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General News of Monday, 20 February 2006

Source: Statesman

My Hands Are Clean - Kofi Asante

?I have done no wrong, absolutely nothing, during my tenure as Executive Secretary for three and a half difficult years at the Energy Commission to make any person, or group of persons, high or low, to call into question my integrity, honesty, and sense of purpose,?

says Kofi Asante in response to a report by the Auditor-General on investigations into allegations by some senior staff members of the Energy Commission (see P.3).

In his response to the report (see P.13), the former Executive Secretary of the Commission has challenged aspects of the leaked document, some of which describe aspects of his administrative conduct as ?improper.?

He sees his no-nonsense style of leadership as a major cause of his problems with senior staff members. He says he refused to tolerate laziness, indiscipline and inefficiency among staff.

He claims he also refused to ?look the other way when officials demand[ed] favours from the public for the performance of their duties? and could not ?condone a practice whereby senior officials [gave] work to consultancies which they had themselves set up for fees.?

Also, he accuses the senior staff members of secretly taking official information and falsifying the information for publication in the media. For example, the allegation by the Commission?s Senior Staff that ?22 billion was paid as advanced rent for the office premises was found to be grossly exaggerated. Also they erroneously alleged that the Executive Secretary was taking ?30 million a month in rent allowance. But, the Auditor-General?s report finds that the Commission resorted to paying his rent allowance quarterly for the plush building at Dzorwulu, Accra. The report further states that the Commission was even behind payment for the rent.

Nevertheless, while the report accepts that rent allowance was part of Mr Asante?s entitlement, it rebukes the Commission for rejecting the value estimated by the Land Valuation Board, which was ?5 million and paying Mr Asante ?10 million for the Dzorwulu property.

The Auditor-General has, therefore, recommended ?the recovery of the excess rent of ?225 million paid to him. Mr Kofi Asante disagreed with our recommendation to refund the amount,? the report underlines. ?You cannot fault the Energy-Commission for exercising its powers in determining its chief executive?s conditions of service, including rent payment,? Mr Asante responds.

Viewing the report as a vindication, he says if the allegations and investigations amounted to an attempt to tar him with the brush of corruption then ?it has failed miserably,? adding, ?I had no doubt in my mind that it would fail because I am incorruptible.?

His worry is that such allegations may drive good people from rendering service to the state.

?It is fashionable today to be cynical about public servants generally. But, I belong to the class of the 1960s who were fired by the ideals of the Founding Fathers. We chose the public service not for money or privilege. We chose the public service to serve the nation.?

During his 40 months tenure as Executive Secretary, forensic investigations into the finances and administration of the Energy Commission were conducted by the Public Services Commission, the Serious Fraud Office and the Audit Service. ?The Report of the Auditor-General on the allegations of corruption made against me clears me of any wrong doing, illegality, or moral turpitude. I stand tall,? he says.

In The Statesman of Wednesday 8-Thursday 9 February, we exclusively published findings of the Auditor-General, Edward Dua Agyeman?s report.

The report, for example, finds a doubling of salaries within three years for all the workers of the Energy Commission improper. The report accuses the Commission and the Energy Minister at the time of authorising two sets of increment, totalling ?3.6 billion.

The Energy Commission started operation on December 31 1997. A new board, chaired by Daasebre Osei Bonsu II with Mr Asante as the Executive Secretary, was inaugurated on December 18, 2001.

The investigation covered the following main allegations: the lease of Frema House, on Spintex Road, for office accommodation; and the purchase of four vehicles at the cost of ?1.8 billion.

The ?Senior Staff Association? also made 30 other allegations of administrative and financial malpractices against the Executive Secretary.

Several of the allegations were either unfounded or inconsequential as the report made no reference to them.

The main allegation was the lease of Frema House. The Auditor-General found that the total amount paid to the owner, Col K A Takyi, was actually ?15.46 billion and not ?22 billion as in the allegations, with ?7.86 billion covering the lease rent and ?7.6 billion covering customisation and fittings. The Commission moved into the building in March 2003.

The total floor area, stated at 14,550 square feet at $11 per square feet was the basis for determining the rent.

Mr Kofi Asante explained that the work done on the Frema House was ?refitting? because the Commission redesigned the building to suit its purposes which included a seminar room, a lobby with laid out facilities, and a boardroom. Other facilities were a restaurant, a lounge for Commission members, a library and rooms for consultants.

The Executive Secretary had argued that the Commission was paying more in rent at the old premises and also for hiring venues for seminars.

But, the report refers to Mr Asante as agreeing to the recommendation that the landlord ?should be made to contribute a greater portion,? of the refitting cost and that Mr Asante had intended to ?negotiate the amount to be contributed by the landlord at a later date.?

The report also observes that between January 2002 and June 2004, 14 motor vehicles were ?improperly? acquired at a total cost of over ?4.6 billion. ?The Executive Secretary explained that the Commission purchased the 14 new motor vehicles with a view to disposing of the 15 old ones. In this regard, he had started valuing the old ones. He conceded that since the old vehicles were still in use the fleet of vehicles owned by the Commission was excessive.? The report said: ?The Commission chairman was improperly allocated one of the Land Cruiser VX in June 2003.?

The vehicle was recalled to office during the investigation in November 2005. The Auditor-General remarks, ?Mr Kofi Asante denied allocating the vehicle to the Chairman of the Commission.?

The report continues, ?Mr Kofi Asante also indicated there are other agencies in the energy sector whose non-executive chairmen were assigned vehicles. These agencies are the Volta River Authority, Electricity Company of Ghana, Public Utilities Regulatory Commission and the Tema Oil Refinery.?

Mr Asante became a symbol of fearless independence. Notably, he publicly clashed with Government on the West African Gas Pipeline contract. He has, however, denied part of a Daily Graphic article last Saturday which read: ?Mr Asante told the Daily Graphic in Accra that because of his incorruptible stance and refusal to sanction deals involving a crude oil lifting firm, Sahara Resources, the West African Gas Pipeline, among others, he had incurred the wrath of powerful forces who wanted him out.?

Speaking to The Statesman at the weekend, Mr Asante said: ?I?ll be forever grateful to the Graphic for undertaking such a balanced and professional exercise by carrying the Auditor-General report and my response, too.

?But, I never made any mention of Sahara Resources in my written statement or to any reporter, for that matter.?

In his written statement, Mr Asante poses the question: ?What sort of membership does Ghana need for its constitutional and statutory bodies and agencies??

He adds: ?Do we want see-no-evil, hear-no-evil bodies unwilling to speak, much less to act, in the national interest??

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