Barely a month after accusing the government of engaging in empty propaganda and daring it to prosecute offenders in the bloated contract sums saga, the Minority spokesperson on Finance appear to have been sobered by the jawbreaking revelations contained in the report of the Auditor General.
Casiel Ato Forson has now joined the crusade for the prosecutions of officials who plundered the state coffers either through deliberate acts of fraud or oversight.
While he is convinced political heads in the former John Mahama administration cannot be held accountable for the ¢5.4 billion rot in the civil and public service, he was emphatic civil servants who presided over the fraudulent acts must be prosecuted.
He said it is about time for the civil servants to be held just as accountable as the political heads.
At his first meet the press encounter for 2018, the president, Nana Akufo-Addo minced no words in chiding the Mahama led government of inflating contract prices.
“We have had to subject 10 billion cedis of arrears, bequeathed to us in 2017, to a process of audit review and validation. The audit service has certified payments to the tune of GH¢5.5 billion and rejected about GH¢5.7 billion cedis, representing a potential savings of 51% on these outstanding commitments. This shows the validity of our criticism that so much of contracts awarded in the Mahama era were inflated, and apparently, in some cases, non-existent,” President Akufo-Addo alleged.
|President Nana Akufo-Addo|
President Nana Akufo-Addo
Discussing the matter on Joy FM’s Newsnite programme that same day, a Deputy Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah reiterated the president’s comments insisting he had cited a tall list of fraudulent claims by contractors.
But for the due diligence by the Vice President Dr Bawumia who ordered an audit of the figures, a whopping ¢5.7 billion would have been paid, Nkrumah averred.
But his claims and that of the president were rubbished by Ato Forson who suggested the Deputy Information Minister and his government were engaged in empty acts of propaganda.
“You will realize there are various numbers coming out, which makes me doubt it. I doubt the entire numbers coming out of government. I can’t believe any of them.
“If I were the president, at the minimum I would have named and shamed those companies that he claimed made claims they had not worked for. Let me also put on record it is a criminal offence for any contractor to pretend as if the state owes him and make a claim on the state only to admit they have been paid already.
He said the president ought to have started prosecutions against these contractors rather than sit in his office and make political statements.
Not long after his outright denial of the claims, the Auditor General Daniel Domelevo released full details of the 2016 audit which detailed a total of ¢5.4 billion which would have been paid to fraudsters but have been disallowed.
When he was confronted with the Auditor General’s report on Newsnight, Monday, Ato Forson said: “I am a firm believer of the audit. I cannot dispute the audit report. I can only encourage the Auditor General for the good work he is doing.”
He, however, exonerated former government appointees who he said discharged their duties honorably. He was quick to blame civil servants some of whom he said were behind the double claims for payment.
“After the previous executives left office this current administration had the issue of the arrears which became paramount during the budget hearings and so they were asked to compile the list of the audit report.
“The same officers were at post. In fact what had changed at various ministries were ministers and they have been replaced with new ministers. After payment has been made on certain certificates, somebody sitting at Ministry of health, energy and roads and other MDAs are making the same claims again.
“It is bizarre for anybody to sit somewhere and blame the former administration after they had performed their responsibility of paying certain claims and all of a sudden someone is asking that they should make another claim,” he stated.
Forson, therefore, encouraged the Auditor General to prosecute all the civil servants found to be fraudulent.
Deputy Information Minister Kojo Oppong Nkrumah welcomed the view of the former Deputy Finance Minister.
|Kojo Oppong Nkrumah|
Kojo Oppong Nkrumah
“I am happy that he no longer disputes these figures,” he said but added it cannot also be entirely accurate to lay the blame only at the doorstep of the civil servants.
Citing page 11 paragraph 23 of the report, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah said there were obvious breaches and poor maintenance of proper records by the former appointees.
“There was no effective mechanism for easy identification of debts that had been partly paid or fully settled,” he said.
He added the report is replete with examples of poor record keeping which may have been the cause of the fraud.
“You will recall that until recently we were being asked to pay contractors and we insisted it was important to conclude this exercise and know which one is really due. If we had gone ahead to rush and pay the contractors as we were being admonished, by now we would have thrown $5.4 billion into the gutter,” he stated.