The Chief Executive Officer of the defunct Ghana @50 Secretariat, Dr Charles Wereko-Brobby, has stated that there were sufficient funds available to settle in full money owed contractors at the time the secretariat folded up its operations on February 27, 2009.That, he said, included Jescan Construction Limited, which had a judgement debt of GH¢383,354.84 in 2011 after the delay in the payment of GH¢62,840.11 that was due the company. This was after fruitless attempts by the company to get the money paid when it undertook retrofitting and rehabilitation works at the Independence Square for the Ghana@ 50 celebrations.
The money accrued from legal fees, withholding tax, retention amount and interest on the amount, Dr Wereko-Brobby said when he appeared at the Judgement Debt Commission sitting in Accra yesterday.
Dr Wereko-Brobby stressed, however, that at the time the secretariat was folding up the amount owed Jescan, including retention, was GH¢100,448.63.
He said, “At the time the new government was taking over power and we were rounding up our things, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning had released sufficient funds to pay at least the principal sum of every single contractor who was owed. Payment vouchers had been prepared, they had been pre-audited by the Office of the President, Cheques had been prepared but unfortunately the cheques could not be signed before the transition.”
Also appearing at the sitting in connection with the payment of the GH¢383,354.84, was a Director of Jescan Limited, Mr Maxwell Korbla Logan, and a Chief State Attorney, Ms Dorothy Afriyie Ansah.
The former Ghana@50 Chief Executive said although funds were approved for the payment of contractors, the release of the funds was haphazardly done resulting in the indebtedness to contractors.
“We the secretariat had made a commitment to contractors that within three months of the completion of the activities they would be paid, but somewhere down the line government decided that instead of making fresh releases, residual assets that had accrued from the celebrations should be sold to pay contractors,” he said.
Flowing from this decision, he said, the secretariat moved from the expectation of a direct release of funds where it had to resort to the use of internally generated funds, adding that those were things that were responsible for the delays.
He said before the secretariat folded up, letters had been written to the Executive Assets Committee and the Deputy Chief of Staff, indicating who was owed, what was owed and where funds to be used foe payment were, adding that “these funds were actually in the accounts of the Presidency and not anywhere else”.
He expressed surprise at the payment of judgement debt to Margins Group Limited, since there was an ongoing legal issue with the company pending at the time the company secured the judgement.
Due to default on the part of the secretariat, Margins was awarded a GH¢6 million judgement debt. However, the Attorney General had to negotiate with the company to pay GH¢4,009,401.62
“So I was astonished that anybody would go and pay judgement debt to Margins,” Dr Wereko-Brobby said, and indicated that the legal issue with Margins was only resolved less than a year ago.
As regards Latex Foam which also benefited from a judgement debt because of default payment by the secretariat, Dr Wereko-Brobby noted that the secretariat did not purchase any beds from China but contracted furnishers to furnish all the houses at the AU Village.
“The specifications that were required for the mattresses were given to Latex Foam because they tendered for a job. They failed to honour,” he said, pointing out that the company had to import beds from its sister companies when it realised that it could not meet the specifications.
He later handed over memoranda and letters to support his evidence. They included the chief executive’s report on the Ghana@50 Secretariat and media reportage on his appearance at the Public Accounts Committee.
Dr Wereko-Brobby said some profits were made by the secretariat, but when the Sole Commissioner, Mr Justice Yaw Apau, put it to him that the profits were eroded by the judgement debts, Dr Wereko-Brobby said the “blame for that cannot be put on the National Planning Committee but on the government that took over represented by the Office of the President who had the resources”.
When the Sole Commissioner asked whether his views were sought when the companies went to court, he said nobody invited him except for one case in which he was personally tied to.
For his part, the director of Jescan Construction Limited, Mr Logan, said among other things that the company was one of the few companies that completed its projects for the Ghana@50 on time.
He confirmed that the company took a loan of $1,143,000 from Ecobank to execute part of the project.
“The fact is that if we did not execute our project competently and on time, we were going to bare the brunt of a national embarrassment because our project was critical to the flagship ceremony,” he said.
The company had the contract in September, 2006.
Taking her turn, Ms Ansah said the office of the Attorney General was notified of the indebtedness to Jescan in January 2011. This was through a letter signed by the then Chief of Staff to the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, copied to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice.
That letter, she said, instructed the Minister of Finance to take steps to settle the bill in order to avoid a legal action.
The Attorney General, she said, then sought clarification on the amount to be paid, since the letter from the Chief of Staff quoted the figure as GH¢306,928.93 while the writ issued by Jescan put the figure at GH¢283,210.72.