The Member of Parliament for Ajumako Enyan Essiam in the Central Region and ranking member of the finance committee, Cassiel Ato Forson, has stated that the Minister for Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, cannot be blamed alone for the economic and fiscal challenges that Ghana is experiencing, but that he bears ultimate responsibility.
Dr Forson made this known on Tuesday (15 November 2022), when he appeared together with the Minority Leader, Haruna Iddrisu, before an ad hoc committee set up by the Speaker of Parliament, Alban Bagbin, to weigh a motion of censure moved against the Minister for Finance, at its first sitting as a committee.
In the course of proceedings, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, a member of the committee, posed the following question: “So, the question is very clear in my mind – wastage, malfeasance, financial irregularities.
“The Auditor General is in pursuit of GHC4.7 billion, he has retrieved GHC2.2 billion and GHC2.5 billion remains out there which he is in search of.
“So, I would like to find out if that is part of the fiscal recklessness the Honourable Member speaks of? Does it include malfeasance, corruption, public funds in the wrong pockets? That is my question.”
An “economy-wide” problem
In his answer, Dr Forson noted: “Mr Chairman, I think it is a fact that if we say ‘fiscal recklessness’, it includes all of that. The key question here is that: is the recklessness only done at the Ministry of Finance? I do not believe it, and think it is economy-wide and government-wide.
“Most of the ministers for finance are culprits, and we cannot blame only the Minister for Finance, but the Public Financial Management Act 2016 (Act 921) [the PFM Act] empowers the Minister for Finance to deal with it, and that is why the PFM Act makes, more or less, the Minister for Finance the most powerful minister,” Forson said.
“So, he is clothed with all the necessary legal framework [sic] to confront his honourable colleagues. If he fails to do that, then he has obviously engaged in fiscal recklessness and would be the one to be dealt with in the end,” he said.
K T Hammond, one of the two co-chairmen of the ad hoc committee, sought after this submission to clarify the position that Forson had advanced.
“So, he is not here because he caused all the mess, but because he has not imprisoned quite a lot of those people responsible? Is that the point you are making?” Hammond asked.
Forson, in an attempt to answer Hammond’s question, said: “The fiscal powers are vested in the Minister for Finance, but —”.
Hammond jumped in again before Forson completed his answer and said: “I understand. So, he is effectively being held to account for?”
Forson then took his turn to proffer an answer: “Of course, if the Minister for Roads and Highways overspent and the Minister for Finance pays, it is the responsibility of the Minister for Finance even though the act was committed by the Minister for Roads and Highways.
“This is because the PFM Act empowers that only the Minister for Finance can give the financial clearance for the Minister for Roads and Highways to engage in that act, and if the minister fails to do that, the Minister for Finance can deal with him,” Forson said.
Hammond, in his quest to bring more clarity to the discussion, said: “That was a good question because, at least, it makes it clear that is not the minister [Finance Minister Ken Ofori-Atta] who is responsible for this [Ghana’s economic challenges]: it is the whole economy and the caboodle of it that makes this whole thing what it is.
Forson subsequently came in to corroborate the clarity that Hammond sought to bring, by stating: “It is government-wide.”
Right to be heard
The Finance Minister is expected to appear before the ad hoc committee on Friday 18 November 2022 to exercise his constitutional right to be heard, as far as the claims of misconduct brought against him are concerned.
At the sitting on Tuesday (15 November), Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, counsel for Ofori-Atta, requested 48 hours to allow his client to prepare adequately to provide answers to the claims made against him by the proponents of the motion of censure against him.
The committee readily granted counsel’s request and scheduled the sitting for 10am on Friday.
The committee is co-chaired by Kobina Tahiru Hammond and Dominic Akuritinga Ayine.
The six other members of the committee are Zanetor Agyeman-Rawlings, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, Kwame Anyimadu-Antwi, Andrew Kofi Egyapa Mercer, Patrick Yaw Boamah and Bernard Ahiafor.
Camillo Pwamang is the clerk to the committee and Ernest Daffour, a senior assistant clerk, is the committee’s deputy clerk.
The committee has seven days to complete its work and present a report to the House for further debate on the motion of censure.