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Business News of Monday, 10 February 2020

Source: Goldstree Business

Goldstreet Editorial: Parliament’s role in financial management

This week, rather unsettling allegations have been made by the Parliamentary minority as to how both the legislature and the executive arm of government have gone about assessing and ultimately approving a contract to build a hydro-electric multi- purpose dam at Pwalugu in the Northern Region. The dam is designed to provide 60 mega -watts of electricity, as well as facilitating both irrigation across about 25,000 hectares of land to enable all season farming in the area and solar powered electricity.

There is no doubt about the usefulness of the project which is correctly touted as the single largest investment in the northern part of the country by any government in history. On this everyone is in agreement.

However, the opposition has raised pertinent questions as to both the contract cost, awarded to Sinohydro of China, and the procedure being adopted by both the executive arm of government and Parliament itself to approve the contract and have it executed.

First is the matter of contract cost. The opposition asserts that its research reveals that while several other African countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Zambia have recently done similar projects with price per mega-watt ranging between US$900,000 and US$1.1 million, Ghana’s planned project will deliver power at a cost of about US$6 million per megawatt.

While the peculiar circumstances of each country would inevitably result in varying project costs per megawatt of power generated – and Ghana’s costs can only be expected to be higher because of its debt laden financing mode – the huge difference is certainly questionable.

But even more worrying to this newspaper is the process being adopted for approving the contract and commencing its execution.

Firstly, the political opposition asserts that its members in the Finance Committee were not invited to the one hour deliberations – held between 9.30 pm and 10.30 pm at night – during which a US$1 billion expenditure by the State was recommended to the entire legislature. More worrying is the allegation that the committee report was signed off by the minority members who in actual fact did not attend that meeting.

Secondly, the opposition points out that the sod cutting ceremony for the project was done amid pomp and pageantry by top level government officials led by the President himself, even though Parliament has not yet approved the contract as required by law.

These allegations are yet to be confirmed and Parliament has been scheduled to debate the contract on Tuesday, February 11. We hope that the controversies thrown up by the minority will be cleared up then.

However, the allegations have cast a shadow on Parliament’s commitment to its role as the check and balance on the decisions of the executive arm of government.

Consequently, to ensure that Parliament retains its honoured reputation, we suggest that the legislature reboots its assessment process from the finance committee level upwards, in a way that leaves no doubt as to the integrity of the process.

Expectedly, the majority, armed with the numbers required to have its way, will ensure an outcome to its liking. But as long as due process is followed, then it must be accepted by all and sundry, even if the contract cost is suspicious; that is how a Parliamentary democracy works.

But a combination of suspicious contract pricing and failure to follow proper process would be a dangerous precedent for Ghana’s democracy – and for its still fragile economy.

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