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General News of Friday, 21 May 2021

Source: classfmonline.com

SSNIT US$66 million OBS scandal: Ernest Thompson, 4 others plead not guilty

Former Director-General of SSNIT, Mr Ernest Thompson Former Director-General of SSNIT, Mr Ernest Thompson

• Mr Ernest Thompson and four others are being accused of causing financial loss of over US$15 million to the state.

• They were granted self-recognisance bail after they pleaded not guilty to the charges in court on Thursday, May 20.


• The next hearing will be on Wednesday, May 26.

A former Director-General of the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), Mr Ernest Thompson, and four others, have pleaded not guilty to causing financial loss of more than US$15.3 million to the state.

They denied any wrongdoing when they appeared before the Accra High Court on Thursday, May 20, 2021.

The five persons are facing criminal prosecution over the $66m SSNIT Operational Business Suite (OBS) project which was meant to revamp the operations of SSNIT through Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

This is the second time the accused persons have been arraigned.

They were initially dragged to court in July 2018 but the trial was put on hold following a legal tussle over the charges which culminated in a ruling by the Supreme Court that 10 of the 29 charges relating to wilfully causing financial loss did not have sufficient particulars as required by the 1992 Constitution.

In view of the ruling by the apex court, the Attorney General (AG) dragged the accused persons back to court by amending the charge sheet to include sufficient particulars.

Charges

The other four accused are John Hagan Mensah, a former IT Manager at SSNIT; Juliet Hassana Kramer, the CEO of Perfect Business Systems (PBS); Caleb Kwaku Afaglo, a former Head of Management Information Systems (MIS) at SSNIT, and Peter Hayibor, the lawyer for SSNIT.

The accused persons pleaded not guilty to 29 charges, including various counts of conspiracy to willfully cause financial loss to the state and wilfully causing financial loss to the state.

Thompson and Kramer separately pleaded not guilty to three counts of contravening the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663), while Kramer and Afaglo also pleaded not guilty to defrauding by false pretence.

Afaglo is alleged to have secured his employment at SSNIT with fake certificates and was accordingly charged with various counts of possession of forged documents and uttering forged documents.

Bail

At Thursday’s hearing, the court, presided over by Justice Henry Kwofie, a Justice of the Court of Appeal, sitting as a High Court judge, admitted the accused persons to self-recognizance bail.

That followed submissions by lawyers for the accused persons urging the court to maintain the same bail conditions granted to their client when they were previously arraigned in 2018.

The hearing continues on May 26, 2021.

Prosecution’s facts

It is the case of the prosecution that in June 2010, SSNIT initiated the $34m OBS project to use Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to revamp its operations to enable it to provide a state-of-the-art pension administration systems in the country.

It said the objective of the project was to automate all of SSNIT’s core processes in the administration of pensions and “integrate all internal systems, as well as external stakeholders of SSNIT’’.

The contract sum, the AG argued, also ballooned from $34m to over $66m, although the OBS system failed to perform efficiently as the project contract had envisaged.

“The so-called variations or change orders were carried out at the instance of A1 (Thompson), A2 (Mensah), A3 (Kramer) and A4 (Afaglo) and authorized by A1 (Thompson), even though some of the payments were above his threshold as director-general and contrary to the Public Procurement Act,’’ the prosecution said.

The prosecution further said the OBS system was not working but Thompson continued to pay for its related expenses.

“Investigations established that although the OBS system was not performing as efficiently as contracted for, A1 (Thompson) gave authorization for various payments which culminated in the losses.

“Investigations also indicated that PBS, purportedly represented by A3 (Kramer), is a non-existent company,” the prosecution said.

According to the prosecution, investigations also revealed that Afaglo “relied on certificates purporting to be educational certificates he did not possess’’ to gain employment at SSNIT as its General Manager for MIS on October 1, 2015.

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