Minister chased over luxury car

General News of Monday, 23 February 2015

Source: Daily Guide

DR Oteng Adjei Energy

Over six months after his exit from the John Mahama administration, former Minister of Energy, Dr Joe Oteng-Adjei, is still using one of the controversial luxurious vehicles bought with funds meant for rural electricity extension project.

DAILY GUIDE’s sources at the now Ministry of Power said the ministry had written to the former minister to return the vehicle, but he was yet to comply with the directive as at press time yesterday.

Strangely, Dr Oteng-Adjei was moved from the Energy Ministry to the Ministry of Environment and Science in 2013 as Minister at the inception of the Mahama Presidency and he is still keeping the flashy Lexus car.

It is not clear when he is going to return the spanking state vehicle after being dropped in last year’s cabinet reshuffle.

A whopping $1,745,159 (Ghc5,584,508) at current exchange rate of the $350 million contract for the rural electrification project was spent on 38 luxury vehicles by the then Ministry of Energy (MoE) under Dr Oteng-Adjei.

The NDC government through a statement issued last week had distanced itself from the scandal, blaming the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) for the expenditure, saying it was the NPP that initiated the move when it was in government.

According to the NDC, the move started in 2006, given executive approval in 2007 and approved by Parliament in 2008.

But it turned out that the acquisition of luxurious vehicles like the Lexus LX570 which Dr Oteng-Adjei took away were not part of the project left for the NDC administration in 2009 to execute.

The luxurious vehicles purchased included 20 Ford F150 trucks at the cost of $700,769.64; two Grido Ford F150 at $120,949.56 and six Dodge Dakota SLT at $160,645.41.

The rest were three Ford Escapes costing $157,645.71; four Lexus LX570 at $438,921.57 as well as three Chrysler 300 at $166,217.13 – all totalling $1,745,159.02.

Additionally, there was the purchase of office equipment, including heavy-duty photocopiers, all totalling $51,757.39 with the grand total being $1,796,916.41.

However, there was no budgetary allocation for the purchases of the vehicles per the Auditor-General’s report. They were bought with money meant for extending electricity to 1,200 communities under the US Exim Bank loan between 2010 and 2012.

According to KT Hammond, a former deputy Minister of Energy and now Minority spokesperson on Energy, Dr Oteng-Adjei was last Friday spotted cruising in the luxurious vehicle not meant for ministers but for the project.

He told Accra-based Citi FM that “my understanding is that for all his worries, he [Dr Oteng-Adjei] decided to keep one of the Lexus cars to himself. As we talk, Oteng-Adjei is using one of them.”

Mr Hammond insisted that though the New Patriotic Party (NPP) initiated the US Exim facility, it never included the purchase of luxurious vehicles, adding that “what was brought to Parliament at the time did not include acquisition of Chrysler or Lexus. We simply arranged for the Exim Bank facility to get to the country…so we can get several communities out of darkness,” he stressed.

“I am aware that in 2009, there was a value-for-money exercise undertaken by the NDC under the auspices of the then Minister of Energy, Dr Oteng-Adjei. It was at this stage that there was a variation to the contract superintended over by Dr Oteng-Adjei and his outfit indicated that they preferred to have Chryslers and Lexus. That really has nothing to do with the NPP. We were not there when that was included in the procurement process,” KT Hammond explained.

The Ministry of Power justified the decision to purchase luxurious vehicles saying it was necessary and that it saved the country $46 million following an audit of the project.

An Audit report had fingered the Energy Ministry for sinking close to $2 million out of a $350 million Exim Bank facility meant for rural electrification to buy luxurious vehicles including Chryslers and Lexus.

The audit team found that there was no initial budget for the vehicles and office equipment.

In all, 38 luxurious vehicles were bought for the purposes of conducting inspection on the rural electrification project sites.

The Ministry of Power explained that negotiations for the project started in 2006 and ended in 2009 after going through Cabinet and Parliament.

However, Malik Kweku Baako Jnr., Managing Editor of the New Crusading Guide, speaking on Joy FM’s Newsfile Programme over the weekend, described as “dishonest” and “lacking integrity” the attempt by the Power Ministry to rope in the erstwhile NPP government into the car scandal.

He was emphatic the government spokespersons commenting on the issue had been playing “tricks on the minds” of Ghanaians ever since the scandal broke last week.

Mr Baako said the statement from the ministry “is problematic. It lacks integrity. It suffers some level of dishonesty and that is what worries me.

“We are told that the vehicles form part of the $350 million US Exim Bank facility for rural electrification. This is a misleading statement.

“The negotiations we are told started in 2007 and was passed by Parliament in 2008. This is again misleading. Which negotiations? Is it negotiation to purchase a vehicle or negotiations for the loan itself?

“What was approved in 2008 is the loan agreement and not the purchase of vehicles. We should draw the distinction,” he insisted.

According to him, “we have been told by the Ministry that there was a cabinet approval for the purchase of the vehicles in 2007 or 2008. That is a lie! Sorry that is an obvious untruth”.

Mr Baako challenged government to provide documentary evidence of the cabinet approval for the purchase of the vehicles in 2008.

“It doesn’t exist,” he insisted.

What is worse, Baako suggested, was the attempt by the government to create the impression that then Energy Minister, Dr Oteng-Adjei, had begun a value-for-money audit on the project and had saved the country $70 million.

Mr Baako presented documentary evidence to show that the value-for-money audit was begun by the NPP administration on December 29, 2008 contrary to claims by the government.

Even more criminal, he pointed out, was the removal of a page in the contract—the page which clearly stated that the value-for-money audit began in 2008 and not under the NDC regime as government functionaries would have the world believe.

He had long intercepted the original copy of the contract under the Kufuor administration before the NDC came to power and wondered why that page mysteriously got missing in the same contract.

Deputy Energy Minister John Jinapor, who was also on the show, did not understand why Ghanaians were making a fuss over the vehicles bought for the project.

He said a contract of the magnitude of $350 million required the need to buy cars and other logistics which would revert to the ministry once the project was concluded.

Kwaku Kwarteng, Member of Parliament (MP) for Obuasi West in the Ashanti Region, also entered the fray, wondering why Dr Oteng-Adjei, who was no more at the ministry, could still use one of the Lexus vehicles, especially when the project was not complete.

While asking if the Energy Ministry consultants had neglected their monitoring roles, he stated: “Yes, such a project will need vehicles, but the needed vehicles had already been procured by the contractor”.

The Obuasi West MP posited that “WLA acquired the vehicles (37 in all) needed for the execution of project. It was in the course of the project implementation—somewhere in 2010—that the irregularities started.

Mr Kwarteng, among other things, said “The MOE (Ghana’s supervising agent over WLA) seemed to have made an illegal and unhealthy request to WLA that they should use part of the electrification money to acquire vehicles, including luxury ones, and other equipment for them.”

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