The Auditor-General has retrieved more than GH¢2.2 billion from disallowances captured in the Auditor-General’s reports between 2017 and 2020.
The amount was out of the expected GH¢4 billion disallowances by the Auditor-General.
It was retrieved after the Audit Service had conducted audits of ministries, departments and agencies, public boards, the District Assemblies Common Fund, internally generated funds, pre-university institutions and technical universities and determined expenditure improprieties.
The amount was also retrieved through seven irregularities in cash utilisation, contracts, indebtedness (advances/loans), payrolls, rents, stores (procurement) and taxes which the Auditor-General disallowed after the audits.
Of the amount, GH¢1.6 billion was from tax irregularities, GH¢420.31 million from indebtedness (advances/loans) and GH¢131.07 million from cash irregularities.
The rest, amounting to GH¢13.60 million, was retrieved from contracts, payrolls, rent and stores/procurement.
The Auditor-General, Johnson Akuamoah Asiedu, who made this known exclusively to the Daily Graphic in Accra, said the recovery was made upon recommendations in the various Auditor-General’s reports to Parliament and management letters issued to auditees.
He explained that a task force was set up in May 2022 to follow up on all outstanding disallowed expenditures between 2017 and 2020.
He said the task force was mandated to go through the Auditor-General’s reports and ensure that all expenditures made contrary to law and disallowed were recovered.
The interview with the Auditor-General was after he had led the management of the Audit Service to hold a closed-door meeting with the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in his office in Accra last Friday.
The meeting was in response to a request made by the coalition to meet the Auditor-General to be able to understand some pertinent issues, including surcharges and disallowances, asset declaration and audit of COVID-19 funds.
The 10-member CSOs delegation was led by a private legal practitioner, Akoto Ampaw.
The meeting also gave members of the delegation the opportunity to share their concerns over related issues in order for those issues to be addressed by the Auditor-General and his team.
Disallowance, surcharge powers
The Auditor-General informed the coalition that it was not the case that disallowance and surcharge powers were not being exercised, saying the disallowance of expenditure made contrary to law had led to the recovery of over GH¢2.2 billion.
Mr Asiedu said keen steps had been taken to safeguard the public purse, including the opening of the ‘Auditor-General’s Recoveries Account’ (with account number 1018331470015) to track all audit recoveries in real-time.
He indicated that the account, which was opened with the Bank of Ghana (BoG) two months ago, had been used to recover GH¢908,653 as of Wednesday, September 7, this year.
Explaining the difference between disallowance and surcharge, he said the disallowance of expenditure normally led to the Auditor-General recommending recovery from individuals, public officers and institutions which committed infractions.
“An example is found under paragraph five of the Special Audit Report of the Auditor-General on Disallowance and Surcharge as of November 30, 2018 and issued on December 19, 2018 in which the service recovered GH¢67.32 million from public officers, individuals and institutions which committed financial infractions in the course of performing their duties,” Mr Asiedu said.
He said surcharge, on the other hand, was a matter that often ended up in court.
He said surcharge required a rigorous process of forensic examination to be able to gather the evidence admissible by court.
Mr Asiedu indicated that any audit infraction that had the potential of surcharge was flagged and subjected to a thorough forensic examination to gather evidence that might be admissible by the courts.
“Thereafter, a notice of intention to surcharge is issued to the affected person and the person is given 14 days to respond.
“If, after the expiration of the 14 days, the person is unable to respond satisfactorily, a surcharge certificate is issued and the person is again given 60 days to challenge the certificate,” he added.
The Auditor-General said after the expiration of the 60 days, the case would then be forwarded to the Office of the Attorney-General for prosecution.
“If, within the period, the affected person is able to provide sufficient, appropriate and satisfactory evidence to the Auditor-General, the intention to surcharge and the surcharge certificate, as the case may be, become irrelevant for purposes of further lawsuit,” he explained.
He stressed the need to subject potential surcharge infractions to further forensic examinations, which took a lot of time to conclude.
“We have so far issued one surcharge certificate and that took more than a year to gather the relevant evidence, including the accused’s written statement to the police and police reports.
“The affected person could not challenge the surcharge and the case has since been forwarded to the Office of the Attorney-General for further action,” he said.
On assets declaration, the Auditor-General said he was discharging his constitutional mandate by receiving and taking custody of submitted assets declaration forms.
“Article 286 imposes obligation on persons who hold public office to submit to the Auditor-General a written declaration of all property or assets owned by, or liabilities owed by, those persons, whether directly or indirectly.
“Clause Two of Article 286 states: ‘Failure to declare or knowingly making false declaration shall be a contravention of this Constitution and shall be dealt with in accordance with Article 287 of this Constitution’,” he said.
COVID-19 funds, PAC support
On the utilisation of COVID-19 funds, Mr Asiedu said a special audit had been launched into the funds nationwide, and that the audit would be submitted to Parliament and published as soon as it was completed.
He commended the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament for its role in enforcing the recommendations made in his reports.
He said the work of PAC had significantly contributed to the recovery of the disallowed expenditures.
Mr Asiedu, therefore, urged PAC to continue fast-tracking its public sittings on the Auditor-General’s reports to ensure timely recoveries.
At the meeting, Mr Ampaw said the country was in difficult times and needed more funds to support its developmental projects, for which reason it could not afford to lose money through irregularities, as captured in the Auditor-General’s reports annually.
He said the Auditor-General needed to exercise his powers under the Constitution to issue surcharges and disallowances against people cited for various financial irregularities.
He said failure to prosecute irregularities discovered in the reports emboldened public officials to continue causing financial loss to the state.
“If we are going to stop ourselves from going to the International Monetary Fund, we need to take accountability seriously,” he said.
Mr Ampaw added that the CSOs were committed to collaborating with and supporting the Auditor-General to retrieve funds that had been lost to irregularities.