Ghana: Parliament begins anti-corruption probe into Covid expenditure

By Jonas Nyabor
Posted on Monday, 22 August 2022 16:45

A health worker sits behind a table in the lobby of a clinic in Adukrom, Ghana April 27, 2022. REUTERS/Cooper Inveen

Suspicious of corruption, the opposition in parliament has triggered a parliamentary inquiry into Ghana’s Covid-19 expenditure, putting a demand burden on the country’s purse holder, Ken Ofori-Atta.

Back in June, the speaker of parliament, Alban Bagbin had tasked the health and finance committees to investigate the country’s Covid-19 incomes and expenditures and report its findings back to the House.

This was after the finance minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, delivered a much-anticipated address to the legislative body highlighting Covid-19-related monies the State received and expended.

An unimpressed opposition wanted more than what was presented. They accused the government of misappropriating over $6bn allegedly drawn into the country from the AfDB, the World Bank, the EU and the IMF for different Covid-19 programmes.

Those monies they spent were public funds

“What the minister presented was just a brief, and not proper accounting,” says Cassiel Ato Forson, a former deputy finance minister and ranking member of the finance committee in parliament.

“Per my calculation, $6bn came in within a very short period of time and I believe that if we had used that money well, it would have benefited the economy positively. Unfortunately, it was used in a manner that has taken the country back into a debt overhang and that is why I am of the view that we seek accountability,” he tells The Africa Report.

First response

Ghana received plaudits from across the world for the many Covid-19 interventions at the height of the pandemic in the country between 2020 and 2021.

The government distributed daily hot meals to vulnerable people, provided free face masks for basic and second cycle students, and placed a 3-month moratorium on the payment of utility bills.

Ofori-Atta told parliament that GHS19.3bn ($101m) was received from various funding sources to support the government budget and GHS11.16bn of that was spent on Covid-19-related activities.

“The difference of GHS8.14bn was programmed to provide for shortfalls in revenue,” he said.

He, however, indicated that additional funds accrued to the National Covid-19 Trust Fund and the Ghana Private Sector Covid-19 Fund could not be accounted for immediately since they were privately managed, but Forson insisted that the minister was shying away from accountability, arguing that “those monies they spent were public funds”.

For John Kumah, a deputy finance minister, the point raised by the minority was invalid.

“[The] finance ministry has not received any funds from the private Covid-19 funds to account for at this point. Those funds don’t go through the consolidated funds… The trustees can come and do that accounting,” he told local Joy News TV.

A closer look

NPP (New Patriotic Party) MPs strongly opposed calls by their opposition counterparts for an independent forensic audit of Ghana’s Covid-19 accounts, insisting that the state’s audit agency carries out the task.

The speaker of parliament’s subsequent ruling for a joint health and finance committee investigation now sets a clear path for detailed interrogation of Ghana’s Covid-19 accounts.

We are going to trace the matter to the last cedi.

Forson, a leader on the finance committee promises “interesting days ahead” vowing that, “the minority will ensure that every penny of state resource is accounted for. ”

Ofori-Atta will be the principal invitee before the joint committee among other programme beneficiaries and private contractors related to the expenditures.

The committee has until October to deliver their findings, including recommendations, to the plenary.

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