For whom the bell tolls

June 19, 2017
Source: Nana Yaa Ofori-Atta/thebftonline.com
For whom the bell tolls

In 1940, Ernest Hemingway published a novel about his experiences in the Spanish Civil War.  The title of Hemingway's haunting novel was inspired by the last line line in a 17th century poem in which John Donne wrote ... for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

Last week, the Supreme Court in a 7 member panel presided over by Ms Justice Sophia Akuffo delivered what must be for many in Ghana, a funereal 3 step toll.  Judgement day looms.  Ding. Dong. Ding.  The highest court in Ghana ruled in favour of a suit filed by the pressure group OccupyGhana, with respect to the Disallowance and Surcharge powers of the Auditor General (AG).  In short, notwithstanding the goodwill shown by the present occupant of the Office, Daniel Domelevo (I have referred to him severally in previous columns), the court has ordered the AG to: issue disallowance and surcharge in respect of all state monies found to have been expended contrary to the law; the AG must take steps to recover all amounts lost to the state, and this covers private persons; and the AG must ensure enforcement of the orders including criminal prosecution where necessary. 

The office of the AG was established first in post colonial Ghana 1969, its mandate was renewed with the 1992 Constitution.  For me, the import of the ruling is that is has taken 25 years, 4 previous Executive Presidents (3 of whom are alive and should be asked hard and edgy questions), their eminent and worthy Attorney Generals and Ministers of Finance, for civil society to compel the AG's office to do precisely what it's job description has always prescribed.  In protecting the public purse against corruption, there is a collective stain.  What OccupyGhana has done to spectacular effect, is to compel us to look in, focus and right size. That is, if we dare to CHANGE. 

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The Office of the AG is required by the same laws that defined its powers of disallowance and surcharge it has hitherto blithely chose not to heed, to present to Parliament within 60 days of the end of the financial year, audited accounts of the statutory bodies and the public purse.  That means by June 30th of each year.  To date, none of the previous AG's has complied with this deadline and has been allowed to get away with it.  We should ask why.  June 30th , 2017 is around the corner.  Will this AG flout the law again?  When the 2016 reports are issued, what desperate ruinous actions will they reveal we got up to in an election year?  If those questions are asked, will you roll out the tattered partisan colours again?

Before 2004, many districts and municipalities simply refused to turn in their audited reports and yet each year, they were allocated further funds, no questions asked.  Really.  Explains why even now, everyone wants to be a DCE.  It doesn't explain why Honourable Members of Parliament in whose constituencies these offending districts sat, said nothing.  The media reports that we have lost/squandered/stolen/turned a blind eye to up to Ghc50 billion of sheer brigandry should be put in context.  Quickly.  The estimates referred to were drawn from 2008/2009 up to 2014. Not all of the issues flagged during this time are quantifiable by cash, some are infractions of the law and non compliance that have led to financial loss to the state.  The AG has some 22 statutory bodies that technically should all be audited, barely half of them are audited which means what we read is a sample of what could actually be going on. We have no idea of how much we have stolen from the public purse. We must find out, retrieve, punish and correct. 

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The summary of one of these samples, being the 2015 report of the Consolidated Fund, was filed 3 months after the required fact, it is available online and it makes for sobering reading.  6 institutions (Volta River Authority, Ghana Water Co. Ltd. Electricity Co. Ltd, Tema Oil Refinery, Ghana National Petroleum and Vodafone) with a total debt of Ghc1.29billion have not serviced their debts for 10 years, during which they have presumably continued to receive funding for their activities from the public purse to continue business as usual. The report makes recommendations, like previous pleadings, none of them are binding.  Until now. 

Due to inconsistencies between received confirmed receivables and balances, 2 state institutions - State Gold Mining and Ghana Rubber Estates Ltd. - overstated Ghc151.5 million in loans.  Contrary to previous recommendations and the introduction of an integrated financial management system, the Ministry of Finance made payments of Ghc351.3 million to contractors on behalf of the following Ministries, Departments and Agencies: the Ghana Highway Authority; the Department of Feeder Roads; the Department of Urban Roads; the Office of Government Machinery; the Ministry of Water Resources Works and Housing and the Ministry of Power.  Again, read the recommended corrective actions.

Contrary to the 48 hour rule of transferring their collections into the Consolidated Fund, some commercial banks - Ecobank and Fidelity Bank were specifically cited - delayed payments between 2 and 16 days. Loans received from 18 creditor institutions including the Governments of France, India and Spain as well as the Export-Import Bank of China, Deutsche Bank and the African Development Bank were misstated resulting in an understatement of the external debt for the year ended 2015 by Ghc1.16 billion.  Further, the central bank superintended a 26 month delay before crediting the Consolidated Fund with GBPs 3,691,430 it received from the Government of the U.K. for the Ghana Poverty Reduction Budget Support Capacity Building.  Note that I have already greeted the incoming British High Commissioner (Massa I vex pass you) and whilst I am it, may I say Bonjour to the Ambassador of France to Ghana and Adios to the departing Ambassador of Spain to Ghana.  This time, we no go sit down.  

Miistah Spikaaah.  Please ask each of our 275 righteous MPs to go home, read diligently the CDD-Ghana District League Tables, each report details if/how essential services including sanitation, access to water, education etc are provided; ask each honourable Member to triangulate the reality of his/her constituents against the AG’s reports on the fraud and abuse perpetrated by the District and Municipal Assemblies in the instances where these local government have bothered to provide documentation and then ask each of them to prepare to debate in public where the precise location of the witches and ghosts in their families.  One District One Factory could have been achieved and surpassed, a long time ago.  We are not a poor country.  We are abusive.  When do we begin the amendment to the Constitution to reform our moribund system of Local Government?

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Don’t start jubilating quite yet, from your myopic partisan platform.  By stipulating ALL state funds, this ruling requires the AG to take us all right back to 1993.  This is a victory for â€œI Am A Ghanaian".  The ruling covers the actions and inactions of all governments in this Fourth Republic in the frame.  That would be the National Democratic Congress now in howling witch hunting/fearing well deserved opposition, and it quite rightly puts the New Patriotic Party, now back in government, firmly in the seat to CHANGE this ludicrous narrative.  There are NO statutes of limitation on criminal prosecutions.  All thief be thief.  On matters civil however, there is a 6 year statute.

The ruling requires the AG to review and issue the certificates of disallow and surcharge, essentially this is a tag team effort.  The AG identifies cases and by the certificates issued, prepares the dockets and hands over to the Attorney General to prosecute, where there is evidence that will stand up in court.  Would it not be a breakthrough if the AG were first of all funded and equipped fully to undertake more than a random dip test of charges made by many on the public purse?  Would it not be in service of speedy justice if there were a dedicated and integrated trained team of the security agencies and other such types to investigate cases the AG flags?   And would it not crown this astonishing and belated breakthrough powers by OccupyGhana if the office of the AG, could directly initiate prosecutions instead of being required to hand over to the office of the Attorney General?  I wonder if this anti grant platform should not be the sole focus of the impending Special Prosecutor.  Mr. Domelevo wanted the job, it's been defined for him, the buck should stop firmly with his office. So shouldn’t someone independently audit the AG to ensure that the office does not relapse back into wilfull stupor, as thick as the Akuapem palm nut soup my cousins in the hills swear by?

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On Friday, as I was submitting this column, Justice Sophia Akuffo, the nominee for Chief Justice (CJ) of the Supreme Court was to be vetted by the Appointments Committee of Parliament.  The public was granted 14 days to file petitions challenging her nomination.  It is reported that not a single petition had been received by the public.  Dare we rely on the Members of Parliament who have supported the annual bleatings of the hitherto impotent AG’s office to ask Ms. Akuffo any pointy questions? If she is confirmed, Ms Akuffo will become the second female CJ of Ghana.  Between Mr. Domelevo; the Attorney General, Ms Gloria Akuffo; and the definitive ruling by the Supreme Court there should be a 3 step dance against corruption in Ghana.  It should be a quick step. 

No man is an island, Entire of itself. Each is a piece of the Continent, A part of the main.  If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.  As well as if a promontory were.  As well as if a manor of thine own Or of thine friend's were.  Each man's death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind. Therefore send not to know for whom the bell tolls: It tolls for thee.  

The Ghana anti corruption translation of Donne’s words is as follows.  Between January 7, 1993 and today, if you served in any capacity in government or as a private citizen during which you performed duties and/or received public funds for which you can be cited for abuse, infractions and day light robbery, then the bell tolls for thee.  The AG has much work to do. See me, I am going to continue to be helpful. I suggest he goes for the jugular.  The big ticket items, shake the tree, beat the bushes, take cases to court that delivers big bangs for our lost bucks.  The smaller fish and minions will rush to the surface.  I am not Catholic but I foresee sweaty penitent souls confessing and coughing up.  Daniel, squeeze from the top.  The Hail Mary’s can wait.  We can’t.

 Ssssshh.  Wednesday June 14th, 2017 was the day of the Approach.  Ding. Dong. Ding. OccupyGhana.