Walking back

September 11, 2017
Source: Nana Yaa l thebftonline.com l Ghana
Walking back

It has been an extraordinary week of recalibrate, repeal, reverse, retreat, repeat and repositioning to row back to Bataan. 

Nestled quietly in the Daily Graphic of Monday, September 4th, was a request for an Expression Of Interest (EOI) that has sent a well aimed rocket up the Khyber Pass of Consulting Accounting firms across the land.  We should rejoice at its potentially far reaching implications. 

There are at least 77 public boards, corporations and statutory bodies, clustered under the different Ministries.  The Ghana Dance Ensemble, the Small Farms Irrigation Project, the Ghana Highway Authority and the National Development Planning Committee and many others, all sit on the public payroll. 

The Annual Auditing of each of these Organisations is outsourced by the Audit Service thus, providing a short list of accounting firms with heavily buttered bread.  The Audit Service Regulations (2011), section 7 permits the Auditor General's office to use the Public Procurement Act 2003 (Act 663) to engage private accounting firms for a minimum period of one year and subject to satisfactory performance, up to a maximum tenure of a 5 year lucrative contract. 

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Now here comes the rub.   

The External Auditors of the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) was until recently Ernst and Young, well known, reputable.  The new board of SSNIT has now appointed PricewaterhouseCoopers, also well known and reputable, at additional cost to the tax payer  to provide a forensic audit of how and why a contract for an IT system was awarded in the first place. 

Presumably PwC will also ascertain how and why the costs were allowed to escalate like damp rising yeast.  PwC will also be effectively pronouncing on how and why information about the non functioning hideously expensive IT system that was known to both the management and the board was not provided to, or was ignored by the original auditors. 

See me?  Seeking clarity.  We should be told precisely what PwC's mandate with SSNIT is; how were they selected in this 'audit the auditor review' and how much they are to be paid for their services?  There are reputations on the line, process and governance lessons to be learnt and money, yours and mine, involved here.  I would rather not wait another 4 years to find out.

Whilst we are it, who audited the Electoral Commission, the Ghana Cocoa Board, the Tema Oil Refinery, the National Communications Authority and every Public Sector Organization whose dyslexia is now being diagnosed?

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If external auditors failed to properly exercise their professional duties, should they not be named, shamed, made to pay restitution and prevented from accessing public contracts for a number of years? 

That is precisely what the World Bank did with Josprong in Liberia when they determined after an investigation into corrupt practices, that the company had used illegal means to win a contract.

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This governance stuff is not rocket science.

The Audit Service must take responsibility.  The EOI will essentially recalibrate the game for the professional number crunchers.  Beyond the minimum one year, ALL accounting firms, must re apply if they want to be shortlisted for government contracts.  They will ALL be evaluated based on previous work done and they will classified by capacity as to what category of public organisation they can actually effectively audit.  Or not.  No protocol 5 year maximum contract allowed. 

We are entitled to know what the recalibration review finds.  We should be told up front who delivered, who did not, why and what rewards or sanctions will be applied.  Disallow and Surcharge powers by the Auditor General must apply to those who abuse the public purse and to accountants who see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing.

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The Minister of Communications, Mrs. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Member of Parliament (MP) for Ablekuma Central is an asset, to fact checking. 

The National Identification Authority (NIA) is not an agency of her Ministry.  They report directly to the Vice President, Dr. Mahamadu Bawumia.  A number of statutory bodies including her Ministry, SSNIT, the Births and Deaths Registry, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority and the National Health Insurance Authority are stakeholders actively working with the NIA in deploying an effective and viable national identification system for Ghana.  There is no new contract in the offing.  Rather, after a review, the Vice President and the team are proceeding with a contract signed in 2012, during the administration of John IV Mahama.  Minister Owusu-Ekuful welcomes an investigation and pronouncement by the Ghana Police Service (GPS) determing whether she tele guided a decision not to award a 'new' contract for the NIA to a company in which Mr. Kennedy Agyapong, MP for Assin Central, has a commercial interest.

By the time this column went to bed, Mr. Agyapong had skipped a meeting with the GPS to substantiate his initial allegations.  Before he chickened out of his date, the MP took to the media to row back his comments, he now says he was misquoted in the first place. 

Google this man, there are some 106 related searches on him, on one website alone.  Agyapong is verbally incontinent, usually with a canny purpose.  His deliberate lack of filter goes down a treat with fringe elements in his party, the opposition and the media.  There are far too many like him, on all fronts 'cruising to comfortable leads'.  

Given the on the lash track record of the garrulous Agyapong, what would it have taken for the media to pause, reflect and report with context, anything and everything he claims, in the first place? 

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It's like a badly tuned orchestra.  We are awash with daily claims, counterclaims and a tsunami of simultaneous forensic audits, essentially everything and anything Mahama did is dodgy.

What is significant and barely noted is that the NIA contract to provide an integrated identification system for 25 million Ghanaians, give or take a couple of million, may be one of the few decisions taken by the former government that actually withstands review.  

The 'read one scandal and get two more free' spree is trending enough that now, the new Chief Executive of the Public Procurement Authority says all procurements that took place in the public sector in 2016 are to be forensically audited. Who is conducting this 'mother of all' audits; how were they selected; what is the cost to us; what is their remit/scope; and when will we see results?

When the forensic audits are completed, it should be crystal clear where things went awry and where they did not.  Prosecutions if required must follow, swiftly.  Retribution must be punitive. 

And we should also be asking fundamental questions about how to actually advance governance enough now to prevent this government from repeating precisely that what it is John IV and his minions are accused of, whilst they too are in office. 

If Mr. Agyapong was misquoted as he now alleges, when will he sue the media who gave us all the distinct impression that he had called out the Minister?  If he did indeed make false and damaging public allegations against a fellow member of the New Patriotic Party, will he be publicly sanctioned?  Will the Parliament of Ghana finally take action if this MP has further undermined their reputation or will we left with an Ayariga?  A wishy washy apology delivered badly whilst business continues.  What documents did Mr. Agyapong submit to the GPS?  If they are irrelevant to the claims he now would have us believe he did not make, will the GPS address this man for crying wolf and wasting precious time?

Resistance Fatigue - I am weary of this. Fact is, we will have to walk backwards to get ahead.   Sssshhhh.  I am repositioning.