General News Mon, 12 Feb 2018
Several companies accused of infractions in the Auditor-General's report have rejected the findings, and have called for investigations and prosecution.They hold the view that either the Auditor-General is playing mischief or some civil servants have used the names of their companies in an attempt to dupe the state.
Consequently, the companies, which said the Auditor-General breached the rule of natural justice by not giving them an opportunity to respond before publication of the report, challenged the Auditor-General and the relevant state institutions to launch full-scale investigations into the findings and prosecute the true offenders, if any.
Responding to questions from Corruption Watch and The Finder, the companies expressed anger, saying the erroneous accusations in the report have caused them serious reputational damages.
The Auditor-General's Report on Liabilities of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as of December 31, 2016 paints a scary picture of how state funds are being dissipated.
According to the Auditor-General's report, public institutions have overpaid some contractors and suppliers to the tune of GH¢53.1 million (GH¢53,178,715.42).
GH¢771m double claims rejected
Out of the GH¢5.4 billion (GH¢5,479,253,011.26) rejected due to the absence of relevant documentation (such as warrants, contract documents, invoices, procurement records, SRAs, etc), use of projected contract cost and goods not supplied, GH¢771 million (GH¢771,938, 637.34) were claims which had already been paid for.
Our contract with EC was GH¢8.3m, not GH¢53.8m - STL
SuperTech Limited (STL), the company that was contracted by the Electoral Commission (EC) to supply biometric registration kits for the 2016 elections, told The Finder and Corruption Watch collaborative investigative team (FCW) that the contract sum was even wrong.
According to management of STL, the contract sum in the Auditor-General’s report was GH¢53,883,235.
The company explained that this strange debt is far higher than the GH¢8,334,566 being the actual contract sum the company executed and has been duly paid.
"It is not clear how they jumped from GH¢8,334,566 contract to indebtedness of GH¢53,883,235.
"Actually, SuperTech received the payment of the said outstanding debt on the 23rd of January 2017," STL said.
We never made any claims - Byes and Ways
According to the report, the Energy Ministry, in its response to a request made by the Finance Ministry on June 21, 2017, asserted that government was indebted to the contractor, an amount of GH¢28,404,803.80, for the items supplied.
However, in the process of validating the claim, the Auditor-General discovered that the said amount was paid on December 16, 2016, leaving an outstanding amount of GH¢3,404,803.90.
The report further notes that, "Upon further discussion with management, it was established that two cheques from ECG number 049347 and 049278 for GH¢2,500,000 and GH¢5,000,000 respectively were made in 2016 to fully discharge the liability.
"We, therefore, rejected the liability of GH¢28,404,803.80," the report said.
But managing director of Byes and Ways, Jeffery Amponsah denied making such a claim and challenged the Auditor-General to produce documents from his company in which the supposed claim was made.
"I am challenging the Energy Ministry; I am challenging the Ministry of Finance, and I am challenging the Auditor-General...to produce that invoice which says we are demanding GH¢28,404,803.80".
He would even be happy if staff of his own company Byes and Ways are prosecuted, together with public officers who aided in raising the invoices.
"I'm calling for the prosecution of everybody named in the Auditor-General's report that has been cited to have made a claim for money that he does not deserve, including the company Byes and Ways," Amponsah stressed.
JUSTMOH Limited rejects findings
A privately-owned construction company, JUSTMOH Limited has also strongly rejected a claim by the Auditor-General that it was overpaid for providing asphaltic overlay of some selected roads in Sekondi-Takoradi in the Western Region.
The report listed JUSTMOH, a wholly-owned Ghanaian company, as one of such companies which were overpaid.
According to the report, the company was owed a total of GH¢175,343.24 but ended up receiving GH¢21,572,095.68.
JUSTMOH, which has been operating in the construction industry for the past 22 years, said they never received any such payment from the Ministry of Finance for executing the contract on behalf of the Roads and Highways Ministry.
"The GH?175,343.24 was in respect of an IPC No.6A raised for interest on delayed payment, which went through the lawful process and approved," the Chief executive officer, Justice Amoh, defended in the statement.
Amandi Holdings Ltd disowns GH¢110.7m contract
In response to a request from MoF, the Ministry of Transport (MoT), in relation to the contract with Amandi Holdings Ltd, asserted that government was indebted to the company of an amount of GH¢110.7 million (GH¢110,719,175.17) as of December 31, 2016.
To establish the validity of the claim, the Auditor-General reviewed underlying records and noted that the items had not been supplied as of December 31, 2016.
Based on the aforementioned, we rejected the liability of GH¢110,719,175.17 in favour of Amandi Holdings as of December 31, 2016.
But Amandi Holdings rejected these findings and explained that it was awarded a contract in April 2015 to supply semi-automatic level crossing barriers arms at a contract sum of $1.3 million ($1,388,417.60) along the Accra-Tema Railway line.
The contract was awarded in April 2014 and signed July 2014. Application for advance payment was made on April 2015.
Therefore, Amandi Holdings said the amount of GH¢110.7m is alien to them since management did not know where the Auditor-General got it from.
The A-G disallowed the payment because it said Amandi failed to supply the items.
But Amandi explained that in respect of the actual contract of $1.3m, they did not supply because the ministry failed to pay for the supply as provided for in the agreement.
“No payment was received, hence no supply took place, based on Article 15 of the agreement.
“The client still needs the supply but could not pay as of 31/12/2016.
“Note that partial payment for this contract was made in Nov 2017, representing 15% of the advance amount of 65% of the contract amount invoiced back in April 2015,” Amandi said.
Corruption Watch makes suggestions
Dr Kojo Asante, project manager, Corruption Watch, and senior fellow, CDD-Ghana, explained that the Auditor-General is not required by law to contact the contractors/companies.
"This is because the companies are not the subject of the audit, he added.
"Essentially, they are third parties in this exercise, similar to citizens who pay for public services," he stated.
He recognised that the accused companies and contractors suffer reputational risk when the MDAs submit false or inaccurate claims to the Auditor-General for payment.
To mitigate the likelihood of reputational risk, Dr Asante observed that the time lag between the report coming out and the other government agencies responding must reduce drastically.
"First thing is for the companies to provide information to the public about the issue and state a clear position on their role.
"But on the issue of the time lag, I think that even before the Public Accounts Committee [of Parliament] acts, the Auditor-General can apply a surcharge to the offending public officer, which indirectly exonerates the company.
"Also, the Ministry of Finance has powers under the public financial management act to also surcharge for breaches.
"If there are criminal actions to be taken, the Attorney-General must also act quickly so they can clear the company's name.
"After all of this, the PAC can mop up and propose ways to reduce the incidence of illegalities," he stated.
Dr Asante urged the affected companies to take action to expose those who have used their names to make claims, saying "if they are unsure where to go, they can talk to Corruption Watch."
He said he wants to provide a level playing field for companies in Ghana and value for money for the Ghanaian taxpayer, which includes businesses.
Lawyer Tanko calls for balanced stories
A lawyer and lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Zakaria Musah Tanko asked media houses publishing stories from the Auditor-General's report to give accused companies and contractors who have rejected wrongdoing the opportunity to state their side of the story.
He cautioned the media to avoid preferring their opinions and avoid intemperate language, as well as ensure that the stories are devoid of malice.
The objective of Corruption Watch is to ensure that public financial management systems are effective in preventing corruption, and if there are irregularities, people are punished and stolen monies are recovered.
This helps the private sector that wants to do genuine business without being subjected to demands from public servants to pay bribes. There are many benefits to a corruption-free public sector.
Corruption Watch wants the private sector to join in this fight.