With just a week to the December presidential elections, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) government is again bleeding from another scandal, after the gargantuan GHÂÂ¢51 million dole-out to businessman Alfred Agbesi Woyome.
At a time when most Ghanaians cannot afford two square meals a day, with electricity and water being rationed, the Chief Executive of the Ghana Investments Promotion Council (GIPC), Mr. George Aboagye, has been struggling to explain to Ghanaians the justification in signing a cheque of GHÂÂ¢20,000 for the birthday celebration of the Board Chairman of the Centre, Mr. Ishmael Yamson, and another GHÂÂ¢4,000 to a pro-NDC youth group, 'Volunteers for Mahama'.
When the scandal hit the media networks early this week, Mr. George Aboagye resigned his post as Chief Executive of the Centre on Wednesday, as pressure mounts on the Board Chairman to follow suit.
The Board Chairman, Mr. Yamson, had earlier denied accepting the GHÂÂ¢20,000 birthday gift. According to him, he directed that the cheque be returned to the GIPC when it came to his notice that the Centre had allocated that amount to him, but emerging facts prove otherwise.
"The cheque was returned to the GIPC, and this can be verified from the GIPC... In this particular case, my children told me about it, and I said, 'No, I don't want GIPC cheque. Return it to them... The fact of the matter is that the cheque was returned to the GIPC," Mr. Yamson said.
But, the Chief Executive's version of the story seems to contradict that of his Board Chairman, as emerging facts prove that not all the money was returned to the Centre, as the Board Chairman had allegedly directed.
In an interview on Joy FM, Mr. Goerge Aboagye, however, revealed that the Board Chairman was issued a receipt of GHÂÂ¢9,000 which was allegedly used for the birthday celebration.
"It was a management decision to support the birthday party, and we normally do things like Club 100 and all that...We said 'we will buy the drinks', and so when we bought the drinks, almost GHÂÂ¢11,000 was excess, and he returned the money, and we gave him a receipt. So we have it that he has returned the balance," he explained
Mr. Aboagye added that "the actual money that was spent out of the budget was less than 50 percent of the amount... Almost GHÂÂ¢11, 000 was returned."
According to Mr. Aboagye, the money spent was justified, because "he [Board Chairman]... is a man who doesn't even take his board allowances. He donates it to the Institute of Hygiene or so.
"So, it is not like we were going to just give him money to consume it, and that is why we wanted our receipts for expenditure which were given to us, and then we also took the money that was left, and gave him a receipt.
"He, himself, didn't directly come for the money. It was the people who were organising his birthday... normally, these things come as we want to surprise him...On the benefit of hindsight, I think that if a board Chairman who has contributed so much and he is celebrating a birthday party, depending on the way you value the person, any support of any kind is welcome," he concluded.
But, the Executive Secretary of Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), Vitus Azeem, says the scandal was yet another slap in the face of the fight against corruption in the country.
According to him, beyond the resignation of the persons involved, there should be further investigations to ascertain if they made other payments and expenditure which contravenes the Financial Administration Act. 3
"We should go back to find out if that was the only payments he made," he noted. He told The Chronicle that beyond the resignation, other sanctions such as those prescribed by law on those who misappropriate public funds should be applied.
According to Mr. Azeem, the exposé vindicates the GII's earlier call for public officers seeking to contest political positions in the coming elections resign their posts, so as to avert conflict of interest situations, and channeling of public funds for political activities.
His comment comes on the heels of the fact that the resigned Chief Executive, Mr. Aboagye, is contesting for the Ahanta West constituency seat on the ticket of the NDC.
The GII based its call on the relevant provisions of the Constitution, the Criminal Code, 1960 (Act 29), the Representation of the People Law, 1992, (PNDCL 284), as amended, and the Political Parties Act, 2000 (Act 574).
Article 94 (3) of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana states: "A person shall not be eligible to be a member of Parliament if he:
(b) is a member of the Police Service, the Prisons Service, the Armed Forces, the Judicial Service, the Legal Service, the Civil Service, the Audit Service, the Parliamentary Service, the Statistical Service, the Fire Service, the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service, the Immigration Service, or the Internal Revenue Service;
Again, Ghana's 1992 Constitution imposes a conflict of interest injunction on all public officers under Article 284 which states:
"A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts, or is likely to conflict with the performance of the functions of his office. Clearly, a Civil Servant who declares his/her support by canvassing in support of a political party, or a candidate standing for election, puts him/herself in a Conflict of Interest situation. Sections 3(1) and (5) of the Criminal Code 1960 (Act 29).