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Auditor General indicts Ghana’s Washington Mission officer over “missing” visa fees

…Ex-Tourism Minister, MP Queenstar Pokuah Sawyerr, Free SHS Secretariat also accused 

A new report of the Auditor-General shows that grand corruption and waste of public funds is not going away.  

Among a raft of findings is the indictment of the Honorary Consul General at Ghana’s Washington Mission and Houston Consulate for not being able to account for visa fees totalling US$354,760.00 (or two million cedis at prevailing exchange rates).

The Free SHS Secretariat is also accused of misapplying more than nineteen (19) million cedis of its allocations.

In addition, the Auditor-General says Ex-Tourism Minister Catherine Afeku is keeping three official vehicles despite leaving office.

MP Queenstar Pokuah Sawyerr is accused of spending GH¢39,000.00 of her MP allocation on non-existent works.

These are contained in the “Report of the Auditor-General on the Public Accounts of Ghana: Ministries, Departments and other Agencies for the year ended 31 December, 2020.”

The Office of the Auditor-General, under the hand of Johnson Akuamoah Asiedu, Acting Auditor-General transmitted this report to the Speaker of Parliament on 11 June, 2021. 

The big picture

The Auditor-General reports that there were financial irregularities amounting to (GH¢2,053,176,449.85.). In other words, the Auditor-General’s report says that some MDAs in this country have not efficiently utilized or accounted for almost 2.1 billion cedis of public funds as at the end of December, 2020. 

In paragraph 11 of the report, the A-G comments that “The irregularities represent either losses that had been incurred by the State through the impropriety or lack of probity in the actions and decisions of public officers or on the other hand, the savings that could have been made, if public officials and Institutions had duly observed the public financial management framework put in place to guide their conduct and also safeguard national assets and resources.”

The A-G categorises the irregularities under seven broad themes, namely: Tax Irregularities, Cash Irregularities, Indebtedness/loans/Advances, Payroll Irregularities, Stores/Procurement Irregularities, Rent payment Irregularities and Contract Irregularities. However, the specifics breaches fall under corruption themes such as misapplication, misappropriation, theft, procurement infractions, etc.  

Comparative analysis

The 2.1 billion cedis of financial irregularities in 2020 portrays a general improvement in the public financial management system when compared with outcomes for preceding years. For instance, it is the lowest amount of irregularities discovered since 2017. However, the 2020 figure is more than double of the 892.4 million cedis of financial irregularities discovered for 2017. The Auditor-General uncovered financial irregularities amounting to almost 5.2 billion cedis in 2018 and near 3.1 billion cedis in 2019 at MDAs.

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Source: Report of Auditor-General on MDAs as at 31 December, 2020

Tax, cash, stores/procurement and rent irregularities decreased sharply from 2019 levels. However, debt/loans/advances, payroll and contract irregularities increased astronomically from 2019 levels. 

Misapplication, missing visa fees and cars 

Corruption Watch has selected to focus on the following six cases, which largely comprise of cases of misapplication of funds. The cases contravene Sections 7 and 52 of the Public Financial Management (PFM) Act, 2016 (Act 921), as well as, Regulation 78 of the Public Financial Management Regulations, 2019 (L.I. 2378).

A key finding of the Auditor-General is the misapplication of funds totaling GH¢19,217,802.00 at the Free Senior High School (SHS) Secretariat

According to the Auditor-General, between January 2019 and July 2019, a total of GH¢19,217,802.00 received for Free SHS to be utilised for various planned activities were rather advanced to two Institutions without definite terms of recovery. As at the time of audit, March 2020, management had not recovered the amount from the beneficiaries. 

Source: Report of Auditor-General on MDAs as at 31 December, 2020

The A-G therefore recommended that management should ensure that the total amount of GH¢19,217,802.00 advanced to the two organisations, were paid back into the Free SHS Account.

At Ghana’s Washington Mission, the A-G discovered that consular fees amounting to US$354,760.00 (or two million cedis at prevailing exchange rates) were not accounted for by the Honorary Consul General.

“Our review of activities at the Washington Mission and Houston Consulate showed that, between September 2018 and September 2019, the Honorary Consul-General levied each visa applicant US$100.00 and US$200.00 for “Express/Rush Service”, but accounted for US$60.00 and US$100.00 as though they were regular service and kept the difference of US$40 and US$100 on each application.

“The Honorary Consul-General, between September 2018 and September 2019 collected total visa fees of US$843,900.00, but accounted for US$458,900.00. The difference of US$354,760.00 remained unaccounted for by the Honorary Consul-General.

“We recommended that, the Head of Chancery should recover the difference of US$354,760.00 from the Honorary Consul-General, failing which the amount should be recovered from the Head of Chancery,” the A-G stated. 

At the head office of the Ministry of Tourism, the A-G says he uncovered the misapplication of Marine Drive project funds amounting to GH¢387,196.00. “We noted that funds meant for the Marine Drive project amounting to GH¢387,196.00 was misapplied for the celebration of AFRIMA, Kundum Festival and other activities.” 

Source: Report of Auditor-General on MDAs as at 31 December, 2020

Consequently, the A-G recommended that “the Chief Director should ensure a refund from the operations account into the Marine Drive project account, failing which the amount should be recovered from the Chief Director.”

The A-G’s identified another infraction of failure to hand over official vehicles of the Tourism Ministry. “We noted from our inspection of the Ministry’s vehicles that five official vehicles were in the possession of three former officials who separated from the Ministry through reassignment and terminations.”

Source: Report of Auditor-General on MDAs as at 31 December, 2020

The A-G directs that the Chief Director should ensure the recovery of the vehicles from the individuals. “We further recommended that the use of the vehicles by the individuals should attract rental charges at the current rental rate for the period during which the vehicles have been in their possession.”

At the Ministry of Health, the A-G discovered misapplication of drug funds. “Our review of the payment records of 11 BMCs [Budget Management Centers] revealed that transfers amounting to GH¢288,602.26 were made from the Drug accounts into the Service accounts for recurrent expenditure during the period of audit. The breakdown is provided in the Table below. 

Source: Report of Auditor-General on MDAs as at 31 December, 2020

The A-G’s recommendation was that the heads of the BMCs should ensure immediate refund of their respective amounts into the Drug account and desist from such practice.

In another instance, the Mental Health Authority could not account for programme funds of GH¢137,327.00. “Our examination of the payment vouchers showed that in February 2019, Programme funds amounting to GH¢366,726.51 paid to seven partners on behalf of WHO to support Quality Rights implementation had only GH¢229,399.05 accounted for, leaving a difference of GH¢137,327.46.

“We recommended that the CEO should ensure that all implementing partners immediately refund the moneys, failing which the amount should be recovered from the CEO.”

  1. AGONA EAST DISTRICT HEALTH DIRECTORATE – AGONA NSABA (Paragraphs 422-423)

The A-G’s audit at the Agona East District Health Directorate, revealed that there was payment for no work done. “We noted that an amount of GH¢39,000.00 was released to the Hon. Queenstar Pokuah Sawyerr as MP’s share of the National Health Insurance allocation for health-related interventions. However, no expenditure documents and certificate for work done were provided to authenticate the payments. 

“We recommended that the Director, Quaning Kofi Mends, the Accountant Charles Toboh and Hon. Queenstar Pokuah Sawyerr, should refund the total amount of GH¢39,000.00.”

Corruption Watch would like to state that the Auditor-General’s report has gone through due process. Management responses had been sought. Therefore, we are only going the extra mile when we try to get reactions from the persons or institutions indicted. We tried to get responses from the institutions and individuals in question but to no avail.

Report by Frederick Asiamah, Journalist, Corruption Watch

E-mail: f.asiamah@cw-ghana.org 

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