The Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta , has stated that he has not been reckless in the management of the economy.
He explained how since 2017, the Akufo-Addo administration had been focused and worked hard to create a conducive environment for businesses to thrive and overcome the current economic challenges.
Appearing before the parliamentary Ad hoc committee hearing a census motion against him, the minister put up a strong defence to ward the allegations of seeking to have him removed from office.
He spent close to seven hours touting the various economic and fiscal government had initiated to improve the economy and the lives of Ghanaians.
‘I feel pains”
Mr Ofori-Atta, however,acknowledge the was facing difficulties, which had led to Ghanaians enduring hardships.
“As the person President Akufo-Addo has put in charge of the economy, I feel the pain personally, professionally and in my soul.
“I see and feel the terrible impact of rising prices of goods and services on the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Ghanaians. I feel the stress of running a business but it is the strength and perseverance of the Ghanaian people that inspire me and my colleagues in government every morning to press on,” he said.
Responses to five grounds
Mr Ofori-Atta appeared before the eight-member committee, co-chaired by the MP for Adansi Asokwa, K. T. Hammond, and the MP for Bolgatanga East, Dr Dominic Ayine, to respond to questions on five of the seven grounds (allegations) levelled against him.
The grounds were unconstitutional withdrawals from the Consolidated Fund in blatant contravention of Article 178 of the Constitution, supposedly for the construction of the National Cathedral; deliberate and dishonest misreporting of economic data to Parliament and fiscal recklessness, leading to the steep depreciation of the Ghana cedi.
The rest were alarming incompetence and frightening ineptitude resulting in the collapse of the Ghanaian economy and an excruciating cost of living crisis, and gross mismanagement of the Ghanaian economy which has occasioned untold and unprecedented hardship.
The committee unanimously agreed to strike out two other grounds—despicable conflict of interest, ensuring that he directly benefits from Ghana’s economic woes as his companies received commissions, and other unethical contractual advantages, particularly, from Ghana’s debt overhang, and deliberate and illegal payment of oil revenues into the offshore account in flagrant violation of Article 176 of the Constitution.
The decision was based on clearance of the minister on those two grounds following arguments put up by his first counsel, Gabby Asare Otchere Darko last Tuesday, as well as testimonies by representatives of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) and the Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC) last Thursday.
Yesterday, Mr Ofori-Atta was accompanied by his lead counsel, Addo Atuam, and co-counsel, Jacob Sampson.
Constitution not breached
Responding to the ground of “Unconstitutional withdrawals from the Consolidated Fund in blatant contravention of Article 178 of the 1992 Constitution supposedly for the construction of the National Cathedral, Mr Ofori-Atta said he did not breach the Constitution in making payments to support the construction of the cathedral.
“I want to state that this is just not true. Let me be categorical, I have taken no money from the Contingency Fund to make payments for the National Cathedral,” he said.
Mr Ofori-Atta added that expenditures in respect of the National Cathedral were made from the Contingency Vote under the “Other Government Obligations” vote as had been the practice before his tenure as Finance Minister, adding that it appeared the motion proponents had confused the Contingency Fund with the Contingency Vote.
Mr Ofori-Atta explained that the Contingency Fund, which the proponents referred to, was what was covered under the Constitution specifically under Article 177.
“This constitutes money voted by Parliament and advances from this must be authorised by the Parliamentary Finance Committee.
“The Contingency Vote, on the other hand, is a line under the ‘Other Government Obligations’ vote which is approved by the Finance Committee and passed as part of the annual Appropriation Acts passed by Parliament,” he said.
Mr Ofori-Atta said in preparing the annual budgets, the practice was that provision was made for indicative expenditures that had not been fully costed at the time of the budget presentation, saying that “provisions were made in the Contingency Vote to cater for such expenditures.”
He cited, for example, in 2014, where there was no specific allocation in the 2014 budget for Ghana’s participation in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil yet the Cabinet of President John Dramani Mahama, in March 2014, approved some $9.622 million for that tournament, including the amount which was flown to Brazil in a private jet for the players.
“A more current example is Ghana’s participation in Qatar. The Black Stars qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, way after the 2022 budget, presented on 16 November 2021, was approved by Parliament. No specific amount was budgeted for it but through the Contingency Vote, we have been able to provide funds legitimately for the team to participate in the competition,” he said.
“As Finance Minister, I am fully aware of the approval procedures for use of the Contingency Fund and have not breached its requirement,” he added.
The minister drew the attention of the committee to how the Attorney-General issued an opinion on January 6, 2022, that the National Cathedral was a state-owned company limited by guarantee under the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board.
With the policy direction and updates on the National Cathedral having been publicly presented over the years through the Budget Statement and Economic Policy presented to Parliament, he said “all the payments made for the National Cathedral were lawfully done and from the Contingency Vote under the ‘Other Government Obligations’ vote and not from the Contingency Fund as alleged by the proponents”.
However, when two members of the committee — Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa and Dr Zanetor Agyeman-Rawlings — asked him how much had been taken from the Consolidated Fund and what was the seed money for the cathedral, the minister stopped short of giving out any figure.
On the allegation of deliberate misreporting of economic data to Parliament, Mr Ofori-Atta said, it was not just unfortunate but simply untrue as he and the Finance Ministry had never misreported data to Parliament.
He said it was not true that different sets of data were presented to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Parliament.
“More importantly, we were under a fund programme and could not have been able to exit if there were inaccuracies with the data we reported and the methodology used for computing the deficit.
“The allegation of deliberate misreporting of economic data to Parliament is completely not true. Since I took office in 2017, I have served the country with integrity and honesty,” he said.
The minister added that since 2017, the government had complied with the reporting provisions in the Public Financial Management Act 2016 (Act 921), including the Budget Implementation Report, Fiscal Reports, Public Debt Report, Petroleum Revenue Management Reports, and ESLA reports.
On the ground of fiscal recklessness leading to the crash of the Ghana Cedi which is currently the worst performing currency in the world, Mr Ofori-Atta said the idea that the depreciation of the Cedi was the result of fiscal recklessness was not supported by the available facts.
In his view, the cedi consistently performed very well throughout his tenure as Finance Minister up until March 2022.
The records, he said, showed that between 2012 and 2016, the cedi depreciated by an average of 17 per cent while between 2017 and 2021, the average rate of depreciation was seven per cent.
I’ve been competent
Addressing the ground of “Alarming incompetence and frightening ineptitude resulting in the collapse of the Ghanaian economy and an excruciating cost of living crisis”, the minister said considerable progress had been made under his tenure as Minister of Finance.
Since 2017, he said, the government had competently managed the economy, doubling economic growth in the first three years.
“Ghana’s growth in 2019 was touted as one of the highest globally, inflation came down significantly from 15.4 per cent to 7.9 per cent at the end of 2019 and remained in single digits till the pandemic hit in March 2020,” he said.
Mr Ofori-Atta added that the exchange rate depreciation was reduced significantly to under five per cent in 2017 and averaging 8.7 per cent between 2017 and 2019.
He explained that the key component of the national debt stock related to three exceptional expenditure items that were neither external nor a creation of the government.
He mentioned the energy sector excess capacity payments (GH₵ 17 billion) which relate to a legacy of take or pay contracts that saddled the country’s economy with annual excess capacity charges of close to $1 billion, direct COVID-19 expenditure which amounted to GH₵12 billion, and the banking sector clean-up (GH₵ 25 billion).
“These three items alone contribute to about 23 per cent of our annual debt servicing cost and these three items were not created through the recklessness of the New Patriotic Party,” he said.
Touching on the ground of “Gross mismanagement of the Ghanaian economy, which had occasioned untold and unprecedented hardship”, the minister said the current economic challenges Ghanaians were experiencing were not the outcome of mismanagement.
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