According to American political activist and philosopher, Thomas Paine, “a body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.” The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic from Wuhan, China, which has led to about 215 million confirmed cases and 4.4 million deaths across almost 200 countries, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, has greatly impacted the way of life and activities of individuals, firms and governments across the globe. As a result, various economic units have had to take stringent measures to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and ensure a gradual return to normalcy.
In Ghana, the outbreak of the pandemic has seen a variety of measures being adopted by Government to ensure “the protection of lives and livelihood.” These mitigation measures have involved mainly health directives and ones aimed at achieving sustained economic recovery as highlighted in the 2020 mid-year budget review as well as 2021 budget and mid-year review statements.
However, following recent reports and scandals associated with Government’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic in Ghana, there is the need for a full-blown audit of Covid-19 expenditures to ensure that Government sends the right signals by ensuring the protection of the public purse and demonstration of commitment towards the fight against corruption.
Covid-19 expenditures reinforces need for audit
For instance, according to a corruption risk assessment by Community Development Alliance (CDA-Ghana) and the Commonwealth Foundation, Ghana spent over US$2.1billion on corrupt deals. This includes irregular procurement practices that violate Ghana’s procurement laws and substantial breaches of anti-corruption laws, regulations, codes and international conventions and best practices. Amongst the irregular procurement, the award of contract to four garment manufacturing companies with US$10million loans through the Ghana Exim Bank to produce PPEs, facemasks, medical scrubs, hospital gowns and headgears without tender, with the companies not being registered with the Public Procurement Authority (PPA) at the time of contract award.
This is also seen in the contract awarded to Frontiers Healthcare Solution Services Limited to conduct Covid-19 antigen tests at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) without tender, with the company being unregistered with PPA and unlicensed by the Health Facilities Regulator (HEFRA). Also, the US$1million Covid-19 tracker app awarded to two foreign companies, iQuent Technology and Ascend Digital Solutions a month after registration raises substantial corruption issues, as well as the US$240,000 spent on the launch of the tracker. It is also unclear how the US$7.4million earmarked for community engagement and risk communication was utilized.
The subsequent confession by Health Minister, Kwaku Agyemang Manu, in saying he was “not in his right senses when signing Sputnik V vaccine contract”, during his appearance before Parliament’s Select Committee on Health reinforces the need for audit of covid-19 related expenditures. This is critical to ensure appraisal of management of the pandemic, transparency and accountability, and as a guide to handling of future pandemics and emergencies and related procurement.”
Thus, the revelations in Appendix 4D and 4E of the 2021 mid-year budget review in respect of utilization of Covid-19 expenditures including the use of US$100million as payment for the supply of reusable nose masks, sanitizers, veronica buckets and paper towels for the mass reopening of schools and Tertiary Institutions in January; as well as payment of US$6million as consultancy fees for design, project management and coordination of Health Infrastructure in the form of District and Regional Hospitals (Agenda 111); and the overall utilization of about US$400million out of the overall Covid-19 budgetary allocation of about US$850million, representing 47% percent.
Also, considering that Ghana’s case count has been about 116,000 with more than 108,000 recoveries and death rate of about 991, which is relatively low compared to most countries in the world, the utilization of about US$60million as payment for the provision of PPEs, medical equipment and treatment for COVID-19 seems bloated.
In conclusion, although it is clear that what we are missing, utterly and completely, in this Government is accountability, there is the need for an audit of the management of Ghana’s management of the covid-19 pandemic and related expenditure by Parliament’s Health Committee, Office of Special Prosecutor, Auditor General, and Commission of Enquiry, among others, if we aspire to hold firm the tenets of democracy, and ensure that Ghana attains its pride of place in the committee of nations.
>>The writer is a private legal practitioner, human rights activist, Member of Parliament for Madina Constituency, Member of the Appointments Committee, and Deputy Ranking Member of the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament, with background expertise in Economics, Conflict, Security and Peace studies. The writer can be contacted via: email@example.com