General News Sat, 30 Jun 2018

Information Minister explains dismissal of EC officials

The Minister of Information, Dr Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, has thrown more light on the decision by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to remove the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission (EC) and her two deputies from office, saying the action by the President was based on recommendations that were binding on him by law. Dr Abdul-Hamid said the Chief Justice, on the basis of Article 146 of the Constitution, set up a committee to look into several petitions calling for the removal of the Chairperson of the EC, Mrs Charlotte Osei, and her two deputies, Mr Amadu Sulley and Mrs Georgina Opoku-Amankwah.

He noted that based on the recommendations of the committee, the President took the decision to remove the commissioners.

Clause nine of Article (146) of the 1992 Constitution states that: “The President shall, in each case, act in accordance with the recommendations of the committee.”

Press conference

Addressing a press conference in Accra on Friday, Dr Abdul-Hamid explained that the President had no option but to strictly apply the law after the committee’s reports had provided substantial evidence for the dismissal of the three.

“The committee recommended their removal from office on grounds of stated misbehaviour and incompetence. Article 146(9) obliges the President to act upon the recommendations of the committee, which he did.

“Before the government issued the release, the President met each of them separately to inform them of the recommendation and gave them copies of the report of the committee,” he said.

On Thursday, June 28, 2018, the government issued a press statement announcing the removal from office of Mrs Osei, Mr Sulley and Mrs Opoku-Amankwah upon the recommendations of the committee.

Petition and action

Dr Abdul-Hamid said on July, 25 2017, the President received a petition against Mrs Osei, and based on the dictates of the constitution, he forwarded the petition to the Chief Justice the next day.

Subsequently, he stated that two other petitions against the two deputies, Mr Sulley and Mrs Opoku-Amankwah, were received, and were also forwarded to the Chief Justice.

“Once the petitions were sent to the President of the Republic, in accordance with Article 146 of the constitution, the President’s only duty was to refer the petition to the Chief Justice, who shall determine whether there is a prima facie case.

“In other words, the President had no choice but to forward the petition to the Chief Justice,” he said.

Allegations in the petition

The minister stated further that there were six allegations against Mrs Osei, four against Mr Sulley and four against Mrs Opoku-Amankwah.

Dr Abdul-Hamid said after the Chief Justice had established a prima facie case against the commissioners, she established the committee under Article 146(4), to look into the allegations.

He noted that due processes were adhered to in the investigation process, witnesses were called and the respondents were represented by legal counsel.

Dr Abdul-Hamid said the committee recommended that Mr Sulley be removed from office as a Deputy Commissioner of the Electoral Commission (EC) on the grounds of established incompetency and misbehaviour.

According to him, Mr Sulley was also asked to refund the amount of GH¢320,822 which was found to be lost to the EC under his watch.

“The committee also recommended that the Chief Accountant, Mr Kwaku Owusu Agyei-Larbi, be made to pay to the commission the amount of GH¢360,000 which he claimed was still in his custody for safekeeping, failing which he be charged with the offence of stealing,” he said.

Dr Abdul-Hamid said the allegations that were levelled against Mr Sulley included the fact that he treated political parties’ primaries as a private commercial project with funds paid directly into the personal accounts of key staff for functions to be performed for party primaries.

“After witness statements from the Chairperson herself against Alhaji Sulley, the Director of Finance at the EC, Joseph Kwaku Asamoah, the Director of Elections of the NDC party, Samuel Ofosu-Ampofo, among others, and the respondent, Amadu Sulley himself, the committee established that the “NDC paid over GH¢5 million in cash for its primaries to the EC and the NPP paid GH¢233,270 and GH¢276,600 for its presidential and parliamentary primaries respectively and that as the Deputy Commissioner in charge of Operations, Alhaji Sulley had the oversight responsibility over the Electoral Services Department and directly supervises the operations of the said department,” he said.

Dr Abdul-Hamid said the committee established that Alhaji Sulley defied all the known prudent financial administration practices and took over GH¢5 million in cash and kept same in the custody of some individuals.

He added that the committee established that he allowed more than GH¢6 million received on behalf of the EC to be handled in a manner that decried any reasonable and prudent accounting principles, leaving room for fraud and misapplication of the money.

“Though in the midst of investigations of how the money was managed, the Commission opened an account for internally generated funds in December 2015, the Deputy Head of the Electoral Services Department was holding onto GH¢360, 000 in cash until 2016 when the Director of Electoral Services claimed it was deposited with the chief accountant for ‘safe keeping,” he said.

He indicated that the Electoral Services Department, indeed, treated the political parties’ primaries as a private project, the millions of cedis on behalf of the commission were handled in a manner that threw all known sound financial management principles in any institution to the wind.

He said the committee established that there was gross financial mismanagement which opened the commission to fraud and misappropriation of money.

Again, election materials belonging to the EC could not be accounted for, since no proper records were kept as to how those items were procured from the commission’s stores.

Dr Abdul-Hamid noted that the committee held that Mr Sulley demonstrated that he lacked the skill and ability to perform his duties as the head and supervisor of the commission’s operations.

According to him, the committee concluded that at least an amount of GH¢320,822 remained unaccounted for the consumables used for the primaries of the political parties in 2015 and that up to date, the remaining GH¢360, 000 had still not been paid into the EC’s account created in 2015 for that purpose, which they alleged was still with the chief accountant for ‘safe keeping.’

“The other allegation that the committee investigated was that the Deputy Chairperson in charge of Operations had persistently instructed officials to carry out illegal vote transfers on the Voter Management System in clear breach of the law and operational policies of the Commission,” he said.

He indicated that documentary evidence produced by the representative of STL, the contractor in charge of the EC’s electoral register database and Mrs Osei’s evidence against Amadu Sulley revealed that she (Mrs Osei) heard that Superlock Technologies Limited (STL) was effecting transfer of voters from the Voter Management System illegally, indicating that she received email evidence from STL of voter transfers done through the VMS by STL between 1st January, 2014 and 3rd and 4th September, 2015 to date.

With reference to the committee’s report, Dr Abdul-Hamid said when she (Mrs Charlotte Osei) confronted STL as to why it was doing so against the laid down procedures, the contractor said all the transfers were “authorised” and showed “scanned copies of Whatsapp instructions to STL” from Mr Sulley.

“There were 17 such exhibits, with a list of the people to be transferred either through Whatsapp or handwritten notes bearing Alhaji Sulley’s signature. Though he denied them, the Committee found that he wrote and signed them and that the Whatsapp messages were indeed from his telephone,” he said.

He added that the committee found him culpable of misbehaviour as his conduct was held to amount to “abuse of his office.”

After the investigation of allegations against Mrs Georgina Opoku-Amankwah, the Minister of Information said the committee concluded that she had misconducted herself and showed gross incompetence within the meaning of Article 146 of the constitution and recommended her removal from office as a Deputy Chairperson of the EC.

Giving some highlights on the recommendation for her removal, Dr Abdul-Hamid said the same petitioner, who filed against Alhaji Sulley, filed against the EC Deputy Chairperson in charge of Corporate Affairs.

“The Committee focused on four allegations. That she signed two contracts with Superlock Technologies Limited (STL) on 6 May, 2015 for $24,397,000 and $16,509,500 respectively without adhering to the provisions of the Public Procurement Act,” he said.

With reference to the committee’s report, Dr Abdul-Hamid said under the watch of Mrs Opoku-Amankwah, EC staff endowment fund contributions for eight months — between 2013 and 2014- were not paid into the Staff Provident Fund at a time when she was Deputy Chairperson in charge of Finance and Administration and had direct supervision over the fund.

He said it was also established that on the STL contracts, Mrs Opoku-Amankwah demonstrated gross incompetence and misconduct in executing the two contracts by her failure to seek prior authorisation from the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) by concealing the fact that she had already signed the contracts when she instructed the Director of Finance to write to the PPA for authorisation.

Having discovered the illegal act, Mrs Opoku-Amankwah did not withdraw the contract and persisted with it, damning the consequences it would have on the EC, not even when the Electoral Commissioner started probing it.

Dr Abdul-Hamid said the committee further established that her action violated section 40 of the Public Procurement Act constituting a criminal offence under Section 92 of the same act.

He said on the allegations of the missing contributions to the Staff Endowment Fund, it was found out that the contributions were wrongfully applied as “operational expense” of the EC and that the EC now had to refund the money.

“Mrs Charlotte Osei gave evidence against Mrs Opoku-Amankwah, referring to heightened staff agitation over their missing funds. The then Chairperson also gave evidence that she had undertaken internal audit and also invited EOCO to look into the matter,” he said.

According to Dr Abdul-Hamid, the committee established that she failed to disclose the misapplication of the contributions when she was confronted by the then EC chairperson, Dr Afari-Djan, and took no concrete steps to replace the funds, even years after they were misapplied.

“It was held that her actions and inaction had cost financial loss to the staff and, probably, the EC,” he said.

The minister said the committee concluded that enough evidence had been established, and, therefore, recommended her removal as the Chairperson of the EC based on misbehaviour and incompetence. It further recommended that the EC cease using the services of Messrs Sory@Law as solicitors and the firm paid for the legal services it had rendered.

He said the committee looked into six allegations against Ms Osei.

Allegations and findings

Dr Abdul-Hamid said the committee established that without recourse to the commission, she engaged the services of lawyers, Sory@Law without going through the procurement process as the law demanded and that there was no formal contractual arrangement between the EC and the law firm and that the basis for computing legal fees involving GH¢400,000 was unknown.

“The Committee found that there was no documentary evidence of engagement of the Commission of the services of Sory@Law. The Committee found further that the appointment of Sory@Law was in breach of the Public Procurement Act.

“…The Committee said that she appointed the lawyers through sole sourcing without the approval of the Public Procurement Authority and that she misbehaved with the appointment of Messrs Sory@Law,” he said.

The committee also established that the events surrounding the engagement of Messrs Sory@Law as lawyers for the EC showed incompetence, ineptitude and dereliction of duty on the part of Mrs Osei.

Second allegation and findings

The Information Minister said the second allegation was that the Chairperson of the EC unilaterally abrogated a duly procured contract with an entity, STL, and awarded the same contract to the same entity without recourse to the commission and the Public Procurement Act.

Dr Abdul-Hamid said the committee found that upon her appointment in June 2015, Mrs Osei detected some irregularities with the STL contract which was yet to be executed and was right to have abrogated it.

But as indicated by the committee, he said, her decisions to unilaterally award fresh contracts to the same STL in the aggregate sum of $22,340,814 was illegal.

“That she failed to comply with the internal procurement procedures of the Electoral Commission created by the Commission itself, namely the Entity Tender Review Panel, and the Public Procurement Act,” he said.

It was further established that over all, she awarded 12 contracts to STL for the supplies of ICT equipment and services and the committee found that only one of the 12 did not exceed her procurement threshold as Chairperson, which was GH¢ 50,000 for goods and services before July 2016.

He said the committee found that all the letters awarding the 12 contracts to STL were signed by the Chairperson herself between February 8, 2016 and November 25, 2016.

The committee said it was very absurd that the very person who led the crusade to abrogate the initial STL contracts, citing breaches of the Public Procurement Act, did the very thing she rose against.

“The Entity Tender Review Panel consists of the chairperson and her two deputies. The Committee found the STL contracts awarded by the Chairperson as unlawful, violating Sections 16 and 40 of the Public Procurement Act (Act 914),” he said.

Dr Abdul-Hamid said the committee also established that she “misbehaved” in awarding the new STL contracts and it further held that she showed “sheer incompetence in the manner she handled or conducted the award of new STL contracts, in view of her experience with the initial STL contracts which were abrogated at her instance.

Third allegation and findings

The minister said the third allegation was over the decision to acquire a new office block for the EC, where the committee found that the Chairperson breached the law on procurement in awarding contracts for works and consultancy service for the new building.

“The Public Procurement Authority in February, 2016 granted approval to the EC to award the contract for consultancy service for partitioning the new offices, at the contract sum of GH¢98, 100 as requested by the EC.

Again in April 2016, the Chairperson wrote to the PPA for another restricted tender for internal partitioning of the new office block at a total cost of GH¢3, 410,268. This was also granted,” he said.

The committee also found out that the two contracts for the partitioning of the new office block and the contract for the consultancy service were not put before the Entity Tender Committee as created by the Public Procurement Act and the EC’s own internal procedures.

He said the committee further held that the contracts awarded far exceeded the threshold legally allowable to her per the procurement laws.

“The contracts awarded were GH¢3, 976,244 instead of the approved rate of GH¢3, 410,263 and GH¢209, 443 instead of the approved figure of GH¢98, 100.

“…The Committee, therefore, held both to be unlawful. The evidence of witnesses given against the Chairperson was by her own staff, namely the Head of Procurement Unit of the Commission and also the Principal Electoral Officer,” he said.

Fourth allegation

Dr Abdul-Hamid said the fourth allegation was about the award of contract for the construction of pre-fabricated district offices for the EC and contract for consultancy for the pre-fabricated works against the procurement rules.

He said from the evidence, the committee held that the construction of the offices was divided into four lots and the Chairperson personally awarded all four at the higher rate $14,337,962.

“This was in excess of $6,837,962.53 and that she awarded the contracts without reference to the Entity Tender Committee as required. To stress that, the Committee found that the value of the pre-fabricated office buildings was stated as $7.5 million in the letter to the PPA but the contract was awarded by the Chairperson for $14.3 million,” he said.

Fifth and last allegation

Dr Abdul-Hamid said the fifth allegation was about the use of donor support of $76,000 by the USAID grant for the EC’s ICT environment.

The contract for the design of the EC’s website was also held to be illegal, since she awarded the contract without recourse to the rules of procurement.

“The last allegation was also about the use of donor funds for an award to repackage the strategic plan of the Commission, funded by the UNDP and to develop a new logo for the commission. That also was in breach of the procurement law,” he said.

Dr Abdul-Hamid said all six allegations levelled against Mrs Charlotte Osei related to breaches of the Public Procurement Act (Act 663 and as amended by Act 914).

He said the committee quoted the Chief Justice as having observed in her prima facie determination that: “The Public Procurement Act is an enactment which, one may say, is made in pursuance of the principles of probity and accountability expressed in article 37(1) of the Constitution.

“It envisages that in the procurement of goods and services with public resources, there must be standard practices which are aimed at fairness and value for money so as to strengthen the national economy. It is for this reason, in my view, that the Act is so detailed and specific in the process and procedures it prescribes.

“In all the procurement activities which we had to investigate, the findings have been that Mrs Charlotte Osei failed to comply with the Public Procurement Act,” he said.

He added that the committee dismissed the defence by the Chairperson that procurement was not part of her core functions.

Dr Abdul-Hamid said the committee observed that she herself was writing directly to seek approval from the PPA to do restricted tender.

“Those, she herself as chairperson, wrote directly to companies to notify them of contract awards. It held, “If procurement of goods and services was not part of the core business of the Electoral Commission as argued by Mrs Charlotte Osei, why did she take over the above roles directly when there was a Procurement Unit with a Head in the Electoral Commission?” he said.

He reiterated that the removal of the commissioners had nothing to do with the President, his government, the NPP or, indeed, any political party but was purely an internally generated matter.

“It would be tragic for the country, in the face of these facts and circumstances, for anyone to attempt to turn this matter into a party-political affair. Those who do so do not seek the welfare of the country,” he said.

He expressed the hope that Ghana, after the trying events, would end up with an electoral body that would uphold the dignity and integrity that was demanded of the office and its servants.

Source: Graphic.com.gh
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