Two institutions, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament and the judiciary, have fired at the Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame, painting him as arrogantly overstepping his boundaries and directing them on their mandates in the name of his legal opinion.
First, is a response to the Attorney General’s ‘unsolicited’ advice to the Auditor-General, Johnson Akuamoah Asiedu to withdraw the recently published damning audit report on government’s COVID-19 expenditure which revealed that, although Ghɇ22 billion was raised to fight the pandemic between March 2020 to June 2022, just a little over half, that is, Ghɇ12 billion, was used to fight the pandemic and its related impact.
In a letter addressed to the Auditor-General, Mr Dame, raised issues of constitutionality about the processes leading to the publication of the report, which uncovered various financial infractions.
But James Klutse Avedzi, MP for Ketu North and Chairman of the PAC, quickly fired back at the Attorney General, saying the Auditor General breached no law.
Whilst, Mr Dame was being tackled by the lawmaker over his utterances about the Audit report, which is seen as an attempt to cover up the rots captured in the audit report, the Supreme Court Judge, Justice Clemence Honyenuga, sitting on the trial of Dr Stephen Opuni and Alhaji Seidu Agongo, also hits back at him (Dame) calling his criticism that the trial had been delayed for six years, “noise”, insisting that cannot be true.
On Wednesday, Justice Honyenuga, who is sitting as an additional High Court Judge on the case said in reaction to Mr Dame’s interviews with journalists he had brought to the court at the last hearing, that the trial of the former Chief Executive of Ghana Cocoa Board, Dr Opuni, businessman Seidu Agongo, and Agricult Ghana Limited started in May 2018 and that cannot be six years per his calculation.
On the Auditor General report, Godfred Dame had written “I advise a withdrawal of the report on the Government COVID-19 transactions from your website before same has been debated by Parliament and considered by the appropriate committee of Parliament.”
Grounding his request on Articles 187(5) and 187(6) of the 1992 Constitution, Mr Dame noted that the A-G’s office failed to submit the report to parliament for scrutiny as directed by the law.
“It is only after satisfying the constitutional requirement of submitting the auditor general’s report to Parliament, the subsequent debate by Parliament thereon and conclusion of work by the appropriate committee of Parliament, that the report of the Auditor-General may be considered final and relevant action may be taken thereon,” the Attorney General said.
“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,” he added,
The report on Government of Ghana’s Covid-19 transactions for the period March 2020 to June 2022, uncovered several infractions relative to expenditures in the fight against the global pandemic.
The report published on the website of the Auditor General has generated controversy with calls being made for a full-scale parliamentary probe to be made into the uncovered infractions.
But in reaction, the Ketu North lawmaker strongly disagreed with Godfred saying Article 187(5) of the 1992 Constitution mandates the Auditor General to submit the government’s audited reports not less than six months after the end of the year to parliament which the “Auditor has done and fulfilled”.
Mr Avedzi told the Attorney General to take measures to amend Section 23 of the Audit Service Act if he wants to introduce something new.
“He [the Auditor General] just went in compliance with the law. The constitution said he should submit the report to Parliament, and he did that. The constitution also said he should publish the report, and he has done that” he said.
“What he (Godfred Dame) should look out for is the lacuna. Section 23 of the Audit Service Act should be amended so that after the Auditor General has submitted the report to Parliament, he should wait until the Public Accounts Committee debates the report before it can be published, but as it stands now, the Auditor General can publish without waiting for a debate on the report by PAC.”
In court on Wednesday, (February 8), while adjourning the case with “a heavy heart” following information that the second accused person, Seidu Agongo, had been taken ill at the 37 Military Hospital, the judge said he has got a limited time to deal with the case.
The case has indeed, been subjected to various appeals and reviews at both the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court which at a point banned Justice Honyenuga from sitting on the matter on the basis of statements he made which were considered bias and prejudicial to the matter. Same Attorney-General had to seek a review of the 3:2 decision with some new Supreme Judges appointed who overturned the verdict 4:3 in favour of the government.
In January last year, the same case was also put on hold due to an IT system failure when a defence witness testifying on behalf of Dr Opuni, Mr Charles Dodoo, a former Director of Finance of COCOBOD, was expected to continue with his evidence-in-chief. The IT system failure which had rendered all the computers in Court One of the Criminal Division of the Accra High Court nonfunctional.
But on Friday, February 3, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Yeboah Dame, has expressed his dissatisfaction over the six-year trial of former COCOBOD CEO, Stephen Opuni.
In the Attorney-General’s view, the failure of the court and judiciary to prosecute the former COCOBOD CEO is unacceptable. He added that long trials affect the fight against corruption.
Speaking to journalists in Accra, Godfred Dame said more complex cases are resolved speedily and is surprised that Opuni’s case has taken this long.
“We have witnessed the failure of the High Court to resolve the Opuni trial for the past six years. This is simply unacceptable. It is unacceptable for such a case to stay in court for six years when other more complex cases of murder are speedily resolved.
“This development deepens the injustice and inequity in our society and the judiciary clearly has to play its part and the judges also in the eradication of corruption.”
However, before adjournment last Wednesday, Justice Honyenuga remarked “I must state that it is very unfortunate that this case cannot proceed at the time when a lot of noise has been made about this case being delayed and others say this case has been delayed for six years.”
He said “Serious hearing started in 2018, so it cannot be six years. It is a fact that although the warrant for me to hear this case is dated March 16, 2018, actual hearing of this case started in May 2018. Wherein lies the six years being talked about?”
The trial judge, further added that “it is a fact that I have limited time to hear this matter and with a heavy heart that I have to adjourn this case today (Wednesday).”
Counsel for the Second and third accused Nutifafa Nutsukpi, told the court that, the second accused was not in court, because he did attend his hospital review on Tuesday as it had been scheduled.
“We are sure that the prosecution will reconfirm that as we understand, the prosecutor in this case being the Attorney General spoke with or sent officers to verify at the hospital that indeed the 2nd Accused was receiving treatment or being seen at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital.”
Counsel said as a result of that intervention, the 2nd Accused was kept from the morning to around 4 or 5 pm.
“My lord, it is our understanding that after he returned home, he was still unwell and at night, being Tuesday, he was sent to the 37 Military Hospital where he is currently on admission,” counsel said.
“As we speak, we understand tests including MIR Scans are being run on him and I’m not in a position to say what he is presented with at the hospital last night or what investigations are being carried out on him presently,” counsel explained why the second accused couldn’t make it to the court.
Principal State Attorney, Stella Ohene Appiah, in her response said she was unable to confirm what defence counsel had told the court.
“Respectfully my lord, I’m unable to confirm what counsel has just told the court at the Attorney General sending people to the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital to confirm the attendance of the 2nd Accused to that facility,” she noted.
About his visit to the 37 military hospital, the Principal State Attorney said “we are all hearing this for the first time now and since we do not have any documentary proof of it, I will leave it to the sea region of the court to decide the way forward.”
“I must say that I sent a word to my senior in this case on what counsel said the visit to Korle bu and she is also checking to find out whether that is the position and so we cannot say for sure that what counsel is saying to the court is the case until we have verified from the office.”
The court while seeking clarity on the matter asked counsel who gave him the information that the Attorney General spoke with or sent officers to verify whether the second accused attended the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital or not.
Counsel in his response said his information was from the doctors attending to him.
Asked again by the court if it was the case that because of the alleged information from the doctors that the second accused left the facility between 4 or 5 pm.
Counsel said “that seems to me to be his understanding because none of his previous sessions had ever taken that long.
Counsel also told the court that the information of the second accused being admitted at the 37 Military Hospital “came from Benson Nutsukpui, counsel on record for the second and third accused.”
“In the circumstances, it is our prayer that considering the absence of the second accused due to illness the honorable court May adjourned the case either to tomorrow or Monday subject to the discretion of the court by which date we would have been in a position to furnish the court with the necessary documentations to confirm what we have just told the court is not a tale,” counsel prayed.
He also said “the prosecutors may in their own way verify” the information they had relaid to the court.
“I will order the Principal State Attorney to find out from the Attorney General whether or not he sent any person or persons to verify whether the second accused had attended the Korle-Bu teaching hospital yesterday, February 7, and report to this court on the next adjourned date,” the court ordered.
The court also ordered “the registrar of this court to go to the 37 Military Hospital to find out whether indeed the second accused is on admission at the said hospital.
The court said, “the registrar shall report his findings to this court by the next adjourned date.”
The judge “further ordered that the second accused shall produce to this court medical report of his admission at the 37 Military Hospital at the next adjourned date.
Justice Honyenuga said, “in order not to come back to this court for another adjournment, I will adjourn this case to Monday, February 13 to enable the second accused to be present for proceedings to continue.”
Read the full letter by the Attorney General below: RE: AUDIT OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS OF GHANA
I refer to various discussions between your good self and me regarding the effective implementation of reports of the Auditor-General on audits into the public accounts of Ghana, particularly with regard to the issuance of disallowances and surcharges.
The matters discussed have become more pertinent in view of the intense controversy generated by the publication of the report on the special audit of the Government of Ghana’s Covid-19 transactions for the period March 2020 to June 2022 on the website of the Ghana Audit Service http://www.audit.gov.gh.
I find it compelling to lay out a few points which I hope will guide action to be taken after the preparation of your reports.
1. 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. Section 16 of the Audit Service Act, 2000 (Act 584) clearly indicates that reports on special audits and reviews, as the one conducted in respect of the COVID-19 transactions, are subject to the requirement for the Auditor-General to submit the reports to Parliament.
2. Article 187(6) of the Constitution requires Parliament to debate the report of the Auditor-General and appoint, where necessary and in the public interest, a committee to deal with any matters arising from it. This is repeated in section 21 of Act 584. Over the years, the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament (PAC) seems to be the committee designated by Parliament to interrogate issues arising out of the Auditor-General’s reports. It is only after satisfying the constitutional requirement of submitting the auditor general’s report to Parliament, the subsequent debate by Parliament thereon and conclusion of work by the appropriate committee of Parliament, that the report of the Auditor-General may be considered final and relevant action may be taken thereon.
3. 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.
4. I am mindful of the provision in section 23 of Act 584 which seems to mandate a publication of the reports as soon as they have been presented to the Speaker to be laid before Parliament. However, the laws governing the functions of the Auditor-General ought to be construed as a whole. The constitutional duty of the Auditor-General to submit his reports to Parliament and Parliament’s consequential obligation to debate and scrutinise same, will be grossly prejudiced by a prior publication of the report.
The proceedings of the PAC provide an opportunity for irregularities raised by the Auditor-General to be interrogated and queried. Persons and institutions affected by the report receive a further hearing on the findings of the Auditor-General’s reports at the proceedings of the PAC in Parliament. A prior publication of the Auditor-General’s report completely undermines the purport and meaning of article 187(5) and (6) and should not be encouraged. Consequently, I advise a withdrawal of the report on the Government COVID-19 transactions from your website before same has been debated by Parliament and considered by the appropriate committee of Parliament.
5. Further, as pointed out in previous letters by the Attorney-General to your office over the years, there has been a glaring omission to indicate in the notices served on the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice, satisfaction by the Auditor-General of the mandatory procedure enjoined by section 17 of Act 584, in order to be able to execute a disallowance and surcharge.
6. As you would recall, I have, in previous communication with you, indicated that in accordance with section 17 of Act 584, certain steps ought to be complied with by the Audit Service after an audit report has been subjected to the scrutiny of the PAC. These steps border on the issuance of disallowances and surcharges by the Auditor-General.
i. the relevant head of department or institution to whom the amounts stated in the notice of surcharge or disallowance are due, must be notified of the surcharge or disallowance, the reasons for the surcharge or disallowance as well as when this was done. Please see section 17(1) of Act 584
(ii) notices served on the Attorney-General must indicate whether the affected individuals and institutions have been served with the notice of surcharge or disallowance and, if so, when this was done. Please see section 17(2) of Act 584.
iii. Information confirming compliance with the statutory steps and when same was done is crucial for the
Attorney-General to institute legal action against specified defaulters.
7. By letters dated 21st December 2017, 14th December 2018 and 21st January 2019, the Attorney-General informed the then Auditor-General about lapses in the notices of disallowance and surcharge served on the Attorney-General in order for him to remedy same. Unfortunately, to date, some have not been remedied.
8. It is only through due process, particularly the observance of the processes stated above, that we can realise the true import and effect of article 187 of the Constitution. There ought to be enhanced cooperation between the Audit Service and the Office of the Attorney-General and the Ministry of Justice. These two institutions are at the forefront of the quest for public accountability, probity, the rule of law and the rooting out of corruption and malpractices in Ghana, and therefore are left with no option but to collaborate. In this regard, I have set up a special team in my Ministry, jointly headed by the Solicitor-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions, specifically charged with coordinating with your outfit in order to promptly act, in accordance with law, on established irregularities contained in the Auditor-General’s reports.
I would appreciate if you could set up a similar team to work with my office. Please accept the assurances of my highest consideration.