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General News of Thursday, 23 July 2009

Source: GNA

Ghana@50 Commission commences public hearing

Accra, July 23, GNA- The maiden public hearing of the Ghana@50 Commission of Enquiry commenced on Thursday on a slow pace, as evidence by witnesses had to be recorded manually, due to lack of a rapid voice recorder.

However, the Chairman of the Commission, Justice Isaac Duose assured the witnesses and their legal counsels that the situation would be rectified in due course.

Officials from the Prudential Bank, Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) and Chief Executive of the Ghana@50 Secretariat, Dr Charles Wereko-Brobbey and the Chairman of the National Planning Committee, Mr Kwadwo Mpianim were present at the event. Mr Stephen Sekyere-Abankwa, Managing Director of Prudential Bank, where the Ghana@50 Secretariat held seven accounts, in giving evidence said the secretariat requested to open the accounts to facilitate the anniversary celebrations.

He said one month before the 50th anniversary celebration, the secretariat requested to overdraw its accounts at the bank for a short period to the tune of GHc 20 million, with the explanation that they were anticipating some delay in the release of funds expected from government, and that they would reimburse the bank as soon as they got the money.

Mr Sekyere-Abankwa said the bank decided to honour only up GHc 10 million of the money requested.

Asked by the counsel from the Attorney Generals Department if that facility to the Secretariat was a loan, He said the bank did not consider the overdraw, as a loan since there was no such agreement in respect of the transaction.

Mr Sekyere-Abankwa said the other relations the bank had with the Secretariat was business related, because the expectation was that the bank would make profit.

This involved the construction of 30 presidential mansions at Ridge for the AU summit, which took place in July 2007.

He said on September 4, 2006, the National Planning Committee (NPC) of the Ghana@50 Celebrations chaired by Mr Mpianim and the bank reached an agreement with a consortium of three local banks- Prudential bank, Agricultural Development bank and National Investment Bank- to undertake the construction of projects with their own accounts. Thus the banks had to raise money to undertake accommodation projects for Heads of State who attended the 50th anniversary celebrations and the AU Summit.

He said in order not to mix the transaction with normal bank business, a company christened AU Development Consortium Limited, was set up by the three banks to raise funds for the project. He said the company later took the equivalent of nine million dollars, from their respective banks in proportion to their shareholding in the company, to construct the houses.

Mr Sekyere-Abankwa said before actual construction commenced, the Secretariat submitted architectural drawings of the buildings to the consortium, which engaged the services of seven contractors, who started the project in January 7 and completed them in July 7 just before the AU Summit.

He said after the conference, sale of the houses were held up because of governments request to use the facility for other events including the UNCTAD conference.

Government, he said, later expressed interest to acquire the property but later directed that the houses should be sold. The consortium therefore engaged a consultant to arrange for the sale of the houses in order to raise proceeds to offset the principal loans, interest and other outstanding payments due to the contractors. He said a total cost of development of the Ridge project with accrued interest as at June 30, 2009 stood at 22.5 million Dollars (GHc 33.75 million).

He said the cost included the provision of 4.5 million dollars as cost of the land, which belonged to SSNIT.

Mr Sekyere-Abankwa said as at June 30, 2009, the consortium was indebted to the Prudential bank to the tune of GHc 4,504,636.37, saying the only factor holding up the sale of the property was a disagreement with SSNIT on the pricing of the land. SSNIT had referred the matter to the Land Valuation Board that had completed its work and was expected to present its report soon.

In respect of the La AU housing Village at Cantonments, Mr Sekyere-Abankwa, who doubles as the Chairman of the AU Consortium Limited said the NPC requested the consortium to complete and furnish 30 identikit houses, which were by then under construction at Cantonments by the Ghana@50 Secretariat.

The houses were to be used as security for the liabilities that the consortium would incur. The consortium accepted the invitation, only to notice that it could not go back to the banks to raise an amount of GHc 10 million to complete the project.

It therefore contracted a loan of GHc 10 million from SSNIT to complete the project.

He said presently the consortium had paid SSNIT GHc 2 million from proceeds from the sale of some of the houses, with an outstanding balance of GHc 12.6 million.

When the lawyer for Dr Wereko-Brobbey, Mr Akoto Ampaw cross examined Mr Sekyere-Abankwa, asking whether there was an element of malfeasance in the whole transaction, he replied in the negative, saying that no money went directly to the Secretariat, neither the NPC, adding that the consortium funded the ridge facility and that at La, and paid monies directly to contractors and consultants.

Sitting was postponed for tomorrow Friday, July 24.

The Commission was instituted at the instance of the President John Mills to investigate the appropriation of some $72 million during the Ghana@50 celebrations.