Auditor-General’s revelation of GETFund scholarship: what is the position of the law?

Daniel Yaw Domelevo New Auditor-General, Daniel Domelevo

Mon, 30 Mar 2020 Source: Kwame Kwakye

The Auditor-General is mandated by law to conduct audit into the accounts of all public organisations as by law established. These audits are conducted from time to ascertain whether all state agencies, ministries, departments and all assemblies are working within the financial regulations that govern how public funds must be expended.

On the 24th of February, 2020 a story captioned "Why Auditor-General audited GETFund and said many scholarship beneficiaries were not needy" and published by Graphic Online said the Auditor-General, Mr Daniel Yaw Domelevo has undertaken a performance audit of the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) between 2012 and 2018 and has come to a conclusion that many of the scholarship beneficiaries within the period audited were not needy. The story continued that, the Auditor-General has sent the report to Parliament containing names of 86 beneficiaries some of whom are lecturers, politicians, public servants, parliamentarians, media practitioners, heads of public institutions and many others. According to the Auditor-General, GETFund spent GH¢1.8 million on the 86 beneficiaries who in the view of the Auditor-General are not needy but benefited from the Fund. In the story "the purpose of the audit was to ascertain whether GETFund acted in accordance with its mandate as stated in the GETFund Act, 2000 (Act 581) with regards to administration of funds for scholarships. The audit covered the period 2012 to 2018" (graphic.com).

When the story came into the public domain, it has sparked a lot of hue and cry due to the names of some prominent citizens whose names have come up as beneficiaries. It is reported that current Education Minister Matthew Opoku-Prempeh, Procurement Minister and Deputy Majority Leader in Parliament, Sarah Adwoa Safo as well as the Executive Secretary of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NaCCA), Prince Hamidu Armah have all benefitted from the scheme.

Dr. Mathew Opoku Prempeh the MP for Manhyia South benefited by studying National and International Security at Harvard University and receiving $12,800 for living expenses and $11,200 as tuition fees while Hon. Sarah Adwoa Safo the MP for Kwabenya also benefited by studying at the Harvard Kennedy School enjoying $12,800 in allowances with $17,004 in tuition fees. Dr. Armah who studied Philosophy in Education at the University of Aberdeen was given £38,400 for living expense in addition to £33,000 for tuition fees.

Apart from these politically exposed individuals whose names have come up as beneficiaries of GETfund monies, other non-politically exposed ones including Prof. John Gatsi of University of Cape Coast Business School among others are also beneficiaries. When questioned about the appearance of his name on "behind the news" programme on radio Ghana, he said he applied for help to further his educations. When he was asked whether he was aware that the beneficiaries must be attending school in Ghana, he answered that he did a distance course outside Ghana. So even though he was studying abroad he was living in Ghana and that the amount of money the state spent on him wasn't as huge as others. But what he forgets is that he was still a foreign student.

In this scenario, I cannot fault him so much because after all, he is contributing to knowledge as an academic. The only concern I would want to raise is: the PhD he decided to pursue outside Ghana, couldn't that program be offered in our country? If yes, then, whoever decided to give him such assistance from the Fund was inappropriate.

In an interview with Lawyer Maurice Ampaw, private legal practitioner on GBC Radio Central on the 25th of February, 2020, he said the GETFund act was enacted to assist brilliant but needy students but the names he has heard are not needy people and in his view, such persons should be made to refund the monies to the secretariat. He further said Adwoa Safo has had a relationship with MP for Assin Central who is a prominent citizen of this land and could have paid the fees so why rely on GETFund? He further added that her father, Apostle Dr. Kwadwo Safo Kantanka is a very wealthy man who has supported a lot of philanthropic activities and could easily have supported his daughter.

Lawyer Ampaw explained that in his understanding of the law, the GETFund was created to assist needy but brilliant students who are supposed to study in Ghana. He continued that studying abroad is very expensive and, in his view, to finance such education by the fund was improper and that the amounts being quoted could have paid for the fees of several needy but brilliant students in Ghana. He concluded by saying that, Ghana is a country in need and we normally go about borrowing to support our country's development and to spend such monies on such persons was not only inappropriate but also unfair.

But with all these explanations, what does the Object of the Ghana Education Trust Fund say? Sections 2 (1) The object of the Fund is to provide finance to supplement the provision of the education at all levels by Government. (2) For the purposes of attaining this object, the monies from the Fund are to be expended as follows:

(a) to provide financial support to the agencies and institutions under the Ministry of Education, through the Ministry, for the development and maintenance of essential academic facilities and infrastructure in public educational institutions, particularly, in tertiary institutions;

(b) to provide supplementary funding to the Scholarship Secretariat for the grant of scholarships to gifted but needy students for studies in the second-cycle and accredited tertiary institutions in Ghana;

(c) to contribute monies from the Fund towards the operation of student loans schemes for students in accredited tertiary institutions through loan scheme mechanisms and agencies, approved by the Minister;

(d) to provide through the National Council of Tertiary Education, grants to tertiary institutions,

(i) to train brilliant students as members of faculties;

(ii) to undertake research and other academic programmes of relevance to national development; and

(e) to provide monies to support such other educational activities and programmes for the promotion of education as the Minister in consultation with the Board may determine.

From the above, then I can agree with Lawyer Ampaw to a greater extent but, section 2(e) of act 581 gives the minister certain discretionary powers to provide monies to support such other educational activities s/he in consultation with the board may determine. This may be the provision under which those people who are claimed not to be needy and people are complaining as not being needy and benefited from the GETFund may fall.

This to me wasn't wrong but possibly its application might have been abused over time. Such discretion could have been directed to training of critical manpower in areas that the country would need but such persons cannot be trained locally. There are certain of expertise that the country might need going forward and, in such areas, the GETFund managers could be allowed some discretion to help such ones to travel abroad to acquire such critical knowledge. But, this particular one where some MP were given scholarships to pursue areas of expertise that might necessarily be in need outside the country is far fetched. Even if a needy but brilliant student were allowed to study abroad to acquire knowledge in areas whose training cannot be acquired in Ghana, that would not be a problem provided such an individual would contribute to faculty or would come back and serve mother Ghana.

One thing that amazes me when this story broke out has been the reaction from members of the general public towards the beneficiaries. Why not ask the authorities who decided to grant them such opportunities?

The former Director of the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund) Sam Garba has denied any wrongdoing in the manner in which he administered scholarships during his time in office. Mr Garba who served between 2012 and 2016 said he only followed the existing procedure in awarding scholarships upon assumption of office and cannot be blamed for wrongdoing because he has discharged his work with diligence and the findings against him was scandalous, unfounded and ridiculous.

Speaking on eye witness news Mr. Sam Garba said "The request to make comment on the attached performance audit report by the auditor general did not come to me from the auditor general. It came to me from my successor to bring the audit to closure as standard practice. I did not invent anything; I saw and met a procedure and structure in the administration of the scholarship. So, I found it satisfied, picked it up and utilized in the administration of the scholarship. Indeed, that procedure was to award a scholarship to people who were studying outside the country. The Auditor-General is not the law"(citinewsroom.com).

Reacting to the findings of the Auditor-General regarding GETFund, the MP for Akim Swedru has given the Auditor-General 24-hours to remove his name from the GETFund scholarship list published by his office or face possible court action. The Akim Swedru MP Kennedy Osei Nyarko is said to have received a scholarship to study at the SOAS University of London for a Certificate in Environmental Management. Though an amount of money was not attached to the name, his name appeared on the list of beneficiaries but he has described the report as a big gaffe by the Auditor General since he has never applied or been granted a scholarship by GETFund (myjoyonline.com).

In responding to the MP and deputy minister of Agricultures threats, a story captioned "Scholarship saga: Seek redress from GETfund not me A-G to dep. Minister" and published on starrfm.com.gh, the Auditor-General Daniel Domelevo said It should be noted that the information contained in an audit report is from the audited entity, and in this instance, every information or names that is contained in the performance audit report on GETfund came from GETFund, the audited entity.

Certainly, my office has no malice or bias toward any individual named as a beneficiary from GETFund in our audit report. Your grievance, therefore, is best addressed by GETFund who provided the audit team with the necessary information and names of beneficiaries during the audit. From this then, it stands to reason that we all hasten slowly with our attacks on the Auditor-General and direct out arsenals appropriately.

For the MP for Akim Swedru to decide to go to court is in the right direction because that is, the best place to seek redress if one finds that his name and reputation has been unduly damaged. But the question is how come some persons whose names are on the list are claiming they didn't receive any monies from the secretariat? Is it a case that, some other persons took the monies on their behalf? How come the names being bandied around are names of person who are NPP and no names from person who served in the NDC administration? This has given room for others to impugning the integrity, competence and fairness of the Auditor-General.

A lady by name Hajia Ramana Shareef is among persons listed by the Auditor-General to have received the scholarship from 2014 to 2018. The former Metro TV journalist is listed as the 46th person to receive tuition - £12,600.00 - and living allowing - £ 10,130.00 - for her one-year MSc. Communication for Innovation and Development course at the University of Reading, UK. Hajia Raman said she was never paid the monies for her tuition and stipend.

I waited and waited for the fees to be paid for me to get the visa to leave but it was never paid, (myjoyonline.com) she recounted her ordeal when she spoke to Daniel Dadzie of Super Morning Show on Metro TV. She further deferred the course for year due to the delay in releasing her tuition fees, but GETFund still did not release the funds.

If one reads such stories and when the General Secretary of the NDC Mr. Johnson Asiedu Nketia describes his son as needy and was able to secure same scholarship for him, then you ask yourself who the needy ones in our society are.

In conclusion, I'm not blaming anyone who has benefited in any way from GETFund in any shape or form but it appears those who are really in need are not getting the benefits as required. The fund was established to help brilliant but needy students but here we are where names of person who have benefited are perceived as not being needy by the general public as revealed by the Auditor-General. We can all do a moral argument and complain or condemn such ones but we cannot comment as if they have done something untoward. Because, if the law doesn't permit, I'm not sure the scholarship would not have been granted to them.

For the politically exposed like the current minister of education Mathew Opoku Prempeh, Procurement Minister Adwoa Safo and the NaCCA boss Prince Hamidu Armah applied and were granted when their party was not in power so the slant to the discussion against them isn't fair.

If we all as people think that, the privileged in society are benefitting at the expense of the needy ones then we need to amend the current law and fine-tune it to restrict the discretionary powers of those who administer the funds. From the way Sam Garba has reacted to this report saying among others that he followed what he came to meet and as such has done nothing wrong, indicates that this particular practise might have been in practise long ago.

I'm not a lawyer but my understanding of the GETFund act gives a certain discretion to the minister to grant scholarships. If that is correct then we cannot blame anyone but the law. Those who disagree can test the law and let us all learn from its ruling or better still let us amend the law and remove the discretionary powers inherent. The Auditor-General has surcharged others, so let's all wait with bated breath and see how it goes. We can be very emotional and make moral arguments against others but the law might not necessarily be on our side.

Columnist: Kwame Kwakye
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