Did Prez Mahama Waste Saliva On Auditor General’s Report?

The Chronicle is yet to be convinced as to whether President Mahama would be dedicated enough to keep vigil to ensure that the Attorney-General truly carries out the assignment he has given her, otherwise he may have wasted his saliva. Ghanaian Chronicle July 2013.

In modern day Ghana, at least three things are predictable every year: multiple fire outbreaks in Kumasi and Accra markets, flooding of the capital with destruction of lives, and property, and millions of tax payers’ monies stolen per the Auditor General’s report. Because our interventions remain cosmetic, because we just caress the problems. Because our systems are perfectly designed to nurture these problems, we never fail to impress in the wrong way.

Let’s take the 2013 Auditor General’s report as a case in point – Ghana lost GH¢118.8 million as a result of irregularities at the ministries, departments and agencies based on the 2011 performance. Mr Richard Quartey, the Auditor General, gave the following breakdown – tax irregularities alone amounted to GH¢52,807,322.72 and $13,824.11.

Representing 44.22 per cent; cash irregularities led to the loss of GH¢ 33,583,678.14 and $76,883.31 and £122,260.11, representing 28.43 per cent as a result of irregularities, and outstanding loans amounted to GH¢5,602,153.84 and $73,306.18 which was 4.78 per cent. The amount lost from the payroll was GH¢ 909,278.80 and $76,496.25, representing 0.86 per cent while that from stores/procurement was GH¢ 780,027.67, which was 0.65 per cent.

That was not all. Many ministries, departments and agencies simply breached their own procedures in awarding contracts leading to a loss of GH¢24,946,637.32, representing 20.88 per cent. This was in addition to the loss of GH¢191,077.17 by MDAs following refusal/inability to deduct monthly rent from their staff’s salaries.

The Ministry of Justice and Attorney General, which should have been spitting the fire of prosecutions in line with specific Presidential directives, was fingered for the highest incidence of cash irregularities leading to the loss of GH¢16,375,045.05. Other ministries closely followed these cash irregularities in the following order: Health, GH¢12,089,459.63; Education, GH¢ 2,621,482.63; MoFEP GH¢ 2,004,238.00; Employment and Social Welfare GH¢ 276,723.53; Youth and Sports GH¢ 237,864.70; Defence, GH¢ 81,039.61 and other agencies GH¢ 84,758.12.

Against this annual ritual of misapplied public funds, President Mahama said the right things 15 months ago. He directed “the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to set up a special desk to investigate and prosecute all offenders who have been captured in the reports of the Auditor General concerning squandered state funds and assets…. Part of efforts toward forestalling corruption in public offices …. This will send a strong message to public officials that they cannot abuse state finances and go scot free!”

Fifteen months down the line, I am as unaware of any high profile prosecutions as I am of a pesewa being retrieved to bolster the public purse. This being the case, I have no other option than to return to the Chronicle editorial of fifteen months ago asking whether the President was simply wasting saliva when he issued the directives. In what other ways can we demonstrate in concrete terms that corruption in any shape or guise is intolerable?

At the time, the Ghanaian Chronicle quickly commended the President for the directive, but expressed doubt about his commitment to keep vigil on the matter. It pointed out the possible compromised position of the Attorney General and called on the President to either investigate everything that had happened over the last 20 years of annual public sector thefts or, as the Supreme Court did, set a new touchline.

Of course, I seriously disagree on the last point of preconditioning any current anti-corruption action on ability or inability to punish past crimes. It smacks of making excuses for an absurd situation which has assumed normalcy. The point is that too many people have grown to see weaknesses in the public sector as opportunities to fleece the state. For me, any severe action starting from whichever period in the past that we can find reliable actionable evidence for and continuing same vigilance eternally would suffice.

Aggressive prosecutions and retrievals of ill-gotten wealth should be a matter of course each time the Auditor General releases his report. About this, there should be no doubt within three months of its release. Why no action has been executed fifteen months after the fact is unacceptable.

We need to hold the President fully accountable followed by the Attorney General whose outfit, as it turns out, is not without blemish in the matter of wastage of public funds! The destructive effects of corruption are not in doubt. In a recent World Bank report, Africa reportedly $150 billion annually as a result of corruption, which translated into about 25 per cent of the continent’s total Gross Domestic Product.

Till the President demonstrates in practical, aggressive and tangible ways his ability to retrieve any and all misapplied public funds be it from political appointees or public officials, I will be inclined to agree with the Ghanaian Chronicle, that all this talk about “forestalling corruption” and “sending strong messages” are a complete waste of saliva!

That said, I believe the 2016 elections would be fought on the government‘s performance on and viable opposition alternatives to three main issues: economic happiness, measurable success in the fight against corruption and execution of visible development projects.