Auditor-General ‘nails’ Charlotte Osei(former EC Chairperson) for blowing over US$7.5m EC cash

When the Committee that was set up by the Chief Justice (CJ) to investigate then Chairperson of the Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana, Charlotte Osei, accused her of breaching the procurement laws of the country, and therefore recommended for her removal from office, the nation was divided.

While some, especially, followers of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) saw the move as witch-hunting and hatred on the part of the government to kick Charlotte Osei out of office, others were in full support of the decision, believing that nobody was above the laws of the land.

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However, the adverse findings of the CJ Committee against the former Chairperson of the electoral management body of the country have been corroborated by the Auditor-General in his report on “Special Audits carried out on selected state institutions in the year 2018” and presented to the Parliament of Ghana for further action.

The CJ Committee had accused Charlotte Osei of blatantly breaching the procurement laws in the award of several contracts in her three-year period at the helm of affairs, prior to the 2016 elections.

CJ’s Committee findings

She was investigated over six separate allegations of various procurement breaches, for which a prima facie case was established against her, with the committee later recommending for her removal from office after finding her guilty of the charges brought against her.

The charges had to do with the engagement of the services of lawyers, Sory@Law, without going through the proper procurement process; unilaterally abrogating a duly procured contract with a tech company, STL; decision to acquire a new office block of the commission without going through the laid down procurement process; and the award of contract for the construction of pre-fabricated district offices for the Commission and consultancy works against the procurement laws.

Others were the use of donor support funds for the EC’s ICT environment project as well as an award to repackage the strategic plan of the Commission without recourse to the procurement laws of the land.

The setting up of the CJ’s Committee was triggered by a petition submitted to the President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo by some concerned staff of the EC to probe their boss.

Another petition calling for the head of the then two deputies of the Commission, Amadu Sulley and Georgina Opoku Amankwa, in the probe was also presented to the President for consideration.

Award of contracts above available funding

The findings of the CJ Committee has been validated by the audit findings of the Auditor-General.

According to the Auditor-General, a review of a request letter with reference no. C/EC/PROC/01/SF.24/V.3/8 dated July 26, 2016 to the Public Procurement Authority (PPA), indicated that the Commission requested to use restricted tendering for the construction of the 100 District Offices as well as engagement of consultants at a cost of US$7,500,000 and US$750,000.00 respectively.

However, the contracts were awarded for US$15,127,362 instead of the Commission’s own estimated amounts of US$8,250,000 approved by the PPA.

That notwithstanding, the Commission led by Charlotte Osei did not seek approval from the Minister of Finance for the additional contract; thereby, leading to an unjustified excess expenditure of US$6,877,362.53.

Additionally, the Commission paid a total amount of GH?4,185,688.08 (US$780,295.97) at current exchange rate) including the cost of consultancy, for the partitioning and fitting-out the new Head Office as against the budgeted amount of GH?700,000.00.

The Commission again, according to the report of the audit report, did not seek approval from the Minister of Finance for the extra cost of GH?3,485,688.53 (US$649,802.06 at current exchange rate) which the Auditor-General termed “Unjustified Expenditure”.

That means, a total amount of US$7,527,164.59 was overspent by Charlotte Osei-led EC without recourse to the procurement laws of the land.

Response

Although Charlotte Osei has been kicked out of office as recommended by the CJ Committee, the findings of the Auditor-General were still laid bare before the Procurement Officer of the EC for explanation.

From the report, the Procurement Office explained that the excess expenditure incurred was not initially factored into the procurement plan, to enable the Commission request for approval from the Ministry of Finance.

But his explanation was not convincing enough, spurring the Auditor-General to advice management of the EC to restrict its expenditures to the provisions in the budget but not probable inflows, and use due procedure to prepare and procure approval for supplementary budget should the need arise.

Since the audit process ends with the Parliament of Ghana, officials of the election management body are likely to be halted to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for further probe into the matter.

It remains to be seen whether Charlotte Osei will be invited by the PAC to account for her role in the various contracts she awarded while in office.

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