to hygiene practices, and access to electricity was important as everybody was encouraged to stay at home. It also provided an economic cushion to protect lives and livelihoods at a time of difficulty. Today, the government support for utility bills is being projected by some as a waste or to use that word, so beloved of some commentators, profligate.
“Mr Speaker, the government took a deliberate decision to try and keep the inevitable disruptions across all our lives down to a minimum in the education sector, by opening schools and education institutions as soon as it was made safe to do so. It was an expensive undertaking and not universally popular. But faced with the prospect of a whole generation of our children losing irreplaceable years of education, and the real likelihood of many of them dropping out of school forever, we took the brave decision to open the institutions. Even then, it is worth pointing out that the school year has not fully returned to the predictable pre-covid calendar. After the event, some might be tempted to forget the volumes of sanitizer and other logistics it took to keep the schools open and safe, in much the same way as some might now choose to forget the vitriol that came from some who should have known better, threatening hell and damnation when, according to them, the children start dying in the schools. Mercifully, we did not lose a single child to COVID in school. I would like to suggest that, with the best will in the world, Mr Speaker, no auditor can put a figure on the cost of keeping the children in school safely during that crisis, nor the continuing cost of the effect of the pandemic on our young people; not the financial cost, not the emotional cost, and certainly not the social cost. But we must thank the Almighty that we have survived to repair the damage, and begin to rebuild our economy.
“Beyond the use of COVID funds, there are legitimate questions being asked about how the country’s debt situation got where it is.
“Mr Speaker, let me state emphatically that we have not been reckless in borrowing and in spending. It is worth noting that the debts we are servicing were not only contracted during the period of this administration.
But the Health Committee is set to commence a public hearing on the Covid-19 expenditure by the government. However, ahead of that the Minority in Parliament has stated President’s rejection of reports that government blatantly misapplied funds intended for the country’s fight against COVID-19 is disappointing.
Reacting to the matter, Minority Chief Whip, Kwame Governs Agbodza said the President’s comment on the issue came to them as a surprise.
“I’m somehow extremely disappointed in the President who sought once again to even clear members of his government who are suspected of doing wrong things in the COVID-19 expenditure. It doesn’t lie in the mouth of the President to decide to become an auditor of his own government by pretending that nothing went wrong with the COVID expenditure. Mr. President you are not an auditor, leave that to the professionals to do,” Minority Chief Whip said.