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Opinions of Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Columnist: Adjei-Brenyah, Dennis

The Ghosts Are Now Dancing In Our Embassies:

WHO IS AFRAID OF THE AUDITOR GENERAL?

By Dennis Adjei-Brenyah, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law, New York

It is becoming a saddening ghastly routine. The Auditor General’s Annual Report on the state of affairs affecting the “irregularities” in the management (or, perhaps, much better, the mismanagement) of our public finances.

Sometime last year, the Audit or General identified billions of cedis that were paid as salaries to unidentified “flying” objects: non teaching personnel in the Ghana Educational Service, under the auspices of the Ministry of Education. The horrifying reality is that these non-existing “teachers” actually received and cashed their cheques. They did so and caused us millions. No, billions! And school children are studying under trees and dilapidated buildings all across our country. These non-existent teachers were identified as “ghost” teachers. And whilst it is generally acknowledged that our educational infrastructure is severely deprived and our students - especially those in the rural areas, are handicapped, the ghosts were dancing all the way to the bank - or wherever ghosts dance to then they get paid for work not done. They (ghosts) do not respond to the worldly demands of accountability. That phenomenon has gone on for years - verified, documented and authenticated by the forensic intrusions and investigations of our Auditor General as mandated by our Constitution. Every year, the Auditor’s office goes to work on finding ways to ghost bust the blood sucking forces of our underworld. All to no avail. Governments come; governments go; but the cancerous threat of the phenomenon of cheque-cashing ghosts expand their reach every year.

In his latest report, we have been informed that our country lost the huge sum of GH¢ 2.5000,000,000 (billion) as a result of “financial irregularities” in the various Ministries, department and agencies MDA’S (See 2009 Auditor General’s report released late January 2011). Of that amount, the Auditor General advised that 90.3% “of the financial loss went to ghost names on the payroll of the country’s foreign missions.”

Let’s reflect for a moment. Our foreign missions have become the cheque-cashing places for “ghosts”. Does it surprise anybody that phone calls are not answered; that one cannot seem to link up with a human being when one calls our mission for help. The ghosts are cashing cheques. The don’t sit at their desks!

This is what we have: documented evidence of salaries being paid to ghost names. The Minister responsible for our foreign mission, has not said a word. The office of the President, has not said a word. The Minister of Finance, has not said a word. The Attorney General is quiet. It is all quiet in the face of the dance of the ghosts cashing our cheques!

The Auditor General did not seem to have too much trouble identifying the “ghosts” involved in this unholy enterprise. He can give us the amount “lost” to the ghostly personnel in our mission and embassies - one after the other. He has the forensic evidentiary showing of how much each ghost in each embassy/mission received and cashed. And yet he stands alone. No ghost busters to help him “capture” these gritters of our national disgrace and financial doom. Why is that?

It cannot be a give-away of our monies to certain select group of undeserving personnel working in our embassies/missions. Is there any mechanism in place to recover from the brazen thieves who are doing us so much harm? Or, is it that, that is just how we are? Why do we, as a Nation, permit this ghastly ghostly assault on our public finances? Why has nobody ever been prosecuted for this rather brazen blatant almost arrogant thievery; while we demand the prosecution and imprisonment of certain officials in past governments? Why are the thieves in the embassies/missions insulated from prosecution? It should be fairly simple to assemble the facts. Has any Head of Mission being recalled to explain the circumstances under which salaries are being paid to non-existing personnel? If not, why not?

The deafening silence from the government officials who should lead the attack on public corruption is a firm indication of the horrendous circumstances we face in our attempt to drive home the notion of probity and accountability in our public finances.

Elsewhere in the Report, the Auditor General reveals to our honor that the Ministry of Finance has failed to comply with specific direction on the issue of payment of officials and in its disregard of the governing rules, they had “no clear policy guidelines to regulate the payment of allowances to officials with overtime, weekend and standard monthly allowances pegged at dollar rates and amounting to more than the gross monthly salaries of the officials in question.” Translation: they pay themselves what they want and nobody questions them! This is the Ministry of Finance! Furthermore, the Report stated rather firmly that the Ministry of Finance had failed to comply with specific directive on the issue of pay according to Section 35 of the Labor Ace, 2003. It is worthy of note that this deliberate disregard of the governing rules translates into real hard cash into someone’s dirty pockets at our expense. And we are talking about the Ministry of Finance, circa 2009.

At the Ministry of Health, the financial health of our nation suffered because of “non-adherence to financial rules”. Here, the officials in decision-making roles failed to obtain “expenditure supporting documents to substantiate payments”. For that we suffered severe quantified financial loses.

At the Ghana Statistical Service, we were told that officials could not “maintain a log book for fuel purchases” causing us all quantified loses.

It would seem to me that all the losses identified by the Auditor General were clearly preventable losses. They were not “losses” in the true sense. Simply put, public officers in decision-making are defrauding us. They are stealing from us. And yet they would not be prosecuted for causing financial loss to the country. That appears to be reserved for selective persons for political convenience, not adherence to principled probity. Who is afraid of the Auditor General? The ghosts are dancing all the way from the Mission posts to their banks. What a shame.

There are other sources illicitly draining our national coffers. The Report pointed out that in 2009, the Ministry of Water Resources, Works and Housing paid 114 contractors money for work not done. Those contractors are not like the ghosts; they are identifiable but they took the money and ran. Furthermore, 10 contractors were given “mobilization money”; advances for the construction of affordable housing in Wa; they defaulted, but the advances were not recovered.

It is my submission that almost all the losses identified by the Auditor General are recoverable and government must take all steps necessary to recover the sum of GH¢ 2.500,000,000 lost through the metaphysical machinations of the ghosts at work in our missions - and the more mundane brazen fraud of the disappearing contractors.

I suggest an immediate and forceful prosecutorial nexus between the Auditor General’s team and the Attorney General’s office with a view to destroying this thieving nonsense that is going on at the missions/embassies. Probity and accountability will have meaning when we make public officials who raid our limited resources with brazen disregard of the rules answerable to the public. In an almost sad plea to our nation to simply do the right thing by our people, the Auditor General observes that:

“Finding lasting solutions to the problems can save the nation millions of cedis, to improve service delivery to tax payers and strengthen the public confidence and trust in the accountability process within the public sector.”

All those sums must be recovered by civil means and by criminal prosecution. This must be our sworn duty.

Let me note that this write-up builds upon my earlier piece on “judicial corruption” and was completed and submitted for publication before the more recent and dramatic exposures at Tema. The Auditor General’s Report was issued before the Tema/customs affair.

Dennis Adjei-Brenyah, Esq. is an attorney and counselor at law in New York.