Defence lawyers and the prosecution Tuesday clashed over the real motives behind the GHÃ‚Â¢86,915.85 renovation works carried out at the Ministry of Information and for which former Information Minister Stephen Asamoah-Boateng, his wife, Mrs Zuleika Asamoah-Boateng and six others are standing trial at the Accra Fast Track High Court.
Following the testimony of the Minister of Information, Mrs Zita Okaikoi, as the first prosecution witness in the case, lawyers for former Asamoah-Boateng decried the criminalisation of the project.
The minister was testifying in support of the prosecution’s claims that the right procedure was not followed in awarding the contract to the wife of the former minister.
Mrs Okaikoi further testified that Dominic Aloysius Yaw Sampong, a former Deputy Director of Finance and Administration at the ministry, wrote a special letter and signed it requesting payment of GHÃ‚Â¢86,915.85 for renovation works done on the ministerial block.
She said the letter was written on May 29, 2009, to the Ministry of Finance, while she, as well as her two deputies, was in office but Sampong signed for the payment of the money without routing the letter through her office for approval.
Later, at a meeting that she summoned, the issue came up and Sampong apologised.
Led in evidence by Mr Anthony Gyambiby, a Chief State Attorney, the witness said that she wrote a letter to the Finance Ministry to stop the payment of the money and also wrote a memo to the Chief of Staff to inform him about the situation.
The rest of the accused persons are a former Deputy Information Minister, Frank Agyekum, Kofi Asamoah-Boateng, a former Director of Finance and Administration at the Ministry of Information; Kwabena Denkyira, a former Deputy Director of Finance and Administration at the ministry; Yasmin Domua, a manageress; Prosper Aku of Supreme Procurement Agency Ltd and the company as an entity.
They are facing various charges relating to conspiracy, attempt to commit criminal offence, to wit defrauding by false pretences, forgery of official documents, possession of forged documents, uttering of forged documents and deceit of public officers.
All the accused persons have pleaded not guilty to the charges and the court, presided over by Mr Justice Charles Quist, admitted them to the bail in the sum of GHÃ‚Â¢ 10,000 with a surety.
Nene Amegatcher, counsel for the former minister, denied that the contract did not follow the due process of law since the right procedures were adhered to.
According to Nene Amegatcher, it was not true that all investment activities for 2008 were suspended in order to pave the way for renovation works on the ministerial block.
He said his client did not conspire with anybody and that the prosecution had embellished the facts to make their story plausible, persuasive and sweet.
Nene Amegatcher said that on assumption of office, his client paid a working visit to all regional offices under his ministry in order to have an idea of what was on the ground.
Consequent to that, he said one problem which came out was the poor situation at the ministry, especially at the head office, where conditions posed a risk to the workers.
He said that at a directors’ meeting shortly after Asamoah-Boateng assumed office as minister, those issues were discussed and it was unanimously expressed that the old and unhygienic worn out carpets, should be changed into tiles, broken louvre blades should be fixed, among other things.
Later at a staff durbar at the Teachers Hall in Accra, the same concerns were raised and that all investment activities for 2008 such as the purchase of a 4×4 vehicles, office equipment, generator and arrangements for a lift were all pursued.
Counsel said that it was not his client who brought Kofi Asamoah-Boateng to the ministry to work with him as director of Finance and Administration and that it was the office of Head of Civil Service which appointed him, since at the time the ministry did not have one.
“We will demonstrate that the accused persons did not have power to transfer any official within the ministry and did not exercise any such power over and above the office of Head of Civil Service,” counsel said.
He also denied that his client fabricated invoices and documents, which he handed over to Kofi Asamoah-Boateng so it was not true that Stephen Asamoah-Boateng conspired with any other accused person in order to either breach the Procurement Act or any other laws of the Republic.
Counsel said that the wife of the former minister was a self-made businesswoman, who holds a Masters degree in International Public Relations from the University of Cardiff and who did not need to rob the state of GHÃ‚Â¢86,915.86 for her survival.
He said the woman had not conspired with anyone or any of the accused persons to cause any financial loss to the state.
Lawyers for the other accused persons also said that they were opposed to the facts as presented by the prosecution and would prove the contrary, especially when no money had been lost to the state.
Mrs Okaikoi had told the court that Mr Dzakpa explained to her that there were two requests in December 2008 for payment; one from PHC Motors and the other from Plexiform Ventures, but he refused to pay that of Plexiform Ventures because its request did not have the supporting documents such as tender documents.
The witness said that the accountant requested Plexiform Ventures to do the right thing to regularise the contract before payment could be made to them.
She said that when she asked Sampong whether the contract went through the tender process, Sampong told her that when Asamoah-Boateng took office he ordered that all investment activities for that year should be kept aside to give way for the work on the ministerial block.
Mrs Okaikoi said Sampong told her that Kofi Asamoah-Boateng brought documents from Plexiform Ventures that the renovation works should be given to the company.
She said when she asked Denkyira who formed the tender committee for the renovation works, Denkyira replied that there was no tender committee. Therefore, there were no documents.
“I was concerned about the amount involved because as ministers, we have a ceiling of GHÃ‚Â¢50,000, that is according to the Procurement Law”, she said and added that Sampong said that at a certain point in time, Plexiform were asked to stop work on the project.
She said that when she told Sampong about her unhappiness regarding the way things were done and that she was going to forward the letter to the security agencies, Sampong was apologetic.
“Mr Sampong came to my office very apologetic that he did not mean any harm. The following day he came back to my office to apologise to me to forgive him”, the witness said.
She said that the last time she heard from Sampong was when she was on admission at the Trust Hospital when Sampong called to inform her that he was going on retirement.
According to her, she asked Sampong to prepare a handing over note but she did not hear from him again until she met him in court Tuesday.
Hearing has been fixed for September 17, 2009 for the Minister to be cross-examined.
Source: Daily Graphic