Daily Statesman Commentary – The GETFund report fallout: a merry-go-round for cronies, or agent of the public good? Featured

By Daily Statesman February 29, 2020 1680 35 comments

The furore that followed the “leaking” of a performance audit of disbursements through the Ghana Education Trust Fund (GETFund), approved by the Auditor General, Daniel Yaw Domelevo, has reached a new peak as flaws and errors in the report come to light under scrutiny of its findings. The discoveries expose a gaping disconnect between the rhetoric emanating from political competition, public perceptions and Ghana’s general approach to regulation and institution-building.

The circulation of the performance audit last weekend sparked public outrage as news outlets rushed to report “headline” findings. Over 2,000 scholarships were awarded to undeserving people, the report alleged. The spotlight fell on a small handful of public figures, all prominent in the New Patriotic Party, who were accused of plundering state largesse by benefiting unfairly from subsidies intended for a sacrosanct class of Ghanaians generally referred to as “brilliant but needy students”.

Matthew Opoku Prempeh, the Minister of Education, Sarah Adwoa Sarfo, Deputy Majority Leader and Minister of State in charge of public procurement, and Prince Hamid Armah, executive secretary of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NaCCA), were cited as beneficiaries of GETFund bursaries to pursue further study outside Ghana. So were Kennedy Osei Nyarko, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, and Mavis Nkansah Boadu, the young MP for Afigya Sekyere East.

Missing money

The report covered GETFund’s activities between 2012 and 2018.

Mr Domelevo found that the Fund had acted outside its remit by disbursing monies to students pursuing courses abroad rather than in Ghana. It also failed to put in place mechanisms to ensure that decisions about who would benefit were made in an even-handed way, with due regard for neutrality, and in consultation with its own board of trustees and the Minister of Education, he said.

GETFund largely circumvented processes to award the scholarships and failed to institute systems to ensure that scholarship monies were used prudently, the report concluded.

Ghanaians from all walks of life made it clear that they were displeased about one thing in particular: a group of people whom they see as benefiting disproportionately from the country’s wealth apparently has special access to generous subsidies for further education. It was especially galling because everyone had a tale of an acquaintance, friend or relative who had been unable to secure a scholarship – or, indeed, identify a potential source of funding for their further education. They raced to pour scorn on this “elite” group, reserving their most corrosive contempt for the “top politicians”.

Almost as quickly as the story had emerged, however, holes began to appear in it. Prince Armah argued that at the time of taking the scholarship he had been needy. He was awarded £33,000 to cover the cost of tuition for a course in philosophy of education at Aberdeen University and £38,400 for his living expenses as a student. Ms Sarfo said she took the course to help her work better as a public servant and that she had been within her rights to take the funding. According to the letter of the GETFund Act 2000, clearly she had. Ms Sarfo received $17,004 for “tuition” costs covering a conference at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and $12,800 towards living expenses.

The journalist Ramana Shareef conceded that she had applied for a scholarship but said she had been asked for minimal supporting paperwork and had never received any money for the Master’s course in communication she wished to pursue at Reading University in the UK. She has been resident in Germany since before the time of the putative award towards her expenses: yet the Auditor General’s report lists £12,600 paid for her tuition and £10,130 for her living expenses. GETFund has offered no explanation since of how this money was awarded and where the money has gone.

At cross-purposes

Dr Prempeh’s award provoked the greatest uproar. The audit report found that GETFund had subsidised his course on security at Harvard University. In response, an official statement pointed out that the award was made in 2014, after Dr Prempeh became an MP but before his appointment as Minister of Education. Moreover, it said, the scholarship was not awarded by the present government, so no one could read political bias or favouritism into the decision.

The response was disingenuous and less than convincing. To insist that the Minister had never received any such funding “as a minister” was too obviously a form of weasel words. And the attempt to pin responsibility for an unpopular decision on another political party was narrow, misjudging the depth of public anger over a deep problem of perceived favouritism and institutional abuse.

Much more baffling was the case of Kennedy Osei Nyarko. No figures were listed in the report against his alleged postgraduate certificate course in environmental management at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He denied ever making any such application, or receiving any money. No figures were listed for Mavis Nkansah Boadu, though the report suggests that GETFund subsidised her enrolment on a leadership course at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard.

The report also lists Ignatius Baffour Awuah, the present Minister of Employment and Labour Relations, as having pursued a BA in international relations and politics at the University of Portsmouth at GETFund’s expense (£11,800 going towards his tuition and £12,710 to living expenses). He has offered no response to the claims.

The slippage between “facts” as presented in the report and the various responses from beneficiaries and enraged public alike shows the gulf that remains to be bridged between the governing class and the governed. NPP supporters’ counterarguments about how many NDC followers benefited from scholarships by the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation under NDC governments (notable among them one of the NDC’s chief spokesmen, Felix Ofosu Kwakye, son of the former Minister for National Security Totobi Kwakye, as well as daughters of the Ahwoi brothers) are reasoned, but do not get to the root of the problem. There is clearly some institutional inadequacy at GETFund, in relation to its own record-keeping and the way it works. What explains the lack of oversight of how the Fund awards scholarships? How can this have persisted, out of public view, for so long? Why do its selection criteria appear to be so much at variance with the need the public expects the Fund to meet? Why are its processes so opaque?

More worryingly still, when such bodies are found not to live up to our expectations, why are the institutions that should exist to police the public sphere failing to do their job – or even engaging in political gamesmanship of their own?

What kind of audit?

The Auditor General’s report found that GETFund had violated distribution formulas set by Parliament and exceeded its budget without MPs’ approval in every one of the years under review. It overspent its budgetary allocation by over 320 per cent between 2012 and 2014, roughly 140 per cent in 2015 and 2016, 61 per cent in 2017 and just over 100 per cent in 2018.

Yet clearly some of the people named as individual beneficiaries during the seven-year period did not receive any funding. Even if the leak was of a draft report by the Auditor General, the “investigation” carried out before the report was prepared appears to have been inadequate.

Gary Nimako, the prominent NPP member and lawyer representing Honourable Osei Nyarko, offered a wilting response: he believes no professional auditing of information supplied to the Auditor General’s Department by GETFund was ever done, and that elements of the information are incomplete or wholly inaccurate.

“The Auditor General has admitted in a response addressed to my solicitor that the information contained in his audit report is from GETFund,” Mr Nimako said. “However, he did not audit the information supplied him by GETFund. Indeed, he did not demand any supporting documents in respect of any alleged payment.”

A copy of the audit report was however published on the website of the Auditor General’s Department. The Department claims it has no malice or bias towards any individual named in the GETFund findings but the sloppiness with which the report was prepared and aired suggests either further institutional failure of the Auditor General’s office, or mischief-making of sorts.

The office has benefited from increased budgetary allocations under the present government. In 2017 the Ministry of Finance released GHC19 million to the Audit Service for goods and services, GHC33 million was released in 2018 and the budget for last year was GHC35 million. Since 2017, Mr Domelevo says, the Audit Service has been well enough resourced to be able to recruit 400 additional staff.

Mr Procedure

A former director of GETFund, Sam Gariba, responding to the audit report, also offered a vigorous defence of the way he administered the Fund and denied claims that he supplied unreliable information which fed into its findings.

The Auditor General’s conclusion that GETFund has breached its mandate and “illegally” funded foreign scholarships is scandalous, Mr Gariba said. There was no wrongdoing in the manner in which he administered scholarships during his time in office.

Mr Gariba, who oversaw the Fund between 2012 and 2016, said he merely followed existing procedures in awarding scholarships.

“The request to make comment on the attached performance audit report by the Auditor General did not come to me from the Auditor General. It came to me from my successor to bring the audit to closure, as is standard practice.

“I did not invent anything; I saw and met a procedure and structure in the administration of the scholarship. So I found it … picked it up and utilised it in the administration of the scholarship. Indeed, that procedure was to award a scholarship to people who were studying outside the country.”

Mr Gariba argued that certain claims in the report are unfounded. He also signalled that he will fight any surcharge on him for duties that he dispensed with “due diligence”.

“The Auditor General is not the law. The Auditor General has gone and made some scandalous claims that I administered this thing without the board’s permission.

“I had two boards in my time. One was chaired by Professor Mills [the former President]. He is dead. He knew about everything through the board. How can the Auditor General reach such a scandalous conclusion? What is their stake? How do they know that we gave scholarships to the detriment of needy people? Just looking at a Member of Parliament, you just conclude that they are a millionaire and are not entitled to get funding from GETFund. How can you reach such a conclusion?”

In the weeks to come citizens of Ghana will continue to pose and challenge these questions, and many others.

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Last modified on Monday, 02 March 2020 02:57


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